Various Artists, Planet of Doom: First Contact EP: A Way to Break the Ice

Posted in Reviews on July 5th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

planet of doom first contact ep

The Planet of Doom: First Contact EP is something of a curio from the outset. What it effectively does is to retintroduce The Planet of Doom (discussed here), which is an upcoming animated feature helmed by artists Tim Granda and David Paul Seymour bringing together huge names from the graphics and sonics sides of the heavy underground to tell a story in varying chapters, each with its own designer and each with its own music. As projects go, it is breathtakingly ambitious. A generational work, and understandably, it’s been a few years in the making at this point. Last I heard, a 2019 release was expected, but in order to keep momentum going, keep the movie in the mind of potential viewers/fans, and give a taste of the general aesthetic of the work, The Planet of Doom: First Contact presents four songs in a relatively brief 22 minutes that essentially serve as a sampler of what’s to come.

In order, the release presents tracks from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, who every bit deserve to be the leadoff with “Sword of the Sea,” Italian upstarts Messa, who bring the seven-minute “Serpent Libido,” Sweden’s Vokonis with “Runa” and Northern Ireland’s Slomatics, whose “Jagaer” closes out. They are just four among the likes of Order of the Owl, Phillip Cope (ex-Kylesa), Slow Season, Space Witch, Mother Crone, Granda himself, Ironweed, Destroyer of Light, Ufomammut, Cirith Ungol, Wo Fat, Orchid, Elephant Tree, who will ultimately feature on the finished product, but they’ve obviously been chosen as the first representatives because of the flow between the songs. Often with soundtracks, there’s an issue of sonic incongruity between individual cuts, and reasonably so. Different players, different tones, different recordings, different moods — it should sound different in the end result. With Mos Generator, Messa, Vokonis and Slomatics, though, it’s not an issue.

And not because the bands don’t have their own respective styles, from the pure heavy rock with just a slight darker tinge of Mos Generator through the atmospheric approach of Messa, the brash doomly bombast of Vokonis and Slomatics‘ futuristic engagement, there is enough of a leap between sounds that one would hardly be surprised if The Planet of Doom: First Contact wound up disjointed, but the progression toward Slomatics‘ “Jagaer” is such that from Mos Generator onward, there’s a downward motion brought to bear. We’re not just making First Contact with The Planet of Doom like Jean-Luc Picard showing up with a handshake and a gift basket from the United Federation of Planets — “Try the Alvanian snap peas!” — we’re being brought on a descent below its surface into some lurking subterranean cave, surrounding by an ancient murk and a looming sense of threat as we move deeper through. In that way, “Sword of the Sea” is a perfect lead-in.

the planet of doom first contact vinyl

With guest vocals alongside those of guitarist Tony Reed, the track builds on the moodier spirit of the band’s 2018 album, Shadowlands (review here), with a gradual unfolding that moves by 90 seconds in toward a more rocking tension that lets loose just before two minutes in. A sudden organ-laced break at around 2:20 leads to a section of progressive guitar textures and the aforementioned guest vocal spot, stopping again, this time to complete silence, before crashing out to a big rock finish that brings on Messa. Kind of a curious structure there, and if “Sword of the Sea” was left off Shadowlands — I don’t know that it was recorded during the same session or it wasn’t — that peculiarity might be why. In any case, Messa, who’ve reaped massive acclaim for their 2018 album, Feast for Water (review here), present the longest inclusion on the EP and earn their time well with a blend of ambiance and heft that serves as a distinguishing factor even among other accomplished purveyors of riffly wares. They’ll begin to hit the European festival circuit this Fall, and accordingly fall into the “one to watch” category, but even more than that, they’re one to listen to, since “Serpent Libido” does so well in its moody affect and loud/quiet tradeoffs, moving toward a plodding section that turns suddenly to blastbeats to end and set the stage for the initial roll of Vokonis‘ “Runa.”

