Posted in Whathaveyou on November 28th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
A friendly reminder that this very Saturday is Small Stone‘s showcase at The Magic Stick in Detroit. Since the one in Boston earlier this month was such an unholy good time, I can only heartily recommend that the entire Midwest shows up and prepares itself for riffy communion. Even if The Obelisk wasn’t presenting it, it’d still be a kickass rock gig, and probably as far east as we’re going to get Sasquatch anytime soon.
Label honcho (and Luder guitarist, as it happens) Scott Hamilton was recently interviewed by Detroit’s Metro Times about how he manages to thrive where so many others have succumbed to the likes of internet piracy, generational disinterest in rock, and so on. Pretty fascinating read, but before you click over, make sure you’ve got the skinny on the gig Saturday, because you don’t want to miss it.
Since many folks have been asking us for a few years now, we have finally caved in… So here it is in all its glory, a full blown SSR Showcase in the state that we actually live in. We have put together a top notch line up which features the return of New Jersey’s Halfway To Gone for the first time since 2005! Come early, stay late… The Magic Stick is great venue, and the drinks will be flowing at reasonable prices too… It should be an epic evening of rawk… Hell, we might even have copies of the new album from Five Horse Johnson at the show too.
Halfway To Gone (Long Branch, NJ) Five Horse Johnson (Toledo, OH) Sasquatch (Los Angeles, CA) Freedom Hawk (Virginia Beach, VA) Luder (Ferndale, MI)
Doors: 7pm Tickets: $10.00
The Fine folks over at Tito’s Vodka are helping us and the Magic Stick will have Tito’s Drink Specials All Night!
Yeah, yeah, I know, Fun Houseis the shit. Raw Poweris the shit. You’ll get no argument out of me. But I’m feeling something a little psychedelic to go with my primal, so The Stooges‘ 1969 self-titled debut it is. I could probably go on for a month about the legacy of this record — I’m pretty sure they teach classes on The Stooges at Michigan State — but fuck it. You know. Fuck it. The “I Wanna be Your Dog” riff alone is heavier than everything.
Tonight is Clamfight, Kings Destroy and Black Pyramid at Union Pool in Brooklyn. The show is free. I’m going to leave my office in about an hour’s time and head into the city to see it, and I can’t wait. I know these bands about as well as I know anything, but hell, good friends is good times, and all the dudes in these bands are excellent. If you’re in Rochester or Allston, MA, they’re coming your way this weekend. Don’t miss it.
Monday, I’ll have a review of the show, and over the course of the weekend, I plan on catching up on emails I still haven’t answered since Hurricane Sandy shoved her category one boot up my and the rest of my beloved Garden State’s collective ass, as well as sending out some email interview questions. Maybe someone will get back before the end of the week. Maybe I’ll get someone on the phone. I don’t really know. Internet isn’t back up at my house yet and so things are a bit screwy on that end. Look for Venomous Maximus, Bell Witch and whatever other reviews I can wrap my tired head around doing.
I’ve also been trying to get an essay written about not being in a band for the last month at least and maybe that’ll finally boil over. We’ll see I guess. I’m not gonna worry about any of it tonight. Tonight I’m going to go see three kickass bands whose work I respect to no end. I’m gonna give Clamfight their CDs. I’m gonna talk to Kings Destroy about their new record, to Black Pyramid about theirs. I’m gonna take a bunch of shitty pictures and maybe one or two decent ones, and then I’m gonna drive back to the valley late and crash out like I’m cashing in a favor. It’s gonna be excellent.
Wherever you are and whatever your plans, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. See you on the forum and back here Monday.
Michigan-based trio BerT don’t fuck around. Well, okay, that’s not exactly true. They fuck around quite a bit. But when they do, it rocks, and that’s what’s important.
Flash back to summer 2012. A simpler time. En route to Cudahy, Wisconsin, for the Days of the Doomed II fest, I swing north early off Route 80 in Toledo to hit up Lansing, Michigan, and visit my good friend Postman Dan. A couple beers after my arrival, I wind up over at BerT‘s practice space — a garage in the back of somebody‘s house. The three dudes in the band — brothers Rael Jordan (drums) and Ryan Andrews (guitar/vocals), as well as bassist Phil Clark — are done jamming and are sitting in the open garage with a few beverages and other indulgences, but sure enough, when we roll up, they plug in and do another song, just for the hell of it. And you know what? It’s fucking awesome. Thick-toned, powerful, volume at unholy levels, and the space where they play is the kind of narrow that gives the noise nowhere to go but into your skull. Before they finish, I can feel my hair vibrating.
Last week I put up a Nice Package post honoring their Monster Book split CD/LP/’zine/whathaveyou with Triangle and Rhino, and for a band who takes themselves as seriously as BerT doesn’t, it’s an awful lot of effort for them to put into something like that and then self-release it through their own Madlantis Records, taking it out on tour and playing along the East Coast before circling back to the Midwest. But BerT did just that, and barely stopped to mark the occasion with a trip to Niagara Falls before moving on to the next recording, the next album, the next Madlantis release, a taco party, a show, and so on. Adventures abound.
