First thing, let me give the immediate and familiar disclaimer: This isn’t everything. If I wanted to call this list “The ONLY 10 Album Covers that Kicked Ass in 2013,” I would. I didn’t do that, because there were way more than 10 covers that resonated when I saw them this year. The idea here is just to check out a few artists’ work that really stuck out as memorable throughout the year and really fit with the music it was complementing and representing.
As always, you can click the images below to enlarge them for a more detailed look.
The list runs alphabetically by band. Thanks in advance for reading:
Like Nick Keller‘s cover for New Zealand heavy plunderers Beastwars‘ 2011 self-titled debut (review here), the darker, moodier oil and canvas piece that became the front of Blood Becomes Fire(review here) created a sense of something truly massive and otherworldly. A huge skull with sci-fi themes and barren landscape brought to it foreboding memento mori that seemed to suggest even land can die. It was an excellent match for the brooding tension in the album itself.
The level of detail in Arrache-toi un oeil‘s cover for Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s full-length Tee Pee Records debut, The Edge of an Era(review here), would probably be enough for it to make this list anyway, but the Belgium-based art duo seemed thematically to bring out the swirl, chaos and underlying order within the Los Angeles trio’s desert psychedelia. Blue was for the vinyl edition, brown for the CD digipak (both were revealed here), but in either format it was a reminder of how much visual art can add to a musical medium.
Black Pyramid, Adversarial
Cover by Eli Wood.
I look at the Eli Wood cover for Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial(review here) as representing the task before the band in putting out their third LP. Released by Hydro-Phonic, the album found Black Pyramid coming head to head with both their audience’s expectations of what they were in their original lineup and their own will to move past that and become something else. If there was a second panel to the cover, it would show the arrow-shot warrior standing next to the severed head of the demon he slayed. Easily one of my favorite covers of the year. The scale of it begged for a larger format even than vinyl could provide.
It was such a weird record, with the interludes and the bizarre twists, that Samantha Allen‘s cover piece for Ice Dragon‘s Born a Heavy Morning (review here) almost couldn’t help but encompass it. The direct, but slightly off-center stare of the owl immediately catches the eye, but we see the titular morning sunshine as well, the human hand with distinct palm lines, illuminati eye and other symbols — are the planets? Bubbles? I don’t know, but since Born a Heavy Morningwas such an engrossing listening experience, to have the visual side follow suit made it all the richer.
Kings Destroy, A Time of Hunting
Cover by Aidrian O’Connor.
In Magyar mythology, the bird-god Turul is perched atop the tree of life and is a symbol of power. With its theme in geometry, Aidrian O’Connor‘s cover piece for Kings Destroy‘s ATime of Hunting — which was originally titled Turul– gave a glimpse at some of that strength, positioning the viewer as prey below a creature and sky that seem almost impossible to parse. I felt the same way the first time I put on the finished version of the Brooklyn outfit’s second offering, unspeakably complex and brazenly genre-defiant as it was.
Alexander von Wieding deserves multiple mentions for his 2013 covers for Black Thai and Small Stone labelmates Supermachine, but he always seems to save the best for his own project, Larman Clamor. The one-man-band’s third LP, Alligator Heart(review here), was a stomper for sure, but in his visual art for it, von Wieding brilliantly encapsulated the terrestrial elements (the human and reptile) as well as the unknowable spheres (rippling water, sun-baked sky) that the songs portrayed in their swampadelic blues fashion. It was one to stare at.
Similar I guess to the Beastwars cover in its looming feel and to the Black Pyramid for its scale, John Sumrow‘s art for Monster Magnet‘s Last Patrol(review here) mirrored the space-rocking stylistic turn the legendary New Jersey band made in their sound, taking their iconic Bullgod mascot and giving it a cosmic presence, put to scale with the rocketship on the right side. It stares out mean from the swirl and regards the ship with no less a watchful eye than Dave Wyndorf‘s lyrics seem to have on society as a whole.
There’s a mania to Orion Landau’s cover for Red Fang‘s third album, Whales and Leeches, and while the songs that comprise the record are more clearly structured, the collage itself, the face it makes when viewed from a distance, and the (from what I’m told is brilliant) cut-out work in the physical pressing of the album, all conspired to make one of 2013′s most striking visuals. As the in-house artist for Relapse, Landau is no stranger to landmark pieces, but this was a different level of accomplishment entirely.
Fuck. Look at this fucking thing! Galaxy spiral, vagina-dentata, creepy multi-pupil eyes and a background that seems to push the eye to the middle with no hope of escape even as blues and oranges collide. Wow. Sandrider bassist JesseRoberts‘(see also The Ruby Doe) artwork for Godhead (review here) is the only cover on this list done by a member of the band in question, and though I’m sure there are many awesome examples out there, I don’t know if any can top this kind of nightmarishness. Unreal. The sheer imagination of it.
When I put together a similar list last year, it had Summoner‘s first album under the moniker, Phoenix, on it, and with their second, they went more melodic, more progressive, and showed that heaviness was about atmosphere as much as tone, and that it was a thing to be moved around rather than leaned on. The Alyssa Maucere art, dark but deceptively colorful, rested comfortably alongside the songs, with a deeply personal feel and unflinchingly forward gaze, somewhat understated on the black background, but justifying the portrayal of depth.
As I said above, there’s a lot of stuff I could’ve easily included on this list, from The Flying Eyes to Sasquatch to Black Thai to Lumbar, Samsara Blues Experiment, Goatess, At Devil Dirt and others. Hopefully though, this gives a sampling of some people who are doing cool work in an under-represented aspect of underground creativity.
If I left anything out or there was a cover that really stuck with you that I didn’t mention, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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The end of any year always brings a barrage of best-ofs. Lists, radio shows, award ceremonies, and even podcasts. What no one tells you about any of them is there’s no fucking way they can ever be comprehensive. My Top 20 list? It was damn good and I worked really hard putting it together, but was I toiling under the delusion that it was going to be an accurate and complete representation of everything 2013 had on offer? Hell no. That’s why we have the Readers Poll, the Albums Unheard list (still to come) and all the rest of the wrap-up stuff.
So as you check out this happens-to-be-the-last-of-2013 podcast, please keep in mind that though it does feature a sampling of some of 2013′s most killer songs from some of its most killer albums, it’s not at all intended to be a total roundup of this year. It’s a part of it, and I’m cool with that if you are.
It’s Xmas Eve as I put this together, and it’s looking like this’ll be my only post for today, so I’ll take another opportunity to wish you a happy holiday if you’re celebrating. Please be safe and enjoy time with family, gift-giving, and of course, good music. I don’t know if grandma would really get down to some Phantom Glue, but seems like it’s worth a shot.
Clutch, “D.C. Sound Attack” from Earth Rocker (2013)
Monster Magnet, “Last Patrol,” from Last Patrol (2013)
Church of Misery, “Cranley Gardens (Dennis Andrew Nilsen)” from Thy Kingdom Scum (2013)
Phantom Glue, “Bow in the Dust” from A War of Light Cones (2013)
Pelican, “The Tundra” from Forever Becoming (2013)
Young Hunter, “Trail of Tears” from Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain (2013)
All Them Witches, “The Death of Coyote Woman” from Lightning at Your Door (2013)
Black Thai, “Doors to Nowhere” from Season of Might (2013)
Gozu, “Charles Bronson Pinchot” from The Fury of a Patient Man (2013)
Geezer, “Ancient Song” from Gage EP (2013)
T.G. Olson, “Unsung Everyone” from Hell’s Half Acre (2013)
Fuzz, “One” from Fuzz (2013)
Wooden Shjips, “Servants” from Back to Land (2013)
Fever Dog, “Lady Snowblood/Child of the Netherworlds,” from Lady Snowblood (2013)
Samsara Blues Experiment, “Brahmin’s Lament” from Waiting for the Flood (2013)
Vista Chino, “Planets 1 & 2” from Peace (2013)
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “Valley of the Dolls” from Mind Control (2013)
The Golden Grass, “One More Time” from One More Time b/w Tornado (2013)
Beelzefuzz, “Lonely Creatures” from Beelzefuzz (2013)
Posted in Features on December 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are my picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is still going on. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
It’s always strange to think of something so utterly arbitrary as also being really, really difficult, but I think 2013 posed the biggest challenge yet in terms of getting together a final list of my favorite records. As ever, I had a post-it note on my office wall (when I moved, it moved with me) and I did my best to keep track of everything that resonated throughout the year. I wound up with over 40 picks and had to start putting them in order to whittle the list down.
I wound up with a top 20 that, even though it feels somewhat incomplete, I’ve found that I can at very least live with. That’s what I’ve done for the last week: Just lived with it. Even up to this morning, I was making changes, but in general, I think this gives some scope about what hit me hard in 2013. Of course, these are just my picks, and while things like my own critical appreciation factor in because that affects how I ultimately listen to a record, sometimes it just comes down to what was stuck in my head most often or what I kept putting on over and over.
That’s a simple formula to apply, but still, 2013 didn’t make it easy. Please note as you go through that there are some real gems in the honorable mentions. I thought about expanding the list to 30 this year, but the thought made my skull start to cave in, so I reconsidered.
Anyway, it only comes around once a year, so let’s do this thing. Thanks in advance for reading:
20. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door
Traditionally, I’ve reserved #20 for a sentimental pick. An album that’s hard to place numerically because of some personal or emotional connection. This year wasn’t short on those, but when it came to it, I knew I couldn’t make this list without Lightning at the Door included, and since it was released just last month as the follow-up to the earlier-2013 Elektrohasch reissue of the Nashville, Tennessee, outfit’s 2012 debut, Our Mother Electricity (review here), I didn’t feel like I’ve had enough time with it to really put it anywhere else. It needed to be here, and so it is, and though I’ve listened to it plenty in the month since its release, I still feel like I’m getting to know Lightning at the Door, and exploring its open-spaced blues rocking grooves. All Them Witches are hands down one of the best bands I heard for the first time this year, and I’m looking forward to following their work as they continue to progress.
For a while after I first heard …Like Clockwork and around the time I reviewed it, I sweated it pretty hard. By mid-June, I had it as one of the year’s best without a doubt in my mind. Then I put it away. I don’t know if I burnt myself out on it or what, but I still haven’t really gone back to it, and while the brilliance of cuts like “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends” and “I Appear Missing” still stands out and puts Josh Homme‘s songwriting as some of the most accomplished I encountered in 2013, that hasn’t been enough to make me take it off the shelf. I doubt Queens of the Stone Age will cry about it as they tour arenas and get nominated for Grammy awards, but there it is. I wouldn’t have expected …Like Clockworkto be so low on the list, certainly not when I was listening to “My God is the Sun” six times in a row just to try and get my head around the chorus.
Gorgeously produced and impeccably textured, The Winter Ward by Stockholm-based I are Droid aren’t generally the kind of thing I’d reach for, but the quality of the craft in songs like “Constrict Contract” and “Feathers and Dust” made it essential. Bits and pieces within harkened back to frontman Peder Bergstrand‘s tenure in Lowrider, but ultimately The Winter Wardemerged with a varied and rich personality all its own, and that became the basis for the appeal. As the weather has gotten colder and it’s gotten dark earlier, I’ve returned to The Winter Wardfor repeat visits, and as much as I’ve got my fingers crossed for another Lowrider album in 2014, I hope I are Droid continue to run parallel, since the progressive take on alternative influences they managed to concoct was carried across with proportionate accessibility. It was as audience friendly and satisfying a listen as it was complex and ripe for active engagement.