The Swedish three-piece’s participation in The Planet of Doom: First Contact could hardly be better timed. They recently signed to The Sign Records and will record their third album in August to follow last year’s resounding The Sunken Djinn (review here). “Runa” was reportedly written specifically for The Planet of Doom, and though what it might have to do with the plot remains a mystery, the riff and crash of the band’s sound is well intact in the sharply delivered five-minute cut. It’s a solid showing of what they do and the individualized edge they’ve taken on developing since getting their start just a few years ago. They’ve become a vital outfit in the Euro underground, and “Runa” shows why in its blend of aggression and nod. They continue to both grow and impress, and while I don’t know if their next record will be out before the end of 2018, they very obviously are actively working to keep moving forward. The sudden collapse at the end of “Runa” gives Slomatics a bed of silence on which to begin the underlying synth of “Jagaer,” which soon enough unveils its tonal lumber and rolling rhythm.

I know there are plenty of heavy bands involved in The Planet of Doom, but Slomatics‘ blend of entrenched narrative, their otherworldly vocal echoes, and their inhuman, post-apocalyptic slow-motion assault from guitarists Chris Couzens and David Marjury and drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey is perfect for the film. “Jagaer” unfolds with patience and weight alike, and continues in the vein of the band’s 2018 split with Mammoth Weed Wizard BastardTotems (review here), to assure that Slomatics are in no way done after wrapping the trilogy story that finished on 2016’s Future Echo Returns (review here). That’s invariably good news to anyone who’d take on The Planet of Doom: First Contact, as their thud-and-swirl methodology wraps by diverting into a momentary wash of feedback and cutting to nothingness. Hints of more to come? One might say that, and as it’s convenient for me to do so, I will. Either way you take it, The Planet of Doom: First Contact augers remarkably well for the rest of the soundtrack when it finally arrives, and speaks to the curated sensibility of the entire proceeding. As samplers go, it is of impeccable quality and only adds to the well justified anticipation for The Planet of Doom itself.

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Six Dumb Questions with Tim Granda of Planet of Doom

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on July 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

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As Riff Lodge Animation was making the first announcements about what its animated film, The Planet of Doom, would entail in the process of partnering different artists and bands with each other to tell an overarching narrative written by David Paul Seymour and animated/directed by Tim Granda, it was obvious it would be a significant undertaking. That has proven to be the case even when one factors in the successful Kickstarter campaign launched to fund the endeavor, and with no fewer than 17 bands and 12 graphic artists locked in to participate — plus more to be announced — it’s an achievement even in the making in terms of the logistics and coordination involved on the part of Seymour and Granda.

The Planet of Doom stands in the tradition of music-driven animated tales like Heavy Metal, telling a tale wound around warriors and revenge and motorcycles in space, and so on. With an accompanying soundtrack set to feature Wo Fat, Orchid, Cirith Ungol, Slomatics, Mos Generator, Elephant Tree, Slow Season, Phillip Cope (ex-Kylesa), Vokonis, Messa, Mother Crone, the just-confirmed Space Witch, as well as Destroyer of Light, Order of the Owl, Ironweed and Granda himself, one anticipates it will lack nothing for heft, and as both Granda and Seymour will design their own chapters along with Skinner, Adam Burke, Alexis Ziritt, Jason Cruz, Burney, Simon Berndt, Brian Profilio, Maarten Donders, Gorgeous George and Forrest Cavacco, there’s no less visual scope involved than audio. It’s a massive, comprehensive project.

Accordingly, it’s going to be a while before it comes together. Still, Granda was kind enough to take some time out recently to discuss where he and Seymour are in the film’s making, how the idea and screenplay came about, some of the details of the plot, what’s involved in bringing bands and artists together, music as a storytelling vehicle and more. You can find the complete Q&A, along with some screen grabs of the work in progress and a test animation of The Planet of Doom‘s opening, below.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

THE PLANET OF DOOM LOGO

Six Dumb Questions with Tim Granda of Riff Lodge Animation & The Planet of Doom

How did The Planet of Doom come about? What inspired you to take up a project of this magnitude? How much was Heavy Metal an inspiration?

