Magic Circle Sign to 20 Buck Spin; Journey Blind Due Nov. 20

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 21st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Details were pretty minimal last month when Boston doomers Magic Circle posted two tracks from their forthcoming second record, Journey Blind, on YouTube in much the same spirit as how they released their first single in 2012. If you click that link, you’ll see that “Lightning Cage” and “Grand Deceivers” have both been taken down, so if you caught them while they were out, kudos on having a leg up. At the time, I wasn’t sure if Journey Blind would be released through Armageddon Shop, which put out the band’s 2013 self-titled debut (review here), but today we get the answer with the announcement that 20 Buck Spin will release the album — perfect for the increasing darkness of late Fall — on Nov. 20.

The artwork seems to have been pulled as well, but it’ll be back soon enough. I’ve been curious as to what Magic Circle might due to follow-up the first outing, if they’ll work in the same kind of bleak atmosphere, expand on it or turn to something else, so if the details below are a step in the direction of finding that out — and they are — then even better.

Dig in:

Magic Circle (Photo by Dakota Gordon)

MAGIC CIRCLE: Boston Quintet Joins 20 Buck Spin Cult For Release Of Triumphant Journey Blind Sophomore LP

20 Buck Spin will round out its roster for 2015 with the release of Journey Blind, the triumphant sophomore LP from Boston-based quintet MAGIC CIRCLE. This year has already been the most productive and expansive year for the label, but Journey Blind will fit into your parents’ unwavering classic rock collection the same as it could be the hottest thing on your younger cousin’s latest playlist.

Who said anything about running out of ideas? The stubborn ones were born to linger, to nose out newer, more subtle permutations with the help from a few ragged fucks willing to practice them. The MAGIC CIRCLE mutts roll in heavy metal whatness, striking a balance with the pituitary culture it begat, and the tunes it jacked out. Suburban drag races. Basement bum wine scrum. Every collective thought burnt into a dirty tape dub of Mob Rules. Sabbath, especially in its later incarnations, hulks ephemerally among all openings, rests, and codas. When Chris Corry and Dan Ducas’ guitars aren’t jelly-legging around Iommi, they’re rekindling “Neon Knights,” brandishing “Die Young” credo. Meanwhile, Q clubs the kit like a drunken Cozy Powell. Brendan Radigan stakes big, black flag in vocal territory long occupied by Saint Vitus, Saxon, Armored Saint, and Trouble. Bassist Justin DeTore alternates creepy crawl and thunder word belch, laying yoke over each tune and driving them prejudicially underground.

But motherfuck simply “sounding” like these bands. MAGIC CIRCLE celebrates them, and in doing so honors the form they have found. It’s HEAVY METAL. Hit hard. Write riffs that clack along like rustbucket tanks into perpetuity. “Play” bass in ways that make you at once inseparable from every punch the drummer lands, and also ghosts every riff — working beneath, between, behind the rhythm. Sing that fucking story as every ancient did their Homer. It means something. It stands for something. Bring that to the tape.

And so MAGIC CIRCLE does. Tunes are rude, vicious. Some lumber ominously along, bare-fisting the downbeat through riffs raised from basements held in the odors of stale beer, mold, and want. Others stuff the song’s shape with directional changes — tipping a cap to Trouble and Saint Vitus via Sabbath. All the dots are easily connected. There’s no sport there. But, in lieu of refinement, we get an honest reckoning: MAGIC CIRCLE is a band (quickly) becoming. Through the web of influence and itchy, artistic compulsion they’ve found savage and ultimately promising ways of reanimating long since taxidermied forms.

Following their self-titled debut which was well-received in metal and hardcore circles, MAGIC CIRCLE returns with forty-five minutes of dominant, pure heavy metal on Journey Blind, a record which sees the outfit doing what they do, but doing it even better. Self-produced and recorded by the band at guitarist CC’s The Pain Cave, the record surges with the viscosity a team of top-tier producers would be proud to back.

The cover art for Journey Blind is an unused piece dating to 1979 by legendary artist Joe Petagno (Motorhead, Mammoth Grinder, Autopsy) which has been properly fitted to this modern ripper which could have been captured three decades ago yet booms with a refreshed spirit to guide today’s misguided youth back to their unbeknownst roots. Devotees to the scriptures immotalized by 1980s Black Sabbath, 1980s Trouble, Pagan Altar, Saint Vitus and the like should not pass this one by.

