First thing, let me give the immediate and familiar disclaimer: This isn’t everything. If I wanted to call this list “The ONLY 10 Album Covers that Kicked Ass in 2013,” I would. I didn’t do that, because there were way more than 10 covers that resonated when I saw them this year. The idea here is just to check out a few artists’ work that really stuck out as memorable throughout the year and really fit with the music it was complementing and representing.
As always, you can click the images below to enlarge them for a more detailed look.
The list runs alphabetically by band. Thanks in advance for reading:
Like Nick Keller‘s cover for New Zealand heavy plunderers Beastwars‘ 2011 self-titled debut (review here), the darker, moodier oil and canvas piece that became the front of Blood Becomes Fire(review here) created a sense of something truly massive and otherworldly. A huge skull with sci-fi themes and barren landscape brought to it foreboding memento mori that seemed to suggest even land can die. It was an excellent match for the brooding tension in the album itself.
The level of detail in Arrache-toi un oeil‘s cover for Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s full-length Tee Pee Records debut, The Edge of an Era(review here), would probably be enough for it to make this list anyway, but the Belgium-based art duo seemed thematically to bring out the swirl, chaos and underlying order within the Los Angeles trio’s desert psychedelia. Blue was for the vinyl edition, brown for the CD digipak (both were revealed here), but in either format it was a reminder of how much visual art can add to a musical medium.
Black Pyramid, Adversarial
Cover by Eli Wood.
I look at the Eli Wood cover for Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial(review here) as representing the task before the band in putting out their third LP. Released by Hydro-Phonic, the album found Black Pyramid coming head to head with both their audience’s expectations of what they were in their original lineup and their own will to move past that and become something else. If there was a second panel to the cover, it would show the arrow-shot warrior standing next to the severed head of the demon he slayed. Easily one of my favorite covers of the year. The scale of it begged for a larger format even than vinyl could provide.
It was such a weird record, with the interludes and the bizarre twists, that Samantha Allen‘s cover piece for Ice Dragon‘s Born a Heavy Morning (review here) almost couldn’t help but encompass it. The direct, but slightly off-center stare of the owl immediately catches the eye, but we see the titular morning sunshine as well, the human hand with distinct palm lines, illuminati eye and other symbols — are the planets? Bubbles? I don’t know, but since Born a Heavy Morningwas such an engrossing listening experience, to have the visual side follow suit made it all the richer.
Kings Destroy, A Time of Hunting
Cover by Aidrian O’Connor.
In Magyar mythology, the bird-god Turul is perched atop the tree of life and is a symbol of power. With its theme in geometry, Aidrian O’Connor‘s cover piece for Kings Destroy‘s ATime of Hunting — which was originally titled Turul– gave a glimpse at some of that strength, positioning the viewer as prey below a creature and sky that seem almost impossible to parse. I felt the same way the first time I put on the finished version of the Brooklyn outfit’s second offering, unspeakably complex and brazenly genre-defiant as it was.
Alexander von Wieding deserves multiple mentions for his 2013 covers for Black Thai and Small Stone labelmates Supermachine, but he always seems to save the best for his own project, Larman Clamor. The one-man-band’s third LP, Alligator Heart(review here), was a stomper for sure, but in his visual art for it, von Wieding brilliantly encapsulated the terrestrial elements (the human and reptile) as well as the unknowable spheres (rippling water, sun-baked sky) that the songs portrayed in their swampadelic blues fashion. It was one to stare at.
Similar I guess to the Beastwars cover in its looming feel and to the Black Pyramid for its scale, John Sumrow‘s art for Monster Magnet‘s Last Patrol(review here) mirrored the space-rocking stylistic turn the legendary New Jersey band made in their sound, taking their iconic Bullgod mascot and giving it a cosmic presence, put to scale with the rocketship on the right side. It stares out mean from the swirl and regards the ship with no less a watchful eye than Dave Wyndorf‘s lyrics seem to have on society as a whole.
There’s a mania to Orion Landau’s cover for Red Fang‘s third album, Whales and Leeches, and while the songs that comprise the record are more clearly structured, the collage itself, the face it makes when viewed from a distance, and the (from what I’m told is brilliant) cut-out work in the physical pressing of the album, all conspired to make one of 2013′s most striking visuals. As the in-house artist for Relapse, Landau is no stranger to landmark pieces, but this was a different level of accomplishment entirely.
Fuck. Look at this fucking thing! Galaxy spiral, vagina-dentata, creepy multi-pupil eyes and a background that seems to push the eye to the middle with no hope of escape even as blues and oranges collide. Wow. Sandrider bassist JesseRoberts‘(see also The Ruby Doe) artwork for Godhead (review here) is the only cover on this list done by a member of the band in question, and though I’m sure there are many awesome examples out there, I don’t know if any can top this kind of nightmarishness. Unreal. The sheer imagination of it.
When I put together a similar list last year, it had Summoner‘s first album under the moniker, Phoenix, on it, and with their second, they went more melodic, more progressive, and showed that heaviness was about atmosphere as much as tone, and that it was a thing to be moved around rather than leaned on. The Alyssa Maucere art, dark but deceptively colorful, rested comfortably alongside the songs, with a deeply personal feel and unflinchingly forward gaze, somewhat understated on the black background, but justifying the portrayal of depth.
As I said above, there’s a lot of stuff I could’ve easily included on this list, from The Flying Eyes to Sasquatch to Black Thai to Lumbar, Samsara Blues Experiment, Goatess, At Devil Dirt and others. Hopefully though, this gives a sampling of some people who are doing cool work in an under-represented aspect of underground creativity.
If I left anything out or there was a cover that really stuck with you that I didn’t mention, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Posted in Features on December 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are my picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is still going on. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
It’s always strange to think of something so utterly arbitrary as also being really, really difficult, but I think 2013 posed the biggest challenge yet in terms of getting together a final list of my favorite records. As ever, I had a post-it note on my office wall (when I moved, it moved with me) and I did my best to keep track of everything that resonated throughout the year. I wound up with over 40 picks and had to start putting them in order to whittle the list down.
I wound up with a top 20 that, even though it feels somewhat incomplete, I’ve found that I can at very least live with. That’s what I’ve done for the last week: Just lived with it. Even up to this morning, I was making changes, but in general, I think this gives some scope about what hit me hard in 2013. Of course, these are just my picks, and while things like my own critical appreciation factor in because that affects how I ultimately listen to a record, sometimes it just comes down to what was stuck in my head most often or what I kept putting on over and over.
That’s a simple formula to apply, but still, 2013 didn’t make it easy. Please note as you go through that there are some real gems in the honorable mentions. I thought about expanding the list to 30 this year, but the thought made my skull start to cave in, so I reconsidered.
Anyway, it only comes around once a year, so let’s do this thing. Thanks in advance for reading:
20. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door
Traditionally, I’ve reserved #20 for a sentimental pick. An album that’s hard to place numerically because of some personal or emotional connection. This year wasn’t short on those, but when it came to it, I knew I couldn’t make this list without Lightning at the Door included, and since it was released just last month as the follow-up to the earlier-2013 Elektrohasch reissue of the Nashville, Tennessee, outfit’s 2012 debut, Our Mother Electricity (review here), I didn’t feel like I’ve had enough time with it to really put it anywhere else. It needed to be here, and so it is, and though I’ve listened to it plenty in the month since its release, I still feel like I’m getting to know Lightning at the Door, and exploring its open-spaced blues rocking grooves. All Them Witches are hands down one of the best bands I heard for the first time this year, and I’m looking forward to following their work as they continue to progress.