Formed after solidifying their lineup 2006, BerT ply their trade in the kind of self-driven creativity that’s exhausting just to watch. A slew of albums already under their belt, they’re just beginning a year-long series of live cassettes (they’ve got two that I know of already, with more to follow), and are working on a new full-length, to be titled Shit Hawk(because what else?), which will mark their first non-self-recorded studio outing, while still helming Madlantis and defying genre in a range of projects and allegiances.
I guess what it comes down to is I find BerT as admirable in concept as in practice, so if a quickie interview gets a couple more people to check them out, I figure it’s worth it. The band seemed to answer as a collective (“The royal we. You know, the editorial?”), which works for me, since they’re nothing if not solidified as a unit, which I learned in that garage in Michigan. Amazing how many life lessons one can take in around the smell of motor oil.
Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions.
1. Give me the background on the band. How did you three get together, and is there a specific Bert the band is named after? Did you know when you started out that you wanted the band to have such a varied sound?
We are all from a small town in Michigan called Bath which is just outside of the capital city Lansing. Brothers Ryan and Rael have been friends with Phil since we were knee high to a grasshopper. In about 2001, the three of us had a ridiculous noisy punk band called Spanish Ghost. The band was short-lived but opened up recording to us. After the demise of Spanish Ghost, Ryan and Phil started a recording project called Bugdum Toe. We did a lot of recording in Ryan‘s bedroom and his parents’ living room, a lot of the time with Rael playing drums or contributing in some way. These recordings were ambient noise drones, crazy experimental metal and kraut rock-esque punk, mostly, just a lot of god awful ear-piercing racket. We are rather proud that this is the one band that Ry and Rael‘s mom would not let rehearse/record while she was in the house. These recordings of said horrid noise is what would later become BerT.
In the winter of 2006, Phil moved into a trailer park, back in Bath and started jamming with Ryan at an unheated storage unit we lovingly referred to as “The Meat Locker.” We wrote one, maybe two songs with Ry on guitar, Phil on bass and random people filling in on drums as we fleshed out the songs. We did this for a few months until one day some cop came and fucked that all up, giving us a ticket and effectively ending all the -12.3 degree jam sessions at The Meat Locker.
For a while we went back to just recording due to lack of a drummer until finally, we said fuck it and decided to MAKE a drummer. We found some samples of various Dale Crover drum hits and used those to program drums and started playing shows. This worked until around 2009, when we started jamming with Ryan on drums and Phil on guitar. The song “Trample the Dead” that’s the last track on our EP Stoner Boner is the only recording of this formation of BerT. Shortly after that we asked Rael to come play bass and recorded the album Shit Hawk. Yet again in 2010 we rotated to the left and into our current lineup putting Rael on drums, Ryan on guitar and Phil on bass.
The variance in sound was half planned out because we just like to create and experiment, but we have also been reaching for a certain idea the whole time. We like to keep it heavy, thick, and slow, but also we don’t want to box ourselves into a corner. We believe that we are antennas transmitting the songs that the universe has written. We ride with the wave, we don’t fight against it.
We aren’t named after a specific Bert, but feel we are more the embodiment of every Bert that has ever been and ever will be.
2. How much does having your own studio factor into making a band like BerT possible? It seems like when you guys put something out, you have a clear idea of the kind of sound you want that specific release to have. I’m thinking of the differences between the Grown Long split with Hordes and the Monster Book project with Triangle and Rhino. Do you know going into an album, split, etc., that you want it to have a specific sound, and is putting that together a matter of assembling recordings you’ve done?
Having a studio/jam/overall hangout area makes everything we do in BerT possible. We have all experienced shitty situations in the past with bad neighbors or just no room to play. Having the ability to be loud and do shit when we want makes everything possible.
We spend a lot of time thinking about our releases. They always evolve and change as circumstances happen but we usually start with a specific idea. Each project gets a fresh slate, its own identity with its own group of songs. The Monster Book for instance was an attempt at our full-length that we decided to make into an EP about monsters… a concept that carried through into the split it ended up becoming. As where Grown Long is a project we have worked on since the Bugdum Toe days. When we started working with HORDES, we thought it was a fitting piece of music to complement their style. We view every release as one piece of music, not individual songs crammed into a compilation. Each release has its own concept or underlying themes however strict or loose those ideas may be.
3. How did the Monster Book project come about, and what went into making that ‘zine? Have you ever put anything like that together before? Who drew the poster and where did that design come from?
Monster Book is the third and final collaboration with our friends Triangle and Rhino. T&R guitarist Jake is moving out of the country and wanted to do a record with us before he left. We had just finished recording Wall of Bees, so it was perfect timing. For the ‘zine, Ry sent out a bunch of questions and we asked our friends to contribute art and writings. We actually ended up with way too much material and couldn’t fit it all in. We did the page layout ourselves and had the pages printed, then we cut, folded and stapled about 40 billion pieces of paper… It was a marathon of suck. The cutting, folding and stapling kind of suck.
