Old Major, …With Love: Picking Lightning Flowers

Posted in Reviews on July 1st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Depending on how you want to look at it, Old Major‘s …With Love is either their first album or their third release. It’s the Toronto trio’s debut on respected Russian imprint R.A.I.G., and it’s definitely a full-length at 54 minutes long, but it’s also compiled from two prior outings, 2013’s In Dog Years, from which the first seven (in order) of …With Love‘s total 12 tracks and the closer come, and a preceding 2011 self-titled, from which another four songs and the unlisted presumed bonus cut “Fanning Flames” are taken. Recordings span from 2009 to 2013, and the trio of guitarist/vocalist Mark Zerenyl, bassist/vocalist Mike Kennedy (since replaced by Alex) and drummer Joey Pavone show palpable growth in that time. The earlier material on …With Love, particularly in the context of knowing the songs are culled from past releases, sounds more developed and cohesive, Old Major having apparently mastered the post-Queens of the Stone Age start-stop bounce, where earlier cuts — which here are later in the tracklisting; stay with me — vary wider in feel but are less assured overall of their direction. It’s a tradeoff that makes Old Major come across as more mature for the first seven (and the 12th) tracks, their personality more prevalent, while what would be the bulk of a “side B” in a magical land where you could fit 54 minutes onto a vinyl platter serves to expand the scope of the release overall. So, with …With Love, you do get a release that functions as a full-length album, it just takes a quirky route to get there.

All the more suitable to the material on the disc itself, then, since Old Major demonstrate no shortage of quirky sensibilities in the music. It’s a noteworthy endorsement for In Dog Years that its first seven songs are presented in the same order here and that its closer remains the closer (pre-bonus cut) on …With Love. Doesn’t say much for the songs they left off, but it indicates that the trio believe they’re on the right track to where they want to be. The four songs from their self-titled are more jumbled, beginning with the “You Let Us,” which was the penultimate cut on Old Major before moving into the first three tracks, “Spel Chek,” “Wagoneers” and “Elbows Out,” the latter of which seems to have been a blueprint for much of the In Dog Years songwriting, with its particularly QOTSA jangle and smooth, dry vocal approach. Opener “Heels and Hooves” shows a drive toward complexity immediately, with intricate shifts to mesh with a penchant for hooks that becomes a staple of Old Major‘s style, along with an assortment of ’90s influences from Primus on the self-titled’s “Spel Chek” — the splash cymbal at the apex is telltale — to Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ quieter side on “Lightning Flowers,” which is the last of the In Dog Years inclusions and departs from the fuzzy drive of “In Dog Years” (a highlight and the longest at 6:38) and the more forceful “Rhino” to a subdued feel that still keeps some of its funk, particularly in Kennedy‘s bass. The earlier momentum of “Snake Charmer,” “Lint Giver” and “Epsom Salts” — the last of which finds the guitar just a little higher than it needs to be in the mix in leading a softer start-stop progression — carries through the rest of …With Love, however, and once Old Major get going, they don’t stop.

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Nice Package: The Re-Stoned, Plasma

Posted in Visual Evidence on February 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Moscow-based heavy psych outfit The Re-Stoned have sandwiched the bulk of the material on their new album between two massive 11-minute tracks, opener “Faces of Earth” and closer “Alpha Rhythm,” but that’s really just the beginning of the story when it comes to how Plasma is put together. The instrumental band led by and mostly comprised of guitarist/bassist Ilya Lipkin released their last record, Analog (review here), through R.A.I.G. in 2010, and Plasma sees issue through the same label as well, but instead of a jewel case arrives bundled in a folded cardboard box — almost like a miniaturized vinyl mailer with the logo printed on the front and the album info on back. It may not prove the most durable packaging option when it comes to standing the test of time, but it certainly is creative.

Lipkin, who is joined by drummers Vasily Bartov, Pavel Voloshin and Evgeny Tkachev throughout Plasma‘s eight tracks/58 minutes, employs a host of effects on his guitar and bass to add flourish to the tradicionnyj stoner riffing that lies at the heart of the band’s sound, and while the cardboard packaging doesn’t seem to have any direct correlation to what’s happening musically or thematically with the album or its titles —  though one does unfold the package and the flow of the album unfolds as well — it does grab the attention as only intricate physical media can. I’ve never thought of cardboard as particularly groovy, but maybe that’s what Lipkin is going for. I couldn’t really say.