20 Buck Spin will make MAGIC CIRCLE’s Journey Blind a reality on November 20th in CD and digital formats, with the vinyl to follow in mid-December or whenever the pressing plants can get their shit together.

Having successfully toured with metal lifers Satan (the band, not the deity) in 2014 and more, MAGIC CIRCLE will be raging the stage surrounding the release of Journey Blind, so stand by for handcrafted flyers announcing stages to soon be smoldered to be tacked up on grimy bathroom walls in your local venue in the months ahead.

Journey Blind Track Listing:
1. Journey Blind
2. The Damned Man
3. A Ballad For The Vultures
4. Lightning Cage
5. Ghosts Of The Southern Front
6. Grand Deceivers
7. Antediluvian

Audio samples of Journey Blind, review copies of the album and more are in store. Get ready to rock steady.

Magic Circle, Live at the Whiskey a Go Go, Oct. 24, 2014

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Shatner Book Studio Time for Nazareth Cover and New Material

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 17th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Boston trio Shatner have booked studio time at Amps vs. Ohms to track their cover of Nazareth‘s “Whiskey Drinking Woman.” The three-piece, which features members of We’re all Gonna Die — guitarist/vocalist Jim Healey and bassist Jesse Sherman — and Cocked ‘n’ Loaded — drummer Rob Davol — are just over a month removed from the release of their debut EP. Called simply EP, that five-track outing was also recorded in Cambridge, MA, at Amps vs. Ohms, and in addition to the Nazareth tune, which will be included in Underdogma Records‘ upcoming tribute, Go Down Fighting, the band will reportedly be putting down a few new originals as well.

That Shatner would be taking part in the Underdogma tribute to Nazareth makes sense, as We’re all Gonna Die released their three full-lengths through the label between 2004 and 2008. While that band played a could reunion shows last year, Davol‘s band, Cocked ‘n’ Loaded called it quits last Fall after building a considerable reputation locally. How or if that momentum will carry over into Shatner remains to be seen. They have shows booked for later next month and November in New Hampshire and Allston, but more interesting is that they’re talking about hitting the road in 2016. I’ll look forward to seeing how that pans out and just how much touring they’re looking to do.

For now, here’s their update:

shatner (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Shatner Update

Hey Everyone…Here’s a Shatner Update!

We recently released our first EP online:

We are heading back into Amps VS. Ohms at the end of this month to record our cover of “Whiskey Drinking Woman” by Nazareth for the upcoming Underdogma Nazareth tribute release.

We will also be recording couple of new originals as well. We have a few local/regional shows coming up (10/29 – Shaskeen in NH, 11/1 O’Brien’s) , but plan on doing some roadwork in 2016, so stay tuned!

Jim Healey – Guitar and Vocals
Jesse Sherman – Bass and Backing Vocals
Rob Davol – Drums

Shatner, EP (2015)

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Cortez Finish Work on New Album The Depths Below

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 1st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

cortez (Photo by Bruce Bettis)

Good news from the camp of Allston, Massachusetts, heavy rockers Cortez. The five-piece outfit have finished work on their impending sophomore full-length, and unveiled the title as The Depths Below. They began the recording process last December with the esteemed Benny Grotto at the helm at Q Division Studios in Somerville, MA, and have gradually chipped away at the tracks — names like “Farewell to Kings” and “Orison” have been leaked — since then at both Q Division and the seemingly-compatriot Moontower Recording Studio, taking time here and there for gigs at the now-defunct TT the Bear’s Place — I’ll buy it; sign me up — and at the Grub, Sweat and Beers fest with ShatnerHessianSetGozuBlackwolfgoatConclave and a host of other local heavy luminaries.

No public word on the release plan for The Depths Below — which is to say, if Cortez know when or how it’s coming out, they haven’t posted about it — but when it arrives, it will be the follow-up to 2012’s self-titled debut (review here) and their 2014 split single with Borracho (semi-review here) and their first full-length outing since they added Alasdair Swan on second guitar alongside the established four-piece of six-stringer Scott O’Dowd, vocalist Matt Harrington, bassist Jay Furlo and drummer Jeremy Hemond. Naturally one expects that shift in dynamic will show itself in the material, but we may yet be a while off from finding out exactly how. A 2016 seems fair to expect, but one never knows. Could show up earlier if the art and pressing plans are done.