The idea for the poster came from a t-shirt Phil got off eBay that featured a wizard on a mountain with a hot chick and lighting and all that jazz. We thought up a stoned reinterpretation adding the luck dragon and some unicorns farting out our bands names and gave all that to Craig. We half-expected him to take a few of the ideas and run with it, but he drew what we said exactly from top to bottom… it was legendary.
4. Tell me about the tour that brought you out east? How were the shows and how was the response? Apart from the accommodations in Jersey, how did it go and will you be back on the road anytime soon?
The tour was great, our first time on the road for an extended period of time like that. Jersey was the best night of sleep we had on the whole tour. The response we got was great, we sold quite a few records and had a rad time seeing a ton of cool places and meeting a lot of cool new friends. Most of the shows were well attended, and even the ones that weren’t, we felt well received. Everyone was very accommodating and helped us out a lot. We’ll be out again as soon as we can.
Also… Boston: Great dope and killer fried clams.
5. What other new releases are in the works? Maybe Stoner Boner Vol. 2 or anything else coming up?
Our one-sided LP called Shit Hawk is supposed to be out this fall on Hydro-Phonic Records.
We’ll be continuing our live cassette series throughout next year as well as contributing to a 7″ that the guys in the group Foot and Mouth Disease from Rochester, NY, are putting together with bands all doing 15-second tracks. We’re also putting out a song this October for the 3 Way Singles Club on It Takes A Village To Make Records and we’re in the midst of finishing our new full-length, Return to the Electric Church. This is our first time in a “real” studio – as in, one where we pay somebody else to know exactly what they’re doing. Our goal is a spring release for the album.
6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention? What’s next on Madlantis Records?
Next on Madlantis Records we’re going to release a full-length CD from HORDES (ambient drone doom with Ryan from BerT on drums) and the new Ghoulie (grimy funk/soul) EP called Mango Juice, both due out any day now.
We would like to say thanks to the fans and musicians that support the underground music scene. Nowadays the playing field is leveled and you have to do it yourself. We appreciate those that do. We’re all one community no matter the genre of music. Go to shows, buy underground music, have fun, and think freely!
Apart from the reality of the thing itself, I think what I find most admirable about the total package for the Monster Booksplit between Michigan’s BerT and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Triangle and Rhino is the fact that it’s basically self-released. Sure, it’s two bands contributing, but it’s put out through BerT‘s Madlantis Records imprint, self-financed and self-realized. Pretty fucking impressive.
Monster Book(review here) was released in August. Limited to 300 copies in a green swirl 12″ vinyl (seen above), it also includes a CD compilation of this and past BerT/Triangle and Rhino jointreleases, a full-size poster, and the titular book itself, a 40-page mini-’zine with interviews, bizarre art, tiny, tiny text and much more.
Let’s take a closer look (click any image to enlarge):
The Vinyl Covers
From the start, it’s obviously a homemade job. The cover for BerT’s side (top) has the name of their side’s EP — Wall of Bees — and the Monster Book title itself, and the back has Triangle and Rhino‘s cover for In the Company of Creeps the hand-numbering for the vinyl. Mine’s either #154 or #159. Hard to tell. Both covers are dark, but textured as well, so right away, the physical presence of the release is important as well as the music.
Monster Book marks BerT‘s debut on vinyl. The picture there doesn’t really capture it, but the record itself is gorgeous with a deep green splatter running through it. They say your first time should be special, so there you go.
Poster artist Craig Horky managed to capture all the charm of stoner rock in one poster. I mean think about it: farting unicorns, crappy movie references, skull mountains, band names, a wizard (who in himself kind of looks like John Cleese in Monty Python and theHolyGrail; bonus points) and a nudie lady with junk in the trunk. If you could actually draw the riff to “Sweet Leaf,” this is what you’d come out with.
From what I can gather from my copy and the image at the top of this post, the images airbrushed onto the CD sleeves vary, but mine is a bird in relief and I dig it a lot. It stands out from the rest of the release, but since I seem to be the last person on the planet who gives a hairy fuck about the CD format, it’s cool to see them extend the effort and attention to detail.
None of these pictures are to scale with each other, but I still wanted to give some sense of the size of the ‘zine included with Monster Book, so taking my best middle school science class reasoning, I put a quarter next to it. Above is the front cover. Here’s a look inside:
BerT, who hail from Bath, in Michigan, interviewed a bunch of bands from the local scene in around Lansing — Cavalcade, Hordes, Liquified Guts, Elk Nebula, Icicles and many more — and included their Q&As in the 40 pages of this ‘zine, interspersing hijacked images with original art:
The whole affect is bizarre and more than a little deranged, but also thoroughly awesome. While listening to the array of fucked sonics on the split itself, thumbing through the ‘zine (thumb carefully, papercuts are a looming threat no less sinister than Triangle and Rhino‘s noise), it makes the experience even more complete. Who doesn’t like to read with a record on?
Here’s the back cover:
One last bit of charm before they leave off. I guess the back cover sums up a good portion of what Monster Bookis all about — despite the massive amount of effort that went into making it, nobody here is taking themselves too seriously — but really, it’s the whole thing that’s worth celebrating, not just one aspect or another.
If you want to check out more on the Monster Booksplit between BerT and Triangle and Rhino, hit up the Madlantis Records website.