The album boasts two covers — an extended jam on Jefferson Airplane’s “Today” in the first half and one on Pink Floyd‘s “Julia Dream” in the second — and with guest vocals from Veronika Martynova, they stand out in the tracklisting immediately and wind up as some of the record’s strongest material, incorporating elements of psychedelic folk with Lipkin layering acoustic and electric guitar. Elsewhere, the standout soloing of “Moon Dust” seems to be surfing with Joe Satriani‘s alien, while the riffs on the earlier “Grease” remind of some of the Karma to Burn-isms that showed up last time around. Fittingly titled, “Acoustic” is no less rich than any of the other material, given depth by Arkady Fedotov‘s synth and Tkachev‘s percussion, and as it occurs directly toward the middle of the album, it too seems to fall in line as another well-placed element at work to the benefit of Plasma.

Really, rather than be fed into by the music as part of an overarching theme, the uncommon packaging option for Plasma serves as an example of how intricately the record as a whole is constructed, be it the space-rocking jam of “The Clay God” or the more open, airy musicality of “Alpha Rhythm,” slowly developing over the calming course of its 11:26. The Re-Stoned and in particular Lipkin as the driving force behind the band impress on all fronts, and if it’s the package housing the CD that gets you to notice the album first, it’s one more thing to be thankful for after you’ve heard it later.

I’ve spouted off plenty of times about what a difference physical media can make in giving someone an impression of a work, so I’ll spare it, but in a case like this, the artwork — Lipkin also designed the logo — and the presentation to the audience becomes a part of the experience, and every time I reach for Plasma, it will be a different feeling than anything else that might be situated on that shelf, including Analog. If the record wasn’t up to par as a listen, it would be gimmicky, but The Re-Stoned have even more tools with which to satisfy sonically than they do in terms of the aesthetic in their choice of casing, so in addition to being a nice package, Plasma is also a complete one.

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Fire to Fields, Products: The Sludge and the Snows

Posted in Reviews on January 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

There’s a lot of sludge in this world. It comes from everywhere. From places warm and sunny and cold and dank, dry and wet, north and south. And somehow, the sound manages to fit. Based around a universal core of dissatisfaction and misanthropic fuckall, sludge can speak to similar ideas coming from India or New Orleans. Geography really doesn’t matter, and yet, in listening to Products, the R.A.I.G. debut from sludge extremists Fire to Fields , I can’t get the fact that they’re from Siberia out of my head. It makes the flames on their album cover seem to have an element of wishful thinking, adds a bone-chill to the vicious screams of frontman Stas, and renders the six-track/55-minute outing even less pleasant in a cross-sensory kind of way, burying the doomed riffing and plodding groove under a weighted blanket of snow and biting wind. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the album is a challenge. The best extreme sludge should be fundamentally unpleasant on the ear, and Fire to Fields are almost entirely amelodic. Their rhythms are slow, progressions lag and drag, and whether it’s the trashcan snare sound from drummer Oleg, buzzsaw distortion of guitarist Vova and bassist Dima or Stas’ largely one-sided extremity of delivery, there’s really no letup in the pummel. Products is comprised of four new recordings and two older ones — the penultimate Eyehategod cover “Depress” and closer “Fire to Fields” were on the band’s original 2009 demo – and though the difference between the first four tracks and the last two is audible, if you’re listening to Fire to Fields for the sound fidelity, you’re doing it wrong. This is feedback-drenched noise malevolence that plays out like it’s in a contest with itself to see how fast it can get you to beg mercy or at least press stop, the already-extended “From Illness into Sickness” (7:08) and “Manufacturing Corpse” (10:45) giving way to the droning molasses of “Fat,” the longest track at 12:22 and an easy focal point of Products for the radicalism on display in its musical ideology. Its cold is that much colder.