There was just nothing to argue about when it came to the self-titled debut from Massachusetts-based doomers Magic Circle, but what worked best about the album was that although the songs were strong on their own and seemed to have lurching hooks to spare, everything throughout fed into an overarching atmosphere that was denser than the straightforwardness of the structures might lead the listener to initially believe. It was a record worth going back to, worth getting lost in the nod of, and as the members are experienced players in a variety of New England acts from The Rival Mob to Doomriders, it should be interesting to find out what demons they may conjure in following-up Magic Circle, if they’ll continue down the path of deceptively subversive “traditionalism” or expand their sound into more progressive reaches. Either way they may choose, the material on their first outing showed an ability to craft an enigmatic, individualized sonic persona that never veered into cultish caricature.
If you’re into doom and you have a soul, I don’t know how you could not be rooting for Iron Man in 2013. Produced by Frank Marchand and the first full-length from the long-running Maryland doomers to feature vocalist Dee Calhoun and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann alongside guitarist/founder “Iron” Al Morris III (interview here) and longtime bassist Louis Strachan. The difference in South of the Earthwas palpable even in comparison to 2009′s I Have Returned(review here). With more professional production, excellent performances all around in the lineup, memorable songs like “Hail to the Haze” and “The Worst and Longest Day,” and the considerable endorsement of a release through Rise Above/Metal Blade behind them, the four-piece sounded like the statesmen they are in the Maryland scene and showed themselves every bit worthy of inclusion in the discussion of America’s finest in traditional, Sabbathian doom. May they continue to get their due.
Whether it was what the lyrics were talking about or not, the message of “The Message” was clear: Never count out a catchy chorus. Now in operation for a decade, Sasquatch practice an arcane artistry with their songwriting. Void of pretense, heavy on boogie, they are as genuine a modern extension of classic heavy rock as you’re likely to find. The Los Angeles power trio outdid themselves with IV, veering boldly into psychedelia on “Smoke Signal” and honing their craft over various moods and themes on “Sweet Lady,” “Me and You” and “Eye of the Storm.” They remain one of American heavy rock’s key and consistently underestimated components, and the three years since the release of their third album, III(review here), seemed like an eternity once the quality grooves of “Money” and “Drawing Flies” got moving, the former an insistent rush and the latter open, dreamy and atmospheric, but both executed with precision and confidence born of Sasquatch‘s familiarity with the methods and means of kicking ass.
It was hard to know what to expect from Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial, their first release with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard at the fore with bassist Dave Gein and drummer/engineer Clay Neely, but the Massachusetts outfit flourished on tracks like “Swing the Scimitar,” incorporating a heavy jamming sensibility with marauding riffs and grooves carried over from the style of their first two albums. Adversarial took the band to Hellfest in France this past summer, where they shared a stage with Neurosis and Sleep, and whether it was the raging chorus of “Bleed Out” or the clarion guitar line of “Aphelion,” the band showed their war ensemble could not be stopped. Their future is uncertain with Neely having relocated and Gein having an impending move of his own, but if Adversarialis to stand as the final Black Pyramid outing, they will at very least have claimed enough heads in their time to line fence-posts for miles. Still, hopefully they can find some way to continue to make it work.
Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relicsmarked the first full-length from Nashville’s Across Tundras to be released on their own label and the first since they issued Sage through Neurot in 2011 (review here), and as rolling and exploratory as its vibe was, songs like “Solar Ark,” “Pining for the Gravel Roads” and “Den of Poison Snakes” also represented a solidification of Across Tundras‘ sound, another step in their development that refined their blend of rural landscapes and heavy tones. Issued in April, it’s been an album that throughout the course of the year I’ve returned to time and again, and the more I’ve sat with it and the more comfortable it’s become, the more its songs have come to feel like home, which it’s easy to read as being their intent all along. Guitarist/vocalist Tanner Olson (read his questionnaire answers here), bassist/vocalist Mikey Allred and drummer Casey Perry hit on something special in these tracks, and one gets the sense their influence is just beginning to be felt.
Initially a digital self-release by the Washington, D.C. riff purveyors, Oculus just this month got a tri-color, tri-label and tri-continental vinyl issue, and the fanfare with which it arrived was well earned by the five songs contained on the two sides. Borracho‘s second album behind 2011′s Splitting Sky(review here) also marked a lineup shift in the band that saw them go from a four-piece to a trio, with guitarist Steve Fisher (interview here) stepping to the fore as vocalist in the new incarnation with Tim Martin on bass and Mario Trubiano on drums. The results in songs like “Know the Score” and closer “I’ve Come for it All” were in line stylistically with the straightforward approach they showed on their first offering, but tighter overall in their presentation, and Fisher‘s voice was a natural fit with the band’s stated ethic of “repetitive heavy grooves” — a neat summary, if perhaps underselling their appeal somewhat. Oculusshowed both that the appeal of Splitting Skywas no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.
Like the bulk of Ice Dragon‘s work to date, Born a Heavy Morning was put out first digitally, for free or pay-what-you-want download. A CD version would follow soon enough on Navalorama, with intricate packaging to match the album’s understated achievements, taking the Boston genre-crossers into and through heavy psychedelic atmospheres added to and played off in longer pieces like “The Past Plus the Future is Present” and the gorgeously ethereal “Square Triangle” by thematic slice-of-life set-pieces like “In Which a Man Daydreams about a Girl from His Youth” and “In Which a Man Ends His Workweek with a Great Carouse” that only enriched the listening experience and furthered Ice Dragon‘s experimental appeal. Ever-prolific, Born a Heavy Morningwasn’t the only Ice Dragon outing this year, physical or digital, but it stood in a place of its own within their constantly-expanding catalog and showcased a stylistic fearlessness that can only be an asset in their favor as they continue to chase down whatever the hell it is they’re after in their songs and make genuine originality sound so natural.
It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Musewas there. Not that it was the highest-profile release of the year or bolstered by some consciousness-invading viral campaign or anything, just that once the songs locked into my head, there was no removing them, and whether it was straightforward rockers like “This Train Won’t Stop,” “Savonarola” and “Tie One On,” the moodier “Black Black Heart” or the charm-soaked “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” — which might also be the best song title I came across this year — it was a pretty safe bet that something from the Indianapolis four-piece was going to make a showing on the mental jukebox if not in the actual player (it showed up plenty there as well). Devil to Pay‘s first album since 2009, first for Ripple and fourth overall, Fate is Your Musewas a grower listen whose appeal only deepened over the months after its release, the layered vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (interview here) adaptable to the varying vibes of “Wearin’ You Down” and “Already Dead” and soulful in classic fashion. They’ve been underrated as a live act for some time, and Fate is Your Musetranslated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.
9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below
Such devastation. Even now, every time I put on Beast in the Field‘s The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below, it makes me want to hang my head and wonder at the horror of it all like Marlon Brando hiding out in a cave. If anything at all, there wasn’t much I heard in 2013 that hit harder than the Michigan duo’s fifth long-player, released on CD in March through Saw Her Ghost with vinyl reportedly on the way now. Toward the middle of the year, it got to the point where I wanted to go door to door and say to people, “Uh excuse me, but this is absurdly heavy and you should check it out.” I settled for streaming the album in full and it still feels like a compromise. I tried to interview the band, to no avail — sometimes instrumental acts just don’t want to talk about it — but what guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr were able to accomplish tonally, atmospherically and bombastically in expansive and overwhelmingly heavy cuts like the 22-minute “Oncoming Avalanche” or the noise-soaked riffing of “Hollow Horn” put The Sacred Above, the Sacred Belowinto a weight class that it had pretty much to itself this year. It’s a good thing they had no trouble filling that space. I still feel like I haven’t recommended the album enough and that more people need to be made aware of its existence.
When I finally listened to Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut, I was really, really glad I had seen the three-piece — its members based in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania — play some of the material live. I don’t know if otherwise I’d have been able to distinguish between the progress elements of effects and looping and the live creation of layers and organ sounds through the guitar of Dana Ortt (interview here) and the simple humdrum of studio layering one finds all the time. I almost think for their next record they should track it live, just the three of them, and heavily advertise that fact to help get the point across that it’s actually just three players — Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of PaleDivine) — creating the richness of sound on “All the Feeling Returns” and the eerie, gleefully weird progressive stomp on “Lonely Creatures.” The album became a morning go-to for me, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been through it at this point, but “Reborn” and “Hypnotize” and “Lotus Jam” continue to echo in my head even when it’s been a few days. That said, it’s rarely been a few days, because while I appreciate what the trio accomplish on their first record on an analytical level, the reason it is where it is on this list is because I can’t stop listening to the damn thing. Another one that more people should hear than have heard.
7. Samsara Blues Experiment, Waiting for the Flood
One of the aspects of Samsara Blues Experiment‘s third offering that I most enjoyed was that it wasn’t the album I expected German four-piece to make. After their 2011 sophomore album, Revelation and Mystery (review here), shifted its focus away from the jam-minded heavy psychedelia of their 2009 debut, Long Distance Trip (review here), my thinking was that they would continue down that path and coalesce into a more straightforward brand of heavy rock. Instead, when the four extended tracks of Waiting for the Floodshowed up with no shortage of swirl or sitar or open-ended expansion in their midst, it was a legitimate surprise. Repeat visits to “Shringara” and “Don’t Belong” show that actually it’s not so much that Samsara Blues Experiment turned around and were hell-bent on jamming out all the time, but that rather for their third, they took elements of what worked on their first two LPs and built lush movements on top of those ideas. As a happy bonus, this having grown more and more into their sound has helped push the band — guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, guitarist Hans Eiselt, bassist Richard Behrens and drummer Thomas Vedder — into their own niche within the wider European heavy psych scene, and they’ve begun to emerge as one of its most enjoyable and consistent acts.
Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Controland the preceding Uncle Acid album, Blood Lust. Certainly the newer outing — their third and first for Rise Above/Metal Blade – is more psychedelic, more tripped out and less obscure feeling than its predecessor. It didn’t have the same kind of crunch to the guitar tone, or the same kind of horror-film atmosphere or psychosexual foreboding, but the thing was, it wasn’t supposed to. The UK outfit continue to prod cult mentality even as their own cult grows, and as I see it, Mind Control made a lot of sense coming off Blood Lustin terms of the band not wanting to repeat the same ideas over again, but grow from them and expand their sound. Of course, with the strut at the end of opener “Mt. Abraxas,” they’ve set a high standard on their albums for leadoff tracks, but where Mind Controlreally made its impression was in the hypnosis of cuts like the Beatlesian “Follow the Leader,” the lysergic “Valley of the Dolls” or the maddening “Devil’s Work.” The deeper you went into side B, the more the band had you in their grasp. It was a different kind of accomplishment than the preceding effort — though “Mind Crawler” kept a lot of that vibe alive — and it showed Uncle Acid had more in their arsenal than VHS ambience and garage doom malevolence while keeping the infectiousness that helped Blood Lustmake such an impression.
Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcomewas the most recent inclusion on this list. Having worked with Lumbar multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron Edge (interview here) in the past with his band Roareth releasing what would be their only album on The Maple Forum, this was a project to which I felt an immediate connection given the circumstances of its creation: Being written almost in its entirety and recorded in everything but vocals during a bedridden period following Edge‘s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The contributions of YOB/Vhöl frontman Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth were what got a lot of people’s attention for Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, but with the situation are the core of the seven tracks named “Day One” through “Day Seven,” what stood out to me even more than those performances was the utter lack of distance and the level of rawness in the album’s presentation. It puts you there. What you get with Lumbar is the direct translation of a range of emotions from hopeful to hopeless, angry, sad, beaten down and wanting answers, wanting more. There’s no shield from it, and as much in concept as in its execution, there’s no other word for it than “heavy.” The intensity Edge packed into just 24 minutes — and not all of it loud or over the top doomed or anything more than atmospherics — was unmatched by anything else I heard this year.
From just about any angle you want to view it, the situation that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was unfortunate. However — and I know I’ve said this before — I really do believe that becoming Vista Chino, that furthering the distance from the Kyuss moniker, brand, legacy, and so on, was for the better of the band creatively. And not because the songs don’t stand up. I doubt it helped their draw much, but for vocalist John Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork (interview here), working as Vista Chino for the creation of Peace, and especially or Bjork working with guitarist Bruno Fevery for the first time in the writing process, it allowed them to step outside of what would’ve been insurmountable expectations for a “fifth Kyuss album” and create something honest, new, and ultimately, more true to the spirit of that now-legendary band. Let’s face it, you hear John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri are working on a project together, you’re immediately comparing it to Kyuss anyway. At least with Vista Chino, they’ve given themselves the potential for growth beyond a preconceived idea of what Kyuss should sound like. Well what does Vista Chino sound like? It sounds like whatever the hell they want. On Peace, though many of the lyrics dealt with their legal battles over the Kyuss name, the vibe stayed true to a desert rock ethic of laid back heavy, and the round-out jam in “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” left Peacewith the feeling that maybe that’s where they’ve ended up after all. Fingers crossed Mike Dean (of C.O.C. and the latest live incarnation of Vista Chino) winds up playing bass on the record, but other than that, wherever they want to go with it, as a fan, I’m happy to follow along.
The second outing from Gozu on Small Stone, The Fury of a Patient Man tapped into so much of what made the Boston band’s 2010 Locust Season label debut (review here) work so right on and just did it better. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig on “Meat Charger,” but with tracks like “Snake Plissken,” “Bald Bull,” “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” (note: it was “signed, Epstein’s mother” on Welcome Back Kotter) and the thrashing “Charles Bronson Pinchot,” Gozu put forth a collection of some of 2013′s finest heavy rock and did so with not only their own soulful spin on the tropes of the genre, but a mature and varied approach that was no less comfortable giving High on Fire a run for their money than reveling in the grandiose chorus of “Ghost Wipe,” which was also one of the best hooks of the year, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (interview here) delivering lines in crisp, confident layers, perfectly mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios and cutting through the fray of his own and Doug Sherman‘s guitars, the bass of Paul Dallaire (who split duties with J. Canava; Joe Grotto has since taken over the position) and Barry Spillberg‘s drumming. What the future might hold for Gozu with the recent shift in lineup that replaced Spillberg with drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) and added third guitarist Jeff Fultz (Mellow Bravo) remains to be seen, but with European touring on the horizon for 2014 and appearances slated for Roadburn and Desertfest, the band seem to be looking only to expand their reach, and with the material from The Fury of a Patient Man as a foundation, they’ve got some major considerations acting in their favor. Another album from which I simply could not escape this year, and from which I didn’t want to.
Billed largely and at least in-part accurately as a return to the group’s psychedelic roots, Last Patrol was Monster Magnet‘s ninth full-length, their first in three years and their second for Napalm. The New Jersey outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, founder and, in this case, co-producer Dave Wyndorf (interview here) did indeed delve into the space rock side of their sound more than they have in over a decade, and the effect that doing so had was like a great shaking-off of dust, as though the Bullgod in the John Sumrow cover art just woke up after a long slumber. Perhaps even more than tripping on the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers” or on the more extended freakouts “Last Patrol” and “End of Time,” what really made Last Patrolsuch a complete experience was the depth of emotion. Wyndorf wasn’t just standing above an overproduced wall of distortion talking about how he’s the best lay in the galaxy or whatever — fun though that kind of stuff is and has been in the past — but songs like “I Live behind the Clouds,” “The Duke (of Supernature),” “Paradise” and “Stay Tuned” offered a humbler take, a spirit of melancholy that rested well alongside the unmitigated stomp of “Hallelujah” or the driving heavy rock of “Mindless Ones.” Even in its most riotous stretches, Last Patrolwas a humbler affair, with a more honest vibe than their last four, maybe five albums. A Monster Magnet release would’ve been noteworthy no matter what it actually sounded like, because that’s the level of impact they’ve had on heavy psych and underground rock over the last two decades-plus. The difference with Last Patrolwas that it was a refreshing change from what had started to sound like a formula going stale, and it was just so damn good to have them be weird again.
Finally, an album that asked the question, “What it was I’m going to do I haven’t done?” I knew at the year’s halfway point that Clutch‘s Earth Rockerwas going to be the one to beat, and that it wasn’t going to be easy for anyone else to top the Maryland kings of groove, who sounded so reinvigorated on songs like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle and Go,” “Unto the Breach,” and “Cyborg Bette,” and on funkfied pushers like “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” and “The Face.” They’d hardly been in hibernation since 2009′s Strange Cousins from the West, but four years was the longest they’d ever gone between albums, and it was past time for a new one. To have it arrive as such a boot to the ass just made it that much better, the band shifting away from some of the blues/jam influences that emerged over the course of 2005′s Robot Hive/Exodusand 2007′s From Beale Street to Oblivion — though those certainly showed up as well in the subdued “Gone Cold” and elsewhere — but thanks in no small part to the production of Machine, with whom the band last worked for 2004′s Blast Tyrant, Earth Rockerwas huge where it wanted to be and that gave Clutch‘s faster, more active material all the more urgency, where although the songwriting was quality as always, Strange Cousins from the West languished a bit at a more relaxed pace. The difference made all the difference. Whether it was the hellhounds on your trail (what a pity!) in “D.C. Sound Attack!” or the Jazzmasters erupting from the bottom of the sea to take flight, Clutch‘s 10th album was brimming with live, vibrant, heavy on action and heavy on groove, and on a sheer song-by-song level, a classic in the making from a band who’ve already had a few. At very least, it’s a landmark in their discography, and though vocalist Neil Fallon (interview here), guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster always change from record, but it’s the unmistakable stamp they put on all their outings that have earned them such a loyal following, and that stamp is all over Earth Rocker. Front to back, it is a pure Clutch record, and while I’ll happily acknowledge that it’s an obvious pick for album of the year, I don’t see how I possibly could’ve chosen anything else. Like the best of the best, Earth Rockerwill deliver for years to come.
The Next 10 and Honorable Mentions
I said at the outset I had 40 picks. The reality was more than that, but here’s the next 10 anyway:
21. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
22. The Freeks, Full On
23. Luder, Adelphophagia
24. The Flying Eyes, Lowlands
25. Black Skies, Circadian Meditations
26. At Devil Dirt, Plan B: Sin Revolucion No Hay Evolucion
27. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar
28. Naam, Vow
29. Mühr, Messiah
30. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire
Further honorable mention has to go to Pelican, Endless Boogie, Earthless, Phantom Glue, Goatess, Windhand, Gonga, TonerLow, Jesuand Sandrider.
Two More Special Records
I’d be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t note the release in 2013 of two albums that wound up being incredibly special to me personally: I vs. the Glacierby Clamfight and A Time of Hunting by Kings Destroy. Since it came out on this site’s in-house label, I didn’t consider the Clamfight eligible for list consideration and while I didn’t help put it out, the Kings Destroy I also felt very, very close to — probably as close as I’ve felt to a record I didn’t actually perform on — so it didn’t seem fair on a critical level, but I consider both of these to be records that in a large part helped define my year, as well as being exceptional in and of themselves, and they needed very much to be singled out as such. These are people whom I feel whatever-the-godless-heathen-equivalent-of-blessed-is to know.
Before I end this post, I want to say thank you for reading, this, anything else you may have caught this year, whatever it might be. To say it means a lot to me personally is understating it, but it’s true all the same. I’m not quite done wrapping up the year — I’ll have a list of the best album covers, another for EPs and singles and demos, and of course the albums I didn’t hear — so please stay tuned over the next couple weeks, but it seemed only fair to show my appreciation now as well. Thank you.
Posted in On Wax on November 14th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Maybe it’s not the deepest critique I’ve ever made, but what’s not to like here? Monster Magnet‘s Last Patrol(review here) is one of 2013′s best albums, so to have it arrive in a limited 2LP package geared specifically toward collectors and the types of fans who’d chase down such an artifact is all the better. Pressed by Napalm Records in what the back of the gatefold refers to in all-caps as “Strictly Limited Edition,” Last Patrolcomprises two subtle magenta swirl platters and on vinyl feels even more like the sonic event it is in the band’s catalog.
Prior to its release, Last Patrolwas billed as a psychedelic return to form, and in a couple of the extended jammers — the title-track and “End of Time” — it certainly taps into some of the long-running New Jersey stoner innovators’ early Hawkwind fetishizing, but the prevailing sensibility is more brooding, and there are moments where that psych tendency crashes hard into a heavy reality, whether that arrives in the sarcasm rooted in the lyrics of “Paradise” or the underlying scathe of “Mindless Ones,” which in itself has some measure of swirl but still drives like heavy rocking Monster Magnet at their most unbridled.
The limited version of Last Patrolmaintains the atmosphere overall, but the listening experience is far different. Spreading the nine tracks of the album proper and the two bonus cuts, “Strobe Light Beatdown” and “One Dead Moon” over the course of two LPs means that each of the four sides save for side A only has three songs on it. By the time opener “I Live behind the Clouds” and the following “Last Patrol” are done, it’s time to get up and flip the record, and where in a more linear mode of listening, one might just get carried off by the flow of one song into the next, here the process is more interactive. “Three Kingfishers” into “Paradise” into “Hallelujah” is a quick listen.
If there’s a downside, it’s that the changing of LPs takes away from the smoothness of some of the song-to-song transitions, like “Hallelujah” into “Mindless Ones” and “End of Time” into “Stay Tuned,” but the tradeoff is you’re a more conscious audience. Last Patrolin this form doesn’t let you get so swept away by psychedelic hypnosis that you miss a minute of it, and ultimately this serves the tracks in a different way than either the CD, digital (or presumably) the single LP versions possibly could. The inclusion of bonus material, whether it’s the more upbeat “Strobe Light Beatdown” or the building “One Dead Moon” further distinguishes this version, and for fans who’d take on a package like this one, these are songs well worth hearing.
Casual Monster Magnet fans probably won’t feel the need to dig in on this level, but this doesn’t seem to be geared toward that audience anyway. It’s for the Monster Magnet fan who’s waited a long time for the band to put out something like Last Patrol — more complex in its personality than anything they’ve done in the last decade — and as I count myself among that number, I’m happy to be able to dig into a package that’s a gorgeous and honest as the album itself. To see the John Sumrow art alone in this iteration, I’d feel compelled to frame it if I didn’t want to keep listening so much.