And in case you need more visual evidence, here’s BerT‘s video for “Heart Shaped McBubba”:
Posted in Reviews on August 24th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Foremost, it’s a hell of a package. The whole release is billed, somewhat appropriately, as Monster Book. Released through Madlantis Records, the core of the thing is a limited-to-300 green-splatter 12” vinyl split between Lansing, Michigan, weirdo rockers BerT and abrasive Pittsburgh noisemakers Triangle and Rhino. That’s part of it. Monster Book, however, is not the first time these two bands have come together. Triangle and Rhino titled their side of the vinyl In the Company of Creeps and BerT gave theirs the name Wall of Bees, but all of the material on either vinyl side can also be found on an included CDR, as well as songs culled from prior BerT/Triangle and Rhino splits (there’ve been two that I can find, perhaps more are out there), and Monster Book also includes a killer foldout poster (image above; click the picture for the full thing) and an actual ‘zine. It’s small and hard to read and pretty clearly a homemade job, but it’s got interviews with Elk Nebula, Lord Vapid, Hordes, Switchblade Cheetah and others, as well as full questionnaires from both BerT and Triangle and Rhino and a section right in the middle where everyone who appears elsewhere in the 40-page ‘zine answers the age-old question of who would win if Godzilla fought King Kong – wait for it – in space. The ‘zine itself is no less harshly laid out than the jagged noise Triangle and Rhino get down with or the thickened garage riffing of BerT, and so it makes an excellent companion for its total fuckedness, and the two-sided cover the LP is textured and foreboding of the massive amount of information Monster Book contains. The occasion of the release was a just-ended tour that brought both bands eastward (much to my regret, I failed to see them both in Philly and Boston, though in the interest of full disclosure, BerT did crash at my house on their way north after the former; the LP/CD/’zine had long since arrived), and it seems a fitting occasion for a project of such a frankly intimidating scope.
Because my format preferences lend me to do so anyway and because I feel compelled to at least provide some focus to this review other than to say, “Gosh, look at all this BerT and Triangle and Rhino stuff,” I’m going to stick to the CD in terms of referencing the actual tracks. The reason I mention it is because while the LP has three cuts from Triangle and Rhino on In the Company of Creeps and six from BerT on Wall of Bees, the CD nearly doubles that, with a total of six from Triangle and Rhino and 10 from BerT, resulting in a total runtime of nearly 77 minutes. Tracks are taken from the current and past splits between the two bands and what BerT calls “some other extra jazz as well.” On its own, the CD is a lot to take in, especially with the leadoff Triangle and Rhino give it for the first six cuts, beginning with the three from the LP, “Limb Lopper,” “In the Company of Creeps” and “Three Thousand Consecutive Breaths.” Their sound is a punishing sort of noise, with guitarist J. Lexso and drummer M. Rappa both contributing various sorts of synth, oscillations and programming, resulting in periods of near-unlistenable high-pitched audio knives. The moody rumble and electronic-sounding drums of “Limb Lopper” are dark enough, but it’s not long before Triangle and Rhino unveil just how challenging they want to be, in that song, the more frenetically rhythmic “In the Company of Creeps” and “Three Thousand Consecutive Breaths,” the first half of which is hard to get through before the early Genghis Tron-style dance pop synth line kicks in and guest vocalist J. White gives new wave accompaniment. “Glowing Sphere” is basically a blown-out drum rhythm with noise behind, and that’s all well and good, but both “Planet Collider” and “Five Words in Broken English” are more abrasive, the latter playing at free jazz without committing to that more than it commits to anything else and the former stabbing with high-pitched chirps. It’s obviously Triangle and Rhino’s intent, but that doesn’t lessen the relief any when it’s over and I realize I’ve been clenching my jaw the whole time.
Posted in Reviews on August 22nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Not to be confused with the early ‘70s occult folk outfit of the same name, the metal band Coven formed in Detroit in 1985. Soon after the release of their 1987 debut album, Worship New Gods, the foursome would be contacted by the Jinx Dawson-fronted unit who once reminded us that witchcraft destroys minds and reaps souls, and forced to change their name to Coven 13, but for the first record, which came to enjoy a kind of limited cult appeal over the years since its initial issue, they were still Coven, and so it is on the new Shadow Kingdom Records repress of Worship New Gods. The new version is billed as a 25th anniversary celebration release, but it’s not bloated with special bonus tracks, interviews or anything like that, instead just focusing on the album itself. Frankly, that’s treat enough. Shadow Kingdom have spent the last few years paying direct homage to the NWOBHM and classic metal, but Coven are a bit harder to place stylistically, aligning themselves to fantasy metal on songs like “Riddle of Steel” and the Camelot-themed “Wicked Day,” a sort of non-industrial proto-goth on “Kiss Me with Blood” and keep a semi-pagan sensibility in their use of runes on the album cover and in the memorable finale, “Loki.” Whatever else it has going for it, Worship New Gods bleeds personality. The vocals of David Landrum are more swaggering than one might expect for something so stylistically varied and roughly produced (the album sounds both of its era and of its budget), and bassist/keyboardist Roger Cyrkiel, who also recorded, adds a flourish of melody and atmosphere that goes beyond the traditional metal songwriting. A song like “Ruler” may have gang-chant-esque backing vocals in its chorus, but “Threshold of the New,” despite having a near-Misfits punkish forward drive in Brian McGuckin’s drums, is as atmospheric as it is abrupt, Landrum’s vocals holding to a sub-swirl of compression and echo and guitarist Todd Kreda offering surprising shred in his solo.