Their formative Eyehategod cover is a good establishing point for their overall sonic ethic (as much as you can call music like this ethical), but no question the newer tracks or at least newer recordings are more developed in terms of approach. On “From Illness to Sickness,” lyrics are there but almost completely indecipherable through listening – they appear printed in the CD liner – and Stas cuts through the morass of guitar and bass nastiness to become a singularly defining element in the band. There will be many who can’t listen to Products on account of his vocals alone, never mind the high-pitched noise solo Vova works into the opener’s halfway point and the barrage of feedback that occurs throughout, but the album doesn’t feel haphazard or like its assault is without purpose. Even nihilism has to have a reason behind it, and Fire to Fields’ method is there underlying the violence for anyone willing to find it. The question is just whether or not a given listener is going to be able to stand said violence, and in the case of most, the answer is probably no. Likely this suits Fire to Fields well enough, if the inhumanity of “Manufacturing Corpse” is anything to go by, since they show little interest in being friendly and establish only the most cursory of riff-led grooves, their sound based more around a lurch than anything that might elicit a nod from all but the most angry of show-going drunkards… in Siberia. Both “From Illness to Sickness” and “Manufacturing Corpse” have a chorus, as it were, but by the time you’ve dug it out, you’re so caked in dirt that it doesn’t matter anymore. And when “Fat” kicks in with its ultra-plodding, slow, slower, slowest-type pacing, Stas winds up eliciting a sense of agony few have been able to harness since Alan Dubin. Oleg drives the plod of “Fat,” slamming into toms and cymbals while Dima’s thickened tone rumbles along and the guitars seem to growl in kind with fits of disturbing noise. They’re nearly 11 minutes in before the foot moves off your neck, and even then, the only real difference is that the tempo picks up slightly, a searing chirp of tube-melting gurgle leading into the rumbled beginning of “Superstore Fodder.”

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Reviewsplosion II: The Return of 10 Records in One Post

Posted in Reviews on October 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I am constantly working at a deficit. Financially, yes, because like many of my countrymen I’m am tens of thousands of dollars in debt — but also in terms of reviews. I’malwaysbehind on reviews. Hell, it was into July of this year before I finally put the kybosh on writing up anything from 2011, and I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t put my foot down on it, I’d still have year-old albums going up or older. My to-do list grows like a witchcult.

It’s not something to complain about and I’m not complaining. I’m stoked people give enough of a shit to send their CDs in to be reviewed — especially those who actually send CDs — and it’s for that reason that I do this second reviewsplosion (first one here).

Yeah, as ever, I’m behind on reviews, but I’m also working on being more concise — I swear I am; check out the At a Glance reviews if you don’t believe me — and one of the things I liked so much about the last reviewsplosion was it forced me to get to the fucking point. As direct a line as possible to a review. Boiling the idea down to its essential core.

With that in mind, here’s my attempt to both balance my review budget and be as clear as humanly possible. Hope you dig:


Altar of Oblivion, Grand Gesture of Defiance

The subject of some spirited debate on the forum, the second record from Danish five-piece Altar of Oblivion revels in traditional doom methods. There’s an air of pomp in some of the songs — “Graveyard of Broken Dreams” lays it on a little thick — but by and large, Grand Gesture of Defiance (Shadow Kingdom) is a more than solid showing of genre. Classic underground metal flourishes abound, and while it’s not a record to change your life, at six tracks/34 minutes, neither does it hang around long enough to be overly repetitive. You could do way worse. Altar of Oblivion on Thee Facebooks.


Blooming Látigo, Esfínteres y Faquires

Primarily? Weird. The Spanish outfiit Blooming Látigo make their debut on Féretro Records (CD) and Trips und Träume (LP) with the all-the-fuck-over-the-place Esfínteres y Faquires, alternately grinding out post-hardcore and reciting Birthday Party-style poetry. They reach pretty hard to get to “experimental,” maybe harder than they need to, but the on-a-dime stops and high-pitched screams on tracks like “Onania” and “Prisciliano” are well beyond fascinating, and the blown-out ending of “La Destrucción del Aura” is fittingly apocalyptic. Who gave the art-school kids tube amps? Blooming Látigo on Bandcamp.


El-Thule, Zenit

Five years since their second offering, Green Magic, left such a strong impression, Italian stoner rock trio El-Thule return with Zenit (Go Down Records), which makes up for lost time with 50 minutes of heavy riffs, fuzzy desert grooves and sharp, progressive rhythms. The band — El Comandante (bass), Mr. Action (guitar/vocals) and Gweedo Weedo (drums/vocals) — may have taken their time in getting it together, but there’s little about Zenit that lags, be it the faster, thrashier “Nemesis” or thicker, Torche-esque melodic push of the highlight “Quaoar.” It’s raw, production-wise, but I hope it’s not another half-decade before El-Thule follow it up. El-Thule on Thee Facebooks.