More info when I see or hear it, but for now, their announcement of the record’s completion was quick and victorious:

cortez matt singing

Our new album is finished and has been mastered. We have settled on the title “The Depths Below”. It didn’t take quite as long to finish as GnR’s Chinese Democracy, and unlike that album, we’re confident that it’ll have been worth the wait.

Cortez, Studio Snippet 2015

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Kind Premiere “German for Lucy”; Announce Release of Debut LP Rocket Science

Posted in audiObelisk on August 27th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

kind (Photo by Nicole Tammaro)

I’m going to do my absolute very best to keep this brief, because there’s much more to say about Kind and their upcoming Ripple Music debut, Rocket Science, but there’s also a lot of time in which to say it. It’s out on December, and in addition to being the first track premiere from the new band, the first studio-recorded, non-demo audio to be made public, it’s also the first announcement of the album itself. So there’s time, is what I’m saying, and as much as I’d like to dive into the record headfirst, preorders aren’t even up yet.

Still, if one might have be reminded to cool one’s jets, it’s well justified. I recall hearing late in 2013 that guitarist Darryl Shepard (Milligram, Black Pyramid, etc.) was jamming kind rocket sciencewith Elder drummer Matt Couto, and that wound up as the root of Kind. Tom Corino from Rozamov plays bass, and Craig Riggs of Roadsaw rounds out on vocals, and many of the songs on Rocket Science — dig that Alexander von Wieding cover art — are born out of those same jams. They’ve come a long way, having been developed over a series of local shows fit between the four-piece’s otherwise busy schedules (review here, here and here), but listening to “German for Lucy,” that raw vitality holds up.

If you know the members’ other groups, that still doesn’t really prepare you for what Kind bring to the table. “German for Lucy” opens the record, and immediately the listener is immersed in a heavy psychedelic vibe. Riggs‘ vocals are as much a part of the atmosphere as Shepard‘s effects-drenched guitar, pushed deep in the mix and set for maximum spaciousness. This really is just the beginning of what there is to say about this one, but if you want to get stoked, the stream works even better than my nerding out.

More to come. For now, stream and announcement follow. Enjoy:

KIND; A new doom project from Black Pyramid, Elder, Roadsaw and Rozamov

Formed in 2013 by Matt Couto (Elder), Darryl Shepard (Black Pyramid, The Scimitar) and Tom Corino (Rozamov) – after the trio spent time jamming together in-between day-to-day commitments – the doom supergroup KIND quickly cemented their formation with the addition of Roadsaw vocalist Craig Riggs.

Out of the mind-bending riffs and extended jam sessions, whole songs began to take shape through winter 2014 rehearsals down in Couto’s freezing cold basement, where the newly formed quartet began laying down ideas for their soon to be released debut, Rocket Science, which officially lands this December on Ripple Music.

Shows were soon booked to share the tunes with the curious. Further riffs materialized, new songs banged into shape, and yet more shows booked, so keen were the band to test their mettle and mixture of heavy metal, psych, Krautrock and straight-up classic rock and roll. With four songs recorded at Mad Oak Studios serving as the band’s demo, in the spring of 2015, KIND entered New Alliance Studios with engineer Alec Rodriguez to record their first full-length, Rocket Science.

Kind on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music

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Worshipper Release New Single Place Beyond the Light

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 18th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

worshipper (Photo by Bob Maloney)

Boston four-piece Worshipper have issued their second digital single, and it’s a bit of a doozy. The classic-style metallers made their debut in the frigid wee hours of early 2015 with Black Corridor b/w High Above the Clouds (review here), and their second two-songer, the newly-unveiled Place Beyond the Light b/w Step Behind, pushes even deeper into prime metallurgy while also adding a distinctly catchy hard rock edge that, especially on “Place Beyond the Light” itself, reminds me on first listen of some of Scorpions‘ poised infectiousness.

The band also have some killer shows coming up, including one this week in Allston, and they’ll play Tee Pee Records‘ upcoming two-day fest, Cosmic Sonic Rendezvous (info here), in Brooklyn at The Wick over Labor Day weekend, where they’ll open the second night with The Golden Grass, The Bevis Frond, Carousel and Witch. Some more than solid company to keep.