It’s pretty easy to see why Worship New Gods earned its reissue. Apart from the fact that Coven have reunited as Coven 13 with second guitarist Richie Karacynski and reportedly begun work on a new album to be released on Shadow Kingdom, this nine-track/39-minute collection seems to feed off its blend, and while in the years since its initial release, some of the elements at work across this material have broken off into their own styles – goth, doom, pagan metal, etc. – these songs arguably capture a crossroads moment in the growth of metal as a whole. Apart from that, it sounds cool. More to the point, it sounds Old, and mysterious, and obscure, which no doubt accounts for a good portion of its appeal. That said, Coven had a surprising grasp on their aesthetic, multifaceted as it was, and songs like “Burial Ground,” “Wicked Day,” “Ruler,” and “Threshold of the New” sound dated here, but not at all irrelevant. “General’s Eyes” is memorable in more than just its commonality of progression with Metallica’s “Four Horsemen” (and, by extension, Megadeth’s “Mechanix”), and whether the foursome is thrashing out as they are early in that track or working in the more open, plodding style of “Loki,” they maintain a strong undercurrent of craft and pop hooks that works to tie Worship New Gods together as a cohesive whole. Landrum’s vocals are rough in some places – on the closer he seems to be struggling to keep up with the chorus – and his over-the-top approach probably isn’t going to sit well in all ears, but he effectively caps the atmosphere in “Riddle of Steel” and “Kiss Me with Blood,” and despite only being three tracks apart, the stylistic gap between those songs is much wider. I don’t know if Coven set out to make an album so varied – it’s hard to listen to a reissue like this and divorce hindsight from what actually went into making it a quarter-century ago – but the nuances they bring to their approach make Worship New Gods a richer listen than one might initially think on the first or second time through.
Click the image above to bask in the full scale awesomeness that was my Midwestern CD haul. Sure, I wrote a little bit about the driving I did last weekend, and a lot about the Days of the Doomed II (seriously, even I was a little surprised at the length Day One and Day Two reviews), but one thing I didn’t mention was the record shopping I did on the way.
I’ll confess that was on purpose. The three stacks above I felt deserved some special attention. Left to right, there are the hauls from Ramalama Records in Toledo, Ohio, Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, and the fest itself, which took place in Cudahy, Wisconsin. Three states, three stacks — a mini-tour of irresponsible spending that served to remind me of why I went back to work full-time in the first place.
Here’s how it went down:
This was my second visit to Ramalama Records in Toledo, and like the first, I found it to be a haven of heavy wares. Last time when I got there, they were playing YOB, and this tie it was High on Fire‘s Surrounded by Thieves, which once again led me to strike up a conversation with the dude working the counter. They’d reorganized some since the last time I was there, but it seems mostly to have been a move to make room for more vinyl, which now takes up the whole left wall when you walk in. Good stuff. They didn’t have a lot used that I was really looking for — lots of metal, some I had, some I wasn’t interested in — but I took the opportunity on my way to Lansing to stock up on a few recent releases I hadn’t yet gotten physical copies of; the special edition of Candlemass being a highlight as well as new albums from Paradise Lost and Pelican and Solitude Aeturnus‘ recent reissue of their early works. The Diagonal and Spaceboy records were used, and I got some Funkadelic in there because that shit is awesome. Not bad for a way to stretch my legs between I-75 and I-280.
I wanted to make sure I stopped in at Flat, Black and Circular (or just FBC to the natives) before I left Lansing to go to the fest in Wisconsin, so last Friday morning, under the careful navigational guidance of Postman Dan — the unofficial mayor of Lansing, Michigan — I hit it up and found that although it’s got a name that hints at vinyl, it’s also a treasure trove of small, rectangular and plastic. Aside from a silver-backed disc Alice in Chains bootleg, I got the Diwphalanx issue of Church of Misery‘s The Second Coming (a double), as well as the newest Master Musicians of Bukkake, the first Six Organs of Admittance, some live Amebix, Yeti by Amon Düül II, the first Saturnalia Temple — which was a surprise — another Funkadelic album, some Unsane on Man’s Ruin, Monster Magnet‘s Tab 25 on Glitterhouse, which is a perfect complement to Hawkwind‘s In Search of Space, a Greenslade disc at random because I liked the cover (album is proggier than expected, but not bad) and the Satan-loving latest album by Lansing locals Beast in the Field, Lucifer, Bearer of Light. Top it off with Unorthodox and you have one of the finest CD hauls I’ve had in a long time. Lot of great shit to happen into and a lot of records there I’m happy to have adopted.
