Posted in Features on January 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Happy New Year to everyone around the world. It’s January 1, 2013, and to celebrate the New Year the best way I know how, I got right to work on tabulating the results of the 2012 Readers Poll. I’ve been tracking the results as they’ve come in over the course of December, and as you can see in the list below, it was a tight race for the top spot right up to the end.
Before we run down the finished list, I want to extend gratitude to each and every one of the 296 people who contributed their top 12 so this list could be put together. It’s an amazing response and I was super stoked that so many of you were able to take part. Thank you for that. Right from the first day the form went up, I knew this was going to be awesome, and it wound up exceeding my every expectation. It was a great sendoff to the year. Much appreciated.
Here are the results of the Top 20 of 2012 Readers Poll:
1. Om, Advaitic Songs – 108 votes
2. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis – 106
3. Graveyard, Lights Out – 86
4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay – 65
5. Ufomammut, Oro – 63
5. Witchcraft, Legend – 63
6. Colour Haze, She Said – 56
6. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65 – 56
7. Kadavar, Kadavar – 49
7. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction – 49
8. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned – 46
9. Baroness, Yellow and Green – 39
10. Conan, Monnos – 38
11. Swans, The Seer – 35
12. Astra, The Black Chord – 31
13. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers – 31
13. The Sword, Apocryphon – 31
14. Royal Thunder, CVI – 26
14. Wo Fat, The Black Code – 26
15. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time – 25
16. Torche, Harmonicraft – 23
17. Corrosion of Conformity, Corrosion of Conformity – 22
18. Enslaved, Riitiir – 19
19. Goat, World Music – 18
19. Melvins Lite, Freak Puke – 18
19. Soundgarden, King Animal – 18
20. Amenra, Mass V – 17
20. Samothrace, Reverence to Stone – 17
Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild Rush, Clockwork Angels Stoned Jesus, Seven Thunders Roar Troubled Horse, Step Inside
Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind – 15 Mighty High, Legalize Tre Bags – 15 My Sleeping Karma, Soma – 15
Pretty wild to have Om and High on Fire so close, and they were tied for a long, long time, but Om retained an early lead and managed to pull it out in the end. As you can see, there were a number of releases that tied with others for their position. Seemed only fair to me to include all of them, and I also threw in those with 16 and 15 votes as well, just because it was close. In total, there were an astounding 1,200+ albums entered into consideration.
Once again, thanks to everyone for making this Readers Poll happen and for taking the time to be a part of it. Already looking forward to some fantastic things to come in 2013, so please stay tuned and keep your lists handy.
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is my personal picks, not the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
As ever, I’ve kept a Post-It note on my wall all year long, and as the weeks and months have ticked away, I’ve added names of bands to it in preparation for putting together my Top 20 of 2012. There was a glut of excellent material this year, and I know for a fact I didn’t hear everything, but from bold forays into new sonic territory to triumphant returns to startling debuts, 2012 simply astounded. Even as I type this, I’m getting emails about new, exciting releases. It’s enough to make you lose your breath.
Before we get down to it and start in with the numbers, the hyperbole, etc., I want to underscore the point that this list is mine. I made it. It’s not the Readers Poll results, which will be out early in January. It’s based on how I hear things, how much I listened to each of these records, the impressions they left on me — critical opinion enters into it, because whether or not I want to I can’t help but consider things on that level when I listen to a new album these days — but it’s just as much about what I put on when I wanted to hear a band kick ass as it is about which records carried the most critical significance or import within their respective genres.
Over the last couple years, I’ve come to think of the #20 spot as where I put my sentimental favorite. That was the case with Suplecs last year, and in 2012, the return of Mos Generator earns the spot. The band being led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, Nomadsmarked a rehifting of Reed‘s priorities from Stone Axe, with whom he’d proffered ’70s worship for several years prior, and wound up as a collection of some of my favorite heavy rock songs of 2012 — tracks like “Cosmic Ark,” “Torches” and “Lonely One Kenobi” were as strong in their hooks as they were thorough in their lack of pretense. But the bottom line is I’m a nerd for Reed‘s songwriting, playing and production (more on that to come), and at this point it’s not really something I can even pretend to judge impartially. Still, the record’s friggin’ awesome and you should hear it as soon as you can.
Seems like it would make sense to say Golden Void would be higher on the list if I’d spent more time with it — written up just a month ago, it’s the most recent review here — but the fact is I’ve sat with Golden Void‘s self-titled debut a lot over the course of the last month-plus, and I’ve been digging the hell out of it. Really, the only reason it’s not further up is because I don’t feel like I have distance enough from it to judge how it holds up over a longer haul, but either way, the Isiah Mitchell-led outfit’s blend of heavy psych, driving classic rock and retro style gave some hope for beefing up the US’ take on ’70s swagger — usually left to indie bands who, well, suck at it — and also showed Mitchell as a more than capable vocalist where those who knew him from his work in Earthless may only have experienced his instrumental side. A stellar debut, a wonderful surprise, and a band I can’t wait to hear more from in the years to come.
This was basically the soundtrack to my summer. From the catch-you-off-guard aggression in opener “I Spit on Your Grave” to the extended stoneralia of “Master of Nuggets” and the jammy “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” the follow-up to Wight‘s self-produced debut Wight Weedy Wight(review here) showed an astonishing amount of growth, and though it had the laid back, loose feel that distinguishes the best of current European heavy psych, Through the Woods into Deep Waterwas also coherent, cohesive and impeccably structured. I thought it was one of the year’s strongest albums when it was released, and its appeal has only endured — as much as I listened to it when it was warm over the summer, now in December I put it on wishing the temperature would change to match. The songs showed remarkable potential from the German three-piece and cast them in an entirely different light than did their first out. Really looking forward to where they might go from here, but in the meantime, I’m nowhere near done with Through the Woods into Deep Wateryet.
“Oh, Moon Queen! Flyin’ down the world on a moonbeam!” Somehow the first lines of the opening title-track to Lord Fowl‘s Moon Queen always seem to wind up stuck in my head. The Connecticut foursome made their debut on Small Stone with the loosely thematic full-length, and touched on a sense of unabashedly grandiose ’70s heavy rock in the process. That said, Moon Queenwasn’t shooting for retro in the slightest — rather, guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino fronted the band’s classic sensibilities with a wholly modern edge, like something out of an alternate dimension where rock never started to suck. The classic metal guitar in “Streets of Evermore” and the swaying groove from bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman under the wandering leads of “Hollow Horn” made Moon Queenmore stylistically diverse than it might otherwise have been, but at its core, it was a collection of stellar heavy rock songs, unashamed of its hooks and unafraid to put its passions front and center. They packed a lot into a 47-minute runtime, but I’ve yet to dig into Moon Queen and regret having pressed play. Another band to watch out for.
It was impossible not to be swept up in the hype surrounding Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, but one listen to Sorrow and Extinctionand it was clear that its resounding praise was well earned. By blending thickened psychedelic tonality and emotionally resonant melodies, the Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece concocted the single most important American doom release of the year. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and as they supported the album on tour, the swell of the crowds spoke to the right-idea-right-time moment they were able to capture in songs like the stunning “An Offering of Grief” and “The Legend.” There’s room for growth — I wouldn’t be surprised to find guitarist Brett Campbell‘s vocal range greatly developed next time out — but Pallbearer have already left a mark on doom, and if they can keep the momentum going into wherever they go from here, it won’t be long before they’re being cited as having a significant impact on the genre and influencing others in their wake.
I already singled out Kadavar‘s Kadavaras the 2012 Debut of the Year, so if you need any sense of the reverence I think the German trio earned, take whatever you will from that. There really isn’t much to add — though I could nerd out about Kadavar‘s ultra-effective retroisms all day if you’re up for it — but something I haven’t really touched on yet about the record: When I was out in Philly last weekend, the DJ cleverly mixed Kadavar into a set of early ’70s jams, and it was all but indistinguishable in sound from the actual classics. That in itself is an achievement, but Kadavar‘s level of craft also stands them out among their modern peers, and it was drummer Tiger‘s snare sound that I first recognized in “All Our Thoughts,” so right down to the most intricate details, Kadavar‘s Kadavarwas a gripping and enticing affair that proved there’s still ground to cover in proto-heavy worship.