For a while after I first heard …Like Clockwork and around the time I reviewed it, I sweated it pretty hard. By mid-June, I had it as one of the year’s best without a doubt in my mind. Then I put it away. I don’t know if I burnt myself out on it or what, but I still haven’t really gone back to it, and while the brilliance of cuts like “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends” and “I Appear Missing” still stands out and puts Josh Homme‘s songwriting as some of the most accomplished I encountered in 2013, that hasn’t been enough to make me take it off the shelf. I doubt Queens of the Stone Age will cry about it as they tour arenas and get nominated for Grammy awards, but there it is. I wouldn’t have expected …Like Clockworkto be so low on the list, certainly not when I was listening to “My God is the Sun” six times in a row just to try and get my head around the chorus.
Gorgeously produced and impeccably textured, The Winter Ward by Stockholm-based I are Droid aren’t generally the kind of thing I’d reach for, but the quality of the craft in songs like “Constrict Contract” and “Feathers and Dust” made it essential. Bits and pieces within harkened back to frontman Peder Bergstrand‘s tenure in Lowrider, but ultimately The Winter Wardemerged with a varied and rich personality all its own, and that became the basis for the appeal. As the weather has gotten colder and it’s gotten dark earlier, I’ve returned to The Winter Wardfor repeat visits, and as much as I’ve got my fingers crossed for another Lowrider album in 2014, I hope I are Droid continue to run parallel, since the progressive take on alternative influences they managed to concoct was carried across with proportionate accessibility. It was as audience friendly and satisfying a listen as it was complex and ripe for active engagement.
There was just nothing to argue about when it came to the self-titled debut from Massachusetts-based doomers Magic Circle, but what worked best about the album was that although the songs were strong on their own and seemed to have lurching hooks to spare, everything throughout fed into an overarching atmosphere that was denser than the straightforwardness of the structures might lead the listener to initially believe. It was a record worth going back to, worth getting lost in the nod of, and as the members are experienced players in a variety of New England acts from The Rival Mob to Doomriders, it should be interesting to find out what demons they may conjure in following-up Magic Circle, if they’ll continue down the path of deceptively subversive “traditionalism” or expand their sound into more progressive reaches. Either way they may choose, the material on their first outing showed an ability to craft an enigmatic, individualized sonic persona that never veered into cultish caricature.
If you’re into doom and you have a soul, I don’t know how you could not be rooting for Iron Man in 2013. Produced by Frank Marchand and the first full-length from the long-running Maryland doomers to feature vocalist Dee Calhoun and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann alongside guitarist/founder “Iron” Al Morris III (interview here) and longtime bassist Louis Strachan. The difference in South of the Earthwas palpable even in comparison to 2009′s I Have Returned(review here). With more professional production, excellent performances all around in the lineup, memorable songs like “Hail to the Haze” and “The Worst and Longest Day,” and the considerable endorsement of a release through Rise Above/Metal Blade behind them, the four-piece sounded like the statesmen they are in the Maryland scene and showed themselves every bit worthy of inclusion in the discussion of America’s finest in traditional, Sabbathian doom. May they continue to get their due.
Whether it was what the lyrics were talking about or not, the message of “The Message” was clear: Never count out a catchy chorus. Now in operation for a decade, Sasquatch practice an arcane artistry with their songwriting. Void of pretense, heavy on boogie, they are as genuine a modern extension of classic heavy rock as you’re likely to find. The Los Angeles power trio outdid themselves with IV, veering boldly into psychedelia on “Smoke Signal” and honing their craft over various moods and themes on “Sweet Lady,” “Me and You” and “Eye of the Storm.” They remain one of American heavy rock’s key and consistently underestimated components, and the three years since the release of their third album, III(review here), seemed like an eternity once the quality grooves of “Money” and “Drawing Flies” got moving, the former an insistent rush and the latter open, dreamy and atmospheric, but both executed with precision and confidence born of Sasquatch‘s familiarity with the methods and means of kicking ass.
It was hard to know what to expect from Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial, their first release with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard at the fore with bassist Dave Gein and drummer/engineer Clay Neely, but the Massachusetts outfit flourished on tracks like “Swing the Scimitar,” incorporating a heavy jamming sensibility with marauding riffs and grooves carried over from the style of their first two albums. Adversarial took the band to Hellfest in France this past summer, where they shared a stage with Neurosis and Sleep, and whether it was the raging chorus of “Bleed Out” or the clarion guitar line of “Aphelion,” the band showed their war ensemble could not be stopped. Their future is uncertain with Neely having relocated and Gein having an impending move of his own, but if Adversarialis to stand as the final Black Pyramid outing, they will at very least have claimed enough heads in their time to line fence-posts for miles. Still, hopefully they can find some way to continue to make it work.
Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relicsmarked the first full-length from Nashville’s Across Tundras to be released on their own label and the first since they issued Sage through Neurot in 2011 (review here), and as rolling and exploratory as its vibe was, songs like “Solar Ark,” “Pining for the Gravel Roads” and “Den of Poison Snakes” also represented a solidification of Across Tundras‘ sound, another step in their development that refined their blend of rural landscapes and heavy tones. Issued in April, it’s been an album that throughout the course of the year I’ve returned to time and again, and the more I’ve sat with it and the more comfortable it’s become, the more its songs have come to feel like home, which it’s easy to read as being their intent all along. Guitarist/vocalist Tanner Olson (read his questionnaire answers here), bassist/vocalist Mikey Allred and drummer Casey Perry hit on something special in these tracks, and one gets the sense their influence is just beginning to be felt.
Initially a digital self-release by the Washington, D.C. riff purveyors, Oculus just this month got a tri-color, tri-label and tri-continental vinyl issue, and the fanfare with which it arrived was well earned by the five songs contained on the two sides. Borracho‘s second album behind 2011′s Splitting Sky(review here) also marked a lineup shift in the band that saw them go from a four-piece to a trio, with guitarist Steve Fisher (interview here) stepping to the fore as vocalist in the new incarnation with Tim Martin on bass and Mario Trubiano on drums. The results in songs like “Know the Score” and closer “I’ve Come for it All” were in line stylistically with the straightforward approach they showed on their first offering, but tighter overall in their presentation, and Fisher‘s voice was a natural fit with the band’s stated ethic of “repetitive heavy grooves” — a neat summary, if perhaps underselling their appeal somewhat. Oculusshowed both that the appeal of Splitting Skywas no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.
Like the bulk of Ice Dragon‘s work to date, Born a Heavy Morning was put out first digitally, for free or pay-what-you-want download. A CD version would follow soon enough on Navalorama, with intricate packaging to match the album’s understated achievements, taking the Boston genre-crossers into and through heavy psychedelic atmospheres added to and played off in longer pieces like “The Past Plus the Future is Present” and the gorgeously ethereal “Square Triangle” by thematic slice-of-life set-pieces like “In Which a Man Daydreams about a Girl from His Youth” and “In Which a Man Ends His Workweek with a Great Carouse” that only enriched the listening experience and furthered Ice Dragon‘s experimental appeal. Ever-prolific, Born a Heavy Morningwasn’t the only Ice Dragon outing this year, physical or digital, but it stood in a place of its own within their constantly-expanding catalog and showcased a stylistic fearlessness that can only be an asset in their favor as they continue to chase down whatever the hell it is they’re after in their songs and make genuine originality sound so natural.