Once I’d effectively space trucked my way through Chicago’s legendary “make you want to stop and eat dinner here” traffic and actually arrived in Wisconsin, I found Days of the Doomed to be a trove of merch that I didn’t yet own that I should own. From Beelzefuzz — the unfortunates who arrived late having blown their tire and then later gave their stuff away for free (I mistakenly said I bought one; nope) to Sanctus Bellum, who were kind enough to give me a copy of the album to review, to Orodruin, whose Epicurian Mass I already owned (it was Claw Tower I needed) to Earthen Grave, whose CD showed up in the mail when I got back to New Jersey, it was hit or miss as regards the outcome of the purchases, but I can’t argue with new Apostle of Solitude demo material (streaming here) or finally getting the chance to pick up Argus‘ Boldly Stride the Doomed, or Earthride‘s new reissue of their self-titled EP with tracks from SHoD last year, I mark the whole thing a win. Picking up Orodruin‘s limited version of In Doom and the Blizaro stuff too was a bonus, and discs from Super Invader and their prior incarnation, Bullets for Baby, have given me something to look forward to checking out. Just as soon as I stop listening to that Apostle of Solitude demo. Any day now…
I could go on, but the fact is, I came out of last weekend with so much stuff, I’m going to use it all to make a new podcast over the next couple days, so I’ll have more up about it one way or another and I’m sure that’ll be good times. Stay tuned for more to come.
Posted in Whathaveyou on June 15th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Currently on the fertile creative soil of Lansing, MI, to where I spent pretty much all of yesterday driving — hence no posts, though I did listen to a fuckton of albums that need to be reviewed from the likes of Steak, Ivy Garden of the Desert, The Company Corvette, Dust Storm Warning, etc. — and in a couple hours, I’ll head out to Wisconsin for the kickoff of Days of the Doomed. I don’t know when I’m going to have time to write.
It’s kind of the one thing I never worked out on this trip. Well, that and driving home. Ha. Either way, the fest goes until like two each night and I’m not traveling alone, so I think what I’m going to do is take notes at the fest — which is about the douchiest thing in the fucking world to be doing other than writing at a Starbucks — and maybe put it together with the pics I take as a narrative piece over the course of Monday and Tuesday.
Seems strange to be at a fest and not post immediate coverage, but I have the feeling tonight’s going to go late, and I don’t even know what the plan is for tomorrow yet in terms of driving, when I’m going to leave to head back to Jersey, etc. We’ll see, I guess. Either way, I’ll grab pen and paper from somewhere just in case I actually need to use it, but maybe I’ll post a few pictures or something in the meantime, since I can’t imagine walking out of The Blue Pig and not having something to say about it or being patient enough to actually wait to do so. Or maybe I’ll do like in the Netherlands and just not sleep.
We shall see. Either way, looking forward to a massively doomed weekend and to good times with good people.
Posted in Reviews on May 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Begun in 2001 in some nebulous form as the project Bugdum Toe, Lansing, Michigan-based trio BerT really began to pick up momentum in 2009. The period between 2010 and 2012 has seen no fewer than seven BerT releases through their own Madlantis Records imprint (also home to Ghoulie, Elk Nebula and other oddities), the latest of which is Stoner Boner. Actually, if you want to be technical about it, the full title seems to be Burt: The Not Self-Titled Album/The Lost Bertos: Cutting a Hot Demo/Spring Fever Stoner Boner, but I’m pretty sure a band with BerT’s penchant for irreverence won’t begrudge an abbreviation. Stoner Boner, then, is a five-track, 21-minute demo that, if the liner is to be believed, previews songs to come on the next three BerT outings. I only cast doubt on the veracity of that claim because said liner, which comes with the limited, home-screenprinted disc in a sleeve, also contains a band bio that I’d be willing to believe was culled from back and forth Facebook comments on the part of PhillipClark (who here plays bass on the first four tracks and guitar on the fifth, which was recorded earlier), Ryan Andrews (who here plays guitar and sings on the first four tracks and drums on the last) and Rael Jordan (who isn’t on the last song at all but drums and sings on the rest). Whether it’s true or not that BerT have an album on the way called Wall of Bees or that two of these tracks will be on Return to the Electric Church, or that 12-minute drone-riff closer “Trample the Dead Including – A. Bunnywurm B. Mars on Fire C. Heart Shaped Mc Bubba D. Big Yon” is to be re-recorded for a record called Shithawk, I have no idea and wouldn’t dare speculate, since BerT seem to fly on impulse anyway. That, however, is half the fun, and if you have your appreciation for the absurd in good working order and you don’t mind a rough production, Stoner Boner’s as entertaining musically as it is in everything else BerT do, right down to the logos on the faces of the band members on the cover art.