The fuzz was great — don’t get me wrong, I loved the fuzz — but with Stubb‘s Stubb, it was even more about the songs themselves. Whether it was the interplay between guitarist Jack Dickinson and bassist Peter Holland (also of Trippy Wicked) on vocals for the chorus of “Scale the Mountain” or the thickened shuffle in “Soul Mover” punctuated by drummer Chris West‘s (also Trippy Wicked and Groan) ever-ready fills, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch, and though it’s an album I’ve basically been hearing since the beginning of the year, its appeal has endured throughout and I still find myself going back to it where many others have already been forgotten. With the acoustic “Crosses You Bear” and more laid-bare emotionality of “Crying River,” Stubb showed there was more them than excellence of tone and with the seven-minute finale “Galloping Horses,” they showed they were ready to jam with the best. Truly memorable songs — and also one of the live highlights of my year.
Orange Goblin‘s purpose seemed reborn on their seventh album and Candlelight Records debut, A Eulogy for the Damned. Culling the best elements from their last couple albums, 2007′s Healing Through Fire and 2004′s Thieving from the House of God, the long-running London troublemakers upped the production value and seemed bent from the start on taking hold of the day’s sympathy toward their brand of heavy. With tales of alcoholic regret, classic horrors and a bit of cosmic exploration for good measure, they marked their ascent to the top of the British scene and took well to the role of statesmen, headlining Desertfest and proceeding to smash audiences to pieces around the continent at fests and on tours. Look for them to do the same when they bring the show Stateside in 2013 with Clutch. Their plunder is well earned, and I still rarely go 48 hours without hearing the bridge of “The Fog” in my head. Can’t wait to see them again.
While I still miss Los Natas, my grief for their passing has been much eased over the last two years by frontman Sergio Chotsourian‘s doomier explorations in Ararat. The first album, 2009′sMusica de la Resistencia(review here), ran concurrent to Los Natas‘ swansong, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad, but with II, the new three-piece came into their own, setting space rock synth against low-end sprawl, thick drumming and Chotsourian‘s penchant for experimenting with structure. Extended tracks “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” were positively encompassing, and showed Ararat not only as a distinct entity from Los Natas, but a turn stylistically for Chotsourian into elephantine plod, wide-open atmospherics and a likewise expansive creative sensibility. The acoustic “El Inmigrante” and piano-led “Atenas” offered sonic diversity while enriching the mood, and closer “Tres de Mayo” hinted at some of the melding of the various sides that might be in store in Ararat‘s future. If the jump from the first record to the second is any indicator, expect something expansive and huge to come.
Italian cosmic doom meganauts Ufomammut outdid themselves yet again with Oro, breaking up a single full-length into two separate releases, Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter. But the album — which I’ve decided to list as the single entity Oro rather than its two component parts basically to save myself some brain space — was more than just big in terms of its runtime. More importantly, Ufomammut were able to hold firm to their commitment to stylistic growth, drawing on their greatest triumph yet, 2010′s Eve (review here), the trio pushed themselves even further on their Neurot Recordings debut, resulting in an album worthy of the legacy of those releasing it. I don’t know if Oro will come to define Ufomammut as Eve already seems to have — dividing it as they did may have made it harder for listeners to grasp it as a single piece — but it shows that there’s simply no scaring the band out of themselves. Brilliantly tied together around a central progression that showed up in “Empireum” from Opus Primumand “Sublime” on Opus Alter, I have the feeling Ufomammut will probably have another album out before Oro‘s breadth has fully set in.
Behold the standard bearers of heavy. It wasn’t long after hearing UK trio Conan for the first time that I began using them as a touchstone to see how other bands stacked up, and to be honest, almost no one has. Led by the inimitable lumber provided by the tone of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis (interview here), Conan stripped down their approach for Monnos, returning to Foel Studio in Wales to work with producer Chris Fielding — who’d also helmed their 2010 Horseback Battle HammerEP — and the resulting effort was both trim and humongous. Early tracks like “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” (an old demo given new life) and “Grim Tormentor” actually managed to be catchy as well as sonically looming, and the more extended closing duo of “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” showed that Conan could both use their tone to build forward momentum and plod their way into ultra-slow, ultra-grim despairing nothingness. Monnos affirmed Conan as one of the most pivotal acts in doom, and with new material and a home studio reportedly in the works, as well as further European touring on the docket for early 2013, their onslaught shows no signs of letting up. Right fucking on.
In some ways, it seems like the easiest thing in the world, but with My Sleeping Karma‘s fourth full-length, Soma, it really was just a question of a band taking their sound to a completely new level. The German heavy psych instrumentalists brought forth the sweetness of tone their guitars have harnessed over the course of their three prior offerings, but the progressive keyboard flourishes, the warmth in the bass, the tight pop of the drums — it all clicked on Somain a way that the other records hinted was possible and made the album the payoff to the four-piece’s long-established potential. Wrapped around the titular theme of a drink of the gods and with its tracks spaced out by varying ambient interludes, no moment on the album felt like it wasn’t serving the greater purpose of the whole, and the whole proved to be a worthy purpose indeed. Hands down my favorite instrumental release of the year and an effort that pushed My Sleeping Karma to the front of the pack in the crowded European heavy psych scene.
The damnedest thing happens every time I turn on Graveyard‘s third album, Lights Out, in that before I’m halfway through opener “An Industry of Murder,” I have to turn it up. The reigning kings of Swedish retro heavy wasted no time following up 2011′s stunning sophomore outing, Hisingen Blues(review here), and with the four-year gap between their self-titled debut and the second record, it was a surprise from the moment it was announced, but more than that, Lights Outshowed remarkable development in Graveyard‘s sound, offering elements of classic soul on songs like “Slow Motion Coundown” and “Hard Times Lovin’” to stand alongside the brash rock and roll of “Seven Seven” or the irresistible hook provided by “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms” or the single “Goliath.” A landmark vocal performance from guitarist Joakim Nilsson and newly surfaced political bent to the lyrics hinted that Graveyard were nowhere near done growing, but seriously, if they put out four or five more records in the vein of Lights Out, I doubt there’d be too many complaints. Already one can hear the influence they’ve had on European heavy rock, and Lights Outisn’t likely to slow that process in the slightest.
Three drum hits and then the lurching “Let Them Fall” — the leadoff track on the first Saint Vitus studio album since 1995 — is underway, and it’s exactly that lack of pomp, that lack of pretense, that makes Lillie: F-65so righteous. Admittedly, it’s a reunion album. They toured for a couple years playing old material, then finally decided to settle in and let guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here) start coming up with a batch of songs, but you can’t argue with the results. They nailed it. With Tony Reed‘s perfect production (discussed here), Vitus captured the classic tonality in Chandler‘s guitar and Mark Adams‘ bass and kept to their sans-bullshit ethic: A short, 33-minute album that leaves their audience wondering where the hell that assault of noise just came from. Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s presence up front was unmistakable with Chandler‘s punkish, no-frills lyrics (as well as his own on “Blessed Night,” the first song they wrote for the album), and drummer Henry Vasquez not only filled the shoes of the late Armando Acosta but established his own persona behind the kit. I hope it’s not their last record, but if it is, Saint Vitus came into and left Lillie: F-65as doom legends, and their work remains timeless.
