Quarterly Review: Kamchatka, Legion of Andromeda, Queen Elephantine, Watchtower, Ape Skull, Hordes, Dead Shed Jokers, These Hands Conspire, Enos & Mangoo, Band of SpicePosted in Reviews on July 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
We’re on the downhill swing of this edition of the Quarterly Review, so it’s time to get into some extremes, I think. Today, between death-doom lurch, drone-as-fuck exploring, gritty aggression and a whole lot more, we pretty much get there. I’m not saying it’s one end of the universe to another, but definitely a little all-over-the-place, which is just what one might need when staring down the fourth round of 10 reviews in a row in a week’s time. Feeling good though, so let’s do it.
Quarterly Review #31-40:
Kamchatka, Long Road Made of Gold
It would really be something if Swedish blues rockers Kamchatka released six albums over the course of the last decade and didn’t know what they were doing by now. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Long Road Made of Gold (Despotz Records), their sixth, as the Verberg three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Thomas Juneor Andersson, bassist Per Wiberg (see also: Spiritual Beggars, Candlemass, Opeth, etc.) and drummer Tobias Strandvik modernize classic heavy rock with equal comfort in including a banjo on “Take Me Back Home” and progressive-style harmonies on “Rain.” They seem to get bluesier as they go, with later cuts “Mirror,” “Slowly Drifting Away,” “Long Road” and “To You” rounding out the album with Clutch-style bounce, but the prevailing impact of Long Road Made of Gold is one of unflinching class, the chemistry of its players – not to mention Wiberg’s bass tone – ringing through loud and clear from the material as Kamchatka make their way down that long road to their inevitable next outing.
Legion of Andromeda, Iron Scorn
I said as much when the Tokyo duo released their 2013 debut EP (review here) as well, but their first long-player Iron Scorn (on At War with False Noise) only confirms it: Legion of Andromeda are fucked. Theirs is a doomed-out death metal given further inhumanity by programmed drums and the blown-out growls of vocalist -R-, while guitarist/programmer –M- holds down grime-encrusted chug and dirge riffing. Perhaps most fucked of all is the fact that Iron Scorn uses essentially the same drum progression across its seven tracks/44 minutes, varying in tempo but holding firm to the double-kick and bell-hit timekeeping for the duration. The effect this has not only ties the material together – as it would have to – but also makes the listener feel like they’ve entered into some no-light-can-escape alternate universe in which all there is is that thud, the distortion and the growls. Not a headphone record, unless you were looking to start psychotherapy anyhow, its extremity is prevalent enough to feel like a physical force holding you down.
Queen Elephantine, Omen
Relentlessly creative and geographically amorphous drone warriors Queen Elephantine compile eight tracks from eight years of their perpetual exploration for Omen on Atypeek Music, which launches with its titular cut, the oldest of the bunch, from 2007. It’s a gritty rolling groove that, even as nascent and riff-noddy as it is, still has underpinnings that might clue the listener in to what’s to come (especially in hindsight) and comes accompanied by the sludgy “The Sea Goat,” a rawer take recorded the same year in Hong Kong. Newest on Omen is the blissfully percussed “Morning Three” and an 18-minute live version of “Search for the Deathless State” from 2010’s Kailash full-length. Lineups, intent and breadth of sound vary widely, but even into the reaches of “1,000 Years” (2012, Providence, RI) and “Shamanic Procession” (2009, New York), Queen Elephantine remain unflinching in their experimentalism and the results here are likewise immersive. Vastly underrated, their work remains a world waiting to be explored.
Watchtower, Radiant Moon
Consuming undulations of tectonic riffing. Two of them, actually. Watchtower’s Radiant Moon EP serves as their debut on Magnetic Eye, and like their fellow-Melbourne-resident labelmates in Horsehunter, the four-piece Watchtower slam heavy-est riffs into the listener’s cerebral cortex with little concern for lasting aftereffects, all in worship of nod and volume itself. Where the two acts differ is in Watchtower’s overarching sense of grit, harsh vocals pervading both “Radiant Moon” (9:03) itself and the accompanying “Living Heads” (7:09), standalone vocalist Nico Guijt growing through the tonal fray wrought by guitarist Robbie Ingram and bassist Ben Robertson, Joel McGann’s drums pushing the emergent roll forward on “Living Heads,” a High on Fire-style startoff hitting the brakes on tempo to plod over any and all in its path. I’m trying to tell you it’s fucking heavy. Is that getting through? Watchtower had a live single out before Radiant Moon, but I’d be eager to hear what they come up with for a full-length, whether they might shift elsewhere at some point or revel in pure onslaught. Now taking bets.
Ape Skull, Fly Camel Fly
The use of multiple vocalists gives Roman trio Ape Skull’s ‘70s fetishism a particularly proggy air. Fly Camel Fly is their second full-length for Heavy Psych Sounds behind a 2013 self-titled, and the boogie of “My Way” and “Early Morning,” the solo-topped groove of “Fly Camel Fly,” and the raw Hendrixology of “A is for Ape” position it as a classic rocker through and through. Vocalist/drummer Giuliano Padroni, bassist/vocalist Pierpaolo Pastorelli and guitarist/vocalist Fulvio Cartacci get down to shuffling business quick and stay that way for the 39-minute duration, the Mountainous “Heavy Santa Ana Wind” missing only the complement of a sappy, over-the-top ballad to complete its vintage believability. Even without, the triumvirate stand tall, fuzzy and swinging on Fly Camel Fly, the cowbell of “Tree Stomp” calling to mind the earthy chaos of Blue Cheer without direct mimicry. A quick listen that builds and holds its momentum, but one that holds up too on subsequent visits.