When David Paul Seymour left his 9 to 5 job to strike out on his own, I half-jokingly mentioned to him that we now had time to make an animated movie. To my surprise, he was thrilled with the idea, and from there we had many conversations about what we’d like to do. David had written a story a while back that we thought would be perfect to build a film around, and after a few tweaks, like moving the location from Asia to Europe, we were off and running.

The film Heavy Metal was a big inspiration to us. We’ve been huge fans of both the film and magazine ever since we were kids. When the magazine shared the news of our Kickstarter last year we were beyond stoked.

In addition to Heavy Metal, there were a lot of films from that era that made an impression on us. Stuff like Fantastic Planet and Gandahar by René Laloux, and just about everything by Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, American Pop, Wizards). All of these films proved that animation can be more than just kids’ fare. Unfortunately, the medium has become soft and cute again, so it would be awesome if this film could help usher in a new wave of animation aimed at adults.

Tell me about the process of picking and coordinating with different artists to get them involved. Frankly, it sounds like a nightmare from a logistical standpoint. Do different bands require different styles of art?

When we we’re starting out, it was decided that David would come up with a list of bands to reach out to while I’d focus on the artists. There ended up being some crossover, but that’s the general approach we took. The majority of folks we reached out to jumped at the chance to come onboard, and we were thrilled at the level of enthusiasm we were seeing for the project. It all came together really fast, much quicker than David and I anticipated.

Initially, we’d let folks pick the chapter that interested them, but as time went on, we did some reshuffling with the matchups to bring folks together who’d really nail a specific section of the story. Grouping Maarten Donders with Messa was one of them, as was Gorgeous George and Slow Season. In the end, I think we struck a killer balance of calculated moves and “happy accidents,” where a band/artist combo came together by chance that was better than what we could’ve imagined.

Is there an overarching story to the film or is it vignettes? Can you talk about some of what we can expect in terms of plot?

The film is your classic revenge tale, in which our hero, Halvar, sets out to defeat the deadly beast Mördvél for the slaying of his bride. While the roots of this type of story go back to ancient myths and fables, we feel it’s the film’s presentation that will make it unique.

One of the things we loved about Heavy Metal was the format. We really dug how the style of art changed from one sequence to the next, as if you were reading an issue of their magazine. But rather than use a plot device like the “Loc-Nar” to tie a series of unrelated segments together, we wanted to stick to one story that’s split up into a series of chapters, with each being told by a different band and artist.

An idea I had from the start was not to use any dialogue, and instead let the bands tell the story through their lyrics, sharing the task of narrator, more or less. The process generally went like this: each band was given only a brief description of their chapter by David so they’d have the freedom to add to the story as they saw fit. From there, I’d expand upon the lyrics and David’s outline by writing lots of additional scenes in a detailed, shot-by-shot screenplay that’s timed to the music. This would then be passed along to the band’s artist to create a storyboard from.

What issues have you come up against in making the film? How have you dealt with setbacks or these challenges?

Though it’s been a year since the launch of our Kickstarter, we couldn’t start production until we knew we had the funds to pay everybody. After the Kickstarter was successful, bands were given the green light to start writing their original music. As you can imagine, that’s not something that happens overnight. Bands might be touring, or taking some time off, but ultimately, they would all need to find the time to get together and write then book a studio. We also had some bands and artists who bailed, and a few that we had to let go, so that slows down the process too. Ultimately, it all worked out for the best because we couldn’t be more stoked with the talent we have working on the film.

Fortunately, nearly all the music has now been turned in. Screenplays have gone out to their respective artists, and we’ve approved quite a few storyboards from them already. Right now I’m animating the chapter featuring musician Phillip Cope and artist Skinner, and after that I’ll be moving on to David’s and Mos Generator’s. Approved art is coming in all the time so I’ll be jumping from one spot in the film to the next as stuff comes in.

What’s the timeline on completion? How much is left to do?

I’m hoping to have the film done by the end of 2018, which is going to be quite an undertaking since I’m the only animator. The artists in the film are only supplying me with a stack of drawings; they won’t be the ones animating their work. It’s my job to cut up all the art into thousands of pieces and bring it all to life. The process is long and laborious, so while we’re shooting for 2018, it may come in later than that.

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