It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Musewas there. Not that it was the highest-profile release of the year or bolstered by some consciousness-invading viral campaign or anything, just that once the songs locked into my head, there was no removing them, and whether it was straightforward rockers like “This Train Won’t Stop,” “Savonarola” and “Tie One On,” the moodier “Black Black Heart” or the charm-soaked “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” — which might also be the best song title I came across this year — it was a pretty safe bet that something from the Indianapolis four-piece was going to make a showing on the mental jukebox if not in the actual player (it showed up plenty there as well). Devil to Pay‘s first album since 2009, first for Ripple and fourth overall, Fate is Your Musewas a grower listen whose appeal only deepened over the months after its release, the layered vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (interview here) adaptable to the varying vibes of “Wearin’ You Down” and “Already Dead” and soulful in classic fashion. They’ve been underrated as a live act for some time, and Fate is Your Musetranslated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.
9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below
Such devastation. Even now, every time I put on Beast in the Field‘s The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below, it makes me want to hang my head and wonder at the horror of it all like Marlon Brando hiding out in a cave. If anything at all, there wasn’t much I heard in 2013 that hit harder than the Michigan duo’s fifth long-player, released on CD in March through Saw Her Ghost with vinyl reportedly on the way now. Toward the middle of the year, it got to the point where I wanted to go door to door and say to people, “Uh excuse me, but this is absurdly heavy and you should check it out.” I settled for streaming the album in full and it still feels like a compromise. I tried to interview the band, to no avail — sometimes instrumental acts just don’t want to talk about it — but what guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr were able to accomplish tonally, atmospherically and bombastically in expansive and overwhelmingly heavy cuts like the 22-minute “Oncoming Avalanche” or the noise-soaked riffing of “Hollow Horn” put The Sacred Above, the Sacred Belowinto a weight class that it had pretty much to itself this year. It’s a good thing they had no trouble filling that space. I still feel like I haven’t recommended the album enough and that more people need to be made aware of its existence.
When I finally listened to Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut, I was really, really glad I had seen the three-piece — its members based in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania — play some of the material live. I don’t know if otherwise I’d have been able to distinguish between the progress elements of effects and looping and the live creation of layers and organ sounds through the guitar of Dana Ortt (interview here) and the simple humdrum of studio layering one finds all the time. I almost think for their next record they should track it live, just the three of them, and heavily advertise that fact to help get the point across that it’s actually just three players — Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of PaleDivine) — creating the richness of sound on “All the Feeling Returns” and the eerie, gleefully weird progressive stomp on “Lonely Creatures.” The album became a morning go-to for me, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been through it at this point, but “Reborn” and “Hypnotize” and “Lotus Jam” continue to echo in my head even when it’s been a few days. That said, it’s rarely been a few days, because while I appreciate what the trio accomplish on their first record on an analytical level, the reason it is where it is on this list is because I can’t stop listening to the damn thing. Another one that more people should hear than have heard.
7. Samsara Blues Experiment, Waiting for the Flood
One of the aspects of Samsara Blues Experiment‘s third offering that I most enjoyed was that it wasn’t the album I expected German four-piece to make. After their 2011 sophomore album, Revelation and Mystery (review here), shifted its focus away from the jam-minded heavy psychedelia of their 2009 debut, Long Distance Trip (review here), my thinking was that they would continue down that path and coalesce into a more straightforward brand of heavy rock. Instead, when the four extended tracks of Waiting for the Floodshowed up with no shortage of swirl or sitar or open-ended expansion in their midst, it was a legitimate surprise. Repeat visits to “Shringara” and “Don’t Belong” show that actually it’s not so much that Samsara Blues Experiment turned around and were hell-bent on jamming out all the time, but that rather for their third, they took elements of what worked on their first two LPs and built lush movements on top of those ideas. As a happy bonus, this having grown more and more into their sound has helped push the band — guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, guitarist Hans Eiselt, bassist Richard Behrens and drummer Thomas Vedder — into their own niche within the wider European heavy psych scene, and they’ve begun to emerge as one of its most enjoyable and consistent acts.
Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Controland the preceding Uncle Acid album, Blood Lust. Certainly the newer outing — their third and first for Rise Above/Metal Blade – is more psychedelic, more tripped out and less obscure feeling than its predecessor. It didn’t have the same kind of crunch to the guitar tone, or the same kind of horror-film atmosphere or psychosexual foreboding, but the thing was, it wasn’t supposed to. The UK outfit continue to prod cult mentality even as their own cult grows, and as I see it, Mind Control made a lot of sense coming off Blood Lustin terms of the band not wanting to repeat the same ideas over again, but grow from them and expand their sound. Of course, with the strut at the end of opener “Mt. Abraxas,” they’ve set a high standard on their albums for leadoff tracks, but where Mind Controlreally made its impression was in the hypnosis of cuts like the Beatlesian “Follow the Leader,” the lysergic “Valley of the Dolls” or the maddening “Devil’s Work.” The deeper you went into side B, the more the band had you in their grasp. It was a different kind of accomplishment than the preceding effort — though “Mind Crawler” kept a lot of that vibe alive — and it showed Uncle Acid had more in their arsenal than VHS ambience and garage doom malevolence while keeping the infectiousness that helped Blood Lustmake such an impression.
Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcomewas the most recent inclusion on this list. Having worked with Lumbar multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron Edge (interview here) in the past with his band Roareth releasing what would be their only album on The Maple Forum, this was a project to which I felt an immediate connection given the circumstances of its creation: Being written almost in its entirety and recorded in everything but vocals during a bedridden period following Edge‘s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The contributions of YOB/Vhöl frontman Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth were what got a lot of people’s attention for Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, but with the situation are the core of the seven tracks named “Day One” through “Day Seven,” what stood out to me even more than those performances was the utter lack of distance and the level of rawness in the album’s presentation. It puts you there. What you get with Lumbar is the direct translation of a range of emotions from hopeful to hopeless, angry, sad, beaten down and wanting answers, wanting more. There’s no shield from it, and as much in concept as in its execution, there’s no other word for it than “heavy.” The intensity Edge packed into just 24 minutes — and not all of it loud or over the top doomed or anything more than atmospherics — was unmatched by anything else I heard this year.
From just about any angle you want to view it, the situation that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was unfortunate. However — and I know I’ve said this before — I really do believe that becoming Vista Chino, that furthering the distance from the Kyuss moniker, brand, legacy, and so on, was for the better of the band creatively. And not because the songs don’t stand up. I doubt it helped their draw much, but for vocalist John Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork (interview here), working as Vista Chino for the creation of Peace, and especially or Bjork working with guitarist Bruno Fevery for the first time in the writing process, it allowed them to step outside of what would’ve been insurmountable expectations for a “fifth Kyuss album” and create something honest, new, and ultimately, more true to the spirit of that now-legendary band. Let’s face it, you hear John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri are working on a project together, you’re immediately comparing it to Kyuss anyway. At least with Vista Chino, they’ve given themselves the potential for growth beyond a preconceived idea of what Kyuss should sound like. Well what does Vista Chino sound like? It sounds like whatever the hell they want. On Peace, though many of the lyrics dealt with their legal battles over the Kyuss name, the vibe stayed true to a desert rock ethic of laid back heavy, and the round-out jam in “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” left Peacewith the feeling that maybe that’s where they’ve ended up after all. Fingers crossed Mike Dean (of C.O.C. and the latest live incarnation of Vista Chino) winds up playing bass on the record, but other than that, wherever they want to go with it, as a fan, I’m happy to follow along.
