It’s well documented at this point that by the time 1976 rolled around, Black Sabbath had demolished the majority of their brain cells. If you ever need proof of this, look no further than the immediate drop in quality between 1975′s Sabotage, which brought such classics as “Hole in the Sky” and “Symptom of the Universe,” and 1976′s Technical Ecstasy, which languished in the comparative mediocrity of “Rock and Roll Doctor” and “It’s Alright.” It’s like you could pinpoint the exact moment where they traded pot for cocaine for real (“Snowblind” notwithstanding) and where the music took a backseat to the chemicals their money could buy.
Of course, they toured for several more years before giving Ozzy Osbourne the boot in 1978, and got it together enough to put out Never Say Die before that, which though it was a far cry even from the heights of 1973′s Sabbath Bloody Sabbathlet alone the sacred texts of their first four albums, was still a step up from Technical Ecstasy, which was arguably the nadir creatively of the band’s first Osbourne-fronted run — Black Sabbath‘s actual rock bottom would come years later, prior to reuniting with Ozzy in the late ’90s — and a record that while it showed some stylistic experimentation on a song like “All Moving Parts (Stand Still)” wound up an utter bore.
Which brings me around to “Dirty Women” and Sabbath‘s Fall 1976 North American tour in support of Techincal Ecstasy. It’s a cut that Sabbath played even up to their latest US run, which heralded another reunion with Osbourne and the long-awaited new studio album, 13(review here), and I don’t know if they wrote it so that the ladies in their audience would take their tops off in the arena crowds, but the softcore vintage porn they played while trotting out the chorus seemed hopeful. Probably less likely in 2013 — these are mothers who’ve brought their children to the show! — than it was in 1976.
I’ve chased down a couple bootlegs from that ’76 tour, and almost universally, Sabbath are a trainwreck. Osbourne was never one for remembering lyrics when the band were at the top of their game, but even up to Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward‘s playing, they’re like the dudes at their own party who threw up on the rug. Just a mess.
I’m not a big fan of the song “Dirty Women,” but in the context of that tour and of the utter self-directed wrecking ball that Black Sabbath became in that era, it’s perfect. Of the versions I’ve heard from that tour, the soundboard recording from Pittsburgh, taped Dec. 8, at the Civic Arena for the King Biscuit Flower Hour is my favorite. It’s raw and raunchy and caked in its own crust like nothing else from Sabbath that I’ve ever come across. When Osbourne starts in with, “Ohh dirty women,” he sounds like he’s about to fall over. I don’t know whether to cringe or laugh or travel back in time and call a doctor. Amazing.
Take a listen:
Black Sabbath, “Dirty Women” live in Pittsburgh, PA, Dec. 7, 1976
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ll be interested to see how Pittsburgh riff metallers Supervoid‘s full-length debut, Filaments, is received upon its Oct. 26 release. Their 2012 EP, Endless Planets(discussed here), left a positive impression with a blend of stoner riffing and more extreme metal vocals that one rarely comes across. Not everybody is into harsh vocals, but I am when they’re done well and serve a purpose, and Supervoid singer Brian offsets his Dark Tranquility-style growls with a soulful belt-it-out cleaner approach, taking some of what American metalcore acts around the turn of the century were able to do with their melodeath influence and putting it to use in a different context. As that generation of headbangers continues to grow up, I would expect to find more bands employing similar methods, but Supervoid have gotten in early and the stylistic shift immediately marks them out from their peers in the current self-releasing heavy rock sphere.
Add to that a sense of humor epitomized by the photo above that coincides with a dedication to conceptual craft that lets each of the symbols on the cover of Filaments– the snake, the elephant, the bear, the smoke, etc. — serve as visual representation for one of the album’s eight total tracks, and Supervoid seem to be working on multiple balances at once. Early cuts like “Coat of Luminous” and “Braymerian: War Elephant” show a propensity in guitarists Joe and Dave to lead the band through spaced-out jams — that’s not to mention the penultimate “Arcane Groves,” which takes nine minutes and summarizes much of the record’s crux — and the ambience only underscores how driving the material is when they, Brian, bassist John and drummer Greg lock into an engaging motor groove, be it the chugging “Ladders” or the it-already-ran-you-over “Ride the Snake,” which — though it’s a phrase I’ll forever associate with the actor Jim Carrey doing “Jimmy Tango’s Fat Busters” on Saturday Night Live (look it up, kids) more than the Doors reference it’s probably supposed to be — is among Filaments‘ catchiest and most satisfying tracks.
Because it’s also a marked example of their penchant for meshing more extreme metal and heavy rock elements, starting with quick snare hits that open to smooth, Fu Manchu-style stonerly fuzz and giving way after a couple minutes to melodeath guitar harmonies and Brian‘s throaty rasp, I’m all the more thrilled to be able to premiere “Ride the Snake” ahead of Filaments‘ release. You’ll find its fast-footed grooves on the player below. Please enjoy:
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Supervoid will release Filamentson Oct. 26 as they open for Orange Goblin at Pittsburgh‘s Rex Theater. More info and tickets at the links following.
Posted in On the Radar on October 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
If you’re looking to grab attention, having bright blue, red, orange and yellow lightning bolt artwork of a Shiva-esque alien destructive force made out of electricity might not be a bad way to go. Such is the fare in which DIY Pittsburgh duo Zom traffic, and while one might expect based on the striking visual that their music is a sort of hyper-caffeinated tech-prog full of fretboard sprints and light on groove, nothing could be further from the case. Zom‘s debut — a self-titled, self-recorded, self-released, six-song EP — rests easy on a bed of thick riffs and post-Pepper-era-C.O.C. burl American style, not quite veering into “hey whoa mama yeah” chestbeating, but hardly lacking dudeliness either.
