Posted in Whathaveyou on May 20th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Taking the well-honed darkness of Atriarch‘s 2011 debut, Forever the End(review here), to someplace entirely more goth and dramatic, the 2012 sophomore outing, Ritual of Passing, intrigued both in concept and execution, and found the Portland act discovering their niche within not only their own severely crowded scene, but also the wider sphere of the heavy underground. Released on CD by Profound Lore last October, Ritual of Passing is also out now in vinyl issue through Seventh Rule Recordings, which is the impetus behind the tour. See how everything ties together?
Here’s the info:
ATRIARCH West Coast shows…
5/22 Thee Parkside San Francisco, CA W/ Wild Hunt, Lycus, Caffa 5/23 The Catalyst Atrium Santa Cruz, CA W/ Gloam 5/24 Five Star Bar Los Angeles, CA W/ Lightning Swords of Death, Usnea, Deathkings 5/25 924 Gilman Berkeley, CA W/ Worm Ouroboros, Sutekh Hexen, Gloam 6/5 White Owl Portland, OR
Posted in Reviews on February 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Los Angeles-based cellist Alison Chesley has been releasing albums under the Helen Money moniker since 2007, and in the interim, became something of a staple in Chicago’s formidable heavy underground. Contributing to Yakuza and Russian Circles (among many others) while also following up her self-titled debut with 2009’s excellent In Tune (review here), Chesley returns with her Steve Albini-produced third album, Arriving Angels. The 40-minute mostly-solo full-length also marks her Profound Lore debut (which makes Yakuza among her many labelmates), and features guest contributions from Neurosis/Sleep drummer Jason Roeder on the tracks “Beautiful Friends,” “Radio Recorders,” “Shrapnel” and the closer “Runout,” but though the circumstances of the release has changed and the drums and appearances from jazz pianist Dennis Luxion on “Beautiful Friends” and “Runout” note a shift in approach toward a less singular, cello-based musicality, there’s a lot about Arriving Angels that remains consistent with Chesley’s prior work in/as Helen Money, most notably the evocative atmospherics she creates using the cello and a range of loops and effects. She can be alternately minimalist, as on the Pat Metheny cover “Midwestern Nights Dream” that begins the second half of the tracklist or build layer upon layer to mount a consuming and dynamic swell as on “Upsetter,” filling out the starts and stops of one progression with the higher-register movements of another. All this results in an album varied and progressive, but also working (obviously) around a central musical thematic, that is, the cello itself. There are no vocals, no guitar or bass, no keys other than Luxion’s piano – which admittedly plays a significant role in the closer – and even Roeder’s drums on “Beautiful Friends,” “Radio Recorders” and “Runout” are looped, so Arriving Angels is still very much Chesley’s record, a showcase for what she does with the cello, opening with a full-toned volume swell of drone and foreboding echoes of distortion on “Rift,” which serves as much as an introduction to the album as a track in its own right, patiently developing and then abandoning a build to bring on layers of rhythmic chugging (yes, a cello can chug) that act as a bed for biting leads and complex interplay between the cello and itself.
The song turns vaguely psychedelic with backwards swirls and a devolution back into the droning noise from whence it came, and in its course, it establishes much of Chesley’s modus for the rest of the LP, “Upsetter” opening with creepy repetitions before bursting into jarring avant rhythm – you could call it aptly-titled, since whether it’s the threat of the atmosphere in the first cycle or the unwillingness of the second to let you get ahold of it, something here is probably going to upset you – running through the course twice before the three-minute mark, at which point a higher swell draws the song to what feels like a close, only to have the initial repetition resume as an outro that serves just as much as an introduction to “Beautiful Friends,” which sets clean and distorted lines against each other almost immediately – Chesley showing a bit of Neurosis influence in the distorted march – only to set a start-stop chug to what feels like an extended tom fill from Roeder, both stopping, then starting again. Luxion’s piano comes on as the drummer takes to his ride cymbal, but it’s Chesley that ultimately emerges, first in the right channel, then the left, to draw the cut to its conclusion with a part that, if she took another eight or nine minutes to ride it out to a massive tide of post-doom heaviness with a full band behind her, bass, guitar, drums and keys, I don’t think I’d complain. That, however, isn’t how Arriving Angels runs its course, and “Radio Recorders” begins with sustained notes and drums from Roeder that up the intensity even from what he was doing on the prior cut. I don’t know if that’s a loop (Michael Friedman is credited with programming loops on “Beautiful Friends,” “Radio Recorders” and “Runout”), or if Roeder is playing that part live, but either way, it sounds like a good way to blow out a shoulder. The drums come and go amid effected cello churn and swirls, and massive-sounding distorted line soon makes a bed for a lead that’s melancholic almost to the point of being doomed, the song lulling the listener into a false sense of security only to have Roeder’s drums pick up again and themselves layer to a faded finish.
Posted in Features on December 14th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Putting themselves quickly at the fore of a burgeoning Stateside death-doom revival, Seattle-based duo Bell Witch made their debut in 2011 with a remarkably well-received demo. The initial four-track release (review here) landed with enough of an impact to bring bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond (also of Samothrace) and drummer/vocalist Adrian Guerra (formerly of Sod Hauler) to the attention of tastemaking imprint Profound Lore, which picked them up for the release of the subsequent debut, Longing(review here). Desmond and Guerra, who’d released an album called Mnemosynetogether as part of a heavy psychedelic trio called Lethe (review here), departed those stylistic confines with Bell Witch, opting instead for the dreary drama and far-off melodicism they present on Longing‘s six-track/67-minute sprawl.
It’s a fascinating album for several reasons. Primarily because Desmond and Guerra do so well in alternating between a sense of wide-open space, oppressive tonality and nascent harmonized vocals, but also because of the intricacies they bring to the material, working in defiance of the notion that just because something is slow and open-sounding, it has to be simple all the time. That’s never been true, and as Bell Witch switch between growls and clean-sung arrangements and Desmond taps his six-string bass to emulate a guitar solo, it’s clear that there’s more to the band than just holding out riffs until the sound fades away — though when they do that as well, it works greatly to enhance the atmosphere of Longing, the mood of which has no trouble living up to the title it’s been given.