Release details and audio follow:

worshipper no place beyond the light

Worshipper just released Place Beyond the Light | Step Behind

We are pleased to announce the release of our new single “Place Beyond the Light / Step Behind.” Download it now from bandcamp. See us live Aug. 21 at Great Scott!

WORSHIPPER plays the kind of darkly epic rock that can only be found in the vinyl collection of your “cool uncle.” Through their unique mix of contemporary and classic influences, WORSHIPPER prove that the horn-throwing soul of melodic heavy music of the past still burns brightly.

1. Place Beyond the Light 5:04
2. Step Behind 4:46

released 17 August 2015

Music by Worshipper
Lyrics by John Brookhouse

Worshipper is:
John Brookhouse – Vocals, guitars
Dave Jarvis – Drums
Bob Maloney – Bass, vocals
Alejandro Necochea – Guitars

Recorded & Mixed by Benny Grotto at Q Division
Mastered by Mike Quinn at The Moontower

Aug 21 Great Scott Allston, MA
Sep 06 The Wick/The Well Brooklyn, NY
Sep 22 Wilbur Theatre Boston, MA
Oct 02 The Last Safe & Deposit Company Lowell, MA

Copyright Inspector Lucius Music ASCAP (2015)

Worshipper, Place Beyond the Light (2015)

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In the Studio with Rozamov at New Alliance Audio, Cambridge, MA

Posted in Features on August 18th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Rozamov (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I’d never been to New Alliance Audio before. In operation since 1987, it’s one of the Eastern Seaboard’s best-reputed studios — you’ve probably also seen “Mastered at New Alliance East” on a plethora of releases; that’s right next door — nestled into the heart of Cambridge a couple blocks down from The Middle East in a building that also houses the radio station WEMF and numerous other entities of note. The occasion that finally allowed me to sneak a look was Rozamov putting the finishing touches on their first full-length, and I very much appreciated the opportunity to stop by, even more because I got to hear some rozamov 3 (Photo by JJ Koczan)of their new material than because it granted me a look at the place where they tracked it.

Or tracked most of it, anyway. There was still a bit of work to be done, some vocal overdubs prior to mixing and the like. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Iacovelli met me at the door and gave me directions upstairs — he was stepping out into the August heat for a quick break from recording — and up in the studio itself, I found bassist/vocalist Tom Corino and New Alliance head engineer Jon Taft in the control room past a narrow lobby. The control room itself is spacious enough to record in, a high ceiling, intimidatingly large tape machine, professional-as-hell low wall of preamps, expansive console, ProTools setup, stack of monitors and so on, all dark colors and lights that could probably be turned up if you wanted to make someone uncomfortable or see to clean — unlike many studios I’ve been in, it was clean — and through the window was the recording room itself, which had been arranged to suit the vocals, with partitions arranged to capture the sound just right and give a projected feel. I didn’t get a close-up look at the microphone, but from listening to what came through rozamov 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)it in the control room once Iacovelli came back in and got started, it sounded expensive.

Rozamov, after releasing their first, self-titled EP in 2012 and following it up with a second EP, Of Gods and Flesh, in 2013, joined forces with Midnite Collective earlier this year for a two-track split with Deathkings (review here). I’ve seen them play periodically since 2012, and watched Iacovelli, Corino and drummer Will Hendrix (elsewhere for the afternoon) transition from a four-piece to a trio — former guitarist Liz Walshak now plays in Sea — and step forward as one of next-gen Boston’s fiercest heavy bands. They headed into New Alliance a couple weeks ago to start recording their first full-length, and I’d be hard pressed to imagine a better time. With the experience of their two EPs and that split behind them, as well as veteran status for the 2015 Psycho California fest, an opening spot at a Converse-sponsored show for none less than Slayer and tours both behind and ahead of them. They are nothing if not ready for their next test, which of course is the album itself.