Stoner metal in the sense of having more crunch than fuzz tonally but still using it to riff out, Zom (also stylized in all-caps) is comprised of vocalist/guitarist Gero von Dehn and bassist/drummer Andrew D’Cagna, who also recorded Zom at Sacred Sound (both are listed as producers). Solos on three of the six songs come courtesy of guest-guitarist Justin Wood (Black Plastic Caskets), and Creighton Hill supplied the aforementioned cover art, but otherwise, Zom is a two-person outfit. Rather than bask in the inherent minimalism a guitar/drum duo brings about, Zom sound like at least a trio, if not a four-piece, in terms of their layering and the fullness. D’Cagna‘s bass obviously makes a huge difference in this regard, and while yeah, there’s two of them, from the start of “Nebulos/Alien,” Zom come across as a complete band.
I don’t know if von Dehn and D’Cagna are looking for anyone else to join or if they’ll make a go as a twosome — they’d have a hard time sounding this full live, at least without sampling or running the guitar through multiple rigs — but the songs on the EP are catchy and straightforward. More or less unipolar — set phasers to “rock” — one hears shades of a less fuzz-soaked Wo Fat and von Dehn‘s belted-out vocals follow his riffing more than ably on “Burning” and veer into echoing Southernisms on the 6:56 “Solitary,” so it’s not as if Zom only have grabbed attention only to bore, though at this point they’re clearly more confident in the weighted thrust that emerges even in “Solitary,” even if later. Still, both D’Cagna and von Dehn have done time in a host of Pittsburgh metal acts, and that experience shows through in an overarching sense of professionalism that runs counter to what one might expect from a “new” band.
The “Holy in the Sky” revision of “The Greedy Few” owes almost as much to stoner-era Cathedral as to Sabbath, but even there — I’d argue it’s the EP’s most obviously derivative moment and that it’s designed to be — Zom seem to be shooting to make something familiar their own, and ending cut “There’s Only Me” hints at a burgeoning melodic adventurousness in von Dehn‘s vocals in what would’ve been a strong hook even without, so they show some promise for continuing to develop a more individual personality. There’s part of me that thinks adding more members would aid in this, but there are an awful lot of three- and four-piece acts out there. A lot of duos too, but fewer shooting for a full-band aesthetic. However they choose to proceed, Zom‘s debut fulfills its electrified threat. If they wanted attention, well, okay. Now what?
Posted in Reviews on August 27th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s hard to discern just what Pennsylvania traditional doom metallers Argus intend with the title of their third album, Beyond the Martyrs. On a superficial level, one doesn’t think of a martyr as a place or a level of development to move past, but more than that, what’s supposed to be beyond them? What comes after that? Death? Devastation? Peace? Paradise? Which martyrs are the five-piece talking about? Is it a Christ figure? The al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades? The closing title-track — which arrives eighth on the 42-minute Cruz del Sur LP with cover art by Brad Moore — is instrumental, so that’s not much help in terms of answering the questions of theme. Tracks prior like “No Peace Beyond the Line” and “Trinity,” “Cast out all Raging Spirits” and opener “By Endurance We Conquer” could be read to have elements of religious conflict to them — certainly conflict, anyway — but if there’s a narrative to Beyond the Martyrs, it’s not one as stated by the band so much as one that relies on the listener to plot its course. Maybe that’s on purpose. As a band, Argus seem much more interested in making solid and conscious use of the dual guitars of Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson and one of traditional metal’s most powerful belt-it-out voices in former Penance vocalist Brian “Butch” Balich, who delivers a standout performance here no less righteous than that on 2011′s Boldly Stride the Doomed(discussed here) and 2009′s self-titled debut (review here). Balich is a big part of carrying across the dramas of Beyond the Martyrs– as a standalone frontman should be — and the songs he’s working on top of set a memorable foundation from which to soar as he and a bevvy of guitar solos please, bassist Andy Ramage and drummer Kevin Latchaw hammering out straightforward structures to make “No Peace Beyond the Line,” “Trinity” and “Cast out all Raging Spirits” among the album’s several highlights. That is to say, Argus isn’t just about its singer, despite his considerable presence within these tracks, and Beyond the Martyrsfinds a progressive balance between metal and doom that moves fluidly to cast its own personality somewhere between the two.
That process begins immediately with the deceptively catchy chorus of “By Endurance We Conquer.” Latchaw double-times it on his hi-hat to build up tension during the verse before the hook opens up. I don’t know whether it’s because of the arching militaristic bombast of the song or if it’s just the way the epic feel is crafted, but on first impression, “By Endurance We Conquer” stands out more for its voracious chestbeating and listing of virtues than for the delivery of the title line, but after a couple times through, the opener more than justifies its presence at the fore of Beyond the Martyrs, acting as something of a vanguard for the rest of the album to come. Already much of the record’s ethic is established: Balich carries a verse into a memorable refrain and the guitars answer back with accomplished solos and driving riffs underscored by strong, powerful heavy metal rhythms. As far as songwriting methodologies go, you could do a lot worse. “No Peace Beyond the Line” takes more time to unfold, but winds up in a fist-pump chug for its verse as the vocals tease the song’s greater hook still to come in a sort of bridge part that early on substitutes for an actual chorus. They cycle through twice before the guitar solo takes hold, and though it’s not until the last minute that they arrive, it’s the repetitions of “There is no/There is no/There is no peace beyond the line” that ultimately give the song one of Beyond theMartyrs‘ most lasting impressions, the vocals doing a layered call and response to deliver the title and finish with a nailed-it adrenaline-push yell. I don’t know where the line is, but there’s no peace beyond it. The issue is settled. After such a strong opening duo, some comedown is inevitable, but “The Hands of Time are Bleeding” fights redundancy by upping the doom in its slower early going and picking up to an effective linear buildin both pace and overall rush. A stop at 3:09 is a startling transition, but I’d guess that was probably the idea, and the solo that continues after stands out all the more for it. Vocals return toward the end, and though the results aren’t quite as instantly engaging as with “No Peace Beyond the Line,” the change in mood is effective leading to “Trinity” which is arguably the darkest moment on the album.
Posted in audiObelisk on August 19th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Tomorrow, Aug. 20, marks the release of Pittsburgh classic heavy rockers Carousel‘s Tee Pee Records full-length debut, Jeweler’s Daughter. It’s an album that arrives with no shortage of fanfare leading its charge, but the highwire double-guitar feats of Dave Wheeler (also vocals) and Chris Tritschler and the upbeat grooves of bassist Jim Wilson and drummer Jake Leger justify the excitement. From the heavy rock motor-chug of the opening title-track to the watch-out-for-that-spilled-beer slide of closer “Penance,” Carousel work in a blend of elder metal that sits well alongside the overarching natural feel of the album.