Talk about a band who shirked expectation. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga and I discussed that aspect of Ancestors a bit in an interview over the summer, but it’s worth underscoring. There was next to nothing in either of Ancestors‘ first two albums to hint at where they’d go with the third. Both Neptune with Fire and Of Sound Mind(review here) were rousing, riff-led efforts that headed toward a particular heavy sensibility, but it was with last year’s Invisible WhiteEP (review here) that the L.A. outfit began to show the progressive direction they were heading. And In Dreams and Timeis even a departure from that! It’s kind of a departure from reality as well, with the Moog/organ/synth mesh from Matt Barks and Jason Watkins (also vocals), dreamy basslines from Nick Long and hold-it-all-together drumming of Jamie Miller — since out of the band. Closer “First Light” was my pick for song of the year, and had the album been comprised of that track along, it’d probably still be on this list somewhere, but with the complement given to it by the piano sprawl of “On the Wind” and driving riffs and vocal interplay of “Correyvreckan” (if you haven’t heard Long‘s bass on the latter as well, you should), there was little left to question that this was the strongest Ancestors release of their career to date and hopefully the beginning of a new era in their sound. They’ve never been what people wanted them to be, but I for one like not knowing what to expect before it shows up, at least where these guys are concerned.
After what I saw as a lackluster production for 2010′s Snakes for the Divine, Oakland, CA, trio High on Fire aligned themselves with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) for De Vermis Mysteriis and completely renewed the vitality in their attack. Built on the insistence of “Bloody Knuckles,” furious fuckall of “Fertile Green,” unmitigated piracy of “Serums of Laio” and eerie crawl in “King of Days,” De Vermis Mysteriis was both aggressive in High on Fire‘s raid-your-brain-for-THC tradition and extreme in ways they’ve never been before. Groovers like the instrumental “Samsara” and earlier “Madness of an Architect” offered bombast where the thrash may have relented, while “Spiritual Rites” proved that guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (also Sleep; interview here), bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell had arrived at a new threshold of speed and intensity. Whatever personal issues may have been in play at the time, High on Fire delivered a blistering full-length that stands up to and in many ways surpasses any prior viciousness in their catalog, and their level of performance on their current tour makes it plain to see that the band is ready for ascendency to the heights of metal. They are conquerors to the last, and if De Vermis Mysteriisis what I get for wavering, then I’ll consider my lesson hammered home in every second of feedback, tom thud and grueling second of distortion topped with Pike‘s signature growl.
When I interviewed interviewed Steve Von Till about Honor Found in Decay, the Neurosis guitarist/vocalist called the band “a chaos process” in reference to their songwriting. I have no trouble believing that, because while Neurosis stand among the most influential heavy metal bands of their generation — having had as much of an effect on what’s come after them as, say, Meshuggah or Sleep, while also having little sonically in common with either of them — it’s also nearly impossible to pinpoint one aspect of their sound that defines them. The churning rhythms in the riffing of Von Till and his fellow frontman, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly (interview here), Dave Edwardson‘s intensity on bass and periodic vocal, the assured percussive creativity of Jason Roeder and theexperimental edge brought to bear in Noah Landis‘ synth and sampling all prove to be essential elements of the whole. On Honor Found in Decay — and this isn’t to take away anything from any other particular member’s songwriting contributions — it would be Landis standing out with his greatest contributions yet, becoming as much a defining element in songs like “At the Well,” “Bleeding the Pigs” and “Casting of the Ages” as either Kelly or Von Till‘s guitars. Had I never seen the band before, I’d have a hard time believing Honor Found in Decay could possibly be representative of their live sound, but they are every bit as crushing, as oppressive and as emotionally visceral on stage — if not more so — as they are on the album, and while their legacy has long since been set among the most important heavy acts ever, period, as they climb closer to the 30-year mark (they’ll get there in 2015), Neurosis continue to refuse to bow to what’s expected of them or write material that doesn’t further their decades-long progression. They are worthy of every homage paid them, and more.
It’s hard for me to properly convey just how happy listening to Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipersmakes me, and I’ve got several false starts already deleted to prove it. The Swedish supergroup of vocalist Oskar Cedermalm (Truckfighters), guitarists Tommi Holappa and Johan Rockner (both Dozer), bassist Bengt Bäcke (engineer for Dozer, Demon Cleaner, etc.) and drummer Olle Mårthans (Dozer) last released an album in 2007. That was Agents of Ahriman, which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade. No shit. Not year, decade. With a slightly revamped lineup and Dozer‘s maybe-final album, 2008′s Beyond Colossal, and the never-got-off-the-ground side-project Dahli between, Nest of Viperslanded this past winter and with the shared membership, Karl Daniel Lidén production and consistency of songwriting from Holappa (interview here), I immediately saw it as a sequel to the last Dozer, but really it goes well beyond that. Tracks like “Dreamcatcher,” “Case of Fidelity,” “The Timeline’s History” and soaring opener “Jack Staff” show that although they’d never really toured to that point and been through various lineups over the years, Greenleaf was nonetheless an entity unto its own. Cedermalm‘s vocals were a triumph, Mårthans‘ drumming unhinged and yet grounded, and guest appearances from organist Per Wiberg and vocalists Peder Bergstrand (Lowrider/I are Droid) and Fredrik Nordin (Dozer) only enriched the album for repeat listens, which I’m thrilled to say it gets to this very day. If I called it a worthy successor both to Dozer and to Agents of Ahriman, those words alone would probably fall short of conveying quite how much that means on a personal level, so let its placement stand as testimony instead. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come, and when I’m done writing this feature, this is the one I’m gonna put back on to listen through again. It has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a constant.
Go figure that the Om record two albums after the one called Pilgrimagewould feel so much like a journey. Further including multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Robert A. A. Lowe (also of experimental one-man outfit Lichens) alongside the established core duo of drummer Emil Amos (also of Grails) and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also of Sleep), as well as incorporating a range of guest appearances from the likes of Grayceon‘s Jackie Perez Gratz on cello and Worm Ouroboros‘ Lorraine Rath (who appeared on 2010′s God is Goodas well) on flute, Om fleshed out what was once a signature minimalism to the point of being a lush, constantly moving and markedly fluid entity. Cisneros, as the remaining founder and lead vocalist, served as a unifying presence in the material — his bass still was still very much as the center of “Gethsemane” or the more straightforward and distorted “State of Non-Return” — but those songs and “Addis,” “Sinai” and gloriously melodic closer “Haqq al-Yaqin” amounted to more than any single performance, and where prior Om outings had dug themselves deep into a kind of solitary contemplation, Advaitic Songslooked outward with a palpable sense of musical joy and a richness of experience that could only be called spiritual, however physically or emotionally arresting it might also prove. I’ve found it works best in the morning, as a way to transition from that state of early half-there into the waking world — which no doubt has more harshness in mind than the sweet acoustics and tabla at the end of “Haqq al-Yaqin” — so that some of that sweetness can remain and help me face whatever might come throughout the day. A morning ceremony and a bit of meditation to reorder the consciousness.
Didn’t it have to be Colour Haze? Didn’t it? Two discs of the finest heavy psychedelic rock the world has to offer — yes I mean that — plus all they went through to get it out, the drama of building and rebuilding a studio, recording and re-recording, pressing and repressing, what else could it have been but She Said? After two-plus years of waiting, I was just so glad when it actually existed. Late in 2008, the Munich trio released All, and that was my album of the year that year as well (kudos to anyone who has that issue of Metal Maniacs), but I feel like even if you strip all that away and take away all the drama and the band’s influence, their standing in the European scene, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (interview here) fostering next-gen talent on Elektrohasch and whatever else you want or need to remove, She Said still holds up. Just the songs themselves. The extra percussion layered in with Manfred Merwald‘s drums on “She Said,” the horns and Duna Jam-ambience on “Transformation,” the unpretentious boogie of “This” on disc one, or the rush of “Slowdown” on disc two and the culmination the whole album gets when the strings kick in on “Grace.” Those strings. God damn. Suddenly a 2CD release makes sense, when each is given its own progression, its own destination at which to arrive, and tired as I am I still tear up like clockwork when I put on “Grace” just to hear it while I type about it. Beautifully arranged, wonderfully executed, She Saidcouldn’t be anywhere but at the top spot on this list. The warmth in Koglek‘s guitar and Philipp Rasthofer‘s bass on “Breath” and the way their jams always seem to have someplace to go, I feel like I’m listening to a moment exquisitely captured. There isn’t a doubt in my mind Colour Haze are the most potent heavy rock power trio in the world, and that their chemistry has already and will continue to inspire others around them, but most importantly, She Saidmet the true album-of-the-year criteria in not seeming at all limited to the confines of 2012 — as though it had some kind of expiration date. Not so. Even though I’ve already been through them more times than I know or would care to share had I counted, I look forward to getting to know the songs on She Saidover the years to come, and as I have with Colour Haze‘s works in the past, seeing their appeal change over time the way the best of friends do. It couldn’t have been anything but Colour Haze. Whatever hype other albums or bands have, for me, it’s this, and that’s it.