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 17th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
There’s a fascinating bit of scene-symmetry here. The Atomic Bitchwax, when they formed in the late ’90s out of the dismantling of bassist Chris Kosnik‘s prior outfit, Godspeed, featured then-Monster Magnet guitarist Ed Mundell, and were widely regarded in their beginnings as a Monster Magnet side-project. Now, with Mundell long out of the Bitchwax and more recently (three years as opposed to seven or eight) out of Magnet, along comes the announcement that Chris Kosnik, the last remaining founding member of The Atomic Bitchwax, is to serve as the new bassist for Monster Magnet, replacing Jim Baglino, who left earlier this year. Got all that?
I’m not sure where this leaves The Atomic Bitchwax, who’ve continued to play shows — they ruled on the Rocks off Concert Cruise around Manhattan in June — since the release in 2011 of The Local Fuzz(review here), but since Bitchwax drummer Bob Pantella was going to be busy playing in Monster Magnet anyway, it makes a weird kind of sense to have Kosnik join him there in the rhythm section. Hey man, Red Bank isn’t exactly a huge town.
Kudos and best of luck to Kosnik. Here’s the announcement from Monster Magnet frontman Dave Wyndorf from the band’s forum, followed by their upcoming North American tour dates:
Monster Magnet welcomes new bass player Chris Kosnik
We’d like to welcome bassist Chris Kosnik into the Magnet family of undying reverberation.
Chris is a fantastic player as many might already know.
He’s a founding and current member of Atomic Bitchwax and has chopped wood with Godspeed and Black Nasa.
What else can we say? The guy rocks.
MONSTER MAGNET North American Tour: 11/14: Grand Rapids, MI @ Intersection 11/15: Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews 11/16: Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge 11/17: Minneapolis, MN @ Mill City Nights 11/19: Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater 11/20: Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge 11/22: Seattle, WA @ Neumos 11/23: Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theater 11/24: Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theater 11/26: San Francisco, CA @ The Independent 11/27: Los Angeles, CA @ House of Blues 11/29: Tempe, AZ @ Club Red 11/30: Albuquerque, NM @ Launch Pad 12/2: Austin, TX @ Red 7 12/3: Houston, TX @ Fitzgeralds 12/4: Dallas, TX @ Trees 12/6: Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade 12/7: Charlotte, NC @ Amos Southend 12/8: Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Sound Stage 12/10: Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace 12/12: Boston, MA @ Sinclair 12/13: West Chester, PA @ The Note 12/14: New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
Posted in Features on October 11th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Any way you want to look at it, Last Patrol is a landmark in the Monster Magnet catalog. Before you even get to the music and whether or not the band accomplished the goals of their ninth album overall and second for Napalm Records — incidentally, I’ll gladly argue they did with anyone who might be interested in picking up the other side — the sheer fact of their shift from the straightforward hard rock sound of their string of albums from 2001′s God Says Noto 2010′s Mastermind(review here) to a moodier, more psychedelic feel derived from earlier works like 1991′s genre-defining Spine of Goddebut and subsequent psych-rockers Superjudge(1993) and Dopes to Infinity(1995), makes Last Patrola defining moment. I’m hesitant to call it a turning point, as it would be foolish to speculate on what whims might catch hold for guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and founder Dave Wyndorf between now and when he next puts together a full-length for the band, but it’s unquestionably the biggest stylistic turn they’ve made in the 15 years since their 1998 blend of classic attitude and driving hard rock, Powertrip, propelled them to international acclaim and genuine rock stardom.
So before you even press play, or maybe about 15 seconds after, as opener “I Live behind the Clouds” starts to unfold with its catch-you-off-guard brooding sensibility — all on purpose, all for effect — Last Patrol(review here) stands out from a decade-plus of Monster Magnet‘s output and signals, if nothing else, a reshuffling of sonic priorities. It also helps that it’s hands down one of the best records to come out in 2013. As seen in the gorgeous John Sumrow artwork, the Bullgod (Magnet‘s mascot since their first album) has gone galaxial, and extended pieces like the title-track and “End of Time” thrive on the apparent danger that at any moment they could fly completely off the rails, while stompers like “Hallelujah” and “Mindless Ones” find Wyndorf, bassist/guitarist Phil Caivano, guitarist Garrett Sweeny and drummer Bob Pantella locked into an irresistible push that seems all the more vibrant playing off quieter stretches in “Paradise,” the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers, “The Duke (of Supernature)” (streamed here) and ultra-ambiguous closer “Stay Tuned.”
Between the name of the album, the palpable full-circle sonic impression it leaves and that song, I immediately speculated in hearing it that it might be the final offering from Monster Magnet, that perhaps it was a way for Wyndorf to tie loose ends stylistically and placate a section of his fanbase by “getting weird again,” which was something he also discussed three years ago in an interview for Mastermind. But no. It’s not. Wyndorf is quick to delight in the ambiguity of the title and the album’s message and musical journey, having both reconciled himself to a “no one’s gonna get it” mentality and pushed to simply enjoy the process of creating Monster Magnet songs. There can’t really be any doubt he’s working from a master plan — that is, the shift in approach with this batch of material didn’t just happen. That’s not how Monster Magnet works and even Wyndorf refers to himself in a kind of directorial role, saying he wanted to do this even as Mastermind was still coming together. But that’s not to say either that he, Caivano and the rest of the band aren’t having a good time, or that they don’t sound like it in the final outcome of these songs. Quite the opposite.
Not surprisingly, there was a lot to talk about. Monster Magnet will embark starting Nov. 14 on their first coast-to-coast US run in a decade, taking the temperature of the touring climate here after years of focusing on Europe, and extra intrigue is added with the departure of bassist Jim Baglino, who didn’t play on the album but has been a figure in Monster Magnet live shows since the turn of the century, this being their first outing since 1992 without guitarist Ed Mundell, and more. For what it’s worth, Wyndorf seemed to take a special kind of pleasure in discussing the process of recording Last Patrolwith Caivano, thriving in what he describes as a chaotic writing and tracking process in taking these songs from the bare demos he created for them to their realized, complete versions, and so I wanted to focus on that. The word “fun” was used 25 times, if that tells you anything. Wyndorf‘s passion for this process came through in his voice, his quick back-and-forths with himself, and it’s my sincere hope that it comes across in this interview as well.
After the jump, please find the complete 7,400-word Q&A of my interview with Dave Wyndorf, and please enjoy.
Posted in Reviews on September 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
There’s is a thread of self-awareness running through Last Patrol, which is Monster Magnet‘s ninth full-length overall and second for Napalm Records behind 2010′s Mastermind (review here), an overarching consciousness that bleeds into the material and manifests itself in the lyrics of songs like “Mindless Ones,” “Last Patrol,” “Paradise, “End of Time” and “Stay Tuned.” Even the John Sumrow artwork could be argued as having a play in the purposeful exposition of concept — very much what we get on the album is the Bullgod gone cosmic. Last Patrolmarks not necessarily a return to the drugged-out psychedelia of albums like 1993′s Superjudgeor 1991′s ultra-landmark debut Spine of God, but easily the most swirling release the long-running and massively influential New Jersey outfit have had since 1995′s Dopes to Infinity. Vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and figurehead Dave Wyndorf – who also recorded Last Patrol with rhythm guitarist Phil Caivano in an attempt to capture a DIY spirit — has clearly made a conscious decision to harken back to Monster Magnet‘s earliest days. He’s taking a risk by doing so. A big one. Since 1998′s Powertrip, the band has been geared around a straightforward hard rock sound, always definitely their own, but increasingly straightforward. Following the commercial breakthrough of 1998′s Powertrip– do I even need to mention the “Space Lord” single? — and across 2001′s God Says No, 2004′s Monolithic Baby!and 2007′s 4-Way Diablo, Wyndorf refined this approach, writing skillfully crafted but increasingly staid hard rockers with faint traces of the personality that flourished in his earlier works. Mastermind satisfied tonally but essentially stuck to the same songwriting modus, and while there was always a sense of development there and Wyndorf‘s careful hand has never relinquished control over the band or its sense of mastery, it was clear Monster Magnet had long since conquered the form. Time for a change. But it’s a risk because the band Wyndorf has built around him — Caivano, lead guitarist Garrett Sweeny, bassist Jim Baglino and drummer Bob Pantella – has been geared the whole time toward playing the more straightforward style.
Baglino and Pantella are the longest-running members of the band at this point — apart from Wyndorf, obviously, who founded the band in 1989 with John McBain and Tim Cronin – but even they came aboard in 1999, after Powertripwas released. Certainly they’re adaptable players, as shown in Baglino‘s past participation in Lord Sterling and Pantella‘s in The Atomic Bitchwax, but the critical question when it comes to the shift in sound on Last Patrol is whether or not Monster Magnet could “go psychedelic” without lead guitarist Ed Mundell. Mundell left the band late in 2010, following the release of Mastermind, but had been a part of Monster Magnet since 1992 and was widely regarded as a crucial element to the band’s sound. So not only has Dave Wyndorf stepped into unknown territory with this latest record without knowing how the majority of his audience will react, but he’s done so without the guitarist whose blazing leads were such an essential part of what drew a line from the band’s classic psychedelic material to where they went up to 2010. In many ways, Mundell, who has since embarked on an interstellar journey of his own with the instrumental jam trio The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic — their self-titled debut was released earlier in 2013 (review here) — would likely be more at home on Last Patrol than on anyMonster Magnet outing since Dopes to Infinity, but Sweeny and Caivano perform more than ably here, tearing into some deft Hendrixisms as the penultimate “End of Time” brings Last Patrolto its apex and helping propel the space-rocking pulse of “Last Patrol” while adding to the bluesy quirk of centerpiece “Hallelujah.” The rhythm section, which also includes Caivano, who reportedly also recorded the bass parts, prove likewise amenable to the change, and ultimately, Wyndorf‘s personality shines through all the more for it. Even in studio recordings, his charisma has always been a big part of Monster Magnet‘s draw, never a technical singer — though he does will with a cover of Donovan‘s “Three Kingfishers” as the third track — but a consummate frontman and brilliant lyricist, and on Last Patrol, the latter particularly comes to the fore right from the start of opener “I Live behind the Clouds,” which with the 9:24 title cut following forms a bookend that finds its mirror in the closing duo of “End of Time” (7:45) and “Stay Tuned,” starting subdued then rocking out, where with the final two, it’s the other way around, rocking out and then finishing subdued.