Perhaps the album’s greatest achievement comes on 13-minute second track “Rows (of Endless Waves),” on which Desmond and Guerra, both contributing to the initial barrage of screams and growls, are joined by Erik Moggridge, known for his Portland, Oregon-based solo-project, Aerial Ruin. As the lumbering fury winds down, Moggridge comes on to top periodic rhythm lines and higher-register bass notes with folkish verses that don’t necessarily depart from the darkness of the rest of the full-length, but provide complexity and depth to what that darkness means on a sonic level. At 9:35, bolstered by colossal instrumental swell, Moggridge leads a defiant recitation of vaguely Celtic-derived sway, and from the standpoint of melody and emotional resonance, it’s as rich as Longinggets, begging in its last minute to be sung along to as the waves of destruction mentioned in the lyrics seem to be crashing all around the final moaning vocalizations.
The inclusion and expansion of “Beneath the Mask” and “I Wait” from the demo was a launch point for the conversation, but there was much more than just that I wanted to discuss with Desmond, including the differences between recording with Bell Witch and with Samothrace — whose 2012 outing, Reverence to Stone(review here), was among the year’s most exciting albums, on recording Longingand what other than those two tracks they wanted to bring to their first album, on the use of melody and how it might continue to develop on their next batch of material, which Desmond reveals is already in progress. Choosing his words carefully, the bassist talked openly about all these and more.
Please find the complete 3,200-word Q&A after the jump, and please enjoy:
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Still thoroughly under-appreciated after issuing two excellent albums — 2009′s In Tune (review here) and a self-titled debut in 2007 — through her own Cellobird Records, Chicago cellist Helen Money (née Alison Chesley) will make her debut on Profound Lore in February with the forthcoming Arriving Angels. Chesley (interview here) has contributed to records by Yakuza and Russian Circles and is a great fit for the label, as she manages to craft with equal ease dense atmospheres or open spaces with just the single instrument.
The new album was recorded, as you can see in the headline, but Steve Albini and drummer Jason Roeder of Neurosis and Sleep also makes an appearance. Here’s the full story off the PR wire:
Steve Albini Recorded And Mixed New Helen Money Album, Arriving Angels
Out On Profound Lore Records February 5th, 2013
The new Helen Money album, Arriving Angels, recorded and mixed by Steve Albini, a long time fan and supporter, will be released on Profound Lore Records February 5th, 2013. National tour dates will be announced soon. Helen Money just completed All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP) ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ shows in Camber Sands, England (curated by Shellac).
Arriving Angels, was recorded and mixed in May and September 2012 by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio and features drummer Jason Roeder (Neurosis, Sleep). Cellist/composer Alison Chesley, a.k.a. Helen Money, merges her classical training with a lifelong affinity for punk rock and a taste for heavy metal. In addition to her own material Chesley has also performed and/or directed string arrangements for artists like Anthrax (Worship Music), Russian Circles (Geneva), Broken Social Scene (Forgiveness Rock Record) and current labelmates, Yakuza. For her previous album, In Tune, she worked with Greg Norman (Pelican, Russian Circles, Neurosis), Sanford Parker (Pelican, Chris Connelly, Yakuza, Buried at Sea) and experimental, avant-garde label, Table of the Elements, who released the album in 2009.
“Arriving Angels means a lot to me for so many reasons,” Chesley explains. “It’s a culmination of two years of continuing to explore ideas with my instrument and effects – expressing a lot of changes in my life. Being able to work with Steve — someone I’ve toured with repeatedly over the past few years, and who was able to help me fully realize what I wanted to achieve with my music on this record — was very gratifying.”
The eight tracks on Arriving Angels are: 1. “Rift,” 2. “Upsetter,” 3. “Beautiful Friends,” 4. “Radio Recorders,” 5. “Midwestern Nights Dream (Metheny),” 6. “Arriving Angels,” 7. “Shrapnel” and 8. “Runout.” The music is performed by Alison Chesley on cello. In addition Jason Roeder (Neurosis, Sleep) plays drums on tracks 3, 4, 7 and 8; Dennis Luxion plays piano on tracks 3 and 8; Michael Friedman programmed drum loops for tracks 3, 4, and 8. Tour dates are pending and Chesley will perform most shows solo, but hopes to do some dates with a pianist and/or drummer.
Asked to cite her influences Chesley’s list of artists include The Who, Bob Mould, Steve Reich, Glenn Branca, Roger Williams (Mission of Burma), Neurosis, Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, adding “anything dark, powerful, beautiful, with lots of heart.” Chicago Tribune wrote “Alison Chesley brings her classical training on cello into realms occupied by heavy metal extremists and guitar deities.” The Onion opines “Using guitar effects pedals she crafts songs that veer from ethereal to downright ominous.”
In 2011 Helen Money was chosen by Portishead to perform at the ATP ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ and toured with Joe Lally (FUGAZI) as both support and performing in his band nightly. In addition to supporting Shellac on tour in 2012, Helen Money has shared bills with Earth, Nina Nastasia, The Bad Plus, KTL and Hunn Huur Tu. With her previous band, Verbow, she opened for Frank Black, Bob Mould, Counting Crows, Live, Morrissey, Liz Phair and Brad with Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam. Verbow toured nationally for seven years.