Botanist, III: Doom in Bloom

It’s a nature-worshiping post-black metal exploration of what the History Channel has given the catchy title “life after people.” If you’ve ever wondered what blastbeats might sound like on a dulcimer, Botanist‘s third album, III: Doom in Bloom has the answers you seek, caking its purported hatred of human kind in such creative instrumentation and lyrics reverent of the natural world rather than explicitly misanthropic. The CD (on Total Rust) comes packaged with a second disc called Allies, featuring the likes of Lotus Thief and Matrushka and giving the whole release a manifesto-type feel, which suits it well. Vehemently creative, it inadvertently taps into some of the best aspects of our species. Botanist’s website.


GravelRoad, Psychedelta

Say what you will about whiteboys and the blues, the bass tone that starts “Nobody Get Me Down” is unfuckwithable. And Seattle trio GravelRoad come by it pretty honestly, having served for years as the backing back for bluesman T-Model Ford. The album Psychedelta (on Knick Knack Records) jams out on its start-stop fuzz in a way that reminds not so much of Clutch but of the soul and funk records that inspired Clutch in the first place, and though it never gets quite as frenetic in its energy as Radio Moscow, there’s some of that same vibe persisting through “Keep on Movin'” or their Junior Kimbrough cover “Leave Her Alone.” Throaty vocals sound like a put-on, but if they can nail down that balance, GravelRoad‘s psychedelic blues has some real potential in its open spaces. GravelRoad on Thee Facebooks.


The Linus Pauling Quartet, Bag of Hammers

Texas toast. The Linus Pauling Quartet offer crisp sunbursts of psychedelic heavy rock, and after nearly 20 years and eight full-lengths, that shouldn’t exactly be as much of a surprise as it is. Nonetheless, Bag of Hammers (Homeskool Records) proffers a 41-minute collection of heady ’90s-loving-the-’70s tones while venturing into classic space rock on “Victory Gin” and ballsy riffing on “Saving Throw.” Being my first experience with the band, the album is a refreshing listen and unpretentious to its very core. Eight-minute culminating jam “Stonebringer” is as engaging a display of American stoner rock as I’ve heard this year, and I have to wonder why it took eight records before I finally heard this five-man quartet? Hits like its title. LP4’s website.


Odyssey, Abysmal Despair

It’s the damnedest thing, but listening to Abysmal Despair, the Transubstans Records debut from Swedish prog sludge/noise rockers Odyssey, I can’t help but think of Long Island’s own John Wilkes Booth. It’s the vocals, and I know that’s a really specific association most people aren’t going to have, but I do, and I can’t quite get past it. The album is varied, progressive, and working in a variety of modern underground heavy contexts nowhere near as foreboding as the album’s title might imply, like Truckfighters meets Entombed, but I just keep hearing JWB‘sKerry Merkle through his megaphone. Note: that’s not a bad thing, just oddly indicative of the greater sphere of worldwide sonic coincidence in which we all exist. If anything, that just makes me like Abysmal Despair more. Odyssey on Soundcloud.


Palkoski, 2012 Demo

Conceptual Virginian free-formers Palkoski released the three-track/67-minute 2012 demo earlier this year through Heavy Hound. Most of it sounds improvised, but for verses here and there that emerge from the various stretches, and the band’s alternately grinding and sparse soundscapery results in an unsettling mash of psychotic extremity. It is, at times, painful to listen, but like some lost tribal recording, it’s also utterly free. Limited to 100 CDs with a second track called “The Shittiest  EP Ever” and a third that’s a sampling of Palkoski‘s ultra-abrasive noise experimentation live, this one is easily not for the faint of heart. Still, there’s something alluring in the challenge it poses. Palkoski at Heavy Hound.


Radar Men from the Moon, Echo Forever

Following their charming 2011 EP, Intergalactic Dada and Space Trombones, the Eindhoven instrumental trio Radar Men from the Moon (On the Radar’ed here) return on the relative quick with a 51-minute full-length, Echo Forever. More progressive in its jams, the album’s psychedelic sprawl shows the band developing — I hesitate to compare them to 35007 just because they happen to be Dutch, but the running bassline that underscores “Atomic Mother” is a tempter — but there’s still an immediacy behind their changes that keeps them from really belonging to the laid-back sphere of European jam-minded heavy psychedelia. They’re getting warmer though, stylistically and tonally, and I like that. Interesting to hear a song like “Heading for the Void” and think Sungrazer might be burgeoning as an influence. Cool jams for the converted. Radar Men from the Moon on Bandcamp.