Much of Last Patroland indeed many of its highlight moments are in moodier pieces like “I Live behind the Clouds,” “Three Kingfishers,” “Paradise” “The Duke (of Supernature)” and “Stay Tuned” — more than half of the nine-track/51-minute outing — and as much as Wyndorf‘s inescapable penchant for crafting memorable hooks comes through in the more driving reaches of “Mindless Ones” and the revival stomp of “Hallelujah,” it’s the dynamic throughout the work as a whole that makes Last Patrolsuch a success. Where Mastermindseemed largely monochromatic stylistically, leading with its strongest material in songs like “Hallucination Bomb,” “Gods and Punks” and “Dig that Hole” — the latter of which, admittedly, could be seen as a precursor to “Hallelujah”‘s gospel snakehandling — sticking closely to an approach that was if nothing else the most tonally weighted of the band’s career, Last Patrolplays out in a manner that’s freer and as engaging in overall flow as it is on a track-by-track basis. Still, Wyndorf – and you’ll have to forgive the presumption that where there’s a decision being made about Monster Magnet, he’s the one making it — does right to start the album with “I Live behind the Clouds.” Open-feeling with a gust of wind behind it, it nonetheless holds a tension in its steady guitar line that finds its release in the bounce and groove of “Last Patrol” and sets up the other quieter pieces noted above. The album’s first vocals are barely above a whisper, and for a man who once triumphantly proclaimed “I’m never gonna work another day in my life,” the line “I stay behind the clouds” comes on like a humble declaration, less that he’s a god than he’s hiding someplace no one will look. Drums come in after two of the opener’s four minutes and the song takes off, but it’s a fitting summation of Last Patrol‘s dynamic and holds to its mood even as Sweeny launches the first of many soaring solos. Bringing it back down for a quiet final verse and chorus, “Last Patrol” is set up with satisfying turns punctuated by Pantella‘s crash and given warmth by Caivano‘s prominent bass as Wyndorf teases with lines about cashing out and going to meet up with his 10-foot blonde. In movements, “Last Patrol” shifts from effective space rock turns with no shortage of backing swirl to a solo and then on to a quiet break as the echoes fade. Synth and effects back cymbal flourish and the rhythm guitar line as “Last Patrol” reemerges, gradually making its way back up from the ether with a new progression, no less insistent, but thick tonally, layers of wails and churns brought to a satisfying build as a victorious riff takes hold.
It’s the longest single piece on Last Patrol and it earns the honor of having the album named for it. Extra percussion is layered into the second half as a solo once again takes hold and Monster Magnet ride the groove while Wyndorf tosses in vague incantations in the lower regions of the mix. Even the jam is dynamic, and it’s some of Sweeny‘s best lead work, cutting suddenly to let the effects loops that have underscored carry the song to its finish. One could argue that “Three Kingfishers,” “Paradise,” “Hallelujah,” “Mindless Ones” and “The Duke (of Supernature)” represent the “meat” of Last Patrolbetween the front and back bookend pieces, but I wouldn’t intend that in the sense of taking away from the substance of the opening or closing pairs. Still, it’s with the Donovan cover, “Three Kingfishers” that the album begins to move past the initial shock of its opening and hit its stride. “Three Kingfishers,” particularly early on, is fairly loyal to the original, which appeared on the Scottish singer-songwriter’s classic 1966 formative masterpiece of psych-folk pop, Sunshine Superman, though where Donovan‘s version takes off with strings and sitar following its first two verses, Monster Magnet substitutes big riffs and guitar leads after the first, finding a middle ground between the heavier side of Last Patroland the quieter that seems to delight in playing one directly off the other, the lead guitar once again distinguishing itself with classic and classy fretwork. At first, “Paradise” seems to echo the tense strum of “I Live behind the Clouds,” but it stays quieter for the duration, giving the title a sarcastic edge as the acoustic rhythm couples with intermittent kick-drum thud and electrified, fuzzy leads. Echoes and effects lend depth to the arrangement, but even at its most active, “Paradise,” despite a relatively quick tempo, keeps its groove away from the kind of raucousness that showed up on “Last Patrol” or even “Three Kingfishers,” opting instead for a brooding groove that finds satisfying resolution in the clap-your-hands-and-stomp-your-feet push of “Hallelujah” — a wake-up call if ever there was one. Wyndorf answers his own sung lines with megaphone-spoken wit, and the titular chorus brings an array of layers and attitude. The verses are propelled by the preaching in the vocals (hard for a heavy rocker not to think of Clutch here, but Wyndorf‘s influences are rarely so easy to pin down, except perhaps when he’s working under his own influence), but as the band locks into that “hallelujah!” exclamation, it’s funky enough to make me want to throw my hands up and testify.
Posted in Features on August 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
If you’re anything like me — and let’s just hope for your sake you’re not — then you’re sitting in front of your laptop staring at a calendar telling you it’s August wondering what the hell happened to June and July. Last time I turned around, it was barely summer, and now it’s starting to get cold at night.
We’re well past the halfway mark on 2013, and I know for some the year’s best picks are already set in mind, but there’s a ton of cool releases still to come before 2014 hits, and I figured now’s as good a time as any for a rundown of a few picks that seem to be sure to arrive prior to December 31. As much as anything’s ever “sure,” anyway. Subject to change, and all that.
With the gracious suggestions/assistance of those checking in on the forum (see that thread for many more picks) taken into consideration, here are 15 suggestions to be on a lookout for starting in September. Some of these I’ve heard, some I haven’t, but take it as a sampling of what I’m looking forward to, if nothing else.
And because I know nothing says “I know how to have a good time” like a list in order of release date, here goes nothing:
Vista Chino, Peace (Sept. 3)
It took me a couple listens to come around to Vista Chino‘s Peace (review here), but once I got to that point, there was no turning back. The much-anticipated Napalm Records debut from the four-piece birthed out of Kyuss Lives!, Peace ultimately moves forward as much as it looks back, and though much of the lyrics center around the lawsuit that forced Kyuss Lives! to change their name, the songs themselves do arrive at a certain place of acceptance by the end of the record, so that in the end it lives up to its title. Some won’t be able to make the leap over their expectations for what an album with Brant Bjork, John Garcia and Nick Oliveri on it should sound like, but most importantly, Vista Chino are pressing on and I hope this isn’t the last record they make together, even if Oliveri is already out of the band’s touring lineup.
Larman Clamor, Alligator Heart (Sept. 10)
The solo-outfit of graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, Larman Clamor has been pumping out quality swamp boogie for the last two years at a more than prolific clip. Last year, von Wieding made his debut on Small Stone with Frogs (review here), and while the forthcoming Alligator Heart (out through the same label) strips the approach down somewhat — as you can hear on the single “Banshee w’Me” — the murkedelic blues spirit remains supreme at the center of the project’s approach. Larman Clamor has flown relatively under the radar so far into its run, but showing a little bit of a poppier side on Alligator Heart‘s tracks might gain it some more attention. Von Wieding‘s songwriting continues to be worth the price of admission to the bizarre carnival he creates.
Windhand, Soma (Sept. 17)
Richmond-based cult sludgers Windhand made their debut on Relapse earlier this year on a split release with Cough — with whom they share a bassist and a hometown — and will follow that next month with Soma, their second LP behind their 2012 self-titled debut full-length. The band have only gotten darker and meaner since adding Cough‘s Parker Chandler on bass, and with that split heralding its coming, Somashould arrive with a fittingly devastating impact. Windhand have also put in no shortage of time on the road, and even as the new one comes out, they’ll be embroiled in a coast-to-coast US tour, so keep an eye out — and that goes for Europe too. I wouldn’t be surprised if a full tour with Inter Arma got announced around their joint Roadburn appearances next spring.
Sasquatch, IV (Sept. 24)
Sasquatch bloody Sasquatch. If you’ve got a face, these dudes’ll rock it right off. With IV(Small Stone) their first full-length since 2010′s III(review here), L.A. trio Sasquatch very casually offer a reminder that those who talk about how rock and roll needs to be “saved” don’t have a clue what’s really up, that rock and roll never went anywhere and that its awesomeness continues unabated. Need testimony? Check out the track stream for “The Message.” Classic grooves, class-y showoff solos, catchy tunes and later in the album even a foray into psychedelic jamming — let there be no doubt that Sasquatch have nailed down right where they want to be sound-wise and are ready to make the most of the good times they’re rolling out as they continue to lay their own railroad, grand and funky as it is. Soundgarden wishes they had this kind of edge.
Iron Man, South of the Earth (Sept. 30)
You’d pretty much have to be a jerk not to feel good about the fact that long-running, long-underappreciated Maryland doom stalwarts Iron Man are getting their due in the form of a Rise Above Records release for their new album, South of the Earth. I know that’s not the most impartial statement in the world, but seriously, who deserves Lee Dorrian-endorsed doom cred more than Iron Man? The names are few and far between. South of the Earthalready had me on the hook for being their first full-length with frontman Dee Calhoun on board alongside guitarist “Iron” Al Morris III, bassist Louis Strachan and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann, but with the hopefully increased profile of issue on Rise Above, who knows what could be in store for them once it’s out?
Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, Underground EP (Sept.)
Trippy Wicked caught me off guard last year with the heavier and more metal side that showed up on their Going Home long-player (review here), but this time I’m ready. I’ve readjusted my expectations for what the UK trio might unleash on the new Underground EP — set phasers to who-the-hell-knows — and after the quick mastery of the metallurgical arts they showed the last time out, I’m happy to follow wherever their creative whims might take them. I know this is a list of albums and technically an EP isn’t a full album, but screw it, I dig these guys and am fascinated enough by their progression that it’s worth including even the smaller release here. If the art for Underground(due out through Superhot Records) is anything to go by — and I don’t yet know that it is — we could be in for a pretty wild ride.
Earthless, From the Ages (Oct. 8)
San Diego instrumentalists Earthless are looking to make an epic return on From the Ages (Tee Pee Records), which is their first studio full-length in six years. Though they’ve had a steady stream of live releases, limited splits and the like, and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell released a debut album with the heavy psych outfit Golden Void last year, nothing’s quite the same as Earthless‘ righteous jams and extended progressions. Look out for the 31-minute title-track (one of four on the album; more info here) as Earthless step into the limelight and reap the momentum they’ve built through steady years of touring and critical acclaim. From the Agesmight just prove one for the ages.
Monster Magnet, Last Patrol (Oct. 15)
My only question when it comes to Monster Magnet‘s second album for Napalm Records — touted by frontman Dave Wyndorf as a return to their psychedelic beginnings — is how literally we’re supposed to take the title Last Patroland if indeed this is going to be the final go for the long-running and hugely influential New Jersey outfit. If so, they draw their circle as complete as they possibly could, and whether it’s “The Duke (of Supernature),” which has received nearly 23,000 plays since being premiered here on July 23, or the driving churn of “End of Time,” Monster Magnet tap into the spirit that propelled 1995′s Dopes to Infinity and readjust the balance of their influence in a way fans have been clamoring for for years now. The more I hear it, the more I need to hear it.
Pelican, Forever Becoming (Oct. 15)
A new Pelican album is an interesting enough proposition at this point — it’s been four years since the Chicago instrumental outfit released What We all Come to Need (review here) — but Forever Becoming (Southern Lord) has an added level of intrigue for being Pelican‘s first album without guitarist Laurent Schroeder-Lebec. Stepping in to fill the second guitar spot is Dallas Thomas of The Swan King, and it should be interesting to hear how the band’s approach has shifted after almost half a decade and what Thomas brings to the well-established chemistry between bassist Bryan Herweg, drummer Larry Herweg and guitarist Trevor de Brauw. If the first track is anything to go by, Pelican still sounds like Pelican, and I’m not going to complain about that.
Corrections House, Last City Zero (Oct. 29)
Probably the bigger surprise would’ve been if the super-type group Corrections House didn’t make their full-length debut on Neurot, but still, word was welcome when it came down a couple weeks back that the conjoined efforts of Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Mike IX Williams (EyeHateGod), Bruce Lamont (Yakuza) and Sanford Parker (Buried at Sea, Minsk and the guy you want to record your album) were resulting in an actual album to follow up on their initial single and tour earlier this year. Whether the entirety of the record works in the kind of industrial, post-Godflesh noise crunch they brought to the stage on that tour (review here), we’ll just have to wait and see. But I’m damn interested to find out.
Red Fang, Whales and Leeches (Oct.)