Most of all, though, it’s a rager. Similar in spirit — though taking out some of that SoCal skatepunk vibe — to the success Tee Pee found last year with The Shrine‘s Primitive Blast, Carousel wind up someplace between Bible of the Devil‘s worship of Motörhead, Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest and a modern take on early ’70s swagger. Wheeler and Tritschler are very much in the position of driving the material throughout, but songs like “Long Time” and “On My Way” are memorable for more than their riffs and leads, the latter tapping most into the Motörhead vibe, starting at full-speed and staying there, but adding an individual sensibility through the dueling solos to make the song sound not-at-all incomplete at 2:19.
Side B shows more breadth, as it should. “Light of Day” picks up with a strong hook where album-highlight “Waste of Time” left off, but finds Wheeler more vocally brazen in his layering, and the subsequent “Nightfall” taps Dixie Witch moodiness as it cuts the pace somewhat to deepen the vibe. Between the play of opposites of “Light of Day” and “Nightfall,” as well as that of “Contrition” and “Penance,” one could easily read a sense of narrative into the second half of Jeweler’s Daughter, and while I don’t know if that’s the band’s intent, as the latter kicks out its extended shake-and-stomp intro, the possibility that such a thing would arrive with a thematic underscore makes the record’s finish all the more intriguing and enjoyable.
Not to mention the groove they jam on at the end, which, you know, riffs and booze and denim jackets and whathaveyou. Right on.
Today I have the pleasure of hosting a stream of Jeweler’s Daughterin its entirety ahead of tomorrow’s release date. Please find it on the player below and enjoy:
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Posted in Whathaveyou on July 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Vulture will be missed. Here’s a fun fact about the Pittsburgh sludgers who announced today they’re making their exit as a band: They were the first package I ever got sent for this site. It’s true. I still have the envelope sent by drummer Kelly Benson Gabany containing 2009′s self-released debut EP (review here). Their permanent vacation to Splittsville is a double-bummer though on account of last year’s Oblivious to Ruin (review here) seeming so much like the start of a new era of productivity.
Best of luck to the dudes and lady of Vulture. Hopefully it’s not too long before they sludge anew:
After six years, Vulture has decided to call it a day. Over the last year or so it’s become increasingly difficult to get together due to schedules, distance to rehearsal, life, etc. We tried to make it work after our Winter’s Wake performance last February, but it just didn’t take.
We want to thank Innervenus for the last couple of years and releasing our record, Chris Smith for all of the amazing artwork, James Curl and Garret Costlow for the tireless work on our recordings, all the bands we’ve ever played with, the venues we’ve played, the promoters that booked us, the magazines/blogs that’s interviewed, reviewed and featured us, radio shows that played us, the friends we’ve made along the way and each and every one of you that has ever been to a show, bought a t-shirt, cd or supported us in any way.
With that said, we’ll be playing two final shows, the first being The Blackout Cookout IV on August 24th in Kent, Ohio and then a yet to be announced Pittsburgh show that will take place in November. More details as we get them.
Vulture, “Oblivious to Ruin” from Oblivious to Ruin
After wrapping a stint opening for Clutch, Mondo Generator and Saviours on the former’s annual holiday run, Wino and the other support acts headed out to ring in 2013 on their own, crossing the country on a nine-day trek from New York to L.A. The full Wino set from the Pittsburgh gig Jan. 4 at the 31st St. Pub was taped by the company Digitalive Productions and featured here back in January, but it turns out that Wino also sat in with Saviours for a Motörhead cover of the song “Limb from Limb” that Digitalive also caught on tape — or, more likely, SD card — in a multi-camera shoot.
Really, that’s about all I need to hear before I’m ready to climb on board. You’ve got Wino doing a guest spot with the California-based heavy thrashers on a cover tune? Yeah sure, I’ll check that out. What makes this clip even better — aside from the production value — is how tight the cover actually is. Considering they’d only been on tour three days at this point (maybe they’d done it while on the road with Clutch, but they didn’t do it in Allentown when I saw that tour), they’ve more or less got it down with the double-guitar treatment, and of course Wino‘s vocals bring that seething edge to the song that he’s been heralded for all these many years.
“Limb from Limb” originally appeared as the closer of Motörhead‘s 1979 sophomore outing, Overkill, and if nothing else, this version shows the universal nature of the Motörhead influence, since if you sat down to search out every rock song since that used that riff, by the time you finished there’d probably be 30 or 40 new ones to find. Usually how it goes with Motörhead, especially old Motörhead.
I don’t know what Pittsburgh’s Low Man are going to do next, but whatever it is, chances are the four-piece will sound markedly different than on their 2012 self-titled EP. That release (review here) captured a nascent but discernible love of a variety of heavy styles, from thickened up punk to classic proto-doom, and perhaps most impressively, Low Man made the sounds bend to their will rather than the other way around. There remained work to be done in their songwriting and production, but the potential was there and it was palpable.
They’ve had a little road time since, tightening their approach, and as Low Man‘s Low Man was recorded as the trio of guitarist/vocalist Luke Rifugiato, bassist/vocalist Jeremy Zerbe and drummer/vocalist Derek Krystek before guitarist Alex Byers joined, there are bound to be some changes in approach to account for new influences in the writing and construction of the songs. As such, as they continue to grow and develop over the course of gigs and jamming out in the rehearsal space, this seemed like a prime moment to discuss the beginnings of the band and how they’ve arrived at this stage in their development.
The Low ManEP — a follow-up to their debut single, Snake Farmer/Jackhammerhead– was recorded in Pittsburgh at +/- Studio by Jason Jouver and Justin Novak and features a host of guest players on vocals and guitar. Zerbe took time out to talk about getting the band together, putting the EP to tape and bringing in Byers on guitar with Rifugiato. Along the way, insight is given as to Low Man‘s songwriting process, influences and penchant for gang vocals. Hope you dig it.
Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions.
1. Give me the background on how Low Man got together. When did the band form and how does the songwriting process usually work? When were the songs for the self-titled EP written? Are there multiple songwriters, or was it a span of time as the material came together?
Low Man started when I moved back to Pittsburgh and began playing music with Luke Rifugiato, the band’s other vocalist and guitarist, in the fall of 2010. He introduced me to AlexByers and EvanFlaherty, the lead guitarist and drummer he had been jamming with and we sort of just fell into playing together. Besides both being into punk music, Luke was really into Queens of the Stone Age and Fu Manchu and I was a huge fan of Black Mountain and The Black Angels, so the music sort of just started from there.
We both had had other bands before and brought some songs we’d been working on for those bands with us, which is why our EP sounds a little all-over-the-place. That EP and the single we released before it are just a collection of our earliest songs, before we really had a set idea of what we were trying to achieve. We knew we wanted it to be loud and fuzzy, but we didn’t really sit down and say, “We should be a stoner rock band.” We still really haven’t, though the music comes together a lot more organically these days. We write pretty much everything as a group now and our sound has really benefited from that, I think.
2. Tell me about recording the EP. How long were you in the studio and how did you wind up bringing in gang vocals and extra guitar, etc.?
We recorded the EP in February of 2012 and were at a transitional period in the band. Alex had gone on hiatus a few months before to finish his degree, and we’d also found a new drummer in DerekKrystek. We were in the process of finding a replacement for Alex, playing shows with our friends JustinGross and MikeMyzak when we decided to just go into the studio and take care of the recording as a trio. We laid down the basic tracks in one day, then went back a second day to overdub solos and vocals. Mixing took a hell of a lot longer, and honestly we still didn’t spend enough time with it, but we were poor and the studio time was by the hour.
I laid down a couple of rhythm parts, and Luke took the reins on all of the solos except half of the dueling one in “American Literature from 1860.” When Alex was in the band, the two of them traded it off, but without him, we asked the producer, Jason Jouver, and his engineer, Justin Novak, to lay down a couple of quick licks between Luke’s. Gang vocals were something I’d wanted in a couple of songs since I first wrote them, so at the end of our second day, we had some of our friends come to the studio with a case of beer. The two main harmony voices you hear (especially on “Roll the River Down”) are members of Derek’s other band, Sleepy V.
3. How much does the EP represent the live version of the band? What was the timing on bringing Alex in on guitar? Has that changed the dynamic on stage, and if so, in what ways?
Now that Alex is back in the band, the live version of LowMan is infinitely more interesting than the recording. He’s by far the most talented guitarist of us, and he plays these harmony lines throughout songs like “Migraine” that make them a million times better. I have promised him that if we get a chance to remix the album, I’d like him to lay down his parts and throw them in where they rightfully belong. I also think it’s always hard to really translate a loud, intense band on tape. As good as the EP turned out, I wish it were more raw and energetic. But that’s just sort of how it goes I guess. Unless you’re working with Steve Albini (call me!) that is.
4. In what direction(s) do you see Low Man growing from here? The EP and the Snake Farmer/Jackhammerhead single sound completely different from each other. Have you started writing for a follow-up yet, and if so, is there something different you’re specifically trying to bring out sound-wise? There’s a pretty wide berth of influences already.
The songs from the single and the EP were all written at about the same time, early in the life of the band. We’ve been around for just over two years now and have gone through a fair number of changes, so whenever we get the time and money to hit a studio, we’re always trying to play catch up and record the oldest stuff first to get it out of the way for new things. It’s not the best system in the world, I’ll be the first to admit. Right now we’re trying to get back into the studio again for a follow-up, but we’ve got enough songs to record two in a row, so it is this race to get it all to tape.
As we’re moving forward though, what you’ll hear is a more focused, more aggressive sound, like that of “Machine,” “American Literature From 1860” or even “Snake Farmer” I think. The newer songs we’ve been writing do a lot of playing around with time signature — one of them alternates between 5/8 and 6/8 in the verse and then moves into 13 for the chorus before this weird layered, math-intensive bridge happens. And I mean that about the math: I actually had to sit down and work it out to make sure we’d all end on the same note.
But even with that kind of stuff, we’re finally able to say, “This is a Low Man song, this isn’t,” unlike early in our existence. You’ll never hear another song quite as poppy as “Pay the Bills” is, and we’ve scuttled some of our older songs for that exact reason. On stage we’re a relatively aggro, somewhat serious band, and we don’t have room for our ‘60s Wayne Cochran-esque pop ballad anymore. Inspiration still isn’t coming from just one place, so we’ll never exactly be a traditional “stoner rock” band, but we’re too much of suckers for poppy hooks for that anyway.
5. Are you conscious in writing of playing to one side of the band’s personality or another, or is it just whatever comes out of jamming or somebody’s song idea?
There is definitely still a bit of personality that finds its way into Luke’s songs or mine, though the lines have been blurred as we’ve played together more. I used to show up with nearly complete songs written and try to teach everyone everything, whereas Luke preferred to just come up with riffs and piece them together as a band. My need for exactness and completion is partially due to suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also was just born out of necessity in my old bands: I was the only songwriter, the band manager, the driver and the tuning fork. Usually, I was the only guy sober enough to play the songs too.
Over the past two years though, I’ve changed a lot and become a lot more like Luke in writing. I realized what an absolute treasure Alex is, because I’d be struggling at home trying to figure out chords to a melody when he could just listen to me hum and it say, “Oh, that’s Am C G7 and then F# with an A as the root,” or whatever. Now I’ll bring my melody lines and lyrics and let the band jam out transitions and riffs in between. We just wrote two brand-new songs this past weekend exactly like that. It’s way better to work that way, getting everyone involved. It really makes them Low Man songs instead of Luke songs or Jeremy songs.