Sound of Ground, Sky Colored Green

There are elements of of Yawning Man, or Unida or other acts in the Californian desert milieu, but basically, Moscow’s Sound of Ground sound like Kyuss. They know it. Their R.A.I.G. debut full-length, Sky Colored Green, makes no attempt to hide it, whether it’s the “Green Machine” riffing of “Lips of the Ocean” or the speedier Slo-Burnery of “El Caco,” though the metallic screaming on “R.H.S.” is a dead giveaway for the band’s youth, coming off more like early Down than anything Josh Homme ever plugged in to play. While not necessarily original, the trio are firm in their convictions, and Sound of Ground tear through these 11 tracks with engaging abandon. The Russian scene continues to intrigue. Sound of Ground on Thee Facebooks.

Thanks for reading.

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Evil Cosmonaut, We Have Landed: Moscow Heavy Rock vs. Big Super Mega Monsters

Posted in Reviews on January 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Near as I can tell, the plot in the lyrics of Evil Cosmonaut’s “Boris Yeltsin vs. Giant Ants” is that huge bugs come and attack the world. Buildings fall, people die, and then Boris Yeltsin shows up, does an evil dance, and saves the planet. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that’s fucking awesome. Much of the Moscow three-piece’s R.A.I.G. debut, We Have Landed, follows that kind of course – not always to such heights of badassery, but nonetheless with a notable degree of charm. “My Moustache” calls its titular subject, “My present from God,” and “Armageddon” playfully name-checks the stars of the 1998 blockbuster, even going so far as to mention Steve Buscemi. That, in combination with the clay artwork, the crunchy tone of guitarist/vocalist Alex “Kaza” Kazachev and the bluesy groove of “The Song We Will Never Play Again,” seems to make We Have Landed a record that gets by more on personality than innovation, but whatever does it does it. The album’s nine tracks and 42 minutes feel quick, songs vary enough to hold interest, and periodic bursts of punkish energy keep the pace from being mired by sleepy stonerisms. A mostly dry production keeps Evil Cosmonaut grounded from where some of the space-program thematics might otherwise take them, giving the album a garage-esque feel at times, but between Kazachev and bassist Denis “Memphis Dead” Petrov, the tones are thicker than most of what passes these days for that aesthetic. It’s all rock.

And if anything, it’s hard to pick a highlight from among We Have Landed’s fare. “Armageddon” certainly makes a case for itself, with its rudimentary chugging riff and live feel, as well as its lyrics, but “Old Guy Neil,” which recalls the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s first steps out of the craft, starts the album off with a crisp (if somewhat misleading) aggressive bent and foretells a lot of the perspective to come. Drummer Konstantin Sosnin, the only member of Evil Cosmonaut without a nickname, is straightforward in his approach and well-suited to Kazachev’s riffs, which for the most part lead the way. The upbeat shuffle of “Marvin” – either an inside joke or a reference I don’t get to an old man who lives in a cave – features some of We Have Landed’s best fuzz, to be later complemented by closer “The Golden Apples of the Sun,” and maintains the forward motion of the opener, leading to the even more rocking “Big Super Mega Monsters,” which earns its chorus shout of the title line late in the track. The song can’t help but be memorable with a name like that, but the music stands up to it with a marked simplicity of approach and a cheeky self-awareness that matches Kazachev’s vocal. However simple the album might seem, Evil Cosmonaut have a clear mindfulness of structure, as “The Song We Will Never Play Again” shows by slowing down the momentum of “Big Super Mega Monsters” and giving way in turn to the middle-pacing of “Armageddon.” Given the tongue-in-cheek nature of most of the lyrics – here a drunken alien abduction is recounted – I’d doubt the veracity of the title “The Song We Will Never Play Again,” or at least hope it’s not true, since the song’s relatively lumbering groove is among the album’s most fascinating assets.

