Last Licks 2014: Sigiriya, Handsome Jack, Octopus Syng, Serpent Venom, Purple Hill Witch, Sandveiss, Sun Shepherd, Giant Sleep, Owl Glitters and Acid ElephantPosted in Reviews on December 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
This is it. New Year’s is this week and by Friday we’ll be into 2015. A new year always brings new hopes, concerns, records and so on, but to be completely honest, I’m just not quite done with 2014 yet. So here we are. I’ve had stacks of CDs on my desk and folders on my computer from the last couple months of stuff I have been trying to fit in, and it doesn’t seem right to me to let the year go without cramming in as much music as I possibly can.
Gotta call it something, so I went with “Last Licks,” since that’s basically what it will be. The plan is that between today and Friday, each day I’ll have another batch of 10 reviews. I’m not going to promise they’ll be the most comprehensive ever, but the idea is to do as much as I can and this seems to me the best way to turn my brains into goo. When that ball drops in Times Square, there’s a good chance I’ll be typing.
No sense in delaying. You get the idea, so let’s jump in:
Sigiriya, Darkness Died Today
Recorded live as their debut on Candlelight Records and the follow-up to 2011’s debut, Return to Earth (review here), the sophomore outing from Welsh heavy rockers Sigiriya, Darkness Died Today, is distinguished by a vocalist swap bringing in Matt Williams of Suns of Thunder. Williams has a tough job in replacing Dorian Walters, who like guitarist Stuart O’Hara, bassist Paul Bidmead and drummer Darren Ivey, is a former member of Acrimony. There are times when it works and times when it doesn’t. Along with a more barebones tonality in the guitar than appeared on the debut, Williams brings a more straightforward style in his voice, and it changes the personality of the band on songs like “Freedom Engines” and the first-album-title-track “Return to Earth.” “Tribe of the Old Oak” is a catchy highlight and I’ll almost never argue with a song called “Obelisk,” but it seems like they’re still searching for the footing here that seemed so firmly planted their last time out.
Handsome Jack, Do What Comes Naturally
Upstate New York blues rockers Handsome Jack waste little time living up to the title Do What Comes Naturally. The name of their third album, released by Alive Naturalsound, is both mission-statement aand suggestion, and on songs like the soul-inflected “Creepin’” and the rolling “You and Me,” they make it sound like a good idea. Blues and classic soul meet garage rock across cuts like the relatively brief “Leave it all Behind,” but the tones are warm throughout the record, and guest spots on harmonica and Hammond help keep a sense of variety in the material, well-constructed but still loose in its vibe. The twang might recall The Brought Low for heavy rock heads, but one doubts Handsome Jack groove on much that came out after Psychedelic Mud. Even the CD splits into sides, and as easy as it would be for something like this to sound like a put-on, Handsome Jack prevail with closer “Wasted Time” in making an outing that’s anything but.
Serpent Venom, Of Things Seen and Unseen
London doomers Serpent Venom sound like experts in the form on Of Things Seen and Unseen, their second album for The Church Within following 2011’s Carnal Altar and their initial 2010 demo (review here), a righteous 48-minute lumbering slab of heavy riffs, downerism and nod. It’s not every band who could put “Death Throes at Dawn” and “Lord of Life” next to each other, but the four-piece of vocalist Garry Ricketts, guitarist Roland Scriver, bassist Nick Davies and drummer Paul Sutherland keep their focus so utterly doomed that even the quiet, minimalist acoustic interlude “I Awake” – ostensibly a breather — comes across as trodden as the earlier “Sorrow’s Bastard,” or the Reverend Bizarre-worthy “Let Them Starve,” which follows. For those who long for trad doom that has an identity outside its Vitus and Sabbath influences, Serpent Venom prove more than ready to enter that conversation on the wah-soaked soloing in the second half of “Pilgrims of the Sun.” Right fucking on.
Owl Glitters, Alchemical Tones
The artwork tells the story. Owl Glitters’ Alchemical Tones (on Heart and Crossbone Records) is a wash of color. Taking tribal rhythms and repetitions and pairing them with organic low-end, chanted vocals and periodic excursions of psych rock guitar, Arkia Jahani (who seems to be the lone creative force behind the project, though Mell Dettmer mastered) brings a ritualistic sensibility to the eight included pieces, and the flow is molten from the start of “Dervishes.” Less purposefully weird than Master Musicians of Bukkake, but farther into the cosmos than Om, there’s a folkish identity at the heart of Alchemical Tones that keeps the proceedings human even on the near-throat-singing of “Hakim Sanai” or “Poets of Shiras” and “Khalifa’s Visions” an immersive pair preceding the droning closer “By the Candlelight Our Eyes Welcome Glimmers of Eternity.” Beautifully experimental – and in the case of “Mindful of Gems,” fuzzed to the gills – Owl Glitters’ second outing engages sonic spiritualism with dogmatic command and stares back at you from the space within yourself.
Sandveiss, Scream Queen
Sandveiss released Scream Queen, their first full-length, late in 2013, reveling in a modern sound crisply produced and more than ably executed to feature the vocals of guitarist Luc Bourgeois, who provides frontman presence even on disc alongside guitarist Shawn Rice, bassist Daniel Girard and drummer Dzemal Trtak. Cohesiveness isn’t in question as opener and longest cut (immediate points) “Blindsided” rounds out its 6:26, leading the way into “Do You Really Know” and setting the tone for big-riffed Euro-style heavy from the Quebecois foursome, who slow down on “Bottomless Lies,” on which Trtak backs Bourgeois in you-guys-should-do-this-more fashion, and ultimately hold firm to the focus on songwriting that establishes itself early. They fuzz out on closer “Green or Gold,” but by then it’s another element of variety among the organ, guest vocals on “Scar” and tempo shifts on Sandveiss’ ambitious debut, distinguished even unto the six-panel gatefold digi-sleeve in which it arrives, the art and design by Alexandre Goulet one more standout factor on an album demanding attention.