The second outing from Gozu on Small Stone, The Fury of a Patient Man tapped into so much of what made the Boston band’s 2010 Locust Season label debut (review here) work so right on and just did it better. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig on “Meat Charger,” but with tracks like “Snake Plissken,” “Bald Bull,” “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” (note: it was “signed, Epstein’s mother” on Welcome Back Kotter) and the thrashing “Charles Bronson Pinchot,” Gozu put forth a collection of some of 2013′s finest heavy rock and did so with not only their own soulful spin on the tropes of the genre, but a mature and varied approach that was no less comfortable giving High on Fire a run for their money than reveling in the grandiose chorus of “Ghost Wipe,” which was also one of the best hooks of the year, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (interview here) delivering lines in crisp, confident layers, perfectly mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios and cutting through the fray of his own and Doug Sherman‘s guitars, the bass of Paul Dallaire (who split duties with J. Canava; Joe Grotto has since taken over the position) and Barry Spillberg‘s drumming. What the future might hold for Gozu with the recent shift in lineup that replaced Spillberg with drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) and added third guitarist Jeff Fultz (Mellow Bravo) remains to be seen, but with European touring on the horizon for 2014 and appearances slated for Roadburn and Desertfest, the band seem to be looking only to expand their reach, and with the material from The Fury of a Patient Man as a foundation, they’ve got some major considerations acting in their favor. Another album from which I simply could not escape this year, and from which I didn’t want to.
Billed largely and at least in-part accurately as a return to the group’s psychedelic roots, Last Patrol was Monster Magnet‘s ninth full-length, their first in three years and their second for Napalm. The New Jersey outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, founder and, in this case, co-producer Dave Wyndorf (interview here) did indeed delve into the space rock side of their sound more than they have in over a decade, and the effect that doing so had was like a great shaking-off of dust, as though the Bullgod in the John Sumrow cover art just woke up after a long slumber. Perhaps even more than tripping on the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers” or on the more extended freakouts “Last Patrol” and “End of Time,” what really made Last Patrolsuch a complete experience was the depth of emotion. Wyndorf wasn’t just standing above an overproduced wall of distortion talking about how he’s the best lay in the galaxy or whatever — fun though that kind of stuff is and has been in the past — but songs like “I Live behind the Clouds,” “The Duke (of Supernature),” “Paradise” and “Stay Tuned” offered a humbler take, a spirit of melancholy that rested well alongside the unmitigated stomp of “Hallelujah” or the driving heavy rock of “Mindless Ones.” Even in its most riotous stretches, Last Patrolwas a humbler affair, with a more honest vibe than their last four, maybe five albums. A Monster Magnet release would’ve been noteworthy no matter what it actually sounded like, because that’s the level of impact they’ve had on heavy psych and underground rock over the last two decades-plus. The difference with Last Patrolwas that it was a refreshing change from what had started to sound like a formula going stale, and it was just so damn good to have them be weird again.
Finally, an album that asked the question, “What it was I’m going to do I haven’t done?” I knew at the year’s halfway point that Clutch‘s Earth Rockerwas going to be the one to beat, and that it wasn’t going to be easy for anyone else to top the Maryland kings of groove, who sounded so reinvigorated on songs like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle and Go,” “Unto the Breach,” and “Cyborg Bette,” and on funkfied pushers like “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” and “The Face.” They’d hardly been in hibernation since 2009′s Strange Cousins from the West, but four years was the longest they’d ever gone between albums, and it was past time for a new one. To have it arrive as such a boot to the ass just made it that much better, the band shifting away from some of the blues/jam influences that emerged over the course of 2005′s Robot Hive/Exodusand 2007′s From Beale Street to Oblivion — though those certainly showed up as well in the subdued “Gone Cold” and elsewhere — but thanks in no small part to the production of Machine, with whom the band last worked for 2004′s Blast Tyrant, Earth Rockerwas huge where it wanted to be and that gave Clutch‘s faster, more active material all the more urgency, where although the songwriting was quality as always, Strange Cousins from the West languished a bit at a more relaxed pace. The difference made all the difference. Whether it was the hellhounds on your trail (what a pity!) in “D.C. Sound Attack!” or the Jazzmasters erupting from the bottom of the sea to take flight, Clutch‘s 10th album was brimming with live, vibrant, heavy on action and heavy on groove, and on a sheer song-by-song level, a classic in the making from a band who’ve already had a few. At very least, it’s a landmark in their discography, and though vocalist Neil Fallon (interview here), guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster always change from record, but it’s the unmistakable stamp they put on all their outings that have earned them such a loyal following, and that stamp is all over Earth Rocker. Front to back, it is a pure Clutch record, and while I’ll happily acknowledge that it’s an obvious pick for album of the year, I don’t see how I possibly could’ve chosen anything else. Like the best of the best, Earth Rockerwill deliver for years to come.
The Next 10 and Honorable Mentions
I said at the outset I had 40 picks. The reality was more than that, but here’s the next 10 anyway:
21. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
22. The Freeks, Full On
23. Luder, Adelphophagia
24. The Flying Eyes, Lowlands
25. Black Skies, Circadian Meditations
26. At Devil Dirt, Plan B: Sin Revolucion No Hay Evolucion
27. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar
28. Naam, Vow
29. Mühr, Messiah
30. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire
Further honorable mention has to go to Pelican, Endless Boogie, Earthless, Phantom Glue, Goatess, Windhand, Gonga, TonerLow, Jesuand Sandrider.
Two More Special Records
I’d be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t note the release in 2013 of two albums that wound up being incredibly special to me personally: I vs. the Glacierby Clamfight and A Time of Hunting by Kings Destroy. Since it came out on this site’s in-house label, I didn’t consider the Clamfight eligible for list consideration and while I didn’t help put it out, the Kings Destroy I also felt very, very close to — probably as close as I’ve felt to a record I didn’t actually perform on — so it didn’t seem fair on a critical level, but I consider both of these to be records that in a large part helped define my year, as well as being exceptional in and of themselves, and they needed very much to be singled out as such. These are people whom I feel whatever-the-godless-heathen-equivalent-of-blessed-is to know.
Before I end this post, I want to say thank you for reading, this, anything else you may have caught this year, whatever it might be. To say it means a lot to me personally is understating it, but it’s true all the same. I’m not quite done wrapping up the year — I’ll have a list of the best album covers, another for EPs and singles and demos, and of course the albums I didn’t hear — so please stay tuned over the next couple weeks, but it seemed only fair to show my appreciation now as well. Thank you.
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If you’re in the States and celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I thought maybe a new podcast would be good to have along for the travel. Maybe you take it with you on the road, or maybe put some headphones on in one of those need-to-get-away moments that invariably crop up over the holidays. I always get very stressed out at this time of year. I’d be lying if putting this together wasn’t a bit of therapy for my own anxiousness, but I also thought that if someone else was in the same boat, they might also appreciate it. Or maybe not and you just want to rock without using it as an escape for deep-rooted psychological issues. That’s cool too.
This one has a lot of good stuff that I’ve come across lately, from the opening Foghound track on through the Clamfight single that was featured here a couple weeks back, and on to the B-side of the single that Ice Dragon released just this weekend, finally rounding out with the closing track from Uzala‘s new album, Tales of Blood and Fire, “Tenement of the Lost,” which was so captivating when I saw them in Providence last month. It’s a wide variety, but it flows well from song to song and I think it’s a good time.