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Temple of the Smoke, …Against Human Race: Not Nearly as Mad as it Reads

Posted in Reviews on November 15th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Checking in from Serbia, the Belgrade double-guitar outfit Temple of the Smoke make their debut on R.A.I.G. in the form of …Against Human Race, an album that immediately sets about defying expectations. From the black and white inked artwork – courtesy of Nikola Vitkovi? – reminiscent of Scott Stearns’ manic style, to the album’s title itself, Temple of the Smoke set a course for abrasive, misanthropic sludge and then wind up somewhere else completely, blending almost entirely instrumental space rock, dub and the occasional stretch of heavy riffing to result in a widely-varied 57 minutes. Extensive use of synth ties the diversity together, and since all but one of the eight tracks are over five and a half minutes long, the material has plenty of time to flesh out, layers beginning to pile on immediately with opener “Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator.” Guitarists Janko Stojanovi? and Dušan Žica both also handle synth, and …Against Human Race puts them to work adding swirls and swells that seem to come in and out of the spaciest parts, making the whole album more complex and enriching the surprise of what it turns out to be. Temple of the Smoke riff heavy for most of the first cut, but as “Unnatural Regression” – the previously-alluded-to shortest cut at 4:39 – takes hold from a cold stop, drummer Dragan Mirkovi? introduces a drastic turn into bouncing reggae-influenced dub and right away the bearings are lost.

…Against Human Race, for all the vitriol the title seems to convey, isn’t actually that angry. As Marko Ili?’s smooth basslines underscore the laser sounds and easy-flowing soundscaped synth-itude of “Unnatural Regression,” the vibe is anything but hateful. There’s a peaceful aspect to what Temple of the Smoke are doing, and not even necessarily zoned or stoned out, just contented. That some of the songs are drawn together one into the next adds to the overall flow of …Against Human Race and helps ease the transition into and out of the differing sides of Temple of the Smoke’s sound. “Naked Sun” stretches nearly to 11 minutes and is the longest single track, but led into from the end of “Unnatural Regression” as it is, the shift is hardly noticeable. For about the first two minutes, the psychedelics have the floor, but gradually, Ili? comes in on bass and the song’s build begins to develop, eventually cycling through twice before the track is over. Ambition being a key factor throughout …Against Human Race, the progressive elements of “Naked Sun” aren’t such a surprise in the context of the whole album, but the almost-synthless flat-out stoner rock groove of “Deadly Sins” are yet another unexpected turn, cutting from Temple of the Smoke’s most complex offering to their simplest. The jammed-out feel of the preceding cut is maintained, but executed with a Sleep-style riff at the fore until the last minute, when frantic guitar soloing and overdriven bass speed the song to its finish.

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The Re-Stoned, Analog: Finding the Inner Fuzz

Posted in Reviews on June 29th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

If it feels like there’s been a lot of instrumental heavy psych reviewed around here lately, you’re right. Joining the pack with their second studio full-length on R.A.I.G. (they also had a live album out) is previously On-the-Radar’ed Moscow trio The Re-Stoned, whose latest seven-track collection of wah-jam voodoo is called Analog. A lot of what you need to know about the band and the album is right there. As their moniker might lead you to believe, they’re stoned again – playing a kind of heady guitar-led stoner/psych rock – and they’re not at all shy about highlighting the analog warmth of the cuts included; calling it Analog feels almost brazen, daring the listener to take on the album’s natural feel. And in so doing, one is making a considerable investment in both time and energy. The three-piece cover a wide swath of mostly familiar ground on Analog, and with opener “Northern Lights” as the shortest piece at 5:58 and closer “Dream of Vodyanoy” the longest at 14:01, the record clocks a robust 61 and a half minutes, which is a lot and feels like it.

Immediately that’s a kind of drawback for The Re-Stoned. “Fronted” in a musical sense by heavily-effected, Orange-amped guitarist Ilya Lipkin, Analog takes shape around classic psych jams like “Crystals,” and while the bluesy favor in Lipkin’s playing is often satisfying as offset by the double-Vladimir rhythm section of Vladimir Nikulin (bass) and Vladimir Muchnov (drums), as “Crystals” turns into “Feedback” turns into “Music for Jimmy” and the album’s middle becomes its end, the course of jam parts, the occasional plotted riff and extended solos starts to feel samey, in concept if not actual sound. The Re-Stoned recorded Analog live, which was undoubtedly the way to go considering the spontaneous vibe of the material, and in multiple sessions, and one can hear that mostly in Muchnov’s drums, which have an entirely different snare sound on the title-track than they do on the riffier “Put the Sound Down or Get the Hell Out.” And while this change in the actual audio keeps Analog from sounding overly redundant, there’s no denying the ethic is the same. That said, “Analog” blends the more riff-led and jammier elements in The Re-Stoned’s approach better than nearly everything else on the album, so it’s not like Analog is lacking in satisfying moments or is somehow entirely without merit or appeal. Just the opposite.