They chiefly traffic in riffs and charm, and the experimental sensibility seems to be driven more by laissez-faire creativity than by some pretense at genius. That is, Clark, Jordan and Andrews aren’t cloying at the “experimental” tag, they just wind up with it because they’re weirdos and do things like throw broken-sounding electric drums on the end of Stoner Boner opener “Winds of Neptune.” All the same, it’s the sense of melody in the vocals of Andrews and Jordan that helps make the early cuts standout, showing that BerT are well familiar with the rules of songwriting they’re willfully ignoring if not outright defying. The first three songs, “Winds of Neptune,” “Samsquanch” and “Human Bone Xylophone” are over in five and a half minutes, but it’s not like BerT are blasting out grindcore tracks or anything like that – they just don’t repeat parts. A riff cycles through once or twice and is replaced by another, verses work themselves out, and a rough but fascinating aesthetic emerges. I don’t want to call the verse of “Samsquanch” a hook, because it’s not, but the post-grunge vibe in the melody is engaging whether it aims to be or not. Once more, they end with what sounds like electronics or otherwise distorted noise, and “Human Bone Xylophone” reminds of the simplicity of earliest EyeHateGod without ever really being completely sludge. The guitar leads and the bass and drums stop in tandem, affecting a rudimentary groove that falls apart with about 20 seconds left in the song to make room for some recorded clowning around that crashes headfirst into “Persuaded,” a cover of fellow Lansing outfit Tahquamenon Falls. Allegedly. At three minutes, it’s the longest song BerT have so far presented (that closer is still to come) and it does seem to follow a more verse/chorus based approach, but of course, it also has more time to do so. Its plodding pace and sleepy vocal delivery come through well as a transition into the mega-stomp of “Trample the Dead.”
Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.
Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”
That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.
One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.
Here they are, ordered by the date of release:
1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)
Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.
2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)
Personally, I think 2005′s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009′s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.
3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)
In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.
4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)
The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.
5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)
I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.
6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)
Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.
7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)
It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.
8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)
Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.
9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)
It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.
10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)
If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011′s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.
That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘sSongs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.
And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.
Posted in Reviews on December 8th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Some days it just feels like we’re all living in the echo of Dead Meadow’s ringing tones. The impression is reinforced by the full-yet-somehow-minimalist-sounding Detroit trio, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, whose fashion-worthy, restrained distortion blends the shoegaze wanderings of the aforementioned East Coast expats with some of The Doors’ storm-riding slinkiness (Baltimore‘s The Flying Eyes come to mind as compatriots in that regard). The album is Spectra Spirit, and it’s Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor’s second self-release behind a 2009 self-titled, comprised of nine varied tracks of tilt-your-head-back cave pop, open-spaced Americana and the kind of neo-psychedelic spirit fostered in Tee Pee sub-hipster bands like Quest for Fire and Weird Owl. Periodic hooks like “You go downtown to the hole in your brain” from the centerpiece “The Hole in Your Brain” serve as landmarks for would-be travelers, and though at this point the line between poser indie and American heavy psych is about as blurry as a hipstamatic press shot, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor’s warmth of tone and occasional shift into thickly-delivered bliss makes Spectra Spirit work on its own terms. Greatly aided by a natural-feeling production, the songs can’t help but flow smoothly in themselves and between each other, setting a vibe of grander exploration without ever really going full-on experimental or lapsing into more self-indulgence than is warranted by the style.
And “style” is a keyword when it comes to Spectra Spirit. As their European counterparts seem to be morphing into jam-based, lengthier compositions, American acts like Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor present a darker take. The later cut “Sweet Girl Insanity” is the longest on the album at 5:46 and has probably the most effective build of any of the songs here, with drummer/backing vocalist RickSawoscinski announcing the payoff with the loudest snare hits on the whole of Spectra Spirit and guitarist/vocalist SeanMorrow clicking whichever of what I can only assume is a vast collection of pedals puts his tone into full-rock mode. By contrast, bassist/backing vocalist EricOppitz (who also handles organ when there’s organ to handle) stands out more in the song’s subdued beginning, cutting through the subtle swirl with an anchoring tone that not only keeps the rhythm, but enhances the atmosphere. Earlier, in the upbeat opening duo of “Untitled” and “Black Mind” – the latter which features Oppitz’s long-held organ notes – the bass occurs as part of a larger barrage of noise, and it’s absent from the acoustic-based “Howlers on the Roam,” but where it’s brought to the fore, Spectra Spirit is fuller and more effective for it. Morrow’s guitar leads most of the material, unsurprisingly, and his vocals are responsible for much of Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor’s chic feel. The Jim Morrison comparison has already been hinted at and is worth reiterating for Morrow’s delivery of “Howlers on the Roam” and the post-centerpiece “Did You Hear the Lion Roar, Mr. Wig,” the latter of which sets its late-night boozery and pill-popping against a backdrop of late ‘60s echoing and would fall utterly flat in its first half as the low point of the album were it not for Oppitz’s work on bass.
Posted in On the Radar on November 23rd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s a rare band that will have me throwing the horns at my desk, but so help me Robot Jeebus, the first time I listened to the self-titled EP from Detroit five-piece Knife, up they went at the end of opening track, “The Mess.” It was a gut reaction. No choice in the matter. The song is the perfect balance of catchy choruses and bearded burl, like the first Queens of the Stone Age record after getting its ass kicked a couple times.
As much as Detroit has seen the growth of a hipster culture the last few years, Knife have nothing to do with any of that. In the same vein as like-minded heavy Motor City bastards Chapstik and Mean Mother, they rock straightforward and more than a bit angry, pulling back some on the aggression for “Lake of Tar” (especially as compares to “This Field was Made for Killing” preceding) but giving little slack in the momentum. Knife is only six songs, 25 minutes, but in that time, the band establishes a firm pattern of riffs and solos, earning their two guitars and still leaving room for the standalone vocals of Curt Massof, which more than earn it.