Hopefully you agree. I’m especially happy with how well the last three songs, which make up the bulk of the second hour, came together. My hope is you’ll be too hypnotized by one song to realize when it’s gone into the next. Whether or not that happens, please enjoy.
Foghound, “Dragon Tooth” from Quick, Dirty and High (2013)
Lizzard Wizzard, “Total Handjob Future” from Lizzard Wizzard (2013)
Summoner, “Into the Abyss” from Atlantian (2013)
Groan, “Slice of that Vibe” from Ride the Snake EP (2013)
The Vintage Caravan, “Let Me Be” from Voyage (2013)
Run After To, “Melancholy from Run After To/Gjinn and Djinn (2013 Reissue)
Clamfight, “Bathosphere” from single release (2013)
No Gods No Masters, “Lie to Me” from No Gods No Masters EP (2013)
Horseskull, “Arahari” from 2013 Promo
Gudars Skymning, “Gåtor I Mörkret” from Höj Era Glas (2013)
Ice Dragon, “Queen of the Black Harvest” from Steel Veins b/w Queen of the Black Harvest (2013)
T.G. Olson, “Return from the Brink” from The Bad Lands to Cross (2013)
EYE, “Lost are the Years” from Second Sight (2013)
Øresund Space Collective, “Black Sabbath Forever in Space” from Live at Loppen 2013.11.19
Selim Lemouchi and His Enemies, “The Ghost of Valentine” from Earth Air Spirit Water Fire (2013)
Uzala, “Tenement of the Lost” from Tales of Blood and Fire (2013)
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 24th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
You’ll probably note that as Ice Dragon announce “Steel Veins, take two” at the start of the track, there’s the sound of a can opening. A burp follows shortly thereafter, and soon, the garage-doom riffage is underway. The prolific Boston four-piece announced their new single, Steel Veins b/w Queen of the Black Harvest, as being older school, and the leadoff track bears that out, though inevitably some of the psych rock vibing of their last album, Born a Heavy Morning(review here), has bled in as well. Still, the harsher vocals in the call and response chorus and the plodding feel of the riff should sit well with anyone who’s been checking out 2012′s Tome of the Future Ancientslately.
The second and longer track, “Queen of the Black Harvest” keeps the live-in-studio vibe going (belch included), but satisfies a classic Pentagram vibe more than the A-side of the digital only release, and where “Steel Veins” borders on screams, “Queen of the Black Harvest” borders on harmonies. For what it’s worth, one is no less fluid than the other, and whichever feel Ice Dragon are working with, they’re able to make it their own, as the creepy slowdown and resumption of the instantly-familiar verse riff will attest. Ditto that for the backwards cymbals and spooky ambient vocals later into the cut, which lead to what if I’m not mistaken is a (sampled?) gong backing that central riff. Even when they’re going “traditional,” Ice Dragon can’t seem to keep from getting weird.
All the better. No word on if Steel Veins b/w Queen of the Black Harvestwill get a physical release, but here’s what they had to say about the single on Thee Facebooks, followed of course by the thing itself, which is up for pay-what-you-will download on their Bandcamp:
New release from Ice Dragon
Almost finished with a new “single”. 2 tracks, b/w and all that shit. I hope you guys appreciate all the fucking cables we have to put up with around here. hahaha. Kinda classic “Ice Dragon” sound on these jams, no funny business. Well… maybe a little.
Here’s a trick. Solo a vocal, guitar, bass, whatever. Then send that into the mixer, use the insert as a direct out into another channel, then hook a pedal up on the aux send/return. Then you can eq them differently, adjust the send levels, add another insert, etc. etc. It’s essentially like duplicating a track in the ‘puter, but doesn’t sound like sterile beige ass and gives you more options.
Admittedly, there’s a decent chance I’d have endeavored to pick up the Dream Dragon tape from Boston psych doomers Ice Dragon anyway, but it was the layout of the cover that made it so imperative. You can see the font they used in the picture above, and the black-bar along the bottom. This was something that was done with albums back when tapes were a companion format with vinyl so that cover art wouldn’t have to be warped to fit the longer tape case, and even down to the type-setting and the relative size of the band name and album title, Ice Dragon nailed it. Same goes for the spine of the tape itself and the tracklisting, right down to “side one” and “side two” and the fake barcode. They couldn’t have done a better job with it if it had been white with red letters.
The blue tape itself is somewhat less playing to tradition, but as did their 2007 self-titled and 2011′s The Sorrowful Sun(both discussed here), Dream Dragonmakes an excellent cassette, the band’s self-recorded, lo-fi aesthetic coming through extra gnarly when intended, as on the ballsy “Maximum Trip” and still offering depth enough of mix to make it seem that the “Planet Caravan”-style synth trails of the nonetheless-rumbling “Dream Dragon” have space to move around. It’s also too long for a single vinyl at 55 minutes, but breaking it up into sides one and two here — the first ending with “A Dragon’s Dream, Pt. I” and the second with closer “A Dragon’s Dream, Pt. II” — makes Dream Dragonmore accessible without taking away from the hypnosis of it, especially on side two, when the relationship-gone-good and relationship-gone-bad “For Once in My Life” and “More than I Can Say for You” give way to the engaging psychedelia that closes out the last several cuts, the brash half-speed garage of “Beard of Thieves” seeming a much greater distance away than the start of the second half of the album.
And throughout, whether it’s the mellotron of opener “Dreamliner” or the bass-heavy “Stumble onto Magic,” which sounds like it was recorded off a tv performance in 1967, or the patiently unfurling “Me and My Lady (My Lady and Me),” Dream Dragonlives up to its name and its easily-deciphered bent toward the ethereal. Moments of threat loom in the drones of “I Know You’re Here” and the later instrumental “Unter der Gnomen” — and certainly Ice Dragon have made good on those threats elsewhere in their rapidly expanding discography — but the prevailing mood here is peaceful, otherworldly, and the flow the band create never gets shaken enough to really be interrupted. Until of course you wake up. Both parts of “A Dragon’s Dream” have a dirge march to them with far-off drums crashing and intertwining layers of guitar, and the second one seems to come apart at the end, leaving just a final trace of scratchy analog synth.
Ever-prolific, IceDragon — then the trio of drummer/vocalist Ron Rochondo, guitarist Carter and bassist Joe (all of whom handle a variety of instruments here as well as backing vocals for the latter two) — have released an EP and two full-lengths since, but I think it’s audible even on the latest, Born a Heavy Morning(review here), that they were developing some similar atmospheres to what they’d done on Dream Dragon, so I’m glad they went back and gave this one a physical issue. I’m not about to complain about their standing free-Bandcamp-downloads-for-all, but particularly with an album of this kind of breadth, it deserves some presence in the terrestrial realm as well, tenuous as its connection to it sonically may or may not be.
As the resurgence of vinyl has come to prominence over the last couple years, the age-old argument against CDs has likewise returned in that they don’t do justice to album art. For those two or three of us still loyal to what’s undoubtedly the least hip of the major physical formats at this point — even tapes are cooler than CDs, being cheaper and having nostalgic value — a release like Ice Dragon‘s physical issue of Born a Heavy Morning on the Belgian imprint Navalorama Records proves there’s life in the compact disc yet.