If this list went to 25, the next five would be:
21. Snail, Terminus
22. Revelation, Inner Harbor
23. Wo Fat, The Black Code
24. Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
25. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
Honorable mention goes to: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (another one about whom I have a hard time being impartial), Mighty High, At Devil Dirt, Bell Witch, Samothrace, Enslaved, Viaje a 800, and Larman Clamor.
Also worth noting some conspicuous absences: Witchcraft, Swans, Baroness, Royal Thunder, The Sword, Torche. These albums garnered a strong response and have done well in the Readers Poll looking at the results so far, but please keep in mind, this is my list, I took a night to sleep on it, I stand by it and I’ve got my reasons for selecting what I did. You’ll find about 5,000 words of them above.
Thank you as always for reading. If you disagree with any picks, want to add your own take on any of the above, or anything else — really, whatever’s cool — please leave a comment below.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 13th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Hot on the heels of bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros quietly issuing a solo 7″, Om have announced a 12-day tour in February from Seattle to San Francisco. Having recently seen the band on their stop in New York (review here), I feel like I can say with some certainty that they’re delivering some of their best performances with the material from Advaitic Songs, and if you’re fortunate enough to catch them this go around, be prepared to start thinking of it as a religious ceremony.
The PR wire sees it like this:
OM ANNOUNCE WEST COAST TOUR IN SUPPORT OF ADVAITIC SONGS
OM have announced a run of West Coast dates this February, extending the group’s tour in support of 2012′s masterful Advaitic Songs full length on Drag City. Recently expanded to a trio with the inclusion of Robert AA Lowe (of Lichens), the band’s live presence has never been fuller, turning in performances of seemingly limitless spiritual and sonic depth. The tour begins in Seattle, and includes stops in Vancouver, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and more as gradually winds its way South before concluding in San Francisco.
OM UPCOMING TOUR DATES 2/8/13 Seattle, WA Highline 2/9/13 Portland, OR Doug Fir 2/10/13 Vancouver, BC Media Club 2/12/13 Salt Lake City, UT Urban Lounge 2/13/13 Denver, CO Larimer Lounge 2/15/13 Phoenix, AZ Crescent Ballroom 2/16/13 San Diego, CA Casbah 2/17/13 Santa Ana, CA Constellation Room 2/18/13 Los Angeles, CA Center for the Arts Eagle Rock 2/19/13 Santa Cruz, CA Don Quixote’s Music Hall 2/20/13 San Francisco, CA The Independent
Posted in Reviews on November 22nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
My office had cleared out pretty early, which I suppose was to be expected. And while I scrambled to get enough work done so that I wouldn’t come back from the Thanksgiving holiday already behind — not to mention Friday’s tasks so that others can have the day off and not be waiting on me; how considerate of them to ask if I had time to pound three days of work into one — I took solace in knowing that at very least I’d be missing the better part of traffic on the way to Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom, where Om were headlining with Lungfish frontmanDaniel Higgs playing solo to support.
I suppose I did — miss most of the traffic, that is. Wednesday before Thanksgiving is both the biggest travel day and the biggest bar-business day of the year (which should account for all the flashing police car lights I saw on the way home), but I got into the city with minimal drama and only one real alone-in-the-car rant about how much I hate driving in New York, hate the people, too many people, fuck this, fuck that, and so on. Yelling at nothing is hardly the proper headspace for embracing Om‘s intimate sense of tonally warm ritual, but such are the flaws of human experience. In a perfect world, they’d play in temples in remote areas and going to see them would be a pilgrimage.
Come to think of it, that’s kind of what it was like seeing them at Roadburn earlier this year. In any case, the parking gods were kind to me and I got a space right across the street from Bowery Ballroom. I wasn’t late, but I wasn’t early either, and I knew I wanted to be up front for Daniel Higgs, though I didn’t even really know why yet. He was on stage when I walked up the stairs and into the venue proper, his set not started yet, but there all the same, sitting in his chair, plucking strings on his banjo. At one point, he pointed a thumb at the sound guy — who I recognized from when he used to work at the old Ace of Clubs when that was open; good for him moving up in the world or at least venue size — and said something about how the union made him stick to a strict start time.
That probably should’ve been a hint as to Higgs‘ level of interaction with the audience, but I didn’t really know what to expect going into his set. Something of a legend in the Dischord Records sense of the word within the D.C post-hardcore set, Lungfish released their first album in seven years in this year’s A.C.R. 1999, and Higgs‘ solo work has been running concurrent since 1998 at a fairly prolific clip. With a booming mostly-white beard and facial expressions to match his vocal manipulations that reminded me at points of “Dixie” Dave Collins from Weedeater, he quickly turned his banjo into more than its folksy reputation.
He touched on bluegrass groove, sure enough, and there may yet exist an alternate reality wherein what he was playing would qualify as “folk” in the traditional sense of being a music of the people — I’d like to see the place where that’s so, and I mean that with no condescension whatsoever — but with a variety of fingering techniques and runs through Eastern-sounding scales and sitar-esque mysticisms,Higgsdid more with a banjo in about 10 minutes than I’ve ever seen anyone do in my life. Periodic verses appeared, but he wasn’t running through songs in a setlist — the effect was more fluid than that, his approach more open. At one point, still playing his banjo as he was for all but the briefest of moments throughout, he said, “There are more verses to that song. I’m still learning them,” and then asked someone in the crowd what time it was and was much relieved to know how much time he had left.
It was entertaining to watch someone so clearly endeavored in artistry also be jubilant in his work. I feel like there’s an implication that if you’re doing what you love, you’re supposed to be somberly contemplative about it at all times, but Higgs was clearly enjoying himself and it stands to reason why. In his long run of verses, one in particular was a standout that went something close to, “Half-vulcan is enough to mind-meld/But not enough to ignore the pain/Of the mind control technologies that keep us near insane.” Higgs must have known it too, because he repeated it a second time — “For emphasis,” as he put it. My own affinity for the original Star Trek aside, his Vulcan salute was much appreciated. He wished that we all would live long and prosper and remember “this time” that every day should be Thanksgiving, talked about the hurricane for a bit but surmised we were all okay, since we were there.
Perhaps that was his only misstep, but how could he know how sick everyone is of talking about the storm? Higgs spoke about a Mosque under construction they passed on their way through Rhode Island that had a billboard in front of it with “100 million eggs” printed on it and then left the crowd to ponder the meaning, and all the while tapped his feet and played his banjo with an easy-seeming, natural but well-developed virtuosity that was at points as hypnotic to watch as it was to hear. Once or twice, he looked in a small notebook to refresh himself of other verses and kept a friendly vibe going straight through until he was done, peppering in bits of toyed-with national anthem, “The rockets’ red glare,” “Bombs bursting in air,” and so forth while working around the original notes of the song as casually as one might throw a handful of rocks into a river.
Their equipment was already set up and looked ready to roll, so when Higgs finished, it wasn’t an especially long break before Om came out on stage, one at a time, first Robert A. A. Lowe, who sat in front of his draped table in front of an assortment of synths, samplers, noisemakers and effects, a guitar off to his right and a couple tambourines on the floor to his left — like the secret ingredient, he was, even unto his own gear — then drummer Emil Amos, who looked on edge only until he took his place behind his drums and then suddenly the world righted itself, and finally Al Cisneros, whose shamanistic presence is furthered all the more by his on-stage humility, quiet speaking voice and entranced stage method. He grooves to Om playing it the way the notes themselves flow up, down, to the side.