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Without God, Lambs to the Slaughter: Drawn to the Sound of Broken Glass

Posted in Reviews on May 24th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Though both their band moniker and album title smack of grindcore or some form of metal more typically thought of as “extreme,” Moscow outfit Without God’s debut, Lambs to the Slaughter, is doom and sludge the whole way through. The first offering from the four-piece (who may or may not have gotten their name from the Katatonia song), Lambs to the Slaughter finds its release through R.A.I.G., perhaps the most major of players in the still-developing Russian heavy/riff-led scene – that’s not to say “stoner,” because it’s not all stoner rock, though those elements are present in many of R.A.I.G.’s bands (The Re-Stoned and The Grand Astoria come to mind), Without God among them. But the 10 cuts on Lambs to the Slaughter are darker, more doomed atmospherically, and among the band’s influences — readily on display in various stretches throughout the album – the Californian desert is all but completely inconsequential. Without God are shooting for something altogether more tonally weighted, and about as close as they come is some similarity early on between vocalist/guitarist Anton Brovkin and former The Awesome Machine singer John Hermansen’s guttural croon on opener “They Rot.”

I’d chalk that up to coincidence more than influence, and rather, it seems the actual intent of Without God is to play off a Crowbar-style riffy sludge, throw in some melody – as both Brovkin and fellow guitarist Olga Grieg do effectively in the instrumental breaks of “They Rot” – and write traditionally structured heavy songs. Noble enough intent, and they’re not bad at it. Small flourishes of individuality go a long way toward complementing the more genre-based ideas on Lambs to the Slaughter, and a string of slower, bluesy guitar leads across several of the tracks — “Believe,” “Crossroads/Eat the Shit,” “Forgiveness Sunday,” “Altar of Medicine,” and closer “Faithless” – shows personality in the playing that’s still only beginning to emerge. Crowbar is the chief influence on much of Lambs to the Slaughter, whether it’s a slower song like “Altar of Medicine” or a faster one like “Homeless,” but they’re by no means the only point of inspiration on display. Brovkin’s vocal cadence on the awesomely-named “Space Weed” is pure Lee Dorrian from Cathedral’s classic “Hopkins (The Witchfinder General),” and you can’t get away with putting the exclamation “Alright now!” over a grooving riff as he does on “Believe” without earning a comparison to Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” Especially not over that grooving riff.

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El Hijo de la Aurora, Wicca: Las Brujos de Lima

Posted in Reviews on April 27th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

The hardest part about listening to Peruvian experimental doomers El Hijo de la Aurora is trying to imagine whether their mysterious musical concoctions were crafted in a darkened science laboratory amid bubbling vials of green and blue liquid, or in a pagan forest amidst animal skulls and unspoken heathen rites. If the cover and general atmosphere of the Lima trio’s second full-length (first for R.A.I.G.), Wicca: Spells, Magic and Witchcraft Through the Ages, is anything to go buy, it’s probably the latter, but given some of the bizarre turns and villainous twists contained within these eight tracks (there are nine listed on the back of the disc, but eight show up when I put it in my player), I’m still not sure. Something about this kind of stuff just seethes with malefic and haunting forethought.

El Hijo de la Aurora — which boasts drummer and effects-master Joaquin Cuadra (who also produced here) and bassist Manolo Garfias (also guitar), formerly of Don Juan Matus alongside vocalist Rafael Cantoni – made their full-length debut with last year’s avant drone outing, Lemuria (review here). What the two records have in common, aside from dense atmospherics and a foreboding throughout, is a slew of guest appearances. Wicca engineer Saul Cornejo shows up on Hammond for the later shuffling rocker “Akasha,” Marcos Coifman wrote the lyrics to that song, and takes vocals on it and “Vril,” which follows, Tania Duarte sings on the shorter acoustic closer “Cuentos de Bosque Encantado Part II,” as she sang on the finale of Lemuria, and there are numerous other appearances as well on theremin, Hammond, Moog and vocals. A big difference between Lemuria and Wicca is the inclusion of Cantoni as a uniting vocal factor throughout at least several if not most of the tracks, and as Wicca is less barren and instrumentally drone-based, I’d say there’s been a shift in songwriting approach as well.