Mad-as-hell trio Hordes have had a slew of releases out over the last eight years or so – EPs, splits, full-lengths with extended tracks – but their experimental take on noise rock topped with Godfleshy shouts arrives satisfyingly stripped down on their latest self-titled five-track EP, recorded in 2013 and pressed newly to tape and CD (also digital). “Eyes Dulled Blind” dials back some of the pummeling after the bruises left by “Cold War Echo,” guitarist/vocalist Alex Hudson at the fore in the JK Broadrick tradition. Centerpiece “Summer” starts with a slow and peaceful ruse before shifting into brash and blown-out punk – Chris Martinez’s hi-hat forward in the mix to further the abrasion – and finally settles into a middle-ground between the two (mind you, the song is four minutes long), and bassist Jon Howard opens “Life Crusher,” which unfolds quickly into the most oppressive push here, while a churning atmosphere pervades the more echo-laden closer “Fall” to reinforce Hordes’ experimentalist claims and steady balance between tonal weight and noise-caked aggression.
Dead Shed Jokers, Dead Shed Jokers
There’s a theatrical element underlying Welsh rockers Dead Shed Jokers’ second, self-titled full-length (on Pity My Brain Records). That’s not to say its eight songs are in some way insincere, just that the five-piece of vocalist Hywel Davies, guitarists Nicky Bryant and Kristian Evans, bassist Luke Cook and drummer Ashley Jones know there’s a show going on. Davies is in the lead throughout and proves a consummate frontman presence across opener “Dafydd’s Song,” the stomping “Memoirs of Mr. Bryant” and the swinging “Rapture Riddles,” Dead Shed Jokers’ penultimate cut before the cabaret closer “Exit Stage Left (Applause),” but the instrumental backing is up to its own task, and a clear-headed production gives the entire affair a professional sensibility. They veer into and out of heavy rock tropes fluidly, but maintain a tonal fullness wherever they might be headed, and Cook’s bass late in “Made in Vietnam” seems to carry a record’s worth of weight in just its few measures at the forefront before Davies returns for the next round of proclamations.
These Hands Conspire, Sword of Korhan
Berlin’s These Hands Conspire aren’t through the two-minute instrumental “Intro” before they’re showing off the heft of tone that pervades their metallized debut album, Sword of Korhan, but as they demonstrate throughout the following seven tracks and the total 45-minute runtime, there’s plenty to go around. Vocalist Felix delivers an especially noteworthy performance over the dual-guitars of Tom and Stefan, the bass of Paul and Sascha’s drums, but heavy metal storytelling – the sci-fi narrative seems to be a battle in space – is just as much a part of the record’s progressive flow, longer cuts like “Praise to Nova Rider,” “The Beast Cometh,” which directly follows, and “Ambush at Antarox IV” feeding one into the next sonically and thematically. The penultimate title-track brings swinging apex to an ambitious first outing, but the foreboding, winding guitar echoes of “Outro” hint at more of the tale to be told. Could be that Sword of Korhan is just the beginning of a much longer engagement.
Enos & Mangoo, Split
Maybe it doesn’t need to be said, since if it weren’t the case, they wouldn’t have paired at all, but Enos and Mangoo pair well. The UK chimp-obsessed space metallers – that’s Enos, on side A – and the Finnish modernized classic heavy rock outfit – that’s Mangoo, on side B – don’t ask much of the listener across their Son of a Gun/The Grey Belly split (on H42 Records) beyond a little over 10 minutes of time and a willingness to follow a groove. “Son of a Gun” finds Enos blending particularly well with Mangoo’s methodology via the inclusion of organ in their swinging but still forward-directed movement, and after that, it’s an easy mesh to flip the platter and find Mangoo’s “The Grey Belly” waiting, its own keys playing a huge role in carrying across the ‘70s-via-‘90s vibe the band projects so well. Flourishes of percussion in the former seem to complement the progressive guitar work in the latter, and whichever side happens to be spinning, it all works out just fine.
Band of Spice, Economic Dancers
Born in 2007 as Spice and the RJ Band and rechristened Band of Spice in 2010 prior to their third album, Feel Like Coming Home, the Swedish unit boasting vocalist Christian “Spice” Sjöstrand (founding vocalist of Spiritual Beggars, also Mushroom River Band, currently also in Kayser) release their fourth full-length half a decade later in the form of Economic Dancers on Scarlet Records. It’s a straightforward heavy rocker in the organ-laced European tradition that Spice helped create, with some shades of quirk in the intro to “The Joe” and the arena-ready backing vocals of “In My Blood,” but mostly cutting its teeth on modernized ‘70s jams like “On the Run,” “Down by the Liquor Store” and “True Will,” though the six-minute centerpiece “You Will Call” touches on more psychedelic fare and is backed immediately by two metallers in “You Can’t Stop” and “Fly Away,” so it’s not by any means one-sided, even if at times the mix makes it feel like the 11 tracks are a showcase for the singer whose name is on the marquee.