Those who heard Red Fang‘s 2011 boot-to-the-ass second album, Murder the Mountains (review here), will probably find Whales and Leeches (named for a track off their 2008 self-titled debut) a reasonable follow-up. The Portland forerunners’ second offering through Relapse finds bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam even more front and center with clean vocals, and ultra-catchy songs like “Blood Like Cream” and “No Hope” seem to pick up right where Red Fang left off last time, offsetting Beam‘s poppier style with guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles‘ throaty grit . Watch out for much more to come on this one. Between the record itself and their formidable road ethic, you’re probably going to be hearing a lot about it.
The Melvins, Tres Cabrones (Nov. 5)
If you were to ask me how many records the Melvins have out in 2013, I’d go, “Uh… I dunno… six?” and the mere fact that that doesn’t seem like a ridiculous answer should be indicative of the frankly absurd pace at which the long-enduring Washington outfit add to their already insurmountable catalog. What makes Tres Cabrones (Ipecac) different? Reportedly, it’s a semi-reunion of the band’s 1983 lineup — as close as they were willing to get, was how Buzz Osbourne put it in the press release — that finds Dale Crover playing bass to make room for drummer Mike Dillard. The Melvins released the collection Mangled Demos from 1983 in 2005, but Tres Cabroneswill be entirely new material. You never know quite where the Melvins are headed next, and if anyone could find a way to go forward even as they go backward, it’d be them.
Sandrider, Godhead (Date TBA)
So in case you couldn’t tell by the “TBA” above, this one’s a bit of wishful thinking on my part. I don’t actually know that Sandrider (members of Akimbo and The Ruby Doe) will issue a follow-up to their 2011 self-titled Good to Die Records debut (review here) before the end of 2013, but golly, I hope they do. The band said on July 11 via their Thee Facebooks that they’d finished mastering the album, titled Godhead, for a Fall release, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see once it’s pressed and ready to go. The sooner the better, since that first record was a smoker and nothing says “autumn” like some noise crunch bombast. At least that’s what I have embroidered on my doilies…
Snail, Feral (TBA)
Not sure on the release date for West Coast riffers Snail‘s fourth album and third since reactivating in 2009 with Blood, but the recording’s reportedly done, so hopefully it’s not too long before they get it out. The band recently announced the departure of guitarist Eric Clausen, so they’re down to the original trio of guitarist/vocalist Mark Johnson, bassist Matt Lynch and drummer Marty Dodson, and how that will affect their sound on the follow-up to last year’s metallized self-release, Terminus (review here), remains to be seen, but if there’s any chance Snail might be able to get more road time in support of Feral, whenever it arrives, than no doubt it will have been worth the tumult in the meantime.And even if not, the album’s still one to watch for.
The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum (TBA)
Another one with no exact date, but according to producer Chris Fielding, it’ll be out before 2013′s over. Either way, when it lands, Consolamentum will serve as the Candlelight Records debut. It’s their fourth outing overall, and the second to be produced by Fielding and to feature frontwoman Sharie Neyland, whose work on 2011′s In the Chapel ofthe Black Hand (review here) made that album one of the year’s most satisfyingly bizarre and dreary doom offerings. Along with founding guitarist Steve Mills, Neyland returns for Consolamentum and whether it hits in 2013 or 2014, look for the band to progress from the last time out. Mills (interview here) is a relentlessly forward-thinking songwriter and his penchant for creating atmospheric and crushingly dark sonic spaces is not to be underestimated.
Whew. These things always take so much longer than I think they’re going to when I start writing names on Post-It notes.
Of course, this is just a sampling of what’s to come over the next few months. Borracho‘s new one is supposed to get a vinyl release, and A Storm of Light have a new record, plus I heard rumors of new Slough Feg (they have a new single that would seem to back that up) and a much-awaited Brothers of the Sonic Cloth full-length coming before the end of the year — I also, right now, quite literally this second, just got news of a new Diesto on Eolian Empire — so please don’t assume that if it’s not here it’s never coming or whatever. There’s so much out there, I always feel like I’m leaving out something big and/or awesome.
Posted in audiObelisk on July 23rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
For years, the fans of long-running and massively influential New Jersey rockers Monster Magnet have been divided. Purists on the one side celebrate the band’s earliest works — 1991′s Spine of God and its follow-ups Superjudge (1993) and Dopes to Infinity (1995) forming a holy trinity of modern heavy psychedelic rock that few can match — while others revere the more straightforward, riff-heavy approach that began to show itself on Dopes, came to the fore and brought the band massive commercial success on the subsequent 1997 outing Powertrip, and has been more or less the root basis for their development since then, God Says No (2001), Monolithic Baby! (2004), 4-Way Diablo(2007) and their Napalm Records debut, Mastermind (2010), each offering an atmosphere of its own while keeping a consistent thread structurally via the songwriting of guitarist, vocalist and founder Dave Wyndorf.
On Oct. 15, Monster Magnet will issue what could be a new stage of their evolution in their ninth full-length and second for Napalm, Last Patrol. While some — and I count myself among them at least at times — have clamored for years for a return to the space rocking psych of the band’s first triumphs, we all know the past is the past. Monster Magnet in 2013, by the sheer laws of physics, cannot be Monster Magnet in 1993. And yet, as we hear on the new track “The Duke (of Supernature),” Magnet are at their most ethereal in decades. Wyndorf, who has long been the driving force in the band and taken his lumps along the way accordingly, shows his intent even in the fact that he recorded Last Patrol with rhythm guitarist PhilCaivano, DIY-style, such as it is. The aim was a natural sound and one that brought in elements Monster Magnet long since left behind in favor of more straightforward, accessible fare.
Still, it’s not like Wyndorf — joined in the band by Caivano, bassist Jim Baglino, guitarist Garrett Sweeny and drummer Bob Pantella — is trying to recreate wholesale something his outfit did years ago and with a different lineup. Frankly at this point I don’t think he could stop being catchy if he wanted to, and “The Duke (of Supernature),” for its lysergish drawl and attitude drip, is still a catchy showcase of quality songwriting. So at least here, they’re not just looking back and they’re not just pressing on as they were. It’s something new. What will the rest of Last Patrolhold? I’ll let you know when I hear it.
In addition to the the announcement of the album release, the first showing of the gorgeously cosmic John Sumrow painting serving as the front cover to Last Patrol and the track “The Duke (of Supernature)” itself, Monster Magnet here unveil their first coast-to-coast US tour in a decade. It’s a thrill and an honor to host both the song and the info for your listening and perusing pleasure.
MONSTER MAGNET Announce New Album!
Confirm First North American Tour in Over 10 Years!
MONSTER MAGNET are back! The band has confirmed an October 15th North American release date for their new album entitled Last Patrol via Napalm Records. Today MONSTER MAGNET has unveiled the artwork and tracklisting for Last Patrol. Dave Wyndorf and Phil Caivano produced Last Patrol, while Evil Joe Barresi mixed the album with additional production duties handled by Matt Hyde. The artwork was created by Johun Sumrow with consultation coming from Chris Ryall and designs by Ryan Clark for Invisible Creatures Inc. The album will be available as a Limited Edition CD, standard CD, 2LP and digital format.
In support of Last Patrol, MONSTER MAGNET will be embarking on a full-blown North American Tour! Although the band has toured Europe relentlessly over the past decade, this is MONSTER MAGNET’s first full North American tour in over 10 years! The band is eager to hit the road in the states for the first time in what seems like forever. Prepare to hear MONSTER MAGNET classics and new cuts from Last Patrol for the first time live! Support will come from Prosthetic Records artist Zodiac. The tour is scheduled to kick off November 14th in Grand Rapids, MI and will run through December 14th in New York, NY.
Frontman and MONSTER MAGNET mastermind Dave Wyndorf checked in with his thoughts about Last Patrol:
“Last Patrol is a return to our roots in terms of vibe and recording style. It’s full-on psychedelic space-rock with a 60’s garage feel, recorded almost exclusively with vintage guitars, amps and effects in our hometown of Red Bank, NJ. The songs are a kind of Space-Noir, tales of cosmic revenge, peaking libidos, alienation and epic strangeness. It’s a weird trip through the back alleys of a dark, retro-future, which not by coincidence very much resembles my own life. (laughs) The lyrics aren’t fantasy really, rather a recounting of my musings on, observations of and general emotional reaction to my life and environment during a 1 week writing period in February of 2013. But I tend to use the vernacular and imagery of science fiction and surrealism to express myself and that’s where these lyrics get trippy. There’s also our cover version of Donovan’s “Three Kingfishers” which I thought fit the mood of the album.”
“Last Patrol was produced by Phil Caivano and myself with an effort to bring a home grown feel to the whole affair. We had been doing smaller projects out of Phil’s “Studio 13” recording space and I really felt comfortable there so it was the natural choice on where to record the next full-scale Monster Magnet album. Phil and I grew up together and have a shared love of some very particular vintage music and styles. And everybody in the band played their asses off on this one.”
Last Patrol Tracklisting: 1) I Live Behind the Clouds 2) Last Patrol 3) Three King Fishers 4) Paradise 5) Hallelujah 6) Mindless Ones 7) The Duke 8) End of Time 9) Stay Tuned
MONSTER MAGNET North American Tour: 11/14: Grand Rapids, MI @ Intersection 11/15: Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews 11/16: Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge 11/17: Minneapolis, MN @ Mill City Nights 11/19: Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater 11/20: Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge 11/22: Seattle, WA @ Neumos 11/23: Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theater 11/24: Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theater 11/26: San Francisco, CA @ The Independent 11/27: Los Angeles, CA @ House of Blues 11/29: Tempe, AZ @ Club Red 11/30: Albuquerque, NM @ Launch Pad 12/2: Austin, TX @ Red 7 12/3: Houston, TX @ Fitzgeralds 12/4: Dallas, TX @ Trees 12/6: Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade 12/7: Charlotte, NC @ Amos Southend 12/8: Baltimore, MD @ Baltimore Sound Stage 12/10: Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace 12/12: Boston, MA @ Sinclair 12/13: West Chester, PA @ The Note 12/14: New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
First of all, I know one of the big gripes with tapes is that they look lousy, not enough artwork, and so forth, but Monster Magnet‘s 25 …..Tab looks friggin’ awesome. The half-Planet of the ApesBullgod Statue of Liberty’s extended arm draws the eye vertically in a way it never did on CD or vinyl, and the cardboard stock of the liner is durable enough to stand up to the ages it’s already seen.
I picked up 25 …..Tab recently at Sound Exchange, my local CD joint in Wayne. They have a whole wall of tapes and they’re usually a little on the expensive side for what I’m willing to shell out on a cassette, but I think they’re just as happy to have the room, which if you’ve ever tried to walk down either of the two aisles in the place you’ll know is in short supply. In the end, it cost me circa $5, and has proved worth every penny.
The album is readily available on CD. SPV reissued it and Monster Magnet‘s 1991 landmark Spine of Goddebut in 2006, and it was out before that as well. I have those editions, but this tape is the original US issue on Caroline Records from 1993. That’s still two years after it came out in Europe on Glitterhouse, but it’s the earliest domestic release and it’s 20 years ago either way and I was stoked to find it. With just the four tracks “Tab…,” “25,” “Longhair” and “Lord 13,” it’s as psychedelic as Monster Magnet ever got during this era of the band.
Or, you know, any other, since it was their most psychedelic era.