His tone was clean for most of the set, and no matter what Cisneros does, he’s always going to be a focal point in the band — Sleep‘s legacy alone ensures that, never mind the quiet intensity he brings to Om, his cross-dogma lyrics, unique vocal style and cadence or the simple fact that he’s the only one of the three standing — but as they opened with “Sinai,” it was immediate how different a band Om has become since they first started out in the middle of the last decade. Lowe is obviously a factor. His is the first guitar that’s been heard on an Om record, and aside from rocking a tambourine like no one I’ve ever seen, the textures of synth and even vocals be brings have enriched the band’s sound exponentially. But Amos isn’t to be forgotten in this mix either.
Om‘s set, which was comprised entirely of material from their last three albums — 2007′s Pilgrimage, 2009′s God is Good(review here) and this year’s Advaitic Songs(review here) — was good enough that on my way out of the city, I took the newest record out of my trusty CD wallet in some vain attempt to continue the experience, and what I noted right away (and the sad part about this is it’s true, this is actually how I think when I listen to music) was that Amos, who seemed far back and distant on the album, was so much more an active part of the process on stage. His drumming is more than just a featured component, and particularly as he and Cisneros — and now Lowe as well — have been playing together over the course of two full-lengths, he’s become integral to Om‘s sound, his highly stylized and intricate play as responsible for carrying across the sense of journey in “Meditation is the Practice of Death” as Cisneros‘ basslines.
From there, Om unfolded a gorgeous string of intricate melodies, spiritually weighted grooves and the loud quietness that has come to typify what they do. A lack of cello made some of the arrangements different than on the album, but Lowe is a master at filling those spaces, such that “Cremation Ghat I” and “Cremation Ghat II” from God is Goodcould hardly be called lacking. As I’d been so bummed out on the crowd my last time at Bowery Ballroom, when Graveyard played, I was glad to note the audience for Om was decidedly less douche-tastic. You’re always going to get a few — Manhattan is nothing if not a playground for assholes of all shapes, sizes and levels of self-importance — but I don’t know if it was the holiday spirit, Om‘s steady vibing or my own choice to stay sober for the night not wanting to pull a dooey on a holiday weekend, but things seemed much more manageable in general. Maybe Om just chilled me the fuck out. Much needed, much appreciated.
A specifically transcendent moment was when Cisneros clicked into his distorted tone for “State of Non-Return” from Advaitic Songs, Amos meeting him with a precise whimsy in his intricate fills and Lowe making sure the atmosphere stayed consistent while also adding guitar to further the crunch. The heavier stretch and relatively straightforward material was an effective setup for the comparatively minimal “Gebel Berkal” — the 2008 single which served as Amos‘ introduction point to the band — and an ultra-quiet rearrangement of Pilgrimagehighlight “Bhima’s Theme” that found Cisneros quietly playing his bass and trading off vocals with Lowe, reciting the verse lines like incantations while Lowe answered back with spaces of operatic falsetto made ambient through echoing effects.
I was reminded a bit of Higgs, who had done some similar vocal experimenting — inviting the crowd to partake as well, of course — but the affect with Lowe in Om was entirely different. Amos left the stage for a time to give Lowe and Cisneros the space to explore, and they did. The feeling was open and otherworldly and the room, which had not exactly been lacking in this regard the whole show, once more began to sting my nostrils with sweet-smelling smoke. “Bhima’s Theme” gradually emerged, slow but recognizable, when Amos returned, and from my place in back by the bar, I watched as they brought the song up to maximum volume and then brought it back down again carefully, like putting down an artifact, and thus ended their set, Lowe‘s ethereal vocalizing being the last element to go. Cisneros took a quick bow and before one even had time to wonder if an encore was coming, the house lights were brought up and Motörhead was once more piped through the P.A., as though to hurry everyone out of the place.
Within about three minutes, I was back at my car, and with but the slightest hiccup of traffic leading into the Holland Tunnel, on my way home without incident. The busiest travel day of the year was over, I guess. Fine by me. I made it back to my humble river valley shortly after midnight — again, listening to Advaitic Songs en route — and made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to replace the dinner I’d missed on account of the by-now-forgotten workday, thankful for the fact that there were still two slices of bread left to make such a thing possible. Maybe Higgs had the right of it.
New Om anything is good news, and this video for the song “State of Non-Return” just premiered today. The song comes from Om’s excellent 2012 offering, Advaitic Songs(review here), and the clip was directed by Terrie Samundra, shot as performance footage from when they put the album to tape, giving a sense of some of the serenity the trio is able to find from heavy tones and the roots of some of their influences.
Find it on the YouTube embed below, followed by accompanying info off the PR wire:
OM just debuted a video for “State of Non Return” from their latest LP Advaitic Songs. It’s an intimate black and white performance video from the recording sessions for the album, showing off both how effortless they make playing it look, as well as how much depth went into the overall process. They’re kicking off a tour in Chicago in a couple of weeks – full dates below.
Full US Tour dates (all with Daniel Higgs) Sat-Nov-17 Chicago, IL Empty Bottle Sun-Nov-18 Toronto, ON Great Hall Mon-Nov-19 Montreal, QC Il Motore Tue-Nov-20 Boston, MA Brighton Music Hall Wed-Nov-21 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom Fri-Nov-23 Philadelphia, PA Johnny Brendas Sat-Nov-24 Baltimore, MD Ottobar Sun-Nov-25 Chapel Hill, NC Cat’s Cradle Mon-Nov-26 Atlanta, GA 529 Tue-Nov-27 Nashville, TN Mercy Lounge Wed-Nov-28 Bloomington, IN Bishop
Posted in Reviews on August 13th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Om’s exploration of spiritually resonant drone continues. Advaitic Songs takes its title from a reference to the Hindu school of thought regarding the self and a greater whole, and the band’s fifth album (second to be released through Drag City) is their most sonically expansive yet, the sense of communion that’s been imbued into their work since 2005’s Variations on a Theme no less prevalent for the lushness it’s grown into over the last seven years. Bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also Sleep) is the constant factor, and drummer Emil Amos (also Grails) has been aboard since 2008, but new to Om’s last album, 2009’s God is Good, was the tentative inclusion of multi-instrumentalist Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (also Lichens), who added tambura and backing vocals to flesh out songs like “Thebes” and the two-part “Cremation Ghat” closing duo. Lowe, now a full-time member of the band, seems to have had a liberating effect on the band’s sound, which feels limited now either by genre or some perception of what it’s supposed to be. The five tracks/43 minutes of Advaitic Songs hold fast to Om’s always contemplative sense of aural journey, but whether it’s Jackie Perez Gratz of Grayceon’s cello on “State of Non-Return” – a gorgeous accompaniment for Cisneros’ bass, Amos’ drums and Lowe’s piano that appears several times here throughout – or the beginning chant that sets the mood of opener “Addis,” it’s readily apparent right from the start of the album that Om have shed the minimalism that was so much a marker of their earliest work in favor of a richly atmospheric psychedelia that is, among other things, entirely their own sonically. Simply put, there isn’t another band that sounds like Om do on Advaitic Songs – yet – and the grace which with they execute this material, coupled with Steve Albini’s production, gives the album a sense of mastery that wasn’t there either on God is Good or its 2007 predecessor, Pilgrimage. As the latter was the last album Cisneros made with former Sleep drummer Chris Hakius and God is Good the first with Amos and the introduction of Lowe to the recorded incarnation of the band – he’d done several tours with them already, if I recall correctly – it makes sense to think of Advaitic Songs as, if not an arrival (which would negate the sense of transience both in the music itself and in terms of the shifts that have gone into its creation; they are anything but stagnant), then a landmark along the way of Om’s continuing journey.