Whether it’s the start-stop semi-Southern chugga groove of “Outrider” (little Danzig in there) or the unbridled energy of “Lineage,” Knife make sure their foot is right at home in the ass of their listener, and though I don’t know what the deal is with them and a label, them and a full-length, them and touring, them and their lineup, etc., I just wanted to put these songs on here because I actually dig the music. Figure the rest will work itself out.
There’s some stuff out there I like just because it’s fucked up, and the video for BerT‘s “An Adventure 65 Million Light Years in the Making” definitely fits the bill. The song, which was recorded live at Mac’s Bar in the band’s native Lansing, Michigan, is riffy weirdness set to visuals of animals eating each other, space and even a little chimpanzee karate thrown in the middle for good measure. It’s a psychedelic horror trip, and somehow it fits the music perfectly.
I can’t help but think that documentary series Planet Earth would have won even more Emmys if it had this soundtrack:
BerT‘s latest EP, Live at Mac’s Bar 06-01-11 is available for free download here, courtesy of Madlantis Records.
Posted in Reviews on June 20th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
They’ve made a beeline for the rock, have Michigan’s Mean Mother. The Detroit/Grand Rapids four-piece – who formed in 2003 as a side-project of more metallic acts like Ganon and Today I Wait – make their full-length debut (I think; there seems to be one release before it, but info is scarce) in the form of Rock ‘n’ Roll Shakedown (Saw Her Ghost Records), an album the name of which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about it. The first lines of the opening title cut read as follows: “Make a fist for rock ‘n’ roll/Yeah/Come on/Right now,” and from right there, it only gets more apparent that Mean Mother have no interest in poetry, no interest in brooding melancholy, no interest in pompous artistic posing. They’re here to drink, riff and groove, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Shakedown only asks that you come along for the catchy 42-minute joyride.
It’s the kind of heavy rock one expects to come more from Texas than Michigan – acts like Blood of the Sun and SuperHeavyGoatAss springing to mind as comparison points; or maybe even the new school of Small Stone rockers like Backwoods Payback and Lo-Pan (neither of whom is Texan) – but no question the double-guitar foursome have their papers in order when the issue is heavy rock influences. From Clutch to Deep Purple to the obvious Sabbath and Motörhead cues, they only want to rock, and the utter lack of pretense of anything else is what makes Rock ‘n’ Roll Shakedown work. A track like “Easy Livin’” makes its bones on ‘70s riffing and the white-guy-soulful delivery of guitarist Roxy Vega as backed by bassist Clint Debone, and there’s a million directions one could go in saying, “I’ve heard this before” in citing bands, but Mean Mother do what they do well and write a solid heavy rock song. Vega and fellow guitarist Cobra O’Kelly offer righteous riff-grooves and soloing, and Debone and drummer Bronco Johnson consistently lay down warm foundational rhythms. There’s a reason it’s become the heavy rock formula over the last 40 years, and the reason is it sounds cool.
Posted in Reviews on May 31st, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Hailing from the oh-so-pastoral climes of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the four-piece Lights at Sea traffics in a kind of wispy ethereal instrumental post-rock. It’s a sound most commonly associated these days with acts like Explosions in the Sky, but as Lights at Sea’s full-length debut, Palace Walls (Mind over Matter/Barrett Records) has some crunch to its low-end, I’m inclined to cite earlier Pelican as well, the two guitars of Scott Adams and Ryan Harig playing off each other in rhythms and echoing tonality. The album, which is a full-length at a bit under 35 minutes, is comprised of seven explorations that feel somewhere between improvised jamming and pointedly linear structures. Doubtless the band, which is rounded out by drummer Rob Burt and bassist Nick Rhodes, had some direction in mind for these tracks before pressing record, but with this kind of effects swirl, there are bound to be moments and sounds that pop up as part of the studio experience that simply couldn’t have been foreseen, and these are often some of the most magical stretches that albums like this have to offer.
What’s holding Palace Walls back, then, is the ease with which it can be pigeonholed into a genre. Cuts like the title-track, which follows a softly droning, minimalist intro dubbed “Fireside,” set up an effective build across their span, but it’s simple to write these and many of the other moves Lights at Sea are making here as derivative. One of their most engaging cuts is the centerpiece “Mantracker,” and even here Lights at Sea aren’t accomplishing anything in their encompassing all of sound that Red Sparowes wasn’t doing with their Godspeed You! Black Emperor influence on their own first album in 2005. To Lights at Sea’s credit, the flow from one track to the next on Palace Walls is immaculate, but I’m not convinced even after multiple listens that that alone is going to be enough to save them amidst fickle ears or heads bored of spaced out noodling. It’s a young sound anyway – one half expects to hear someone start post-hardcore screaming at several intervals on the album, “This is a House of Learned Doctors” among them – but even so, it’s one long since established, and Lights at Sea don’t bring much to it that wasn’t there to start with.