The dreamily psychedelic Born a Heavy Morning (review here) from the Boston-based four-piece arrives in what’s essentially a plain cardboard gatefold case, but as is the case with so much of the album itself, it’s creativity of the arrangement that makes it stand out. With a wraparound paper band that has the album title on front and the label’s name and website on back, the cover is a cutout to reveal the Samantha Allen watercolor artwork, which gets its due as a removable, high-quality cardstock insert with the album info (tracklist, recording, lineup, etc.) in glossy on back. A card is also included with Navalorama‘s info, but separate, and the CD itself arrives in a hand-numbered plain white sleeve.
Perhaps most endearing of all is the thank you card. It doesn’t look like much when you first open the gatefold, but the more you dig into it, the more the CD actually has to offer, and as awesome is it is on a basic theoretical level that Ice Dragon give so much of their prolific output away for free at their Bandcamp page — and by “so much,” I mean all of it — the fact that they and Navalorama would also put such an effort into making a product worth buying as well when you can get at least the music without paying says a lot about the creativity at work. Check it out:
CD and Cover Insert
Inserts and Thank You Card
Unless I’m mistaken, Born a Heavy Morning is Ice Dragon‘s first CD release, so it’s twice as impressive to see them doing it right. As much as I enjoy a straight-up jewel case — a rarity these days — especially for an album so otherworldly and gleefully strange, it makes an eerie kind of sense this way.
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Been a while, right? Tell me about it. Although I love, love having The Obelisk Radio streaming 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I’ve been wanting to bring back podcasting for a while now. I always thought it was fun, it just got to be time consuming and to be perfectly honest, the response over time took something of a shit.
Well, the idea here is to start with a clean slate. Anyone who’s listened to audiObelisk podcasts before will notice this one doesn’t have a title. There’s no theme running throughout — though I wanted to keep it focused on new stuff as much as possible — and though others ranged upwards of four hours long, this one clocks in at just under two. I gave myself some pretty specific limits and wanted to start off as basic and foundational as possible. I haven’t done this in a long time, and it seemed only appropriate to treat it like a new beginning.
Something else I’m keeping simple is the intro, so with that said, I hope like hell you download at the link above or stream it on the player and enjoy the selections. Here’s the rundown of what’s included:
Mystery Ship, “Paleodaze” from EP II (2013)
Carousel, “On My Way” from Jeweler’s Daughter (2013)
Ice Dragon, “The Deeper You Go” from Born a Heavy Morning (2013)
Black Mare, “Tearer” from Field of the Host (2013)
Beast in the Field, “Hollow Horn” from The Sacred Above, The Sacred Below (2013)
11 Paranoias, “Reaper’s Ruin” from Superunnatural (2013)
Vàli, “Gjemt Under Grener” from Skoglandskap (2013)
Beelzefuzz, “Lonely Creatures” from Beelzefuzz (2013)
Dozer, “The Blood is Cold” fromVultures (2013)
Toby Wrecker, “Belle” from Sounds of Jura (2013)
Shroud Eater, “Sudden Plague” from Dead Ends (2013)
Luder, “Ask the Sky” from Adelphophagia (2013)
Eggnogg, “The Once-ler” from Louis (2012)
Colour Haze, “Grace” from She Said (2012)
Borracho, “Know the Score” from Oculus (2013)
The Flying Eyes, “Raise Hell” from Split with Golden Animals (2013)
Demon Lung, “Heathen Child” from The Hundredth Name (2013)
Vista Chino, “As You Wish” from Peace (2013)
Across Tundras, “Pining for the Gravel Roads” from Electric Relics (2013)
Black Pyramid, “Aphelion” from Adversarial (2013)
Church of Misery, “Cranley Gardens (Dennis Andrew Nilsen)” from Thy Kingdom Scum (2013)
Posted in Radio on August 14th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Ice Dragon are no strangers to making it weird. The prolific Boston-based four-piece – vocalist Ron Rochondo, guitarist Carter, bassist Joe and now drummer Brad – crossed genre lines into ’70s prog with last year’s Dream Dragon, delved into droning noise with later last year’s greyblackfalconhawkand reveled in tripped out garage doom on 2010′s The Burl, the Earth,the Aether, while underscoring a growing influence with splits with Fellwoods and Pilgrim and playing live almost never, though an appearance earlier this year at the Scion Rock Fest gave some hint at a growing demand in that regard as well. With their newest full-length, Born a Heavy Morning, the band touch on psychedelia and melodies not so dissimilar in spirit from Dream Dragonor their Fall 2012 single Season of Decay/The Humble Titan, but flesh it out in a manner more rooted in ’60s pop while leaving space for moments of raw Beatlesian melodicism on “We’ll Go on a Trip, You and I,” blown out Monster Magnet-style arrogance on “The Past Plus the Future is Present” (which is also the stoned-est sounding thought I’ve heard all week) and older Danzig drawling malevolence on “We are the Hopeless.”
Born a Heavy Morningis richly varied and textured, but an overarching cohesiveness of atmosphere and narrative theme — call it “A Day in the Life” for the protagonist “A Man,” who is mentioned in the title of several of the ambient interludes — tie it together such that whether it’s the sunshiny ramble of opener “Wakin’ Up” or the key-infused loneliness of “The Deeper You Go,” Ice Dragon‘s echoes are easily set to both purposes. The 8:33 “The Past Plus the Future is Present” — which is subtitled ‘The Great Drudgery’ — meanders gloriously noisy over a steady bassline and far-back drumbeat as Ice Dragon continue to use underproduction as an aesthetic element better than everyone else not named Darkthrone, an emergent wash of bright guitar noise continuing some of the morning’s cycle later mirrored by the bleaker twang presented in “Square Triangle,” which, even when it picks up after about two minutes into its total eight, maintains a lonely Floydian vibe, though its groove is carried ably by the guitars and bass while the drums reside so deep in the mix they’re just barely a presence. Heavy as the morning is, it would seem, the day doesn’t get any easier as it goes on.
That remains true for the churn of the subsequent “I’m Lost” — subtitled ‘A Resolution of Dissolution’ — which seems to be the culmination of the protagonist’s woes. Returning to the brash throaty delivery of “The Past Plus the Future is Present,” Rochondo provides further bookend for Born a Heavy Morning‘s beginning, and though the cycle itself seems to come to a close with “In Which a Man Ends His Workweek with a Great Carouse” — vaguely British-accented narration underscoring a classic prog rock influence over light guitars and sampled guffaws — and that would seem to make closer “(I Will) Watch My Hair Grow” superfluous, the last track justifies the epilogue with cinematic synth and a feeling of resolution that comes through in the layers of Rochondo‘s vocals and the strumming of Carter. They’ve waded past the drudgery and into a sweet sort of resignation, and Born a Heavy Morningends with a concluding strum that seems to harken one last time to the notion of the concept album as a whole, complete idea — they’re wrapping the whole record, not just the one track.
Its vibe is strikingly different from what they’ve done in the past, but Ice Dragon‘s sense of adventure has grown over the last few years such that genre limitations seem like a waste of time anyway. I would not expect whatever they do next to sound anymore like Born a Heavy Morning than Born a Heavy Morningsounds like the droning horrors of The Soul’s Midnight, released earlier this year, and I wouldn’t expect it to be too long after Navalorama Records issues Born a Heavy Morning on CD next month that Ice Dragon follow it up, because the one thing they never seem to be is stagnant.
You can hear the album now as part of the streaming playlist on The Obelisk Radio, and also check it out and grab a free download on the Bandcamp player below. Enjoy:
The blown-out Morricone guitar and mounting depressive folk build of Ice Dragon‘s “Season of Decay” first showed up around these parts back in October. Today the Boston trio announced that Vesa Lähde had put together a video for the song and after watching its dark, saturated and vintage-looking atmospherics, it seems like a pretty good fit for the song itself, which boasts no shortage of moody psychedelia.