And whatever the root cause is for the trio (it still feels strange thinking of Om as a three-piece) to move in this more lush direction, unquestionably at least some of the shift is a result of the lineup involved. Amos has long explored a wide variety of sounds and styles in Grails, but though his drumming on Advaitic Songs, much of the textures across these tracks seems to be traceable to Lowe, who plays the x-factor role well, adding piano here, guitar there, vocals here and, in the second half of “Addis,” following Gratz in a descending progression that sets a bed for the chanting vocals – either a sample or a guest performance – that telegraph the notion that though he’s the lone original member at this point, Om is not just about Cisneros, but about the whole of the band. In fact, but for a minimal bass line that follows the patterning of some of the percussion, he’s barely there at all, and it’s not until the more distorted tone of “State of Non-Return” kicks in that the bassist really makes his presence felt. That’s not a negative for the record, however, since the mood that the opener sets is so vivid, and “State of Non-Return,” though it’s probably the heaviest-sounding song Om has ever made, keeps that mood always at the fore. The cello provides an instrumental chorus, but the song revels in its heft in its own subdued way, working counter to the idea of “heavy” as an intangible aspect of creation which Om has always conveyed in their atmospheres – that is, “heavy” without the crush – but not really contradicting it, as the wavy groove of “State of Non-Return” will be immediately familiar and recognizable to anyone who has experienced any of Advaitic Songs’ predecessors or seen the band live. It’s just fuller, which, again, could be and probably is on some level a result of the added personnel, i.e. Lowe and Gratz, who feel no less committed to the overall vibe of the record than do Cisneros or Amos. However much Cisneros is a focal point for Om because both of his massive influence as a part of Sleep and the considerable impact he’s had with this project already to date, Om is now a full band and Advaitic Songs is a full-band. Parts of it are damn near orchestral.
Posted in Features on April 12th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
04/12/12 — 23.24 — Thursday — Hotel Mercure
It was utter madness, but I suppose that’s to be expected. At this point, that’s part of what makes Roadburn the festival it is and has become. And on the day that 2012 kicked off and it was announced that Electric Wizard will curate 2013 and that Godflesh will play Pure in its entirety, I’ll say this already feels like the most crowded edition I’ve ever been to, though they’ve all been sold out. The lesson of 2012 is “get there early,” folks, because if you wait, you’re screwed. If there’s a band on stage, the room is full. Hell, even half the time bands aren’t on stage, it’s still full of people either waiting for who’s on next or still glowing after what they’ve just seen. Both the 013 and Het Patronaat were packed from the time I walked to the time I walked out. As I said: Madness.
True, The Icarus Line technically were the first band to go on, but it was d.USK doing their set of d.ISEMBOW LMENT material on the main stage that really got Roadburn started, and in telling fashion. The semi-reunited Australian outfit straddled the line between death/doom and black metal and seemed to relish in playing the one side off the other. They were oppressively dark, which is no small feat for the middle of the afternoon, and in that they were doing something special (the d.ISEMBOWELMENT set), were from a long way away, and made it hard to classify their sound, they were the perfect selection for a fest opener, because that’s exactly what this is: Bands from all over the world in a one of a kind gathering that’s not in the slightest bit limited by genre. I watched Ulver do a set of obscure ’60s psychedelic covers tonight. These things simply don’t happen anywhere else.
However, because there’s so much of it happening — at any given moment, all three stages of the 013 and the stage at Het Patronaat could and probably do have someone on them — Roadburn also requires hard choices be made. I left d.USK/d.ISEMBOWELMENT to go next door into the Green Room and catch the start of Horisont‘s set, and it was the first of several hard choices on the day. The Green Room being the midsized spot (with Stage01 the smallest; I tried twice to get in today, for Year of the Goat and La Otracina, and no luck), it filled up quick with people eager for Horisont‘s take on the current Swedish retro sound. Someone standing next to me at the front of the stage was telling his buddy, “Yeah man, if you like Graveyard, you’ll like these guys.”
And it’s true. That’s pretty much what Horisont have going on, sound-wise, but I’m not about to start complaining about that. I’ve been through their new album, Second Assault, a couple times in advance of a review, and after seeing them live, I get it a little more. Yeah, they’re in the vein of Graveyard, but they’re not quite as boogie rock as Graveyard can be sometimes. If you’re looking for a retro Swedish comparison point, Burning Saviours might work, but at that point, you’re really nitpicking. As the room filled up (and filled up, and filled up, and so on), it also got warmed with each body, so I fought my way out of the crowd — not easy — and made my first attempt to get to Stage01, to check out Year of the Goat, but it was too packed to even get close to the door, let alone through it.
I’m no stranger to watching sets through the door at Roadburn. I saw some of Quest for Fire that way last year and wound up staying put to see a bit of La Otracina‘s free jazz freakout psych-prog this evening, but it’s not a long-term solution. Watching a band through the door, I don’t think I could honestly feel like I’d seen them. You want to at least be in the room. I can catch La Otracina in Brooklyn easily enough, since that’s where they’re from, but when it came to watching Sigiriya tonight at 00.00, I knew there was no way it would work out, and that was a bummer, since what I saw of them at Desertfest was fantastic. Nevertheless, one keeps moving. I made my way over to Het Patronaat for the first time after not getting to see Year of the Goat (still bought their record, since I liked what I heard through the doorway), and caught a couple minutes of Virus, whose dramatic experimental metal seemed to relish its own inaccessibility.
One thing Het Patronaat has over the Midi Theatre, which was Roadburn‘s initial “fourth stage” — i.e., the other large venue to complement the main stage — is that it’s gorgeous. Midi Theatre wasn’t ugly by any stretch, but it was a pretty normal theater-type venue. Het Patronaat is a converted church. It has stained glass windows (behind a protective plane, of course), and a high angular vault in its ceiling with big wood rafters that really provided atmosphere for the bands who played there. I think it’s smaller than the Midi Theatre was, but there’s also a room downstairs where bands set up their merch, and beer and food were sold. A little getaway spot, I guess, if you need to just chill for a while and drink a beer. Not a bad idea, but I didn’t really have time. Agalloch were set to hit the main stage at 17.15, and I knew that if I wanted to be there, I wanted to be there well before they went on.
I’ve been looking for an excuse to like Agalloch for a while now. The vehemence and consistency with which they’re recommended to me is nigh on overwhelming. It’s not just, “Oh, you should check this out, it’s pretty cool.” It’s, “Oh my god, you have to hear this band right now.” I’ve given their records a shot, and I even bought their The White EP, to hear if maybe them doing something different would sit any better. As turtlenecked guitarist/vocalist John Haughm set mini-cauldrons of incense on blocks made of tree trunks at the front of the stage, which also just happened to be eye level for the photo pit, I did not find my excuse to become a fan of the band. I can still smell that shit. So much for daytwoing it in my Saint Vitus shirt tomorrow. I’m starting to run out of clothes.
Once they got going, they were as I’ve always found them to be: an American band doing a decent job at playing indulgent European-style artsy black metal. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I smelled it for a while and then I went back to the Green Room for Swedish cult doomers Saturnalia Temple, who are a bit more my speed, literally and figuratively. Michael Gira from Swans was doing a solo set at Het Patronaat, which would’ve been awesome to see, but like I say, tough decisions have to be made every year, and since I dug the hell out of Saturnalia Temple‘s Aion of Drakon after buying it last Black Friday in Connecticut, I took the chance to see them as something special I’d probably only get to do at Roadburn. So off I went.
Saturnalia Temple were low end in extremis — a brutal wash of tone that vibrated the front of the stage as I stood there. Big, big riffs. I couldn’t really hear the vocals from where I was standing, but they were relatively sparse anyway for the first couple songs. Basically, Saturnalia Temple were throwing down a gauntlet of heft, daring the rest of the Roadburn lineup to match what they had to offer. Even if you take away the Lovecraftian thematics and the crushing grooves of the riffs themselves, the sheer force with which they were delivered was an act of physical violence. I knew Om was getting ready to go on the main stage, so I once more pushed my way out of the Green Room — much to the delight of my fellow 013 patrons — and made sure I was there for the start of the trio’s set.