Posted in Reviews on November 13th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
After a well-received 2011 demo, Seattle bass/drum duo Bell Witch make their full-length debut via Profound Lore with the 67-minute Longing, an album as much about atmospheric weight as catastrophic low end. Bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond some will recognize as a founding member of Samothrace, whose 2012 LP Reverence to Stone (review here) was thrillingly heavy, or perhaps the underrated Lethe instrumental outfit, who released their only album to date in the form of 2009’s Mnemosyne (review here). In Bell Witch, Desmond is joined on drums and vocals by Adrian Guerra, and the pair manage to move with striking fluidity between sections that sound full and gut-twistingly heavy and sparse, ambient minimalist parts that seem to stretch sonically even farther than the runtimes of the songs themselves. No easy feat, that. Longing opens with its longest track (immediate points), the 20-minute “Bails (of Flesh),” but even so, three of the other five on the album top 12 minutes. But for the opener, nothing stretches past the 18 minutes of “Mayknow” from the demo (review here), but neither “Rows (of Endless Waves)” (13:02), nor “Longing (The River of Ash)” (12:06) are lacking for sprawl, and at 5:54, “Beneath the Mask” is essentially a filled-out version of what served as the demo intro, that track and the following “I Wait” (12:25) having also appeared there, and closer “Outro” follows with 3:27 more of atmospheric soundscaping. Perhaps the most notable point of growth between the demo and Longing lies in the vocals, which Desmond and Guerra execute in contrasts of extreme funeral doom growls and sad clean singing that adds mournful melodies to the band’s carefully constructed lumber, and particularly in the case of the late-track apex of “Rows (of Endless Waves)” sets Bell Witch on a course of emotional resonance similar to that which has brought the likes of 40 Watt Sun and Pallbearer (more closely related to the former, sonically speaking) such success over the last couple years. That’s not to say Bell Witch are aiming at the same kind of appeal – that’s really just a part of what they do – but their doom is modern in the sense of not feeling a need to cloak its sadness or titular longing in anything other than tonal thickness or impossibly slow tempos.
Being a duo works to Bell Witch’s advantage. At no point in the album does there seem to be a lack of presence where one isn’t intended. Longing, like Samothrace’s Reverence to Stone, was recorded by Brandon Fitzsimons, and Desmond’s tone remains consistent through these songs as it was on that record – rich and encompassing. But though “Bails (of Flesh)” opens quietly with an underlying rumble, at no point does there seem to be anything missing, most especially guitar, which if you asked me, I’d swear the first track has. Overtop of the grueling plod, there’s a solo, and it could be Desmond running his bass through an effects loop and layering in the recording, or it could be someone picked up a guitar, I suppose anything’s possible. In any case, Guerra does an excellent job holding the slower pace together as he does throughout the whole of the album, and when the vocals kick in just past the five-minute mark on the CD, they roar. I mean it. The growl is forward in the mix without wholly dominating it, but it is animalistic and terrifyingly well done. There are some who decry abrasive vocals outright – I’m not one of them. With a record like Longing, how it’s said counts almost as much as what’s being said, and lyrics like, “Hate for will/My grief will be avenged” are all the more foreboding for the indecipherable brutality of their presentation. Instrumentally, on the first track it’s the drawn out lead lines that carry across the emotionality until a midsection break touches on some clean vocals – not quite to the same level as “Rows (of Endless Waves),” but along the same lines – before the massive lumber resumes at 15:28 and the song begins its long march into oblivion, the growls returning to lead the way out and into the beginning of “Rows (of Endless Waves)” which is bombastic in comparison, a barrage of drums from Guerra meeting with the bass riffing and vicious screams and growls. For the first minute or so, it is unbearably heavy, but gradually, the song emerges, and by the time three minutes have passed, Bell Witch have gracefully shifted into minimalist pastoralia, beginning the build that will encompass the remaining 10 minutes of the track.
Posted in Reviews on October 25th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Beyul is the second Yakuza album to be released via Profound Lore. The continually underrated Chicago-based four-piece issued Of Seismic Consequence (review here) in 2010, and in that time, not much superficial has changed. Vocalist Bruce Lamont continues to lead the way with his warnings of the consequences of excess and his saxophone, guitarist Matt McClelland, bassist Ivan Cruz and drummer James Staffel doing a more than able job in keeping up and at times setting the course for Yakuza’s post-metallic shifts between ambient spaces and grinding aural crush. Once again, Sanford Parker helmed as producer as he has since sharing those duties with Matt Bayles on 2006’s Prosthetic Records debut, Samsara, and as with the ensuing Transmutations (2007, also Prosthetic) and Of Seismic Consequence, the pairing works well and to the advantage of the material. Hell, cellist Alison “Helen Money” Chesley even returns for a guest appearance on three of Beyul’s tracks, so if you were thinking their sixth albummight be some radical departure from the successful blend of progressive metal, ambient hum and jazz textures Yakuza was able to accomplish on Of Seismic Consequence – to be blunt – it ain’t. What Beyul is, however, is not only a logical extension of the ideas the band presented the last time around, but a tighter performance, with burgeoning melodic breadth to complement the stylistic freedom that seems to have always been at their core. Of progress, they continue to make a rolling stone, but how they’re doing that has changed. Perhaps the most notable difference between Beyul and its predecessor – again, superficially – is its length, which has dropped from a heady 51:55 to a vinyl-ready 38:46, and the adoption of a structure as well that feels suited to the LP form, a split perceivable between the two longest tracks, highlight cut “Man is Machine” (8:29), and the following “Fire Temple and Beyond” (9:55). If there are plans for a vinyl release, I don’t know, but even on a CD, Beyul seems to be driving toward that form, the last four of the album’s total seven tracks pushing further into the blistering avant garde – by now long since familiar territory for Yakuza.