6. Any shows, other plans or closing words you want to mention?
We went on a weekend tour in early December and we hope to be doing that again soon, but after we got home from the couple days out, Derek texted me to call it quits for some personal reasons. It sucked because, not only was he like a brother to us, but we’d been writing a lot of our newer music (like the wacky time signature one I mentioned earlier) around his style of proggy, jazzy drumming. Now we’re in the process of auditioning drummers and getting the engine started again. As soon as we’ve got someone up to speed, we’ll be back out on the road, and then heading into the studio for our second EP — hopefully by spring. If all goes according to plan, I’d love to have the first EP remixed and then press both records to vinyl by winter. It’s a long way away and we hope to get ahead of schedule, but the one thing we’ve learned over the last two years is that the only thing you can count on is not being able to count on anything at all.
Posted in Reviews on January 17th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Their sound is rooted deep in classic stoner punk, but Pittsburgh three-or-four-piece Low Man don’t necessarily limit themselves stylistically on their self-titled, self-released seven-track EP. Recorded as a trio with a slew of guest vocalists, the production on Low Man’s Low Man is rough, but still crisp enough to give a debut’s look at a band getting their bearings, and as drummer Derek Krystek, bassist Jeremy Zerbe and guitarist Luke Rifugiato all contribute vocals throughout in addition to the guests, the half-hour release has a surprising amount of variety from song to song. That doesn’t put Low Man in a position to establish much more than a cursory flow between the tracks, but with an EP, there’s less of that expectation at play, and all the more since unnamed closer that follows “Roll the River Down” is six and a half minutes solid of feedback and noise. Such a consideration puts the runtime song-wise at just under 24 minutes, but Low Man otherwise make decent use of their time, the initial push of opener “Migraine” reminding a bit of formative The Brought Low vocally while engaging in straightforward rhythmic thrust and upbeat classic rocking. Rifugiato proves early and often to be an engaging lead guitarist – if in fact that’s him; Zerbe and Jason Jouver, who mixed, and Justin Novak, who engineered, are also listed as adding guitar and it’s not clear who’s where – dropping layered solos atop the final stretch of “Migraine” and leading the charge on the subsequent “Golden Dawn,” which moves more into a classic-Pentagram-via-earliest-Witchcraft groove with a bluesy vocal to complement and easily the strongest instrumental hook of the EP. The guest vocals seem to come into play during the chorus, which rounds out with aggressive shouts in a bridge part leading back to one last chorus and a brief descending transitional progression that appeared earlier in the song, showing a nascent but nonetheless prevalent knack for structure that they carry into the faster chugging of “American Literature from 1860.”
Its central hook isn’t as strong as that of “Golden Dawn,” but “American Literature from 1860” is also coming from someplace else stylistically, proffering sans-frills garage punk with bite in the tempo and what feels like less focus directly on the arrangement. If Low Man are looking to set one side of their sound against the other, they paired up the two tracks to do it with for sure. I’d be interested to hear how the differences in sound – which presumably are the result of multiple songwriters, though all songs are credited to Low Man as a whole – might be carried across with a fuller production or more attention to the vocal recording and placement in the mix, but on “American Literature from 1860,” the idea is obviously to hone in on rawer musical ideas from the start. The shortest track at 2:53, it begins with a quick sample and then is off without giving the listener a chance to process what they’re hearing, a biker-style verse opening to a chorus that still seems unwilling to fully relinquish its tension. The post-chorus bridge locks in a groove quickly shirked off to go back to the verse and the cycle repeats – a basic structure echoing the straightforward musicality to set up solos traded back and forth between the right and left channel. The jump from the solo back into the ending chorus is a little abrupt, but Low Man don’t really leave you time to get caught on speedbumps, and their momentum continues into the gang-vocalized “Pay the Bills,” made memorable with “heya-hey”s and an early ‘90s bassline. Here too the verse hook proves stronger than the chorus, but the gang vocals go a long way in keeping attention snapped to, and an echoing lead behind the vocals before the ending sample offers a bit of change from what the band has already managed to establish as their norm.
Posted in On the Radar on November 29th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Melting together dreamy spacedelic explorations with heavy riffing and bouts of all-out extremity, Pittsburgh’s own Supervoid make their self-released debut via the two-tracker EP, Endless Planets. There are those who decry the use of harsh vocals in stonerly contexts. I’ve never been one of them. Vocalist Brian flows naturally between clean singing and newer-school metallic sludge growls, and where he uses either the choice works to the songs’ favor.
“Arcane Groves,” at just under 10 minutes, has more room to space out, and “Wake of the Smoke Jumper” is more straightforward in its post-Mastodon chug, but both tracks give a solid first showing from the band, whose heaviness arrives in distorted bursts through the two guitars of Joe and Dave, John‘s bass and the precise timekeeping of Greg‘s drums. There are touches of post-metal jangle in their tones, but Endless Planets feels altogether meaner and straightforward than most of what that genre designation implies, and the classic rock leads in the second half of “Wake of the Smoke Jumper” are coming from someplace else entirely.
The songs were recorded and mixed by Dave Hidek at Treelady Studios and the production is thick and professional, giving a basic idea of the sound Supervoid are hitting on and showing some potential for what they might do with it going forward. Endless Planets is apparently available on CD and the band has made it a name-your-price download at the Supervoid Bandcamp as well. Here’s the stream, courtesy of that page:
Posted in Reviews on August 24th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Foremost, it’s a hell of a package. The whole release is billed, somewhat appropriately, as Monster Book. Released through Madlantis Records, the core of the thing is a limited-to-300 green-splatter 12” vinyl split between Lansing, Michigan, weirdo rockers BerT and abrasive Pittsburgh noisemakers Triangle and Rhino. That’s part of it. Monster Book, however, is not the first time these two bands have come together. Triangle and Rhino titled their side of the vinyl In the Company of Creeps and BerT gave theirs the name Wall of Bees, but all of the material on either vinyl side can also be found on an included CDR, as well as songs culled from prior BerT/Triangle and Rhino splits (there’ve been two that I can find, perhaps more are out there), and Monster Book also includes a killer foldout poster (image above; click the picture for the full thing) and an actual ‘zine. It’s small and hard to read and pretty clearly a homemade job, but it’s got interviews with Elk Nebula, Lord Vapid, Hordes, Switchblade Cheetah and others, as well as full questionnaires from both BerT and Triangle and Rhino and a section right in the middle where everyone who appears elsewhere in the 40-page ‘zine answers the age-old question of who would win if Godzilla fought King Kong – wait for it – in space. The ‘zine itself is no less harshly laid out than the jagged noise Triangle and Rhino get down with or the thickened garage riffing of BerT, and so it makes an excellent companion for its total fuckedness, and the two-sided cover the LP is textured and foreboding of the massive amount of information Monster Book contains. The occasion of the release was a just-ended tour that brought both bands eastward (much to my regret, I failed to see them both in Philly and Boston, though in the interest of full disclosure, BerT did crash at my house on their way north after the former; the LP/CD/’zine had long since arrived), and it seems a fitting occasion for a project of such a frankly intimidating scope.