Even as an excuse to revisit the song (not that you really need one), I dig it. Ice Dragon‘s latest offering is the alternately stoned/drunk The Soul’s Midnight, which you can hear in full at their Bandcamp.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
So here’s how it apparently went down. A week ago, the dudes in Boston-based doomly three-piece Ice Dragon got loaded on a bottle of mead gifted to them by the band Merlin. One imagines from listening to Ice Dragon‘s prolific level of output that it’s not the first time they’ve been drunk on mead, nor will it be the last. While bombed in the viking tradition, they decided to record a new single, called “The Soul’s Midnight.”
The result was fittingly dark, moody and languid. Here’s what they had to say about it at the time:
We just finished a great bottle of homemade mead, given to us from our friends in the band Merlin. We can’t figure out how to tag them because we’re drunk. Anyway we made a new song too and rather than be assfaces and give a “release date” and leak the cover art and tracklisting and all that stupid bullshit bands do nowadays. HERE YOU GO. It’s free. Don’t make fun of us if it sounds bad, please. We made it tonight. We’re drunk.
Fair enough. Last night (Jan. 18), they posted a revisited version of “The Soul’s Midnight,” this time recorded while high. What could possibly drive them toward such scientific aims, discovering — at last — the differences between putting a song to tape under varying influence? I don’t know, but the track is killer and the nihilism only adds to the enjoyment level.
Ice Dragon posted the results of this bold experiment last night. Here’s that post, followed by both versions of “The Soul’s Midnight,” which is up for pay-what-you-will download at the Ice Dragon Bandcamp:
So, we made a HIGH version of “The Soul’s Midnight”. The original is still on there and that is now the drunk version. We’re not “signed” so we can do whatever the hell we want, and this is what we want. We hope you want it too.
Might want to re-download if you already did. Or not.
My intent when I started putting questions together for an email interview with Boston-based trio Ice Dragon was to keep it to the usual six, but then something happened. I realized it wasn’t enough. For a band who’ve already released three full-lengths this year — greyblackfalconhawk, Dream Dragon and Tome of the Future Ancients– there was just more I wanted to know than Six Dumb Questions could hold. Nine seems to have done the trick.
The thing about Ice Dragon – Ron on vocals/synth/drums/theremin, Carter on guitars/backing vocals and Joe on bass/guitar/etc. (also pictured above is Werner; the fluffy one) — is that not only do they put out all this stuff, but each album is a different stylistic blend as well. Plenty of bands who record themselves release a lot of albums, and with material as lo-fi as Ice Dragon‘s and the fact that they don’t seem to have an interest in large-scale touring, it’s not unreasonable for them to focus on songwriting at such a rate. What makes it fascinating is that the material on each record seems to stem from a musical or conceptual thematic. They’re all different to some degree, but still identifiably Ice Dragon‘s own, and they’re strikingly cohesive.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, they’ve got a new digital single. Season of Decay/The Humble Titanfinds Ice Dragon once more pushing into new sonic territory, offsetting late ’60s/early ’07s folk influences and acoustics with bizarre in-studio noise experimentation. Each of the two songs on the new release has its own progression, “Season of Decay” filtering a blown-out rehearsal room dirge march through airy Neil Young-style acoustic/electric interplay, and “The Humble Titan” taking sweet Eurofolk topped with psych swirls and echoed vocals and marrying it to tense and cinematic electronic beats, rising to a disturbing culmination before cutting short at the end of the song. The band’s willingness to throw caution and convention to the wind is all-consuming.
Still, though the sounds are loose and the production, well, minimal, you don’t get to the point of issuing three full-lengths in a year — even digitally — if you’re not severely dedicated to what you do. Today, I’ve got the pleasure of premiering the Season of Decay/The Humble Titansingle in its entirety, and you’ll find it below, followed by the interview questions, as fielded by Ron.
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1. How did Ice Dragon first get together? What first got you going and how has the relationship between you all changed over time? How many releases have you actually put out, and at what point did you realize you wanted to be so prolific?
Me and Carter started it pretty much by accident after recording two tracks for a shitty blues project we were working on. The tracks didn’t fit at all for that project so we figured we’d just start something new and recruited Joe to help us out. Everything is way better now, musically speaking. I think we’ve really hit our stride in terms of knowing exactly what we want a song to sound like and then making that happen. It used to just be dumb luck, or experimentation until we got something worthwhile. Ryan was our drummer for the Burl album, but he got mad at me and took off. I get drunk and yell at people, but isn’t that what all lead singers do? I think it’s a rule. You have to have a troubled soul in order to write anything good, let alone sing it at the top of your lungs and not care what people think, and that comes with all the baggage of being an asshole sometimes. Oh well. Everything we’ve put out is on the Bandcamp, I can’t even remember what it’s up to now, like five albums and three splits, I think? We’ve always worked fast, and I think having three people who can/do write songs makes things get out of hand even more. Haha.
2. What are your five favorite crappy and/or cult horror movies and why?
Excellent question. My favorites change a lot from day to day, but here’s what I’m thinking off the top of my head.
1. The Thing, mostly due to MacReady’s hat.
2. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, a beautifully made, truly haunting film, with a great soundtrack to boot. 3. The Abominable Dr. Phibes, amazing in every way, I could watch it over and over again.
4. Definitely a Jean Rollin film, toward the arty side – The Nude Vampire, the cheesier side – The Grapes of Death. Though all his movies are fantastic I think.
5. The Mummy’s Tomb, best of the series I think. The way the old high priest has the shaky hands in the beginning, so good. And Lon Chaney Jr. is bad fucking ass.
3. Ice Dragon albums vary so much from the one to the next. Do you have a specific sound in mind when you approach making a record? Thinking of the difference between Dream Dragon and Greyblackfalconhawk, did you know when you started writing those records how you wanted them to sound?
We definitely knew how we wanted each of those to sound as we were going into them. Those were the first two like that really – the others weren’t as thought out in terms of overall sound. Dream Dragon was supposed to just be a fun summertime rock album, no pretentiousness, no worrying about how heavy it was, etc. Going for that ‘60s kinda vibe. Greyblackfalconhawk was supposed to be a full-on drone album, but then ended up getting a little more “involved” sounding as it went on. Just kinda naturally from all of our influences on it, and it sounds better because of that anyway. From a lyrical point of view I wanted to make something more like what I listen to when I’m alone. I like very dark, depressing lyrics and songs in general, but not these so-called “doom,” “black,” or “evil” songs you hear about wizards and warriors or fantasy shit. REAL doom, that comes from a man’s heart and soul and the pain of existence. People find it easy to talk about killing other things, or death when it’s this sort of distant idea. But try and get one of these same people to talk about how they felt like ending it all that one time, or how lonely they are, or the sadness they feel from day to day. That is true pain, and most people won’t talk about it. Or they are afraid to talk about it because of what their friends and relatives and whoever else will say. I don’t know, I’m rambling, but hopefully making some sort of sense here. We do our fair share of fantasy bullshit too, but for this one I wanted it to be as sincere as possible.
4. Does the writing process change at all depending on the aesthetic of the album? Are you ever working on more than one record at one time?
Sometimes we’ll have a song that doesn’t really fit with the vibe of an album we’re working on, so we tuck it away for a rainy day, but mostly we try and work on album stuff straight through so we get a more cohesive feel to everything. The process is definitely different for say a dark kind of song/album, to a more psych/happy/rocker kind of song. Usually the latter is more fun to make and gets done easier and quicker, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily more rewarding in the end.