Laughing as they listened to a playback of a song called “Serpent Cult” — not to be confused with the Belgian band of the rozamov 5 (Photo by JJ Koczan)same name — Iacovelli laughed as he pointed out that all their releases so far have had four songs, and the difference this time was that four songs topped 40 minutes. “Serpent Cult” did seem immediately expansive, and the layers of clean vocals he added while I was there — Corino likened them to a harmonized Electric WizardTaft to melody-rich locals The Proselyte — did much to make it all the more so. I wouldn’t cheapen their past output by calling it their most complex work before experiencing a finished product, but the ambition was plain to hear. And coming through the New Alliance monitors, even the unmixed crawl of a cut that had the working title “Super Doom” lived up to its name. Jokes were tossed back and forth through the microphone connecting the control room and the recording space, and Taft and the band (and I as well, obviously, though one tries to keep one’s opinion-expressing to a minimum in those instances) listened through each line to make sure it was where they wanted it to be before moving forward.

And it says something about the work Rozamov have put in up to this point that theyrozamov 4 (Photo by JJ Koczan) have such a grip on what they want to do sonically and that they seemed so comfortable in directing the material. The bulk of the recording was done and would be finished before long. They were still working out lyrics — I think it was “Super Doom” that still needed a line — but there was plenty to do while they worked to nail down the finishing touches, and though the original plan had been to start mixing immediately, already more than half the day was gone and lunch had yet to be consumed, so the conversation quickly turned to pressing matters: sushi, Thai, Indian, etc.

I’d eaten before I got there, so thought it better to excuse myself rather than double-up, but I was grateful for the slice of new Rozamov that I got to hear and I always feel like you never really know a band until you see them work in the studio — laughing through, “That was bad. Do it again,” and so on — so I’ll look forward to the arrival of their debut even more now having been fortunate enough to swing through while it was coming together. As to when that arrival might happen? Between the inevitable pressing delay, label scheduling and whatever else, I wouldn’t think it would show up before 2016, but you never know. Either way, I’ll let you know when I hear more.

Rozamov & Deathkings, Split (2015)

Rozamov on Thee Facebooks

Rozamov on Bandcamp

Midnite Collective

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Live Review: Godhunter and Destroyer of Light in Massachusetts, 08.14.15

Posted in Reviews on August 17th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Godhunter (Photo by JJ Koczan)

My first time in Salem, or “Witch City,” as the sign said, which seems to have done reasonably well on the niche-tourism market based on its people-got-burned-at-the-stake-here heritage. Well enough to have a joint like Koto, anyway. The venue where this show happened is a sushi bar. A sushi bar. Because although the passion for heavy music in the area of Eastern Massachusetts is strong enough to host gigs at, say, a sushi bar, that’s also how deep the corresponding lack of decent venues in the region runs. Godhunter and Destroyer of Light, from Arizona and Austin, Texas, respectively, came an awfully long way. It’s kind of hard not to be embarrassed for the state in which I live. Often.

Led to the Grave. (Photo by JJ Koczan)But the good news was Godhunter and Destroyer of Light, and if it’s a sushi bar, well, that’s better than nowhere at all. A section of the otherwise carpeted floor was hardwood, and tables were cleared out to make a “stage,” which is to say an empty space. The kitchen stayed open — sadly, I did not have any sushi, though I’d been craving it for weeks — and locals Led to the Grave opened the show billed to start at 9PM well after 10 with their death-thrashing blend of sonic extremity very much in a New England-y vein. Dual-guitar squibblies called to mind the first time I heard Cannae‘s Troubleshooting Death and thought about the colors of autumn leaves. They were heavy, growls, screams, shouts, Slayer parts, etc. Not offensive to watch, and at times pretty right on, but not really where my head was at.

I was there to see Destroyer of Light and Godhunter, whose split 12″, Endsville, is out now on Battleground Records. Both are dual-guitar/dual-vocal four-pieces, and both have plenty of aggressive edge, so how they wound up touring and working together isn’t really much of a mystery, but they made a fitting complement at what I’d seen billed as “Salem’s first stoner rock show,” which was interesting since I didn’t think it was a stonerDestroyer of Light (Photo by JJ Koczan) rock show at all. Led to the Grave, even when they grooved beyond their melodeath and thrash influence, did so with a death metal charge, and both Godhunter and Destroyer of Light are meaner than what I usually think of as stoner rock. It’s not like it was “An Evening with Sons of Otis” (though I’d probably go to that as well). Maybe it’s splitting hairs, but Godhunter are sludge metal all the way and Destroyer of Light have some pretty clear Sleep influence, but are up to something entirely rawer.