Because my format preferences lend me to do so anyway and because I feel compelled to at least provide some focus to this review other than to say, “Gosh, look at all this BerT and Triangle and Rhino stuff,” I’m going to stick to the CD in terms of referencing the actual tracks. The reason I mention it is because while the LP has three cuts from Triangle and Rhino on In the Company of Creeps and six from BerT on Wall of Bees, the CD nearly doubles that, with a total of six from Triangle and Rhino and 10 from BerT, resulting in a total runtime of nearly 77 minutes. Tracks are taken from the current and past splits between the two bands and what BerT calls “some other extra jazz as well.” On its own, the CD is a lot to take in, especially with the leadoff Triangle and Rhino give it for the first six cuts, beginning with the three from the LP, “Limb Lopper,” “In the Company of Creeps” and “Three Thousand Consecutive Breaths.” Their sound is a punishing sort of noise, with guitarist J. Lexso and drummer M. Rappa both contributing various sorts of synth, oscillations and programming, resulting in periods of near-unlistenable high-pitched audio knives. The moody rumble and electronic-sounding drums of “Limb Lopper” are dark enough, but it’s not long before Triangle and Rhino unveil just how challenging they want to be, in that song, the more frenetically rhythmic “In the Company of Creeps” and “Three Thousand Consecutive Breaths,” the first half of which is hard to get through before the early Genghis Tron-style dance pop synth line kicks in and guest vocalist J. White gives new wave accompaniment. “Glowing Sphere” is basically a blown-out drum rhythm with noise behind, and that’s all well and good, but both “Planet Collider” and “Five Words in Broken English” are more abrasive, the latter playing at free jazz without committing to that more than it commits to anything else and the former stabbing with high-pitched chirps. It’s obviously Triangle and Rhino’s intent, but that doesn’t lessen the relief any when it’s over and I realize I’ve been clenching my jaw the whole time.
At the end of last year, when I made my Top Five Records I Didn’t Hear in 2011 list, I said that hopefully I’d run into Pittsburgh trad doom merchants Argus at a show and be able to buy their second full-length, Boldly Stride the Doomed, from them directly. That very thing happened at Days of the Doomed II in Wisconsin, and I suddenly felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Until I actually put the record on. Then the weight — the formidable tonnage of Argus‘ hyper-refined doomly classicism — was right back where it started and then some.
Every time I hit the short bass solo from Andy Ramage in “Wolves of Dusk,” I get a chill up my spine, and Boldly Stride the Doomed is filled with those little moments, flourishes here and there that stand out from the already strong performances. John Mucio and Erik Johnson‘s guitars are full of them, and Butch Balich proves on “The Ladder” alone why he’s one of the most underrated vocalists in doom, American or otherwise. The former Penance singer is a focal point throughout the 10 tracks, and rightly so, but the band behind him (and as regards the mix, the vocals are very much at the fore) more than stands up, whether its the guitar solos (who’s playing what is in the liner notes) or drummer Kevin Latchaw‘s footwork driving the rhythm of “Fading Silver Light.”
Piano adds grandeur to “42-7-29″ and the recent podcast inclusion “Pieces of Your Smile,” at well over 11 minutes, is epic metal without the pomposity. Trouble and Candlemass influences persist, but Argus is very quickly becoming their own band sonically, and it’s not just Balich, who proved his mettle long ago. It’s the whole band, working as a band, that makes Boldly Stride the Doomed land with such heavy feet. As madly catchy as cuts like “Devils, Devils” were from the first record, I wouldn’t trade “A Curse on the World” or “Durendal” for anything.
So yeah, lesson learned. Don’t let another Argus album slip when it comes down the line for review. Hopefully I get the chance to put that wisdom to good use before too long. Until then, if you haven’t heard the album yet, here’s “Durendal,” just because it happens to be the song I have on at the moment:
I was legitimately surprised when Pittsburgh sludgers Vulture‘s full-length debut, Oblivious to Ruin, came across my desk. Not that they weren’t due for a follow-up to 2009′s self-titled EP, which was one of the first releases ever reviewed on this site, but because of how much the band had changed in the three years since that EP came out. Vulture had a doomly appeal to start with, but what Oblivious to Ruin (review here) brought to that was a low-down, dirty feel. A big part of that was the inclusion of new vocalist Justin Erb, whose raw-throated screams, shouts and growls added not only brutality but also character to Vulture‘s sound, now more professional and altogether more lethal.
That’s not to say the seven cuts present on Oblivious to Ruin aren’t without precedent — one finds Vulture culling influence from Sourvein, High on Fire and Down (in that order of prevalence) — but their blend is far more their own than it was a few short years ago, and what’s more, they seem to have hit a starting point for further growth and development, and so the record becomes an essential beginning step in that process, as well as a nasty-as-fuck slab of sludge. They’re having their cake and smashing it with buzzsaw guitar tone too, if you will.
As such, it seemed the perfect time to harass Mr. Erb for some info on his background in the abrasive arts and how he came to be a member of Vulture, and just what Oblivious to Ruin might be driving toward in terms of the overall trajectory of the band. Par for the course for this kind of thing, I also asked about some other stuff as well, like any Pittsburgher recommendations he might have and what’s coming next for Vulture, and he was forthcoming on that as well, as you can see below.