Octopus Syng, Reverberating Garden Number 7
Probably the most clearly Beatlesian moment on Octopus Syng’s Reverberating Garden Number 7 is a slight “Hey Bulldog”-style cadence on side A’s “Very Strange Trip,” and that in itself is an accomplishment (one I’m apparently not the first to observe). The Helsinki four-piece in their 15th year are led by guitarist/vocalist Jaire Pätäri and emit an oozing, serene psychedelia, peaceful and lysergic in late ‘60s exploratory fashion. Reverberating Garden Number 7 (on Mega Dodo Records) echoes out vibe to spare and is deceptively lush while keeping a humble vibe thanks in no small part to Pätäri’s restrained vocal approach and curios like “Cuckoo Clock Mystery,” which boasts an actual cuckoo clock to add bounce to its arrangement. Nine-minute closer “Listen to the Moths” is the single biggest surprise, and an album unto itself, but its unfolding is only the capstone on a collection of psychedelic wonder sincere in its stylistic intent and execution. It fills the ears like warm air in the lungs.
Sun Shepherd, Procession of Trampling Hoof
Destructive Australian trio Sun Shepherd put the bulk of Procession of Trampling Hoof to tape in 2011. Closing bonus track “Exploding Sun” is a demo from 2006, but it fits with their extended tracks and big riffs piled onto each other in densely-weighted fashion, if rougher in presentation. More Ramesses than High on Fire, who prove otherwise to be a key influence tonally for guitarist/vocalist Anson Antriasian, must-hear bassist Leigh Fischer and drummer Michael Barson, though their approach is decidedly less thrash-based. The first five of the six songs find Sun Shepherd’s first full-length a pummel-minded blend of sludge and doom. Antriasian’s vocals are semi-spoken, but fitting theatrically on “Goat-Head Awakening” with the grueling riff-led nod, the tension released as they pass the halfway point of the 10-minute run, a raw atmosphere bolstering the chaos of their slower-motion marauding. With the welcome flourish of stonerly soloing on “Engulfed by Ocean of Time,” one can’t help but wonder what the Melbourne natives are up to three years later.
Purple Hill Witch, Purple Hill Witch
Fuzz-toned elements of Sleep and Sabbath pervade the stoner-doomy self-titled The Church Within debut from Oslo three-piece Purple Hill Witch, who carry the bounce well in immediately familiar riffs and groove. Swinging drums from Øyvind and the inventive basslines of Andreas underscore Kristian’s purely Iommic riffage and blown-out vocals, somewhere between Witchcraft’s earliest going and Witch’s self-titled. If that gives Purple Hill Witch an even witchier feel, “Final Procession” sounds just fine with that, as do shorter tracks like the later “Aldebaranian Voyage (Into the Sun)” and centerpiece “Karmanjaka” on which the stoner side comes out in force. They finish by using all 11 minutes of the eponymous “Purple Hill Witch”’s runtime, breaking in the midsection for a murky exploration that’s creepily atmospheric without veering into cult rock cliché. They bounce resumes and slows to a crawl to close out, but the jam serves Purple Hill Witch well in expanding the band’s sonic reach and the album’s weedian sensibility. Not that they were keeping it a secret.
Giant Sleep, Giant Sleep
A burly dual-guitar five-piece with roots in Germany and Switzerland, Giant Sleep start out their self-titled, self-released first LP with a brief intro titled “Argos” before getting to the question, “Why am I angry all the time?” as the central, recurring line of “Angry Man.” That song, like “Henu” and “Reproduce,” gets its point across quick in heavy rock fashion and develops its argument from there, a progressive metal vibe pervading especially the latter, which is penultimate in the 10-song/52-minute effort, and underscores the high-grade craftsmanship accomplished throughout. “Dreamless Sleep” is probably my pick of the bunch for its airier tone and resonant minor-key hook in the guitars of Markus Ruf and Patrick Hagmann, vocalist Thomas Rosenmerkel belting out the chorus before making way for plotted solos atop Radek Stecki’s bass and Manuel Spänhauer’s drums, but it’s not so far removed from its surroundings. As a whole, the album could be more efficient, but it wants nothing for songwriting, and especially as a debut, Giant Sleep hits its marks readily.
Acid Elephant, Star Collider
Opener “Las Noches del Desierto” is the only one of Star Collider’s five tracks under 10 minutes. Flux seems to be the norm for Finnish post-stoners Acid Elephant, who recently brought in vocalist Martin Ahlö but here revolve around the core of bassist/guitarist/vocalist Miksa Väliverho, guitarist/vocalist Ilpo Kauppinen and drummer Roope Vähä-Aho, employing a host of others on obscure vocals, percussion and djembe throughout the 64-minute sophomore outing, recorded in 2012 and released late in 2013. Whoever they are now, Acid Elephant on Star Collider call out heavy psych, drone/jam and riff-based impulses in their extended cuts, gradually getting longer from “Red Carpet Lane” (10:46) until closer “Bog” hits 18:29. To their credit, their songs leave impressions to match their length, and even as it’s finishing its instrumental run, “Godmason” (15:58) is highlighting its resonant central riff, having emerged from a wash of feedback and amp noise at its beginning, preceded by the droning centerpiece “7th Stone.” Satisfying and unpredictable, Star Collider balances experimentation and engagement smoothly without losing its focus on individualism.