With the most diverse and engaging vocal performance of his career fronting the band, Lamont remains a focal point throughout Beyul, developing the range he began to establish last time out and reserving a harsher approach for the penultimate thrasher “Species” (1:26), the mounting chaos of which serves as a release for much of the tension the album has built to that point. Earlier tracks like “On the Last Day” or the opener “Oil and Water” meld post-metal tribal-style rhythms with varying degrees of memorability in songwriting. Rabidly percussed, “Oil and Water” nonetheless has a chorus, and not a weak one, but coupled with the intensity of the initial churn, the two competing sides feel almost like the title, and even when they offer some release for the tension around 1:45, and screaming lead guitars pave the way for effective echoing vocals, the insistent thud is shortly to resume. If Yakuza had meant to write a catchy pop song, it might be an issue, but to date, that’s never been their aim. The thrashing riff they seem to be ending with gives way to one last chorus, and “On the Last Day” continues the push into maelstrom, offsetting with sax-led jazz ambience. Chesley guests here, as on “Man is Machine” and “Fire Temple and Beyond,” which follow in succession, and Angela Mullenhour and Tim Remus also contribute to “On the Last Day,” resulting in a kind of orchestral experimentation that’s met with multiple layers of vocals. In the heavier parts – because, despite effective contrast, that’s what they are – the line “Deny it all” is a sustained standout from Lamont, and that sets up the expectation for more of a chorus, which “Man is Machine” delivers after an initial plod and washes of low end wipe the slate clean from the pummeling opening duo. For guest spots, Mars Williams and Dave Rempis join Chesley and Mullenhour, and of course Lamont, McClelland, Cruz and Staffel as well, on “Man is Machine,” giving the song even more of a sense of culmination. Nonetheless, it’s the song that stands itself out, the repetition of “The body distorting the mind” following a faster cadence that reminds curiously of early ‘90s Primus before they cycle back into the lumbering verse.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 4th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
After seeing them back in June in Brooklyn at ye olde Saint Vitus bar, I’m glad to see it’s not too long before Portland, Oregon, doomly doomy doomers Witch Mountain will be returning to the road. They seemed to be so darn good at it, and Cauldron of the Wild(review here) was killer. The band has teamed up with Scion A/V and will be spreading the tale of Lanky Rae far and wide.
Hearken to the PR wire and receive such wisdom:
WITCH MOUNTAIN Announce North American Fall Tour
WITCH MOUNTAIN have received high marks from everyone in metal’s underground after awaking from their nearly 10-year hibernation. During this period, the band also added the extraordinary Uta Plotkin to the ranks and created one of the most impressive doom records of the year, ‘Cauldron of the Wild’ (Profound Lore). The band also took part in their first full North American tour and made an appearance at this year’s Scion Rock Fest.
Now, WITCH MOUNTAIN is back in action and has teamed with Scion A/V to plot a massive North American trek alongside Prosthetic Records’ new doom three piece CASTLE. The tour will kick-off in Portland on October 11th and run all the way through to another Portland show on November 18th.
10/11 – Portland, OR @ Plan B (w/Rabbits) 10/12 - Vancouver, BC @ Interuban Gallery 10/13 – Seattle, WA @ Highline 10/14 – Moscow, ID @ Prichard Gallery 10/15 – Boise, ID @ Shredder 10/16 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Bard Deluxe (w/SUBROSA) 10/19 – St. Paul @ Turf Club 10/21 – Madison, WI @ High Noon 10/22 – Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle 10/23 – Cleveland, OH @ Now That’s Class 10/24 – Rochester, NY @ Bug Jar 10/25 – Toronto, ON @ Wreck Room 10/26 – Hamilton, ON @ Corktown Pub 10/27 – Ottawa, ON @ Café Dekcuf 10/28 – Montreal, PQ @ Katacombes 10/29 – Burlington, VT @ Nectars 10/30 – Boston, MA @ Great Scott 10/31 – New Haven, CT @ BAR 11/02 – Brooklyn, NY @ Saint Vitus 11/03 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s 11/04 – Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter 11/05 – Asheville, NC @ Static Age Records 11/06 – Knoxville, TN @ Pilot Light 11/08 – Birmingham, AL @ Bottletree 11/09 – New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jack’s 11/10 – Austin, TX @ Red 7 11/12 – Phoenix, AZ @ Yucca Tap 11/13 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah 11/14 – Fullerton, CA @ Slidebar (w/Ides Of Gemini) 11/15 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Catalyst Atrium 11/16 – San Francisco, CA @ Parkside 11/17 – Arcata, CA @ Alibi 11/18 – Portland, OR @ Ash St Saloon (w/Lord Dying)
Posted in Reviews on August 27th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Now in their 18th year (20th if you count their beginnings as Funereus), Lyndhurst, New Jersey, death/doom outfit Evoken remain both an anomaly in their surroundings and crushing in both their sonics and their atmospherics. Their new album, Atra Mors, is their first since 2007’s A Caress of the Void and marks their debut on Profound Lore, following a 2010 I Hate Records split with Beneath the Frozen Soil (review here). For anyone who has never encountered the band before, they are unrelenting in their doomed miseries. The music, even when it moves fast, is lurching, lumbering under the weight of its enveloping sadness. We think of this sound now as classic, and Evoken’s work within it is a part of the reason why. Death/doom acts are few and far between on the East Coast (believe me), but though Evoken were preceded by the likes of Winter, the fact that original members John Paradiso (vocals, guitar) and Vince Verkay (drums) have been able to stick it out through the years and ensuing trends while remaining loyal to the band’s original mission – not without expanding the creative scope – has led to a growing respect for what they do that Atra Mors can only further. The album itself is eight tracks and 67 minutes, broken down so that pairs of extended tracks are broken up by interludes that presumably are meant to allow the listener a chance to catch their breath before being submerged again in Evoken’s wrenching abysmal churn. A look at the tracklisting makes the structure clear:
1. Atra Mors (11:54)
2. Descent into Chaotic Dream (11:14)
3. A Tenebrous Vision (2:19)
4. Grim Eloquence (9:40)
5. An Extrinsic Divide (10:11)
6. Requies Aeterna (1:59)
7. The Unechoing Dread (9:47)
8. Into Aphotic Devastation (10:07)
Both of the interludes – “A Tenebrous Vision” and “Requies Aeterna” – are instrumental, ambient works that serve to further the bleak dreariness of the mood and bridge groups of longer cuts. Their effectiveness in this regard proves them all the more necessary. At a total 67 minutes, Atra Mors is encompassing on a level that, frankly, is surprising.