If you don’t know the band, I’m not trying to slight them when I say they’re not as metal as their name and they’re not as punk as their cover artwork, but they have elements of both metal and punk to go along with their big, big, big riffing. On stage — such as it was — guitarist/vocalist Steve Colca, bassist Jeff Klein and guitarist/backing vocalist Keegan Kjeldsen headbanged in unison to their own grooving largesse while drummerDestroyer of Light (Photo by JJ Koczan) Penny Turner slammed away on his ride cymbal behind, setting the nod. It was righteous from the start, and they offered little breathing room from one pummel to the next, guitar leads cutting through the density of the direct-from-the-cabs wash of sound — P.A. for vocals only, house-show style — as Turner was bathed in green light and the rest of the band more or less played in the dark.

Another unfortunate staple of the Bay State show-going experience, that, but not unexpected, particularly at a place like Koto, which though it’s badass enough to put on a show like this one — their t-shirts were also killer-looking, but I did not dare ask about sizes lest I should incur the judgmental glare of the employees, several of whom I supplied with earplugs — isn’t really equipped to host it on a professional level. Again, nothing against it, but it’s a sushi bar, not Radio City Music HallGodhunter (Photo by JJ Koczan)It seemed likely to me that either Destroyer of Light or Godhunter, who closed out the night, would bust through that P.A., but neither did. On tour together and sharing amps, it wasn’t a long changeover between the two traveling acts, and I was very excited for Godhunter‘s set, which even Steve from Destroyer of Light had teased by touting the assault of volume that was to come.

They didn’t disappoint on that level or any other unless you perhaps count the shortness of their set. Four songs, maybe five? They incited a sort of mini-mosh, dudes who were clearly more metal than doom meeting their cathartic riffing head-on by blowing off steam, yelling, being plastered, and so on. I moved to the side of the stage and just sort of watched it happen, Godhunter‘s guitarists, David Rodgers and Jake Brazelton, trading vocal duties as bassist Dick Williamson and drummer Andy Kratzenberg held the groove together thick and rolling at centerstage. On record, they are vicious, and while the live set had more of an overwhelming density than a harsh bite, the Godhunter (Photo by JJ Koczan)beastliness they conjured was familiar anyway, and I was very glad to have been there to see it.

Standing where I was, I kind of felt like I was observing from outside the action, but being there, it would’ve been impossible not to be affected by it, and so their catharsis offered me a bit of my own, which on a Friday night after a long week, was much appreciated. They finished and I shouted for one more song, which they didn’t have. It was after midnight and I had a 90-minute ride home, so it didn’t seem like an issue to push, but if Godhunter had done an encore, no question I would have stayed.

A couple more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

Read more »

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Faces of Bayon, Ash and Dust Have No Dominion: So Mote it Be

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on August 12th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

faces of bayon ash and dust have no dominion

[Please note: Album art above is not final. Use the player to stream Faces of Bayon’s Ash and Dust Have No Dominion in full. Thanks to the band for allowing me to host it.]

Even Faces of Bayon themselves would likely admit it’s been a while since those outside the somewhat grim, post-industrial confines of Worcester, Massachusetts, heard from them. The trio, who released their debut album in 2011’s Heart of the Fire (review here), have continued to play steady local shows, mostly at Ralph’s Rock Diner, and they’ve ventured out periodically, but on a pretty subdued scale. In 2014, guitarist/vocalist Matt Smith (ex-Warhorse) and bassist Ron Miles (ex-Twelfth of Never) were joined by drummer Mike Lenihan, though their second album, Ash and Dust Have No Dominion, features drummer Michael Brown. Accordingly, it seems a fair guess Ash and Dust Have No Dominion — which was recorded by Black Pyramid drummer Clay Neely and mastered by Second Grave guitarist Christopher Drzal and in its final form will boast cover art by much-respected MA-based photograther Hillarie Jason — was set in motion some time ago, though just how long, I couldn’t say.

Certainly its five tracks/66 minutes sound ancient enough, but that’s more an aesthetic choice than actual age, as Faces of Bayon remind quickly of what was their initial appeal the first time out: Namely, the seamless blend they conjure between deathly extremity and stoner riffing. Stonerdeath is a pretty rare style, and even rarer if one wants to count acts who do it well, and it doesn’t quite encapsulate what Faces of Bayon bring to their longform material. You need the word “doom” in there to account for how “Concilium” (13:19) owes as much to early My Dying Bride as to Black Sabbath, or the swaps that occur throughout as Smith trades between his rasping, Paradise Lost-esque growl and nigh-on-goth, cleaner melodic singing. Stoner death-doom? Yeah, maybe. That’s not a bad place to start from.