Vulture is Erb, guitarists Garrett Twardesky and Gene Fikhman, bassist Justin Bach and drummer Kelly Gabany. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
1. Tell me about how you came to join Vulture. Did you know the rest of the band beforehand?
I met Vulture while jamming with my other band, Reduce to Ash. Our guitar player, Quinn Lukas, who also plays with Icarus Witch, is good friends with Vulture’s old singer, Buddy Smith. Every summer Quinn has a few huge yard parties, and during one of these parties we made plans with Buddy to do some shows together. Through those shows I ended up becoming good buddies with Garrett, Vulture’s riff master. Anytime Reduce would do shows, Garrett would try to make it out and we would end up outside getting high and rocking out some Sabbath in the parking lot. After a show at Marlene’s Corner Bar in Connellsville, PA, Garrett told me they were having trouble with their singer and were planning on sacking him. He just wasn’t on the same page, musically. I told Garrett that if they fired Buddy, I would be interested in auditioning. Turns out they were planning on approaching me for the gig. The funny thing is that from the first time I saw Vulture play, I imagined myself fronting that band. In Reduce to Ash, I play bass and split vocals with Tim Weir, the other guitarist, so I jumped at the chance to front a band without worrying about playing an instrument. Especially a band like Vulture, who I had a ton of respect for from day one.
2. What was the timeline of the material on Oblivious to Ruin? How much was written when you joined the band, and as the singer, how involved were you in structuring and putting the songs together?
The songs for Oblivious were written over a pretty long period of time. It’s kinda hazy as far as the exact timeline. I was working out of town a lot and the guys made me demos of basic arrangements of the songs. I wrote all the lyrics and rearranged some of the structures to fit my lyric ideas a little better. Most of the arrangements were perfect before I even put my stamp on them. When I joined the band, Garrett gave me a demo with three songs that needed lyrics. The first song ended up being “Prick of Misery,” which we recorded for the Innervenus Music Collective‘s compilation disc, Iron Atrocity Vol. 1. The second song was the title-track, “Oblivious to Ruin.” We jammed on the third song but never ended up using it.
3. How was the band’s time in the studio? The recording seems to capture the songs perfectly, sounding natural and nasty. How long were you at Calfax Alley, and what was the recording process like?
The band’s time in the studio was brief but awesome. All the instruments were recorded live. With a few punch-ins for guitar solos here and there. What you hear on the album is a live take of the band jamming out with my vocals recorded separately. All seven songs, instrumentally, were recorded in one day. The vocals took three sessions. Without incriminating ourselves too much, I will say that we did partake in some illicit substances to capture the right vibe while recording. We are all about the vibe and atmosphere.
4. This being your first outing with the band, and the band’s first full-length after the self-titled EP, how representative is it of the direction you guys want to go in? How do you see Vulture’s sound developing over the next couple records?
I think it is representative of our direction as far as the heaviness that is captured on the album. I don’t think we could lose that if we tried. I can see us keeping with the sludge but also adding more groove and melody. Maybe even some acoustic stuff. We want to record the next album on analog tape. Like some old ‘60s or ‘70s gear. If that’s even possible these days.
5. I know Pittsburgh has a few really killer heavy bands – Argus, Vulture, Sistered, etc. – but is there anyone you guys especially enjoy playing shows with? Any other bands from the area you’d recommend for outsiders to check out?
I love playing with Mockingbird. They are from Ohio, but they do play Pittsburgh from time to time. Fist Fight in the Parking Lot is a badass ‘Burgh band with some deep roots in the city. Molasses Barge are labelmates and good friends of ours. They groove it down and rip it up hard. Gene and Garrett have a band called Grisly Amputation. They may possibly be the fastest and heaviest band I can think of in Pittsburgh. Plus they have hands-down the coolest name.
6. Any other writing/recording in the works, show plans or closing word you want to mention?
We have a ton of shows coming up in and outside of Pittsburgh. Vulture is also planning on recording new songs for a split with Ohio’s DeathCrawl sometime in the near future. Check us out at facebook.com/vulturedoom for all the latest info.
I’m really excited about Gene and Garrett‘s Grisly Amputation full-length, which should be done very soon. My other band, Reduce to Ash, just laid down guitar tracks for our first full-length. It is going to crush.
Posted in Reviews on May 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
What a difference a couple years can make. Well, a couple years and a new singer, to be more precise about it. In the case of Pittsburgh double-guitar five-piece Vulture, they make the most of both. Three years ago, their 2009 self-titled debut EP (review here) charmed with its stoner-doom blend, hinting of better things to come. Listening now to Vulture’s first full-length, Oblivious to Ruin (Innervenus Music Collective), those original songs offer little in terms of preparation for the nastiness present in the new collection. Seven tracks put to tape and mixed by James Curl at Calfax Alley in Ohio over the course of four days in 2011, Oblivious to Ruin is sludge so nasty I had to check and make sure I wasn’t listening to Sourvein by mistake the first time I put it on. Part of that is new vocalist Justin Erb, who bears some sonic resemblance to Sourvein’s T-Roy Medlin, but even in terms of the grit in the guitar behind him, the viciousness of charge in Gene Fikhman and Garrett Twardesky’s playing, Vulture are in an entirely different league here. More assured of their aesthetic and willing to work their way into and out of various levels of abrasion comfortably, they even go so far as to let a song like “Dead Sea” offers a moment of solace before renewing one of the album’s most searing grooves. Erb is a screamer, and a mean one at that, but he doesn’t fail to bring personality to what he does. Along with Medlin, he seems on the title-track to be nodding at the drunken abandon Matt Pike has worked into some of High on Fire’s slower material over the course of their last couple records, and as the faster riff toward the end of “Coming Storm” basks in an early-Crowbar pummel, he follows suit, taking on a Kirk Windstein cadence with what sounds like natural ease.