With extensive keyboard work from Don Zaros featured alongside Paradiso and Chris Molinari’s guitars, Evoken’s reveling in pomposity is writ large across Atra Mors, and whether it’s the strings on “Requies Aeterna” or the sustained ringing notes of the opening title-track, they’re responsible for much of the album’s melodic underpinning. While Paradiso keeps his vocals either to low, deathly growls or spoken word-type recitations, Zaros’ keys give the material a richness that adds complexity to the overarching darkness of the songs. He drops out periodically to enhance the drama – doing as much through silence as he does with his instrument – but there’s no question Atra Mors couldn’t be nearly as successful as it is in conveying its wretchedness without him. That’s not to say the guitars are entirely lacking melodic flourish, but in kind with David Wagner’s bass, they’re so entrenched in low end as to barely let light escape. The keys are understated at times, but their contrast to the rest of the music – and how well that contrast is ingrained in the overall sound of the album – is essential. That’s no less true as the drudgery of “Descent into Chaotic Dream” gives way after seven minutes in to a release in the tension of true death metal groove, complete with double-kick from Verkay and a head-down chug to match. As I said, even fast, Evoken sound slow, but they move between the death and the doom in their death/doom with marked fluidity, breaking suddenly at 8:50 to an open-spaced guitar line that leads back to the lumbering dirge of the song’s beginnings, which is topped with one of the album’s best and most emotionally visceral guitar solos – echoing tones playing out an ethereal blues that soon gives way to the no-less-mournful piano warble of “A Tenebrous Vision.” Either I’m imagining things (possible), or there’s an effect on there to make Zaros’ lines sound like they were recorded 100 years ago. It’s not fake crackle, but there’s something there, severe and older.
Posted in Reviews on July 13th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
As anyone who’s ever dealt with it either themselves or through a loved one knows, there’s a huge difference between sadness and depression. Real, clinical depression isn’t just about being miserable. There’s a physical, chemical response that takes place in the body, and it’s not just manifested in someone’s mood, but their every bit of perspective is tainted by it. The world feels like standing in a room full of boxes and all of them are labeled in block letters: NO. Embracing the Lightless Depths (Profound Lore), the second album from Portland, Oregon, death-doomers Aldebaran, is similarly minded, such that even the three shorter ambient “Occultation” pieces that surround the two massive slabs which form the crux of the album sound entrenched in an overarching and overwhelming negativity. Even where there are no drums, there is plod. Their second full-length following 2007’s Dwellers in Twilight, splits with Zoroaster and Unearthly Trance and last year’s single-song Buried Beneath Aeons EP (there were other splits before the first album as well, with Sod Hauler and Rue), Embracing the Lightless Depths pulls Aldebaran into a Lovecraftian void of which, if the title is to be believed, the band are well aware. Topping out at 66 minutes, the album is a terror unto itself, structurally fascinating and unrepentantly challenging: a test that most listeners will likely fail. It’s hard to sit through front to back, and that’s obviously the band’s intent – the alienation as mirror of the alienated.
Longer songs “Forever in the Dream of Death” (24:58) and “Sentinel of a Sunless Abyss” (29:38) – were it not for opener “Occultation of Hali’s Gates,” I might think Aldebaran had shunned the possessive form altogether, so many “of”s show up in their titles – emerge from out of ambient murk and are never quite separate from it. Vocals, handled alternately by guitarist Todd Janeczek, bassist Josh Banke and drummer Tim Call (also of labelmates The Howling Wind) are growls exclusively, which only adds to the overall inaccessibility of their approach, though the guitars of Janeczek and Kody Keyworth (also of the live incarnation of Wolves in the Throne Room) show an immediate penchant for carrying a melody. They do so on “Occultation of Hali’s Gates” (3:22), which starts Embracing the Lightless Depths quietly, setting the atmosphere in which “Forever in the Dream of Death” lurches forth. Chiefly, the first of the album’s two longer pieces is immersive. You hear it less than it inflicts itself on you. Call stands up to the difficult task of giving the song some kind of ground and pace – without him, you’d almost believe it didn’t have one – and the mood remains consuming in its darkness for the duration. Shortly before 16 minutes in, the guitars guide the way through a softer, whisper-vocal section, but the pummel resumes soon enough, and though the guitar leads in the final minutes might lead one to think there’s some kind of hope – ever, at all – that too is swallowed in the low monstrousness of the distorted finish.
Posted in Reviews on June 22nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
If you have any doubt that cred-heavy Portland doomers Witch Mountain put a ton of thought into what they do, just look at the title of their third album, Cauldron of the Wild. Their first for Profound Lore following a CD issue of last year’s excellent South of Salem, the album’s pun-tacular name encapsulates the two sides of the band’s moniker perfectly – “cauldron” for “witch” and “the wild” for “mountain.” That kind of symmetry can be found in the foursome’s sound as well on the vinyl-ready 45-minute album, which balances blues and doom to varying measures and is comprised of six Billy Anderson-produced tracks. The songs themselves aren’t immediately memorable – that is, they’re not cloying at catchiness; the music is more patient than that – but after two or three listens, they begin to stay with you, over time proving more and more indispensable. South of Salem had a similar effect on repeat visits, and naturally with so little time passed and Anderson’s production in common, there are going to be a lot of similarities between the two albums, but Cauldron of the Wild is fuller in Rob Wrong’s guitar tone, more assured rhythmically, and powerful vocalist Uta Plotkin sounds more comfortable and more confident in her performance. Where on songs like “Plastic Cage” from the previous release, she followed the riff and matched her meter to bassist David Hoopaugh – since replaced by Neal Munson – and drummer Nathan Carson (interview here), here even more straightforward tracks like “Beekeeper” and “Veil of the Forgotten” find her veering some in cadence and setting her own course of melody. That level of development serves to underscore Plotkin’s remarkable talent vocally. She sounds trained, if she isn’t, and even though both of those songs (the two shortest on Cauldron of the Wild at 5:30 and 5:29, respectively) feature a kind of gurgling growl to offset her bluesier melodic approach – similar to that of “End Game” from the last album – that doesn’t take away at all from the force of her delivery, which I almost can’t help but compare to fellow Pacific Northwesters Heart.