And their ultra Hawkwindian jamming on “Tab…” comes across excellently on the tape, sounding all the more raw and classically compressed. The song is an EP unto itself at over half an hour long, and it takes up the entirety of side A, which makes “25,” “Longhair” and “Lord 13″ something like an incremental return to earth, the latter being the most straightforward of the bunch, despite all the backing mouth noises and echoes from Dave Wyndorf, whistles and guitar effects and the rest built around a solid guitar strum and percussion line.
By the time they get there, it’s been a long trip. “Tab…” was always considered an EP even though technically speaking it’s has more of a runtime than Spine of God, and its relative obscurity in the Monster Magnet catalog is no less a factor two decades on than it ever was, considering nobody’s sure yet what to call the damn thing, whether it’s Tab, Tab 25, 25 Tab, or 25 …..Tab, which I took right off the cover. Any name you give it, however, it remains unique in the band’s discography and as warped a tape as you could ever hope to find.
A couple weeks ago, I asked the question above: “What are the 10 greatest stoner rock records?” It was kind of just something I was throwing out there to see what came back. Nothing scientific, pretty vague on what “stoner rock” actually meant as a genre designation. Basically just trying to get a spur-of-the-moment response, like an inkblot test for riffs. First thing that comes to mind.
The response was awesome, so before anything else, thank you to everyone who contributed a list to the original post. I was taken aback by the number of replies that came in — a total 73 comments — and the resultant breadth of records named reads like a wishlist of the damned. Some people were pretty orthodox in their definition of the genre, and some more open in the bands they included, but working from everyone’s lists, I tallied up the votes, and while I don’t necessarily agree with all the choices personally (I added my own list as a comment to the initial post, so I won’t bother reprinting it), it was a blast to see what emerged on top. The people have spoken.
I tried to be as fair as I could in the tallying. There were some comments left that were individual songs and not albums, and those I didn’t count, but everything else went in, even if it was only mentioned once, and when someone said, for example, “Melvins – all,” I actually added a tally to everything by the Melvins that everyone else had said. Again, it’s not really a scientific thing polling demographic data, but it was a lot of fun.
Okay, here’s the list:
The Top 10 Greatest Stoner Rock Records Poll Results:
1. Kyuss, Welcome to Sky Valley (41 votes)
2. Sleep, Sleep’s Holy Mountain (27 votes)
3. Black Sabbath, Master of Reality (19 votes)
4. Kyuss,Blues for the Red Sun (18 votes)
5. Monster Magnet,Spine of God (15 votes)
5. Sleep,Dopesmoker(15 votes)
7. Electric Wizard, Dopethrone(14 votes)
7. Fu Manchu, In Search Of… (14 votes)
9. Queens of the Stone Age, Queens of the Stone Age (12 votes)
10. Fu Manchu, The Action is Go (10 votes)
As you can see, some real classics in there, and Welcome to Sky Valleywas far and away the winner, picked by 41 out of the 73 people (myself included), with Sleep and Black Sabbath behind. There were two ties at numbers five and seven, but beyond that, it’s a pretty clear picture of where people are at with their favorites.
What about everything else? Well, it was all counted. I broke all the entries down by number of votes and listed them by artist with albums in chronological order.
Posted in Reviews on January 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
There was a moment, as I made my way around the block of North 6th St. in Brooklyn last Friday night, that I thought I’d never be able to find parking, and that I would just spend the rest of my days driving in that circle, like something out of The Twilight Zone. Maybe it would be some bitterly ironic punishment for having one time inadvertently dicked someone out of a spot, masterminded by that person secretly like Saw. I don’t know. Either way, I was sure I’d never get to the Music Hall of Williamsburgin time to see Monster Magnet, Naam or Quest for Fire, let alone LadyKiller, who were opening the show.
Turns out the opener was the only act I actually missed. I wound up finding a spot right outside the Academy Records Annex and rushed down the block to the venue with just enough time to spare to get my ticket and head in for the start of Quest for Fire. I felt like I lucked out. The room wasn’t too full as they got going, and as they opened with “Greatest Hits by God” from 2010′s Lights From Paradise (review here), it seemed like the universe was suddenly in the business of doing me personal favors. Amazing how fickle luck can feel.
I remembered standing outside the Bat Cave at Roadburn while Quest for Fire played, getting up on the bench along the wall opposite the open door of the room and trying at least to soak in some of their set and being tragically unsuccessful. To see them now, especially alongside labelmates Naam, was enough for me to make the difference between catching Monster Magnet in Brooklyn or going one night later to see them at the Starland Ballroom on a bill populated by pay-to-play openers. Seems like an easy call, but when you factor rolling into Williamsburg on a Friday night, you gotta really like Quest for Fire to make that weigh out.
Playing on Naam‘s equipment, the Toronto psych rockers justified the trip — both mine and theirs. Their songs were heavier in person, and rawer without the layering that comes through so lush on Lights From Paradise and its 2009 self-titled predecessor. Part of that is probably due to the fact they were down a guitar. Chad Ross, who also handles vocals, was playing bass, but even with just Andrew Moszynski‘s guitar, their psychedelia was subdued and moody where it wanted to be and never out of control when heavy, and drummer Mike Maxymuik gave each piece a dynamic pulse.
When they finished, I went out front to look for their merch, hoping to find a copy of Worldwide Skyline from Ross‘ solo-project, Nordic Nomadic, or maybe some other goodies, but no such luck. Monster Magnet had a tour-exclusive EP called Dopes for $15 that I’m still not quite sure why I didn’t buy, and neither Quest for Fire or Naam had anything for sale. Oh well. I didn’t get a shirt either. Or beer. All things considered, it was a pretty austere night. A $4 bottle of water and gas on the way home. Go figure.
Having seen them twice at Santos Party House in Manhattan last year (here and here), I knew enough to be sure Naam would do well in the role of the hometown heroes, and joined by the keys that seem to be more and more a regular fixture, they did just that. I had been hoping for some new material and it came in the form of “Starchild,” the title-track of their next EP, reportedly due in May. I’d heard the song live before, but it’s grown some in the months since, both in jammed-out presence and actual length. Naam have done a fair amount of touring at this point (most recently in Europe with Black Rainbows), and it showed in their performance.
They didn’t play many songs for time constraints, but guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lugar seemed more at ease on stage and bassist Ryan Preston Bundy‘s vocals were both better mixed and more confident than any other time I’ve been fortunate enough to see the band play. If they’re the hometown heavy psych heroes, it’s because of the wandering they’ve done in the past.
And maybe it’s just because with the Monster Magnet kit backlined behind him he was pushed further toward the front of the stage, or maybe it was following Maxymuik, but drummer Eli Pizzuto seemed to be especially crisp in his performance. Through the newer stuff and Naam‘s standard closer, “Kingdom,” from the EP of the same name, his fills served more than basic percussive function, and his focus was intense to the point of intimidation. While Lugar had his sway to the riffs and Bundy was ready at a moment’s notice to tilt his head back and hoist his beard aloft like an offering to the gods of facial hair who’ve blessed him with it, Pizzuto a little bit looked like he wanted to kick someone’s ass, and the variation in stage presences among the four players on stage only enriched the experience of their set.
It was almost like two shows rolled into one, though. You had Naam and Quest for Fire on one side, and then Monster Magnet coming from somewhere else completely. Sure, this was the tour where they were performing 1995′s Dopes to Infinity in its entirety, and you won’t hear me deny that record is a classic of American heavy psych rock, but where Naam and Quest for Fire both feel like they’re just getting to that point in their careers, that they’re really getting a handle on their aesthetic and the creativity they can bring to the form, Monster Magnet have long since moved onto something different, sound-wise, so for them to revisit it in Brooklyn was, in light of everything they’ve done since on their subsequent and more straightforward hard rock records, a bit incongruous.
For example, after Naam was done, the mood in the room changed. It was packed by then — a diverse crowd of fans young and old, some hard rockers and some heavy rockers — and as Monster Magnet‘s crew set up and checked the gear, it was like the air got colder, more clinical. It’s been a long time now since Monster Magnet decided they were a professional band, and the thing about Dopes to Infinity and their material preceding it is that they weren’t really professional albums, so as the crew taped down setlists all over the stage on all four sides, taped down wires so they wouldn’t get tangled, shifted monitor positions and warmed up the amps for guitarists Garrett Sweeny (of Riotgod) and Phil Caivano and bassist Jim Baglino (also Riotgod), I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if Monster Magnet just came out and played?
I realize that at this stage in the band’s career, that’s an unreasonable expectation. It’s not what they’re about. They’re about a more commercial brand of hard rock — one with a bent in the songwriting that appreciates the structures of late ’60s and early ’70s classics and with no shortage of personality thanks to the lyrics and vocals of band founder and principal songwriter Dave Wyndorf — but still a huge step away sonically from the band’s beginnings. Once they got going following a long stretch of house lights down, no one on stage and sitar drones coming through the P.A., watching Monster Magnet in 2012 play Dopes to Infinity was like seeing a completely different band.
Because it was a different band. Their last connection to that era, apart from Wyndorf himself, was lead guitarist Ed Mundell, who left following the release of 2010′s Mastermind (review here). Rounded out by drummer Bob Pantella (also Riotgod and The Atomic Bitchwax), the latest Monster Magnet lineup around Wyndorf is built to rock the way new Monster Magnet rocks — and they’re good at it, but it’s enough of a difference from what they did on Dopes to Infinity to be notable and definitely affected their interpretations of the material on stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
One can’t really fault them for it, since they’re different musicians with different modes of playing than those that originally appeared on the album, and I won’t deny that Monster Magnet rocked the Dopes stuff hard, playing it out of the original order to better account for it being a live show and saving “Negasonic Teenage Warhead” for the encore. “Look to Your Orb for the Warning,” the title-track, “Dead Christmas” and “All Friends and Kingdom Come” were highlights as they are on the record, but the apex of the show came with “Third Alternative.” Wyndorf, ever one for killer stage banter, prefaced it by saying, “As this thing goes on, it gets darker — kinda like life, huh?” but then laughed it off and said, “But we won’t talk about that.” Why not? For a song that says, “I’ll stuff myself in a pit of darkness and slam till I can’t see home,” it’s not like there’s any beating around the bush going on. Own it.
That was the darkest part of their show, and among the most honest. Wyndorf nailed the delivery of the vocals — he called the song a “21st Century blues,” which was a little ironic since it came out in ’95 — and then left the stage as the band transitioned into the instrumental “Theme From ‘Masterburner’” before regular-set closer “King of Mars.” The crowd was in their pocket the whole time, and didn’t thin out at all when they finished “King of Mars” and went backstage, where they stayed long enough for me to get distracted and let my mind wander. It was late by most show standards these days, getting on 1AM, but there was no way I was missing the encore.
My perpetual hope is that at some point I’ll see them do “Spine of God” and have my consciousness fractured by it, spending the rest of my days in blissful, devastated catatonia. The reality — no doubt in part due to the circumstances of the band I described above — would no doubt be different, but if reason had anything to do with it, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Nonetheless, no such luck on the encore. They did “Negasonic Teenage Warhead,” a welcomed plodding rendition of Mastermind opener “Hallucination Bomb,” “Powertrip” and, naturally, “Space Lord,” their biggest hit and most unavoidable single. Even if they didn’t want to play it, they couldn’t not.