That’s right, the trio. I don’t know what the official status of Robert A. Lowe (aka Lichens and not to be confused with Robert Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus/Candlemass fame) is, but the dude at this point is a big part of their sound, and they showed that right from the start with the new material they played off the upcoming Advaitic Songs, but even on “Meditation is the Practice of Death” from 2009′s God is Good (semi-review here), Lowe made his presence known, and throughout the set, whether it was beating himself with a tambourine in time to drummer Emil Amos‘ rhythm, adding synth, or playing guitar alongside Al Cisneros‘ bass, he’s more a member of the band now than he was when they started touring together and it was kind of a novelty thing. The novelty has worn off, and Om make for a pretty formidable trio, though part of me misses the sweet minimalism of their earlier work. Price of progress, I suppose.
When I left Om, I went and tried to watch La Otracina through the doorway of Stage01 and then went over to Het Patronaat, with the intent of getting there early enough to get a spot up front for Ancestors. That was my goal. Ancestors, whom I’ve missed more times than I really care to count (I think it’s twice, but that’s too many, anyhow), including just last weekend, were my one absolute must of the day. I figured I’d get there super early and work my way up as people were coming and going. Thing was, I was early enough that Red Fang was still on, and they killed the place. They’re tighter now even than they were at Metalliance last year, and songs from both their self-titled and last year’s Murder the Mountains (review here) incited whatever the burly beardo equivalent is to squeals of pleasure from the crowd. Up front, there was even good old fashioned heavy metal slam-dancing, which earned some hard stares from those who did not want to be involved.
You could hardly blame them, though — the dancers, that is — because Red Fang legitimately showed that they’ve stepped up their live show to match the profile of the touring they’ve done in the past. Whether it was bassist Aaron Beam‘s nailing the vocal shifts in “Human Herd” (not to mention his snazzy new haircut) or guitarist/vocalist Maurice Bryan Giles throwing a bit of pinache into the opening lead of “Throw Up,” or the whole band locking into the punky groove of “Hank is Dead,” they were excellent across the board and absolutely owned the stage. If they can bring that same kind of energy to their next record, then all that “the next Mastodon” buzz that’s been swirling around them these last few years won’t just be hyperbole. They sound like a band right on the cusp of something really special. And by “special,” I don’t mean “slow.”
Though if they wanted to play slow, that’d be alright too. I could live with that.
Sure enough, when they were finished, I proceeded to insert myself at the very front of the stage, just to the right side of the center, where I would stay for the duration of Ancestors‘ set. Normally I’d stay there for a few songs, then push back and let other people in — because I’m a big guy, it seems like the right thing to do — but once Ancestors got started, I knew there was no way. Anyone who’s bemoaned their progression since they released Neptune with Fire in 2008 as somehow forsaking heaviness has clearly never seen the band live. They were so. Fucking. Heavy. And so fucking loud, too. Bassist Nick Long had to keep chasing down his “Depth Charge” pedal because the stage was shaking so much from his playing that it was wandering off. At one point, I noticed guitarist/vocalist Jason Maranga‘s glass of tea was vibrating close to the end of the side of the stage and pointed it out to the dude working the board so it didn’t tip over and spill on the sound equipment. Drummer Daniel Pouliot — a relative newcomer to the band who nonetheless destroyed everything in his path — started out with one brick in front of his drums to hold them in place but wound up with three before they were finished. And as for organist/vocalist Jason Watkins, I’m surprised the keyboard didn’t come apart in his hands. Yes, they were that loud.
Not only that, but crazy melodic too. The highlight of the whole set was when they closed with the 19-minute finale of their new album, In Dreams and Time (review here). Maranga had said the entire band was sick — see, that’s why you pack a pharmacy — and his vocals toward the end were a bit rough, but everything else in “First Light” was spot on, and both musically and vocally, the melody was as powerful as the rumble in Long‘s bass. I recognized that opening riff immediately and had a Pavlovian-drooling-dog response at the treat I knew was coming. Sure enough, they made their way methodically through every part of the song, Maranga taking a long solo at Pouliot accented perfectly, building tension with each measure until finally the massive payoff arrived. It was unreal, and if I was going to see Ancestors at any point in their career, I’m glad it was now just for that. Just when you think he’s got nowhere else to go on the guitar, out comes the slide and the solo becomes a noise-fest working up past the neck; raw squibblies that would’ve made Agalloch jealous. Best part about it was there was feeling in every note, and you knew it just from watching. One hundred percent the highlight of my night, those dudes were. No doubt about it.
They ended with Maranga kicking aside his pedal board, putting his foot up on the monitor and headbanging at the front of the stage, until “First Light” crashed to its sudden finish. No shit, I’ve listened to the song three times through since coming back to the hotel to start this writeup. And it’s 19 minutes long! No regrets. I wasn’t exactly lacking in appreciation for what Ancestors do (click the review link if you don’t believe me), but this was something totally different. Unreal, how good they were. I was so glad to have finally seen them.
And really, that was the cap on my night. It came early, at least as regards the fact that there was still plenty of the lineup to go, but I knew Sigiriya wasn’t going to work out, Voivod played tonight after Ulver, but they’re also doing a set tomorrow at their curated Au-delà du Réel event in which they’re doing all of Dimension Hatröss, so I figured I wouldn’t want to miss that, and though I like Justin Broadrick‘s noisemaking as much as the next guy, I clearly had a bit of writing ahead of me. I went back to the 013 after Ancestors, carrying my melted brains in my photo bag, and planted myself in the photo pit in front of where it looked like would have a good view of Krystoffer Rygg‘s braided beard. As usual, my guess was meh.
I didn’t hear Ulver‘s 2011 album, Wars of the Roses — though I loved 2007′s Shadows of the Sun — but it didn’t matter anyway, because like I said way up at the top of this post, they were doing obscure psychedelic covers from the ’60s. An odd choice, maybe, but it sounded pretty good. One thing Ulver was more than anyone else today, though, was elaborate. Two guitars, bass, drums, a Rhodes, a mellotron, a Hammond, bongos, congas, timpani, shakers, a gong, and then an electronic setup on a table in front of Rygg that no one even wanted to turn on to soundcheck. It looked — in a word — expensive, and they went on 10 minutes late because it took so long to make sure everything was hooked in properly to the 013 P.A., but again, it’s hard to find any fault in Ulver‘s execution. They made it work, though they also took the songs and put them in a more Ulverian context, so that it was more of an interpretation of Jefferson Airplane than an outright cover.
But it was one more cool, weird happening that’s only going down at Roadburn, and those who got to see it — packed in as they were — were lucky, and I count myself lucky as well. I hit the Het Patronaat merch area one more time, saw Pouliot and told him the set was killer, and then resigned myself to coming back to the Mercure and getting to work.
Tomorrow Wino & Conny Ochs open Het Patronaat at 15.00, and I’m going to try again to get into Stage01 to see Conan before YOB do The Unreal Never Lived front to back and further insanity plays out. There are fewer bands I’m outright dying to check out tomorrow, so maybe I’ll get to stick around for some more full sets, but I wouldn’t put it past myself to be back and forth like I was today either. No rest for the restless.
Posted in Features on September 22nd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster
As 2010 makes ready to jump into the double-digit months, it occurred to me the other day to go back and take a look at my Top 10 of 2009. I remembered a few of the albums that rated off the top of my head, if not the order they were put in, but I thought it might be fun to look through the list and see where I stand on the albums 10 months later. Let’s check it out:
1. YOB, The Great Cessation (Profound Lore)
Yup, this is still the best album that came out last year. Check.
2. Los Natas, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad (Small Stone)
Also still rules. Like YOB, I keep this one on me almost all the time.
3. Masters of Reality, Pine/Cross Dover (Brownhouse)
I think I was just really happy Chris Goss put a new album out, although I’ve started to listen to it again now that it’s getting a domestic US release and there are a couple really quality tracks.
4. Truckfighters, Mania (Fuzzorama)
Every time I listen to this album, I’m reminded of how much I dig it. It’s in the same CD wallet as YOB and Los Natas, but I don’t reach for it as much.
5. Shrinebuilder, Shrinebuilder (Neurot)
I hardly ever listen to this anymore, but killer album, killer performances, killer personnel. Can’t wait to get swept up in the hype for the next one, then do the same thing.