Likewise, effectively arranged layering on mid-album highlight “Shelter” makes that song a standout on the tracklist, but it’s important to note that even more so than on South of Salem, the focus of Cauldron of the Wild isn’t solely the vocals. Wrong injects smoking “blink and you’ll miss ‘em” leads into opener “The Ballad of Lanky Rae,” emphasizing the song’s bluesy stomp – righteously punctuated by Carson’s hi-hat/snare and rumbled along by Munson’s bass – and his lumbering riff sets the tone for the varying balance of doom and blues that endures on the rest of the tracks as Plotkin fittingly toys with the tradition of blues balladry in the song’s lyrics. The tale of a girl who goes in search of her demon father and finds him raising hell in Hell is fairly emblematic of how Witch Mountain approaches blues in general, mining tropes and skillfully blending them with elements out of ye olde metal to create a brew almost entirely their own. “Beekeeper” retains some of that bluesiness, but is fuller in the guitar – Wrong even throws in a pinch-harmonic squeal or two – and Plotkin’s approach when she’s not growling the chorus is grander and decidedly more metal. Munson proves to adaptable to either side of the band, and for his first record with Witch Mountain, he fits remarkably well into the fold of Cauldron of the Wild, mostly following but not necessarily limited to Wrong’s guitar lines. He stands out more on the quieter, airier and more soulful parts, making each note of the weighted-down chorus of “Shelter” count double for its spareness. The layering Plotkin works into her vocals has already been mentioned, but it’s worth noting again that both in the earlier choruses and the faster second half of the song she’s reaching toward epic with markedly dangerous intent.
Posted in audiObelisk on June 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Of all the discs I picked up on my recent excursion to the Middled West, in stores or at merch tables, none so far (and I had about 15 hours in the car to listen) has made the same kind of impression as the three-song Demo 2012 by Indianapolis doomers Apostle of Solitude. Perhaps it was seeing two out of three of the tracks live first and their having made such an impression that way and then following that up with the CD, but whatever it is, that was some of the best cash I spent on the whole trip, and don’t tell The Patient Mrs., but I spent a bit.
Somewhere in the depths of rural Michigan, as I put on “Blackest of Times,” I recognized the song immediately. If you ever wanted to know what kind of impact low end at its best can have on trad doom, listen to when “Iron” Bob Fouts kicks in on the leadoff cut on Demo 2012. Together with drummer Corey Webb, Fouts promulgates an insistence of groove that’s both classic and definitively modern in its style, and at the same time, the integration of guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak alongside Chuck Brown has both pushed Brown more to the fore as a singer and presented an avenue by which the melodic complexity of the band can develop.
To wit, “Die Vicar Die,” a song that’s as catchy as anything in Apostle of Solitude‘s still-budding catalog — yes, even “The Messenger” or “Hunter Sick Rapture” — also finds room in its near eight minutes for a ranging instrumental break that lets Brown and Janiak explore guitar interplay no less lyrical than ultra-fitting and ultra-doomed early verse lines like, “How could a righteous god/Forgive a monster like me,” simultaneously expanding on the galloping riff-led finish of “Blackest of Times.” Demo closer “Good Riddance” is the shortest of the three tracks at 5:59, and also built around a strong chorus, a chugging riff straight out of classic metal driving home the growth of the band without sounding like a put-on or over the top.
“Good Riddance” cuts off right at the end — that’s how it is on my disc, from which these tracks were directly ripped — and it’s important to keep in mind that Demo 2012 is just that; a demo. The performances are live-sounding and I don’t think it’s mastered, but from where I sit it gives an excellent impression of where the band is headed for their next full-length.
Check it out right here:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
For more on Apostle of Solitude, you can see the interview I did with Brown following the release of their second full-length and Profound Lore debut, 2010′s Last Sunrise, also reviewed here. Or you can just hit them up on Thee Facebooks. Either way. Special thanks to the band for the permission to feature the songs.
Posted in Reviews on May 21st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
The day before the show, which was Friday, I’d left work early and gone with The Patient Mrs. to Connecticut to see her grandmother, who’d cracked her sternum in a car accident. Grandma was sore but okay, so we went up, did chores, did some grocery shopping, ultimately had a nice dinner out at a place that has Palm on tap — which is about the only condition ever needed to meet my approval — and crashed up that way for the night. Still, even with the drive back to Jersey beforehand, I got to the St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn earlier than I needed to be there to catch Pallbearer and Loss, and much standing around ensued.
Fundamentally, I am an awkward person. I speak like I write (actually, I think it was the speaking that came first, but why quibble on timing?), and I flat-out suck at meeting people I haven’t already met four times over. This can make things like standing around or, say, existing, kind of rough. Nonetheless, I flopped myself here and there until a few friends showed up and I didn’t have to feel anymore like the whole world was in on a joke I just didn’t get. I ran out for a bit but came back in time for the place, which normally divides its front and back rooms but for this show was open the whole way, to be totally packed out up. I elbowed my way up front to get some pictures as Pallbearer got going and once again wondered what happened that this kind of music draws people now.
Pallbearer — whose Profound Lore debut, Sorrow and Extinction (review here), will undoubtedly be one of 2012′s doomed highlights when the year is over — were the band I was there to see. A noise act called Sewer Goddess had opened, and Loss was playing after, which was probably a mistake considering the bands’ respective pulls, but I wanted to see if Pallbearer could capture the same sense of underlying melody live that they brought to the record, play out the same kind of emotionally wrought atmosphere while still pummeling with volume and tonal heft, building hope and crushing it almost simultaneously.