Of course, what makes Oblivious to Ruin work is that fact that while these influences play out over the course of its 40 minutes, Vulture are putting them to use in service of a sound that’s their own. Indeed, I’d argue that the album’s greatest achievement is how much Vulture come of age on it – which, even three years after their first and now-nebulous-feeling EP, is an impressive feat on a debut full-length – but don’t let that somehow discount the quality of these songs or the fact that the band achieves what they set out here to do. No doubt Vulture had some of the malevolence found on sample-led opener and longest track “This Beautiful Infection” in mind when they got their start as a band, but the difference between then and now is they have the experience and the component viciousness to make it happen. Bassist Justin Bach and drummer Kelly Gabany underscore each filthy, stinking groove Oblivious to Ruin has to offer, and like a lot of sludge, it’s easy to lose sight of complexity because of superficial abrasiveness. Both the titular cut and “Dead Sea” play out marked changes in approach, and not just those already noted from Erb. Gabany’s toms cut through the morass of distortion excellently on the song “Oblivious to Ruin” and each hi-hat hit is excruciating, but the song gradually shifts to a faster groove and a more open-sounding riff that allows for more interplay between Twardesky and Fikhman before fading out and letting the sudden start of “Dead Sea” take hold, in effect reversing the course of tempo from fast to slow. These don’t sound like big changes, I know – slow to fast, fast to slow – but Vulture do it subtly and confidently, so that it almost happens before you’re aware. “Dead Sea” also has a quiet, guitar-led break after the halfway point that speaks to the band’s growing ability to convey an atmosphere… and then smash it to bits shortly thereafter.
Pittsburgh double-guitar four-piece Sistered hit a powerful stride on their self-released debut full-length, New Sky. They don’t have much of their hometown’s blue collar disaffection to their sound, but there’s something restless and immediate in their material all the same, and their willingness to blend genres so early on into their career speaks of good things to come. If you missed the news yesterday, they’ll be sharing the stage with Sweden‘s Truckfighters on that band’s July US run of dates, and as they’ve already played with the likes of 3 Inches of Blood and Skeletonwitch, I’m obviously not the only one out there impressed.
Which is reasonable, when you consider that the memorable punkish blast of “God Save the Child Brides” comes a mere 24 minutes before the blistering black metal crossover assault of “Midnight Renegade.” Sistered seem to have an ingrained ability to transcend genre confines, and for a band really just getting their start playing together, it’s an accomplishment that the record is cohesive at all, let alone carrying the breadth of its post-rock instrumental title track or the thrashly riffage of “Story of the Witch.”
I reviewed New Sky not too long ago, but I wanted to get more background on Sistered and get some idea of where they were coming from as a band, the conditions under which the professional-sounding album was recorded, and some of the themes they’re working with in terms of musical and lyrical content. Throw in one about Pittsburgh venues and one about what they’ve got coming up next (aside from that Truckfighters show), and it’s an easy Six Dumb Questions.
Sistered is vocalist/guitarist Jesse Meredith, guitarist/vocalist John Dzziuban, bassist Cary Belback and drummer Josh Egan. Dzziuban was kind enough to field the following. Please enjoy.
1. How did Sistered get together? Was there a mission when Sistered got going sound-wise?
We went through a few lineup changes before things solidified. Jesse (vocals/guitar) and Cary (bass) were playing together and Josh (drums) and I had made music for years in various bands. I joined with Jesse and Cary when they wanted to add a lead guitar and we eventually brought Josh into the mix and it was very apparent early on that we had something unique and interesting with a good live swagger.
From the beginning we knew that we wanted to have diversity and the ability to bend and blend genres all while maintaining something that was our own. Every song and every part has pushed our boundaries and made us better musicians individually and better as a unit.
2. How long were you working on New Sky, in terms of the recording? What was the studio time like? The album is very cohesive and natural sounding, but still clear. Did you want anything particular out of the studio experience?
New Sky took around three months to record. I’d begun recording bands around Pittsburgh about a year before we started the record and had gained some pretty good experience in engineering and mixing, and Cary had experience building and working in a local studio, so when it came time to record, it made a lot of sense for us to do it ourselves. The studio was the basement of Josh and his brother’s house, which is conveniently broken up into a couple of different rooms. We built sort of a makeshift studio with a tracking room and a control room and we left it all up until things were pretty much done. We tried to keep things as live and natural as we could and just make a record that sounds how we do when we play shows. I think we achieved that.
3. How does the songwriting process work? Are there multiple songwriters in the band? The songs are very diverse and sound like they could have come from different contributors, but do they?
All of the ideas begin with Jesse. He and I will usually get together on guitars and develop whatever ideas he has and then we’ll take them to practice and we’ll all develop them further and structure them and make changes. It’s very much a group effort, with each of us having input and each of us having a hand in the writing process, but again, they all begin with Jesse. He really is an incredibly talented, diverse writer.
4. Where did “Midnight Renegade” come from, and what are the lyrics about? I can’t make out most of it, but I keep catching “sexuality” repeated.
”Midnight Renegade” is about rejecting the morals and beliefs instilled in us by a religious upbringing and freeing ourselves of that dead weight; casting off the belief that our desires and wants are all wrong and sinful. It begins by saying “I am the Midnight Renegade,” but later says “You are the Midnight Renegade,” a juxtaposition that asks, who is the sinner, the people breaking the rules, or the people making them?
5. Let’s say I’m in a touring band coming to Pittsburgh from out of town. Not much of a draw. Do I want to play 31st St. Pub or The Smiling Moose, and why?
Honestly, they’re both totally sweet! 31st St. is owned by a guy that looks scary as hell, but is actually an awesome dude to work with. It’s a dark, loud bar with a lot of punk and metal history in it.
The Smiling Moose has a nice, big stage in a small room, with a powerful sound system. The sound guy, Sean, is a really good dude that knows what he’s doing. He also has a college radio show that we’ve played a couple of times.
I’d say a touring band should play at one, then come back and play at the other. Seriously, that’s what I see a bunch of touring bands doing.
6. What’s next for Sistered? Any shows coming up or more recordings this year?
Next, we’re gonna tour regionally, playing this record and a bunch of new stuff; we’ve been writing at a pretty furious pace and have more than enough material for another record. So we’ll probably begin recording that later in the year, it’s gonna smash the shit out of the first one.
We’ve already had the privilege of playing with some great bands like Lo-Pan, Skeletonwitch, 3 Inches of Blood, The Ocean and a bunch of others and we have some more coming up with some bands that I love like True Widow and FightAmp.
We’re gonna continue building on the momentum we have right now and see where it takes us.