Wyndorf himself acknowledged this, giving the most concise summation I’ve ever heard of a band’s view on their own material. As Sweeny and Caivano began the riff to “Space Lord,” he said, “Obvious? Yes. Necessary? Yes!” He was right. For whatever reason, Monster Magnet had to do “Space Lord,” and everyone knew it was coming, and everyone dug the hell out of it. I spent all of the subsequent Saturday with the chorus ringing in my ears — it’s simply undeniable.
So too is Monster Magnet‘s legacy. They may have departed sonically the field in which their influence is most felt, namely heavy psych and stoner rock, but their stage presence in the current incarnation is remarkable, and the players with whom Wyndorf has surrounded himself are masters at what they do — Caivano and Sweeny on guitar, Baglino like some kind of born rock and roll salesman on bass and Pantella on drums. I left the show and went back to my car outside the Academy Annex, stared down the block at the luxury riverfront condos that stood where once there had been vacant lots and run-down warehouses, and had to recognize for a moment that nothing is static, nothing stays undeveloped and that to ask the present to be the past is foolish. Dopes to Infinity had its day, Monster Magnet were as faithful to it as they wanted to be 17 years later. You either enjoy it for what it was or sulk, and sulking seemed to me a waste of time.
Extra pics after the jump, and thanks for reading.
Sorry for the lack of posts today. Last night I got a text informing me of the death of my friend and the most faithful of the NYC faithful, Rock and Roll Gina Brooks. Gina was someone who I met when I was still in college, doing a stoner rock show on college radio. She came to my gigs, she called me while I was on the air. When I started at the Aquarian the first time, she read that. She commented to me about my Metal Maniacs articles, and my reviews here. We hung out at shows. She was one of the most loyal and supportive people I’ve ever met. I gave her absolutely no reason to, and yet she always had faith in me.
This morning was the service, and not wanting to make a show of my grief, I’ll just say that I wasn’t in the headspace for writing and anything I did manage to type up wouldn’t have been focused or fair to whatever I was writing about. Over the weekend, I’ll get my head together and get that Elder interview finally posted, and the November numbers, and maybe one or two news stories that have come in since last night. I don’t even really know, to be honest with you.
And next week we’ll pick back up with reviews. I’ll be at Hull/Eyehategod on Sunday in Brooklyn. I should hopefully have words and pics from that come Monday, and I’ve got a new CD from Aussie heavy psych mavens Looking Glass that’s just begging for a writeup, so that’ll be fit in one way or another. There’s other stuff too, and if I can, I’ll have my interview with Ken-E Bones of Negative Reaction posted. That dude’s always got something to say, so you know it’ll be interesting.
Audio to come as well from a cool sound installation called Sun Boxes, and there always seems to be much more than I can handle going on, but I’ll do my best with it, as always. The semester is winding down now and things are relatively quiet at work, so I hope to be able to have more of a grip on everything. Just not today.
Wherever you are, a great and safe weekend, please. See you on the forum and back here over the next couple days. Until then, the Monster Magnet is for Gina.
I don’t really buy into the whole Record Store Day thing. It’s cool that the website has a map I can find stores on wherever I go, but honestly, I don’t buy vinyl and just about every payday is “record store day” for me. As an institution, I think the record store is something worth saving, which is why I go to record stores and spend my money on a regular basis. Well, that and the records, anyway.
As I’ve been out of the country three Record Store Days in a row, I thought I’d do a little pre-shopping this year and while I was in Connecticut for the weekend earlier this month, I swung by my favorite shop in the state, Redscroll Records in Wallingford. It’s always good to know you’re on friendly ground, and when I walked in, they were playing Black Pyramid‘s self-titled album, so I immediately felt at home. Time before last, if you’ll recall, it was Sleep‘s Dopesmoker.
It doesn’t quite match the batch of discs I pulled in last time I was there in the fall, but I still managed to find some good stuff. I grabbed yet another Monster Magnet promo CD — it’s amazing how many there are floating around — called Five Reasons to Testify that has the awful God Says No shot of them with Dave Wyndorf‘s metal codpiece on the front (I’m not even going to show it, as well as the first Firebird record, the first Quest for Fire and the 1999 Bong Load Custom Records issue of Fireball Ministry‘s Où est la Rock? Not a bad haul, all told.
The Firebird I’d picked up at the band’s merch table at Roadburn 2009, but that was the European reissue and this was the original on The Music Cartel, so I couldn’t resist. When I reviewed the second Quest for Fire album, Lights from Paradise, I said that I’d have to go back and buy the first, and it was good to do that, although I think I prefer the second anyway. I couldn’t remember if I owned the Fireball Ministry or not, but decided to take the chance anyway and it paid off. The record kind of rules. Very Fu Manchu, except maybe for the Obsessed-esque “Death Dealer,” which actually features Guy Pinhas on bass, but enjoyable throughout. Probably the most stoner rock of all their albums, which suits me just fine.
There’s a hole punched in the UPC of the Fireball Ministry, which means it was probably someone’s promo, and I always think that’s interesting, and wonder who got the record initially, what they did or didn’t do with it and how they came to sell it. Every time I get emailed another link to download a new release, I get that “born too late” feeling. I’ve gotten plenty in my day, don’t get me wrong, but when I think of the shit that could have come in my mail (all those Monster Magnet promos, for one) and all the silver-backed bootleg CDs I could have bought in the pre-CDR era, I get a little sad. I guess we make the most with what we’ve got. It’s fun hunting this stuff down, anyway.
Most likely I’ll be back at Redscroll before too long, but just figured I’d share anyway, since it’s a quality store and deserves to have the word spread about it as much as possible. Check them out here if you haven’t yet, or find them on that Facebook the kids love so much.
Posted in Reviews on February 21st, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
When I’d called Starland Ballroom earlier in the evening to ask what time Monster Magnet went on, and been told 9:30PM, that was a dirty fucking lie. I rolled in at 9PM thinking I’d catch the tail end of Seventh Void, and instead, A Pale Horse Named Death — fronted by Life of Agony drummer Sal Abruscato on vocals and one of the total three guitars — was just starting up. Thanks a lot, box office girl. True, I didn’t want to risk a Sunday night DWI and I had to get up for work this morning, but there was a bit of spite added to my lack of drinking, to be sure.
It wasn’t crowded, but there were more people than I thought would be there. The least crowded I’ve ever seen Starland was for Candlemass — which was shameful, how empty it was — but by no means was it packed even by the time Monster Magnet took the stage. For A Pale Horse Named Death, there was a decent amount of people who’d shown up early or because they’d heard it was the LOA drummer’s band and maybe they’d play “Through and Through” or something. They didn’t. Instead it was a mediocre but passable kind of doom rock, topped off with the charm of Abruscato inviting everyone in the crowd back to his house after the show for sausage and peppers, which I can only imagine would have been delicious.
Johnny Kelly, drummer for Type O Negative and Seventh Void — which also features Type O guitarist Kenny Hickey — played in A Pale Horse Named Death, pulling double duty for the evening. I think it was their first show, but they were clearly enjoying themselves, and having grown up as a heavy metal Jersey boy, I have trouble begrudging them the good time they looked to be having. However, someone should really point out to Abruscato that it was Death riding the pale horse, and that the horse itself was not Death. Five dudes in the band, you’d think someone would have been on that already.
The first time I saw Seventh Void was at The Trash Bar in Brooklyn, and they weren’t nearly that good at Starland, but they put on a more than respectable show anyway, playing songs off their Heaven is Gone full-length and what sounded like some new material, Hickey of course shouting a song (“Last Walk in the Light”) out to departed Type O Negative bassist/vocalist Peter Steele. That was bound to happen, and Hickey has stepped into the frontman role nicely in Seventh Void, which is encouraging to see. I doubt they’ll hit the commercial heights of his and Kelly‘s former band — the shitbag musical climate having something to do with that as well — but at least they’re still working.
You have to understand, back in 1993, at the tender age of 12, I used to call Pure Rock Q104.3 every single day and request Type O Negative‘s “Black No. 1,” and they, Life of Agony and Monster Magnet were the local bands that made good. As a kid just really figuring out what I liked, it was a big deal to see their videos on MTV. I think everyone has those bands. So it’s not that I didn’t enjoy this show, and it’s not that I didn’t know what I was going to get, I just have my attachments to these dudes’ work (the fauxhawk bassist and girlie-shirt second guitarist of Seventh Void notwithstanding) already set, and that’s not about to change.
It was the first time Monster Magnet played New Jersey in years, and it was clear the varying camps of supporters present at the Starland Ballroom. There was the “Space Lord” contingent, who maybe got into them from their 1998 mega-hit, the local loyalists, who’d have shown up even if they were playing the pits of hell (or worse, Asbury Park — zing!), and the stoner rock heads hoping for some older material in the set list. I count myself a bit in the latter two camps, and to the band’s credit, they did their best to feed everyone — opening with “Nod Scene” was a nice touch — and still manage to push the songs from their latest album, 2010′s Mastermind.
My heart sank when I snapped a picture of their setlist and read that “Spine of God” wasn’t on it. I’d like to think maybe it’s because new guitarist Garrett Sweeny (also of Riotgod), who was brought in to fill the rather sizable shoes vacated by Ed Mundell, doesn’t know it yet, but it could just as easily have been some other reason. Any way you slice it, it was a bummer. That had more or less been the one song that got me off the couch, but I guess you can’t have everything. Gotta make room for “Tractor” and “Crop Circle.” “Dinosaur Vacume” was pretty good though.
They played several songs from Mastermind, including starting the encore with single “Gods and Punks” and “Bored with Sorcery,” but the high point of the new material was unquestionably “Dig that Hole,” even if Dave Wyndorf‘s quoting of the n-word does rest gratingly on my liberal sensibilities. Wyndorf basically had the show resting on his shoulders and he delivered a solid set, Sweeny and Phil Caivano working well together on guitar, Jim Baglino and Bob Pantella doing the same on bass and drums. Everything was tight, everyone played well, but it was pretty clearly a show, and by that I mean if you were looking for a raw outpouring of emotion or some kind of beastly psychedelic trip, you were probably elsewhere.
I will say this, however: It’s time for Dave Wyndorf to grow a beard. And not a little one. A big, honking beard. And he needs to let it go gray. And he needs to never be seen again in public without a Hawkwind t-shirt and some gnarly jeans on, and he needs to cut his hair just short enough so it can still be messy, and it’s time for him to put on some huge-ass mirror sunglasses and take the stage like the Rick Rubin-looking biker space rock god we all know he is underneath. He might even need a bandanna. I’m completely serious.
He’s obviously not doing the “check me out, I’m on pills” thing anymore, right? But the stage show hasn’t really changed, it’s just become less believable. Time to adapt. Time to unleash the weirdo within. He could hit the jam band circuit and have these fucking hipsters eating out of his hands in no time flat and and start bringing a crowd again in the US, but it’s a change that needs to be made. Every time he threw his hands in the air singing, I couldn’t help think to myself, “Dude, it is time to get strange on these motherfuckers.” Also, “Play ‘Spine of God!’”
I was splitsville before they closed with “Powertrip” — some of us do, in fact, have to work another day in our lives — and I caught an easy Sunday night back north on 287 to get to the valley around 1:00. Easily worth the trip, but not necessarily ideal. You know how it goes. At least I wasn’t asleep at the wheel like after the Pentagram show in Brooklyn.
I took some extra photos, which you can see after the jump.