In short, the Arkansas foursome did precisely that, their Emperor cabinets vibrating from the punishment they were charged to convey on the crowded room. They were less outright emotional than, say, 40 Watt Sun at Roadburn, but running a more modern American vibe along a similar wavelength — the tone, as on Sorrow and Extinction — as prevalent as the mood, though no less voluminous. Their songs, extended and excruciating, were surprisingly engaging and immediately recognizable, and kept grounded by drummer Chuck Schaaf (also of Deadbird) and bassist Joseph D. Rowland (interview here), the riffs had all the room to breath — at least sonically; that room was pretty crowded — they could ever ask for.
Awash in downtrodden melody and the beer that I’d been carrying that spilled directly in my beard after I took an unseen elbow up front toward the stage, I made my way to the back bar, to replenish and get a change of vantage. I was talking to Steve Murphy from Kings Destroy about I don’t even remember what and the dude standing behind him, whose name wound up being Bill asked if I was the guy who ran this site. Whether it was the camera bag, my gut, sandals or the fact that I was bitching about being surrounded by humanity that tipped him off, I don’t know, but I said I was me (which I was) and he asked me, “Do you know Gina Brooks?”
I’ve talked about Rock and Roll Gina a couple times in this space, mostly in the context of awesome music she recommended I check out. She had lung cancer and died this past December. It was hard to take. I’ve missed seeing her out at shows. I’d been thinking of her at this one only moments earlier, and here was someone asking me “Do I know her” and not even, “Did I know her.” He didn’t know she had died. So I told him. Pallbearer were still playing, and that was pretty heavy, but this was heavier.
We shot the shit for a couple minutes about Gina, and he said he’d been trying to get in touch with her but hadn’t heard back in a long time and feared the worst. The language of death is always the same. I missed her right then more than I missed her at her memorial service, and though I’d heard Pallbearer were doing a secret show later at TheAcheron and I would’ve relished the chance to see them in front of what would almost certainly be fewer people, I pretty much knew then and there my night was over and it was time to sound my retreat back to Jersey, stew in it for a while, and crash out.
So that’s what I did. I stayed through the end of Pallbearer and waited while Loss set up their gear and got going. I went up front, took a few quick pictures of them — the room had thinned out a bunch, so moving through was easier, but there were still plenty of heads around — but honestly, I wasn’t even hearing the music at that point. My head was somewhere else entirely, and when I left, they were maybe two songs into their set. I just couldn’t do it anymore, and moreover, I didn’t see any need to try. Brooklyn is Brooklyn whether I’m there or not. I’m sure Pallbearer killed at The Acheron. Even though I knew it was the exact opposite of anything Gina would want, I couldn’t stay. There’s a reason we admire the people we admire. They’re better than we are.
I cried most of the 90 minutes home, turned off the radio and just started shouting at nothing, at myself, I guess, for being alive and whatever else. A long string of impotent curses. I was half-drunk. I’d collect myself, feel like I had it together and then bust out again, tears and yelling. I pulled into my office, which is on the way from the Lincoln Tunnel, and went in and sat for a while, ate the last of the antacids in my desk, drank some water, thought about sleeping here, thought about writing, tried to call The Patient Mrs. to ask her to come pick me up but couldn’t get through.
After a while, I got back in my car and drove home, tried to eat, but ended up just going to bed. Sunday was better.
Extra pics after the jump. The lighting at St. Vitus Bar was less than optimal, as always, so I made the pictures black and white just because I thought they worked better that way this time around. Thanks for reading.
Posted in Reviews on May 9th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Though any collaboration is a tricky prospect, whether it’s forming a band or building a Lego spaceship, the recent album Bless Them that Curse You by the combined ambient conglomeration Locrian & Mammifer almost couldn’t help but be cohesive. Its component parts – namely Chicago noise/drone trio Locrian and the Washington-based Mammifer, which features in its lineup Faith Coloccia, formerly of Everlovely Lightningheart and Aaron Turner, formerly of Isis, among others – both present clear ideas as a part of the mostly-instrumental six-track offering, and with recording by Greg Norman at Electrical Audio in Chicago, Turner himself at his own House of Low Culture, and overdubs done by Randall Dunn, who also mixed, Bless Them that Curse You, though complex, was bound to come out making sense on its own level one way or another, whether it was via the experience of the players involved or those at the helm. Certainly the total-eight-piece band have enough of a résumé between them when it comes to crafting a mood through ambient noise and drones. Locrian have amassed a considerable discography of cassettes and CDs over the last several years (when one works on improvisational soundscaping, one can be prolific), the two acts toured together, and Mammifer released the album Mare Decendrii through their own SIGE Records, who also seem to have handled some part of the Bless Them that Curse You release, along with Locrian’s label, Utech and Profound Lore. Complicated but inevitable, and it seems the same applies to the album itself, which begins with the nine-minute “In Fulminic Blaze,” one of the few songs to have either drums or vocals and arguably the closest to accessible that Bless Them that Curse You gets.
Still, that’s not all that close. Like a lot of Bless Them that Curse You, “In Fulminic Blaze” rattles and hums a kind of pagan chant, but it’s the additional melody provided by echoing acoustic guitars – whether from Locrian’s André Foisy or Turner, I don’t know – that gives the track its ground, though thunder-rumbling drums don’t hurt in that regard either. A semi-tribal rhythm ensues, subtly enacting a build that really takes hold in the final third of the track, when the drums come more forward in the mix and a more straightforward progression takes hold. Locrian’s Terence Hannum (synth, mellotron, effects and vocals) has far back wailing that are in fact lyrics, but they’re hardly discernable as such and more fade into the overall tapestry than stand out or act as a verse in the traditional sense. From the opener, a set of four circa-six-minute instrumental pieces ensues that alternates between barely-there minimalism and ringing drones. The title-track, which follows the opener, is something of a combination of both, but if the build in “In Fulminic Blaze” was subtle, that of “Bless Them that Curse You” is like a round-topped hill in the distance. The synth and samples – Coloccia and Alex Barrett contributing from Mammifer and Hannum and drummer Steven Hess from Locrian (if indeed they’re all doing so here) – reach an apex, but do so smoothly, without a crash. You’d only know you’ve reached the top of that hill because of some ringing electric guitar notes that top the soundscape – it could be Turner, but that might be me reading past Isis-isms into it – but they’re gone as quickly as they came, and the zither-sounding acoustics/tack piano of “Corpus Luteum” feel driven by a different impulse. Coloccia herself handles the honky-tonk, but the effect is minimal and the tones as grey as the artwork she put together for the album. “Second Burial” feels less organic and more noise-based, but the percussion still gives it more ground than the title cut, and bass rumble adds effectively to the sense of mechanized foreboding.
Posted in Features on March 2nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Amid a slew of hyperbolic reviews and proclamations of their ascendency, Little Rock, Arkansas, traditional doomers Pallbearer seem content to let the music do the talking. Fitting, since that’s what got them there in the first place. The follow-up full-length after a well-received 2010 demo, Sorrow and Extinction, makes its way to the masses caked in semi-psych tonality and riffy churn, copping olde melodies from out of the doomly ether and crafting a five-track journey through distinct emotionality.
They are one of several strong acts in an apparently formative trad doom revival, and if Sorrow and Extinction proves anything — other than the quality of the four-piece’s songwriting — it proves that there’s still fire in the tenets of the genre, still new ground to explore and lines to push, and that with a set focus on mood and atmosphere, it’s possible to engage with ambience even as you crush with distortion. The album (which was reviewed on Valentine’s Day) seems to live up to its titular descriptors in equal measure.
As a result, Pallbearer have earned critical welcome (to put it lightly) and much demand for live performances. Veterans already of Wisconsin’s Days of the Doomed, they’ll no doubt come out of this year’s SXSW a bigger band than they went in — barring disaster, they’ll share bills with the likes of Rwake, The Atlas Moth, Deafheaven, Alcest, Nachtmystium and others (info here and here) — and they’ll also be participating in a Scion-sponsored showcase with YOB, The Atlas Moth and Loss in Los Angeles at the end of this month.
Bassist Joseph D. Rowland credits Loss with getting the band signed to Profound Lore, and the allegiance between the two acts is pervasive. Loss played Pallbearer‘s album release show for Sorrow and Extinction in Little Rock in February and they will head north together for a show in Brooklyn in May. In the interview that follows, Rowland discusses how that came about, as well as bringing in recording engineer Chuck Schaaf (also of Deadbird) to replace drummer Zach Stine, the processes at work behind the more experimental album closer, “Given to the Grave,” their prog influences, and much more.
Pallbearer is Rowland on bass, Schaaf on drums, guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell, and guitarist Devin Holt.
Posted in Reviews on February 14th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Little Rock, accurate though it may be geographically, does nothing to convey the huge tonality at work on Pallbearer’s Sorrow and Extinction full-length debut. The album, released by Profound Lore is comprised of five extended cuts of sorrowful plodding, emotionally visceral and traditional doom that immerses the listener right from the quiet acoustic beginnings of opener “Foreigner.” But for those tones – the guitars of Brett Campbell and Devin Holt remind of earlier YOB in the depths to which their distortion plummets – Pallbearer would be almost entirely familiar stylistically, harkening on a mournfulness long since established as a defining element of this kind of doom with a melodic skillfulness that seems to be on the rise within the style as proffered by acts like The Gates of Slumber on their latest album or 40 Watt Sun, whose own debut was so impeccably received last year. Pallbearer have a similar resonance, but the balance is different than either of those two acts in that Sorrow and Extinction is less directly pointed in its mission and seemingly more concerned with the songs than the overall impression. For example, where The Gates of Slumber’s last album, The Wretch, was an excellent turn to a more doomed atmosphere than on their several prior releases, and where 40 Watt Sun’s The Inside Room gave so much to the interplay of melody and heaviness and smoothly broke between acoustics and massive riffing, Pallbearer, while still in the same league as either of the others, keep their focus on the tidal sway within the songs and have the melody – whether it’s in Campbell’s vocals or the instruments themselves – feed into that.
The result is massive, and at loud volumes especially, overwhelming. Given added rumble by the bass of Joseph D. Rowland’s bass, “Foreigner” loses nothing of its heft as the guitars move farther up the neck for drawn-out woe-laden leads in the track’s second half. There’s a build at work, but it’s subtle and more keyed on the emotional element than on loud/quiet interchanges. Campbell proves immediately capable of conveying the lyrics believably and sincerely, and the drumming of Zach Stone – replaced as drummer after the album was recorded by Chuck Schaaf (Deadbird), who engineered and mixed Sorrow and Extinction – is suited both to the more active cymbal work at the beginning of “Devoid of Redemption” and to backing the echoing swirl of Dave Chandler-style noise soloing that arrives later into the song’s low-end barrage. “Devoid of Redemption” is the first of three songs – the other two being “The Legend” and “An Offering of Grief” – that all hover around eight and a half minutes long, and speak to the CD-minded linear structure of the track listing. Pallbearer have the songs arranged so that the record opens with its longest cut (immediate points), “Foreigner” (12:21), plays out three songs of similar mass, and closes with another longer piece, “Given to the Grave,” which clocks in at 10:56. Because the tones are so rich, and because “Devoid of Redemption,” “The Legend” and “An Offering of Grief” have a varied feel mood-wise and elements that make each stand out for different reasons, Sorrow and Extinction avoids feeling formulaic, but there’s clearly some mindfulness of structure at work in more than just the songwriting. As the overall flow of the album feels well served by the songs being positioned as they are, the structure proves effective as more than just nuance.