That shouldn’t be surprising, given the avant and openly creative feel El Hijo de la Aurora showed on the debut, but the raw Sabbathian doom definitely comes to the fore from the start of Wicca with opener “Der Golem,” which I think is combined with the sampled intro “El Ojo Hipnotico” (“The Hypnotic Eye”) to get the track listing/disc disparity. The song starts with Cuadra on drums setting a mid-tempo plod for Garfias to follow on the riff before Cantoni rides the groove vocally. All told, Wicca is a more active-feeling album than what Lemuria, but nothing feels sacrificed in terms of ambience, and the blend of classic riffage and doom that El Hijo de la Aurora proffered there remains one of the strongest assets here. In the hands of a band less capable of affecting a mood, “Psicodrama” might just come off as stoner rock, but El Hijo de la Aurora make the song more than the sum of its riffs, setting up the massive 14-minute “Libro de las Sombras (Including Dios Astado & el Escrito)” like the person who bends down behind you while someone in front pushes you over. Just when you think you know what to expect from El Hijo de la Aurora, they change it on you.

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Distorted Space and Literary Appreciation with The Grand Astoria

Posted in Reviews on August 10th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

With their origins in the chilly Russian climes of Saint Petersburg, The Grand Astoria are bound to bring something unique to their take on stoner rock, and sure enough, with their appropriately-titled second offering, II (R.A.I.G.), they do just that, eschewing a fuzzy sound for a harsher, noisier distorted jamming that occasionally goes full-cosmic. While some of the material on last year’s self-released self-titled effort seemed punkish, II comes from a less hurried place and shows The Grand Astoria as unafraid to experiment within their sound, adding samples or feedback to the mostly instrumental material as a way of engaging their audience.

Immediately noticeable about II is the way it’s organized. In terms of track length, the five songs that comprise the album would make a ‘U’ were you to graph them. Opener “Enjoy the View” reaches furthest at 14:50, then the cumbersomely-named “The Inner Galactic Experience of Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath” (Plath was referenced on the self-titled as well) clocks in at 7:40. “Visit Sri Lanka” gives a Siena Root-esque moment of Subcontinental Asian influence at 2:44, then it’s back to the longer material with “Wikipedia Surfer” at 9:02 and closer “Radio Friendly Fire” at 12:18. What was behind The Grand Astoria arranging the tracks this way I don’t know, but II does have a rich and smooth flow to it and “Visit Sri Lanka” breaks up the surrounding tracks in a way as to make the second half of the album as refreshing as the first, so no complaints.

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On the Radar: The Re-Stoned

Posted in On the Radar on July 22nd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster

On one of these endless summer days, nothing fits the bill quite like good old fashioned stoner rock, and if anyone knows about beating the heat, it’s The Re-Stoned, who come to us all the way from — MOSCOW? Okay, so maybe they’re not much for sunshine, but damn if they haven’t learned the lessons Karma to Burn and Fu Manchu have been teaching. Right on.

The trio are entirely instrumental, and guitarist Ilya Lipkin likes to experiment with effects, so some of that bleeds into the songs (a couple of which you can hear on The Re-Stoned‘s MySpace page), but there’s a lot here that’s just straight up fuzzriffic — so much so, in fact, The Re-Stoned even have their own custom distortion pedal. You know that’s damn fuzzy.

Hard not to dig the wah-bass Vladimir Nikulin provides on “Return,” and I don’t know what the groove of “Mountain Giant” is In Search Of, but I’m pretty sure it found it. They’ve also got a live jam posted that’s pretty tasty, and a mellower cut called “Sleeping World” where they let their inner “Planet Caravan” shine. The three studio tracks come off 2009’s Return of the Reptiles EP (R.A.I.G.), but they’ll be featured on the forthcoming Revealed Gravitation full-length as well, which is expected out soon.

I know I say it all the time, but it just goes to show how universal The Heavy really is. Kids in the desert can get down every bit as easily as kids in snowy Moscow, and on a sweltering day, all you have to do is fire up the intertubes and you’ve got a main line to yet another killer band. This is a wondrous age, my friends.

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