It’s worth emphasizing the Sabbath influence, as the band does from the roll of “Concilium,” but that’s in line with Heart of the Fire as well. Second cut “Quantum Life” (12:29) is slower, lower and more grueling, the snare sound cutting through less than on the opener and the feel overall considerably darker, an initial lumber giving way to feedback after four minutes in to transition to minimalist spaciousness from which wah-guitar emerges to set the foundation that will carry through the hypnotic, mostly-instrumental remainder of the song, Smith re-emerging from the morass late to toss a final verse into the pit the band has constructed. Miles begins centerpiece “Blasphemies of the Forgotten World” (17:13) amid backing atmospherics, joined soon by quiet guitar and drums and some deep mixed singing, a psychedelic vibe pervasive despite the underlying threat of death (metal). They keep the thread going for nearly five minutes, through a verse, before kicking into fuller tonality — Miles‘ tone deep under what sounds like at least two tracks of guitar, but worth training the ear toward anyway — and the slogging pace is set.

faces of bayon

Obviously with Ash and Dust Have No Dominion being over an hour long, Faces of Bayon aren’t thinking of a vinyl structure, but “Blasphemies of the Forgotten World” does have a kind of mirror feel with album finale “So Mote it Be” in its airy lead flourish and coinciding blend of killer ride-it-out groove. Once again, Sabbath is a key factor in the riff, but Smith‘s vocals ensure that the band’s lean is less traditional and more nuanced, and it’s as the march of “Blasphemies of the Forgotten World” plays out that one realizes just how precise the niche the trio have carved out really is. They’re not death metal, or death-doom, or stoner doom entirely, but they find their way to touch on all three and more, all the while sounding like no one so much as themselves. Ash and Dust Have No Dominion becomes a significant achievement in light of its sense of identity, but SmithMiles and Brown take precious little time to rest on their laurels, instead digging deeper into the swampy mire of “Blasphemies of the Forgotten World”‘s purposefully repetitive rhythm and steady nod.

Enhancing the atmosphere, “Blasphemies of the Forgotten World” finishes about a minute before the track actually ends, feedback giving way to noise, far-back drumming and cymbal wash before “With You Comes the Cold” (4:21) gets underway. The only song on Ash and Dust Have No Dominion under 12 minutes long, it’s more of an interlude and a table-setter for “So Mote it Be” (19:11), but Smith adds some subdued lines to it anyway (some backwards whispers as well), and the vibe is almost like a more straightforward take on some of Om‘s ritualism — another line that Faces of Bayon make it sound easy to cross. When it comes on, the first 40 seconds of “So Mote it Be” are ultra-compressed, but the full tones are there, lurking, waiting. They kick in all at once and immediately one can already hear in one’s head the deathly cadence with which Smith will ultimately deliver the title line of the song — “So mote. It. Beeeeee.” in all-out death growl — though that’s still more than 10 minutes away. Given its length and the odd efficiency with which Faces of Bayon make use of that extended runtime, it’s hard not to think of “So Mote it Be” as the highlight of the album, but if anything it’s one more example of the strength of approach they’ve shown all along.

One doubts most bands could hold together songs like “So Mote it Be” or “Quantum Life,” let alone give them such a subtle sense of movement beneath an outward righteousness of monotony. The tracks would simply fall apart. But not only do Faces of Bayon stand tall at the end of “So Mote it Be” — that vocal cadence indeed carrying the track’s final movement — but they stand tall over a mess of feedback that leads them into using every single second of the closer’s 19 minutes. Ash and Dust Have No Dominion will likely be too extreme for some, too stoned for others, but it’s Faces of Bayon‘s ability to work in multiple contexts that makes the album such a success. It’s slow. It’s chugging, It’s a pummeling, brutal listen, but it’s got as much depth to it as one could want to find, and a long four years after their debut, Faces of Bayon‘s sophomore outing reaffirms how special a band they are. Easy enough to wonder what they’d be able to accomplish if they hit the road as a touring act, but for now they remain one of East Coast doom’s best kept secrets.

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