6. Crippled Black Phoenix, The Resurrectionists/Night Raider (Invada)
I like the art so much for this album, I don’t even touch it because I’m afraid of screwing it up or leaving fingerprints. It’s gathering dust on my shelf. Pretty dust though, so that’s alright.
7. Wino, Punctuated Equilibrium (Southern Lord)
Am I the only one who thinks maybe Wino meant “punctured” instead of “punctuated?” I just happen to be wearing my t-shirt of the album cover today, so I guess it still curries favor. “Smiling Road” rules.
8. Yawning Sons, Ceremony to the Sunset (Lexicon Devil)
This one still gets listened to regularly, is in that CD wallet. If I was making this list today, it might be number three.
9. Om, God is Good (Drag City)
Cool album, but I never put it on anymore. Maybe I will now.
10. Them Crooked Vultures, Them Crooked Vultures (Interscope) Josh Homme could take a dump on my brand new cupcake and I’d still have a man-crush on him, so this one was bound to show up. Needless to say, I went back to the first couple Queens of the Stone Age albums shortly thereafter.
If I had the list to do over, I’d put Blood by Snail on it, and maybe Church of Misery‘s Houses of the Unholy, which has kept its appeal pretty well. Other than that, I stand by most of the picks above. Let me know if there’s something I missed out on or anything you can think of that you never returned to once January hit.
Posted in Features on December 15th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster
Maybe the reason I keep saying it is because I was so damned surprised to find it out, but Om is better without Chris Hakius. As a replacement in the duo alongside bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, Emil Amos of Grails shines in the drummer role. I was beyond skeptical as they were getting ready to take the stage at Roadburn this year, but they blew my mind. Likewise, when I finally picked up a copy of their first release for Drag City, the provocatively/dogmatically titled God is Good, the astonishment carried over in such a way as to make me even more excited than I already had been for the future of the band.
With only four tracks, God is Good makes the most of the Steve Albini recording job to come off with a natural and live sound that’s centered around the Cisneros‘ warm bass, but branches out in multiple directions as well. On 19-minute opener “Thebes,” Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (a.k.a. Lichens) guests on tambura, and Lorraine Rath joins Amos and Cisneros on flute for “Meditation is the Practice of Death.” Ending couplet, “Cremation Ghat I” and “Cremation Ghat II” find Om again indulging their eastern influence with Lowe on additional vocals and tambura (respectively), but as much as God is Good satisfies by expanding the sound of the band, the stylistic trademarks that have come to reveal themselves over the past three albums are reinforced as well, making this still very much an Om record.
Ideally, God is Good will mark the beginning of a new era for Om. As someone who was unimpressed with their lone offering for Southern Lord, 2007′s Pilgrimage, but was glad to fill my lungs and drown in the two albums prior, I’m glad to hear their progression so evident on this latest offering, and definitely consider it to be one of the year’s best.
Posted in Features on November 19th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster
The necessity of getting Shrinebuilder bassist Al Cisneros on the phone made itself known before his band’s show Sunday night in Manhattan was even over. In particular, a discussion with him seemed warranted because, of all the players on the stage at Le Poisson Rouge with him, Scott Kelly of Neurosis, Scott “Wino” Weinrich and Melvins‘ Dale Crover, Cisneros was in the middle, and when he took the mic at the end of the set for his part in “Pyramid of the Moon,” the night was transformed into something epic and a wave of energy coursed through the crowd. It was kinetic.
Our conversation was short, but informative. Cisneros, fresh back in California from a few days spent in Austin, TX, following the last of the five shows on Shrinebuilder‘s run, confirmed that writing has already begun for a fifth Om record and a second Shrinebuilder, that Shrinebuilder will play the 2010 Scion Rock Fest and that the legendary trio Sleep, in which he was vocalist and bassist with Matt Pike (High on Fire) on guitar and Chris Hakius on drums, will indeed be playing in the US September of next year.
And even though I just told you all of that, it’s still worth reading, after the jump, as always. Enjoy.
I’ve decided not to give it a full review, because it’s been out for a while already and because I paid for it (with my blood, sweat and pseudo-intellectualism), but God is Good, Om‘s first record for Drag City is worth some comment anyway. The digipak came to me in my latest All that is Heavy order, and I’ve been grooving on its moody sensibilities and stoned spirituality ever since. Turns out I was right to look forward to hearing it.
Of course, the big story here is that it’s the first Om record without Chris Hakius on drums. When bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros announced Hakius was out of the band, I scoffed, said there was no way they’d be any good. Mostly because I’m a cynical dick and that’s usually the way things work. As I’ve said several times on this site and elsewhere, Om are better with Grails‘ Emil Amos behind the kit. I don’t know if it’s his experimental tendencies or just that Hakius had gotten bored with Om‘s breadth, but God is Good surpasses 2007′s Pilgrimage in every way possible.
More than that, it shows Om expanding its horizons. Not necessarily lyrically — Cisneros is sticking to his guns there — but with a tamboura from Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe on 19-minute opener “Thebes,” and later on the much shorter “Cremation Ghat I” (3:11) and “Cremation Ghat II” (4:58), Om‘s sound is undergoing a subtle progression that is well suited to what fans have come to expect from them. God is Good presented Cisneros with a great chance to change things up since so much was already going to be different with 50 percent of the band brand new.
“Meditation is the Practice of Death” (6:51) boasts a flute and solid musical conversation between Cisneros and Amos. More even than the expansive “Thebes,” it’s here the chemistry between the two players can be heard. Doubtless Steve Albini‘s production had something to do with bringing that out, but even he wouldn’t be able to fake that if it wasn’t there in the first place.
The point, since it’s about time to get there, is if you’ve been sitting on your hands and waiting to hear God is Good, it’s worth checking out. I’ve come across complaints that the “Cremation Ghat” tracks are too short, but every Om record since their 2005 debut, Variations on a Theme, has been under 35 minutes, and this is right in there. If people are longing for more, take that as a sign of the general success of the work and don’t deny yourself the chance to hear it.
Posted in Reviews on October 13th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster
A short while after his set was over, I found Six Organs of Admittance?s Ben Chasny at the bar sitting next to the figure announced to the crowd as Andrew when he had taken the stage. ?This is my friend Andrew,? Chasny had said. Fair enough.
I had spent the better part of the Six Organs set cursing out, both inwardly and outwardly, the crowd surrounding, whose rude, self-important chatter had ruined the whole thing. Fucking hipsters. When I ran into Chasny at the bar — I?d gone looking for another beer — I told him how fucking ridiculous the asshole factor had been and how I?d seen his Roadburn set and basically that Brooklyn could suck my balls. Already well liquored up, I?ve no delusions that it was received as eloquent.
Prior, about five minutes into the show, I had sent a text message to The Patient Mrs., who was having a sandwich and watching the playoffs at another bar down the street, that said I might have no recourse but to get plastered, such was the level of recession-proof pose out beardo hipster douchery surrounding. I?d arrived at Europa about 30 seconds into the recently interviewed Naam?s first song, and the crowd only got worse as the night wore on. Nothing to do but get drunk.
?Please don?t. We?re broke.? was the message I got back. Sorry baby.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 11th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s a miserable morning/afternoon to wake up to here in the valley, rainy and cold, and one gets the sense that any second now every single leaf on every single tree out my window is going to die and fall off and by 3PM it’s going to be winter. As I have tickets to the Yankees game later, I certainly hope that doesn’t happen.
If there’s something to save this wretched looking day, it’s new music from OM and Shrinebuilder, posted at Stereogum and on their MySpace page, respectively. It’s like a big Cisneros party. Because it doesn’t seem like it’ll crash the entire site, here’s “Cremation Ghat II” by OM:
Sorry, but I don’t have the technology to directly play a MySpace mp3, so if you want to hear “Pyramid of the Moon” by Shrinebuilder, you’re going to have to take the link above. If there’s anything worth leaving this site for (you can always come right back), that might be it.