5. With Greyblackfalconhawk, how did the bird theme come about, and what was behind putting the names of the tracks together into one word?
I’ve always been really into Native American culture and philosophy, so I think it sort of bled out from that a bit, but other things as well. We definitely didn’t want it to be overly that kind of vibe or anything. I liked the sound of it more than anything else. greyblackfalconhawk. It feels good to say. With that title in place, we thought that it just made sense to run the titles together into one word. Sort of a language of its own, specific to this album. It is set away from our other albums in that way, in sound, in language, and in philosophy.
6. How does the recording process work? How long are you in the studio and how much freedom does self-recording allow? Has the process changed at all since the self-titled?
We record in a basement, with a washing machine and dryer in the same room. Haha. It’s not very fancy. We have it all decorated up and everything, and sexy lighting. We get together every Friday and shoot the shit for a bit, go down to the liquor store and chat with the guys down there, get a pizza or subs and then finally get recording around 7PM or so. Usually go until about 10 or 11 and then go upstairs to listen to records and argue over pointless nonsense (see my answer to question one for more on that). The process has pretty much always been the same, only we used to record in various living rooms of other apartments we’ve had. We always record basics on tape, either the 4-track or an old 1/4” 2-track. Then we dump that into the computer and do overdubs in there. We have like 4 mics, nothing very fancy, and no condensers at all. A bunch of beat up old amps, mostly Peavey. It doesn’t take much, and people shouldn’t get hung up on the gear when recording, it’s all in how you use it.
7. What goes into selecting the cover art for each release, and how important is it to find an appropriate cover when the album is released digitally? What does the cover say about the album?
Basically we try and get a cover that expresses the overall feel of the album in picture form. We’ve been very lucky working with some great artists so far. A few of the albums have sort of “placeholder” art up there right now. Tome of the Future Ancients is going to be done by Josh McAlear and the sketches we’ve seen are incredibly cool. So I guess that kind of says how important they are in the digital realm, not very, at least to us. We like to get the music out there first and foremost. When it comes time to getting things put to a physical format then we definitely want it looking exactly how it should. The only other one at this point is the self-titled and Adam Burke is working on something for that too. I’m very happy with the covers we have thus far.
8. With material that’s so diverse and with all three of you doing so much on each record, what are Ice Dragon shows like? Do you pull songs from different albums and mix it up, or will you do a show that’s all one record? It seems like recording and releasing is more important to the band, but will Ice Dragon ever tour?
We used to just do stripped down versions of songs, just get the basics of it and make it rock. There’s definitely certain songs that will just never work live. We don’t really care too much about playing live, there’s very little creativity in it, and we’re into creating songs a lot more than just playing them. I’m sure at some point we’ll play out again, not sure when, but we will I think.
9. What’s in the works next for you guys and are there any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
We just finished a song for a compilation ThrashHead is putting out, and another that Joe wrote that came out really amazing. Total opposites, the first one is a heavy ripper old-school metal style and the other is a dreamy classic rock kinda thing. We’re always making something. Hopefully no one is getting sick of us, or thinks I’m too much of a dickhead. Have a margarita and be yourself.
Posted in On the Radar on September 12th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Things just keep getting weirder and weirder. I mean it. After recently basking in the droning strangeness of the latest Ice Dragon outing last Friday (it’s the latest unless they’ve put another one out already), I find I’m even less sure of my footing when it comes to the related project Tentacle, whose Void Abyss debut hits a mainline of blasted ultra-dark psychedelics, Lovecraftian horror and sludge-laden disgust. The Void Abyssin which the five songs of the EP reside is one of their own making.
Tentacle released Void Abyssin a CD edition of 100 that promptly sold out, with a black sleeve featuring a photo of the cover art and an all-black (front and back) disc that hides in its depths an even-more-distorted secret track. Also included is a xerox-type booklet — my tendency with photocopied anything is to call it a ‘zine, but it’s really just a handmade CD booklet, proportionally and in the fact that it just basically includes the lyrics with some pictures of snails, octopi and other creatures traditionally slime-covered — that offers little information other than the words to the songs and the year of release, which is 2012. Full lineup, recording info, etc., remains a mystery.
No coincidence there, it would seem. Other than seeing three members in the photos on Tentacle‘s Thee Facebooks, there’s nothing to mark them a trio — from the murky sounds on “Talking, Bending, Dripping, Breaking,” there could be two people in the band or 20 — but Void Abyssproves all the more disturbing for the mystique, and as the songs remain completely wretched for the duration despite hinting at some stylistic variety, the tracks prove remarkably consistent for sounding like they just crawled out from between Cthulhu’s barnacled buttcheeks: Totally and unreasonably fucked.
Posted in audiObelisk on September 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Bear witness to the prolific nature of Boston doomers Ice Dragon and duly tremble. The band self-released their new full-length, Greyblackfalconhawk, on this very day and I figured its bleak, dronely sprawl was a decent way to wrap the week. Of course the album is available over at Ice Dragon‘s Bandcamp page as a pay-what-you-will download as well. It is their third full-length of 2012 along with two splits, and what it lacks in “space key,” it more than makes up for in hopelessness. I know the custom around here is to end the week with a YouTube clip, but what can I say, I’m shifting paradigms all over the place. It’s a new day.
I might get a couple posts up over the weekend if I have time. There’s some job-type work I need to do tomorrow afternoon, and provided I have the mental capacity to do so, there’s some more I want to post on here before next week starts, so keep an eye out. Either way, next week brings track premieres from Colour Haze – yes, She Saidexists, yes, I’ve heard it and yes, it fucking rules — and fellow German outfit Obelyskkh, who are nothing if not suited to the surroundings around here, what with the name and all. Both songs are well worth staying tuned for, and I’ll also have reviews up of Undersmile and Curse the Son, among others. Kings Destroy is playing with Inter Arma, Pallbearer and Royal Thunder next Tuesday, and I might hit that up if I can get out of work on time, but that’s a cool show, so good for them. In any case, I’m looking forward to their new material and to catching them on their previously-announced November weekender with Black Pyramid and Clamfight. That’ll be fun.
Also to be posted next week is an interview with Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, about their new album, Riitiir (review here), and I don’t usually say this kind of thing, but it’s epic. One of the best interviews I’ve ever done, hands down. The conversation was more than an hour long, and Bjørnson was excellent, open and honest the whole way through. It’s going to be murder to transcribe but I know it’ll be worth it in the end. Keep an eye out, it’ll probably be up next Thursday or Friday.
Before I split out to finish this glass and get some more wine, special thanks to everyone who responded to the Top 10 Greatest Stoner Albums post. That’s been amazing and I’m glad people seem to be responding to each other’s comments and having fun with it. That’s awesome. I’ll probably leave that up top on the frontpage over the weekend in case anyone else wants to chime in, then maybe get a master list going and at very least use it as a basis for a podcast or something like that. Get all the essentials together in one place. We’ll see how it goes, but seriously, thank you for being involved. Makes me feel way less like I’m talking to myself.
Alright y’all, time to put on some Colour Haze and hang out with The Patient Mrs. for a while, but once again, thanks. I hope you dig the Ice Dragon and support those guys by digging into their wealth of material, and I hope to see you on the forum and maybe back here sometime over the next couple days. Be safe and enjoy.
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 Suninstead.
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: