Quarterly Review: Russian Circles, Salem’s Pot, Bridesmaid, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Landing, Reign of Zaius, Transcendent Sea, Red Teeth, Sea of Bones & Ramlord, Holy Smoke

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

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I’ll admit I’m a little surprised at the shape this Quarterly Review has taken. As I begin to look back on the year in terms of what records have been talked about over the span, I find it’s been particularly geared toward debut albums, both in and out of wrap-ups like this one. There’s less of that this time around, but what’s happened is some stuff that doesn’t fall into that category — releases like the first two here, for example — are getting covered here to allow space for the others. Let’s face it, nobody gives a shit what I have to say about Russian Circles anyhow, so whatever, but I’m happy to have this as a vehicle for discussing records I still think are worth discussing — the first two releases here, again for example — rather than letting them fall through the cracks with the glut of new bands coming along. Of course things evolve as you go on, but I wish I’d figured it out sooner. Let’s dive in.

Quarterly Review #31-40:

Russian Circles, Guidance

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From the warm wash of guitar that begins “Asa” onward, and no matter how weighted, percussive and/or chug-fueled Russian Circles get from there, the Chicago trio seem to be offering solace on their latest outing, Guidance. Recorded by Kurt Ballou and released through Sargent House, the seven-track offering crosses heavy post-rock soundscapes given marked thickness and distinct intensity on “Vorel,” but the record as a whole never quite loses the serenity in “Asa” or the later “Overboard,” crushing as the subsequent “Calla” gets, and though the spaces they cast in closer “Lisboa” are wide and intimidating, their control of them is utterly complete. Six albums in, Russian Circles are simply masters of what they do. There’s really no other way to put it. They remain forward thinking in terms of investigating new ideas in their sound, but their core approach is set in the fluidity of these songs and they revise their aesthetic with a similar, natural patience to that with which they execute their material.

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Sargent House website

 

Salem’s Pot, Pronounce This!

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Following their 2014 RidingEasy Records debut, …Lurar ut dig på prärien (discussed here) – which, presumably met with some pronunciation trouble outside the band’s native Sweden – Salem’s Pot return with Pronounce This!, further refining their blend of psychedelic swirl, odd vibes and garage doom riffing. They remain heavily indoctrinated into the post-Uncle Acid school of buzz and groove, and aren’t afraid to scum it up on “Tranny Takes a Trip” or the slower-shifting first half of “Coal Mind,” but the second portion of that song and “So Gone, so Dead” take a more classically progressive bent that is both refreshing and a significant expansion on what Salem’s Pot have accomplished thus far into their tenure. Still weird, and one doubts that’ll change anytime soon – nor does it need to – but as Pronounce This! plays out, Salem’s Pot demonstrate an open-mindedness that seems to have been underlying their work all along and bring it forward in engaging fashion.

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RidingEasy Records website

 

Bridesmaid, International House of Mancakes

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International House of Mancakes – yup – is the follow-up to Bridesmaid’s 2013 long-player, Breakfast at Riffany’s, and like that album, it finds the Columbus, Ohio, instrumentalists with a penchant for inserting dudes’ names into well-known titles – see “Hungry Like Nick Wolf” and “Ronnin’ with the Devil” – but it also expands the lineup to the two-bass/two-drum four-piece of Scott Hyatt and Bob Brinkman (both bass) and Cory Barnt and Boehm (both drums). Topped off with KISS-meets-Village People art from W. Ralph Walters, there are shortages neither of snark nor low end, but buried underneath is a progressive songwriting sensibility that doesn’t come across as overly metal on cuts like “Ricky Thump” and doesn’t sacrifice impact or heft for the sake of self-indulgence. Opening with its longest track (immediate points) in “It’s Alectric (Boogie Woogie Woogie),” International House of Mancakes unfolds a heavy rock push that, while obviously driven in part by its sense of humor, earns serious consideration in these tracks for those willing to actually listen.

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Bridesmaid on Bandcamp

 

Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Keep it Greasy!

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Too thick in its tones to be a completely vintage-style work, the sleazy vibes of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s Keep it Greasy! (on Rise Above) are otherwise loyal to circa-1971 boogie and attitude, and whether it’s the rewind moment on opener “U Got Wot I Need” or proto-metallic bass thrust of the “Hawkline Monster” or the brash post-Lemmy push of “Tired ‘n’ Wired,” the album is a celebration of a moment when rock isn’t about being any of those things or anything else, but about having a good time, letting off some steam from a shit job or whatever it is, and trying your damnedest to get laid. Radio samples throughout tie the songs together, but even that carries an analog feel – because radio – and the good Admiral are clearly well versed in the fine art of kicking ass. Familiar in all the right ways with more than enough personality to make that just another part of the charm.

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Rise Above Records website

 

Landing, Third Sight

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The invitation to completely immerse comes quickly on the 13-minute “Delusion Sound,” which opens Landing’s Third Sight (on El Paraiso), and from there, the Connecticut four-piece sway along a beautiful and melodic drift, easing their way along a full-sounding progression filled out with airy guitar and backing drones, moved forward patiently by its drum march and topped with echoed half-whispers. It’s a flat-out gorgeous initial impression to make, and the instrumental “Third Site” and “Facing South” follow it with a tinge of the experimentalism for which Landing are more known, the former led by guitar and the latter led by cinematic keyboard. To bookend, the 14-minute “Morning Sun” builds as it progresses and draws the various sides together while creating a rising soundscape of its own, every bit earning its name as the vocals emerge in the second half, part of a created wash that is nothing short of beautiful. One could say the same of Third Sight as a whole.

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El Paraiso Records website

 

Reign of Zaius, Planet Of…

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While they’ve spent the last few years kicking around the deeper recesses of Brooklyn’s heavy underground, Reign of Zaius mark their debut release with the 26-minute Planet Of… EP, bringing together seven tracks that show what their time and buildup of material has wrought. Opener “Hate Parade” reminds of earliest Kings Destroy, but on the whole, Reign of Zaius are rawer and more metal at their core, the five-piece delving into shuffle on “Out of Get Mine” and showing an affinity for classic horror in both “They Live” – which starts with a sample of Roddy Piper being all out of bubblegum – and “Farewell to Arms,” previously issued as a single in homage to Evil Dead. The charm of a “Dueling Banjos” reference at the start of “Deliver Me” leads to one of the catchier hooks on Planet Of…, and the shorter “Power Hitter” closes with a bass-heavy paean to smoking out that digs into punkish summation of where Reign of Zaius are coming from generally as they continue to be a band up for having a good time without taking themselves too seriously.

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Transcendent Sea, Ballads of Drowning Men

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Kind of a mystery just where the time goes on Sydney rockers Transcendent Sea’s self-released 50-minute first album, Ballads of Drowning Men. Sure, straightforward cuts like “Over Easy” and “Mind Queen” are easily enough accounted for with their post-Orange Goblin burl and boozy, guttural delivery from vocalist Sean Bowden, but as the four-piece of Bowden, guitarist Mathew J. Allen, bassist Andrew Auglys and drummer Mark Mills get into the more extended “Throw Me a Line,” “Blood of a Lion” and closer “Way of the Wolf” – all over 10 minutes each – their moves become harder to track. They keep the hooks and the verses, but it’s not like they’re just tacking jams onto otherwise structured tracks, and even when “Way of the Wolf” goes wandering, Bowden keeps it grounded, and that effect is prevalent throughout in balancing Ballads of Drowning Men as a whole. It takes a few listens to get a handle on where Transcendent Sea are coming from in that regard, but their debut proves worth at least that minimal effort.

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Transcendent Sea on Bandcamp

 

Red Teeth, Light Bender

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Brothers Rael and Ryan Andrews, both formerly of Lansing, Michigan, art rockers BerT, revive their heavy punk duo Red Teeth with the four-song Light Bender 7” on GTG Records. Both contribute vocals, and Ryan handles guitar and bass, while Rael is on drums and synth through the quick run of “Light Bender, Sound Bender,” “Tas Pappas,” “134mps” and “Elephant Graveyard,” the longest of which is the opener (immediate points) at 4:49. By the time they get down to “Elephant Graveyard,” one can hear some of the Melvinsian twist and crunch that often surfaced in BerT, but whether it’s the ‘90s-alt-vibes-meet-drum-madness of “134mps” or the almost rockabilly riffing of “Tas Pappas,” Red Teeth – whose last release was eight years ago – have no trouble establishing personality in these songs. Approach with an open mind and the weirdness that persists will be more satisfying, as each track seems to have a context entirely of its own.

Red Teeth on Bandcamp

GTG Records website

 

Sea of Bones & Ramlord, Split

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One can hear the kind of spacious darkness and through-the-skin cold of New England winters in this new split EP from Connecticut crushers Sea of Bones and grinding New Hampshire compatriots Ramlord from Broken Limbs Recordings. What the two share most of all is an atmosphere of existential destitution, but there’s an underlying sense of the extreme that also ties together Sea of Bones’ “Hopelessness and Decay” (10:36) and Ramlord’s “Incarceration of Clairvoyance (Part III)” (10:10), the latter of which continues a series Ramlord started back in 2012 on a split with Cara Neir. Both acts are very much in their element in their brutality. For Sea of Bones, this is the second release they’ve had out this year behind the improvised and digital-only “Silent Transmissions” 27-minute single, which of course was anything but, and for Ramlord, it’s their first split in two years, but finds their gritty, filthy sound well intact from where they last left it. Nothing to complain about here, unless peace of mind is your thing, because you certainly won’t find any of that.

Broken Limbs Recordings on Bandcamp

Sea of Bones on Thee Facebooks

Ramlord on Thee Facebooks

 

Holy Smoke, Holy Smoke! It’s a Demo!

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Philadelphia-based five-piece Holy Smoke formed in the early hours of 2015, and the exclamatory Holy Smoke! It’s a Demo! three-track EP is their debut release. Opening with its longest cut (immediate points) in “Rinse and Repeat,” it finds them blending psychedelic and heavy rock elements and conjuring marked fluidity between them. As the title indicates, it’s a demo, and what one hears throughout is the first material Holy Smoke thought enough of to put to tape, but on “Rinse and Repeat” and the subsequent “Blue Dreams” and “The Firm,” they bring the two sides together well in a way it’s easy to hope they continue to do as they move onto whatever comes next, pulling off “The Firm” particularly with marked swing and a sense of confidence that undercuts the notion of their being their first time out. They have growing to do, and by no means would I consider them established in style, but there’s a spark in the songs that could absolutely catch fire.

Holy Smoke on Thee Facebooks

Holy Smoke on Bandcamp

 

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Reign of Zaius Release New Single “Farewell to Arms”

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 30th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’m not sure how Brooklyn stoner riffers Reign of Zaius knew I was thinking about setting up an Evil Dead marathon this Halloween (whether or not it materializes is another concern entirely, but I was thinking about it) but good on the four-no-wait-five-piece for keeping up with my half-formed intentions. I’m not really a big Halloween guy, actually — did you know people get dressed up for that? — but one thinks of these things. Clearly I wasn’t the only person thinking of Bruce Campbell, as Reign of Zaius have just released a new single called “Farewell to Arms” that takes its theme from the cult Sam Raimi trilogy of films, and I guess by extension from the new tv arm of the franchise, Ash vs. Evil Dead, which also premieres this weekend.

The song itself I remember from when the band played Worcester, MA, over the summer (review here) — watch out for getting your soul swallowed — and “Farewell to Arms” follows their last single, “Power Hitter” (posted here), and finds them welcoming guitarist Vlad the Inhaler back into the fold. Details follow:

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Reign Of Zaius release Evil Dead themed song “Farewell to Arms”

Brooklyn-based stoner rockers Reign of Zaius have released a new single: “Farewell to Arms”, a musical tribute to the classic cult-horror film Evil Dead 2.
The song is available as a free download at the band’s website: http://reignofzaius.net/

“Farewell to Arms” arrives just in time for the Halloween premiere of “Ash vs. Evil Dead”, the latest installment in the Evil Dead franchise, produced by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell for the Starz network.

Like their previous single “Power Hitter”, the song “Farewell to Arms” was recorded independently by Reign of Zaius at their secret headquarters in Brooklyn. This is the band’s second recording with vocalist Leon “Space” Chase and guitarist Mike “Creepy Mo” O’Neil. The single also marks the official return of guitarist “Vlad the Inhaler”, who left Reign of Zaius under mysterious circumstances a year ago but has now officially re-joined the band full-time.

In response to allegations that “Farewell to Arms” might actually contain ancient incantations capable of unleashing real-life demons into the homes of its listeners, Chase said only this: “As long as nobody plays it backwards, we’ll all be fine.”

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Reign of Zaius, “Farewell to Arms”

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Live Review: Reign of Zaius and Gasoline Therapy in Massachusetts, 07.31.15

Posted in Reviews on August 3rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

Reign of Zaius (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It had been just over two months since I last saw a show. Two months. I cannot remember the last time I actually let it go that long. Combination of things: Frustration with local venues, fatigue from going back to work, wanting to spend what time I have with The Patient Mrs., seeing family and so on. I’ll be honest and say I barely had this one in me, but after work Friday, I was heading to Connecticut and a loop through Worcester to catch Brooklyn’s Reign of Zaius worked out enough timing-wise that I felt like I could make it happen. I was sort of right.

Gasoline Therapy (Photo by JJ Koczan)I know I’ve said this before, but Ralph’s Rock Diner is a fucking treasure. Best venue I’ve been to in the state of Massachusetts, and that includes every single room of comparable size in Boston. Great sound, great lights, great vibe, good stage. It’s a comfortable, creative space that doesn’t feel like it was set up in 1992 and left for dead, as do so, so, so many other places. The town of Worcester itself? Not so great, but Ralph’s is where it’s at. Not many people know it, but I was glad to see a few heads hanging around the show, at least drinking and spending money if not actually upstairs checking out the bands.

There were four on the bill. Insano Vision and King Bison, from Connecticut and Pennsylvania, respectively, Reign of Zaius and CT’s Gasoline Therapy, who opened sometime shortly after 9:30PM, the room still mostly empty save for the other bands, myself and a few others. They played a familiar kind of melodically-conscious heavy rock, the sort that continues to populate New England in a post-Milligram/Roadsaw wave and a sound to which Cortez and a few others have managed to bring an individual edge to go with the catchy songwriting that is a staple of the genre. A dual-guitar approach and standalone vocals showcased Gasoline Therapy (Photo by JJ Koczan)roots between punk and metal, but the overall affect was unpretentious and not really looking for anything other than a good time.

Whether or not they got it, I’m not sure, since they looked kind of bummed out about the lack of crowd, but they played well anyway, the title-track from their upcoming Judas Goat full-length appearing late in the set before “Consumed” closed out, kind of balancing a moody atmosphere on top of more straightforward rhythms. It was a nice night, so I cut outside when they were done and as Reign of Zaius loaded onto the stage to sit in the open air for a while. The venue was playing Sabbath and people talking about other people they know and whatever else — things from which I’d likely have felt distant even if I hadn’t kept my earplugs in — but it looked like a good time anyway in the way that always does if you can actually hold down a conversation with somebody. Not a skill I have. When it was time, I sort of lumbered my way back upstairs to the big room to watch Reign of Zaius.

Just earlier in the day, I had checked out their new single “Power Hitter,” that marks their first recorded output with vocalist Leon Chase fronting the band. It had been well over two years since I last saw them play, so it would also be the first time I’d caught them with guitarist Mike O’Neil alongside bassist Davis and drummer Brian Neri. They had, perhaps unsurprisingly, much more than one song to offer, though “Power Hitter” was aired as well. This was the second night in a weekender trip, following a gig the night before at Bar Matchless in their native borough and to be followed by a stop at 33 Golden St. in Reign of Zaius (Photo by JJ Koczan)New London, CT, where Gasoline Therapy would also play.

As I watched them get started, I couldn’t help but wonder how Neri managed to put together a “Rowdy” Roddy Piper outfit so quickly. I’d only seen news of the former pro-wrestler’s death that afternoon, and I know only too well that it’s at least a four-hour trip from New York to Worcester, so let’s say they got there around eight to load in, they probably would’ve left Brooklyn at 4PM, maybe, what, an hour or two after the news broke? Did Neri just happen to have a kilt and sleeveless “Hot Rod” t-shirt laying around? Entirely possible, I suppose, since the foursome would also pay the fallen Piper homage with the song “They Live,” taking the “consume” and “obey” that appear in block letters in the 1988 John Carpenter illuminati masterpiece of the same name and turning them into a punker’s chorus, Davis shouting into his own mic to back up the wide-eyed Chase, who also managed to work a reference to sunglasses into the verse.

Fair enough. Reign of Zaius were still fairly raw in their presentation, Chase pacing back and forth and jerking his head this way and that while keeping an unnerving and unblinking stare over the reign of zaius 3 (Photo by JJ Koczan)audience. They Live would not be the only referential material either, as “This Man this Monster” was announced as being about the Fantastic Four and finale “A Farewell to Arms” was a clever take on 1987’s Evil Dead 2, complete with repetitions of “I’ll swallow your soul” and mentions by name for both Henrietta and Linda. Clearly the late ’80s was a pivotal cinematic time for somebody in Reign of Zaius, though by then the Planet of the Apes franchise from which they actually take their moniker and, presumably the thematic content for set-opener “Heston,” was long over. Until the remake, reboot, etc.

I’ll continue to keep an eye out for new stuff from them — one assumes “Power Hitter” won’t be their only recorded output, and though there were still two bands to come on the bill, I had to cut out and head south, so I made my way out past the assembled sorts outside and was gone on the quick, as though if I walked faster I-395 wouldn’t be under nighttime construction. At least I had plenty of time to appreciate the blue moon.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Reign of Zaius Release New Single “Power Hitter”

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 31st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster

reign of zaius (Photo by Jason Lee)

Been a while since the last time we heard from Brooklyn heavy rockers Reign of Zaius. Long enough, as it happens, for them to revamp their lineup and re-embark on a long series of regional gigs. It’s been a few years since I last was able to see them on stage, but they’ve been a steady presence around New York City’s heavy underground, and they’ve just put out a new single called “Power Hitter,” which marks the first time I’m hearing them with vocalist Leon Chase, and it’s an immediately favorable impression with some punker edge that suits the band’s roots well.

They played Brooklyn last night at Bar Matchless as the first of a three-night weekender that continues this evening in Worcester, MA, and concludes tomorrow in New London, CT. Single announcement and show details follow:

reign of zaius worcester show

Reign of Zaius Releases “Power Hitter”

Brooklyn-based stoner rockers Reign of Zaius have announced the earthly debut of a brand new single: “Power Hitter”. The song is available as a free download at the band’s website: http://reignofzaius.net/sounds

“Power Hitter” was recorded by Reign of Zaius at their secret headquarters (a.k.a. “the practice space”) in Brooklyn. This is the band’s first recording since a series of massive lineup changes—first with the recruitment of singer Leon “Space” Chase in 2014 and then, more recently, the addition of guitarist Mike “Creepy Mo” O’Neil. The change in personnel brought a definite shift in sound—with “Power Hitter”, the band’s previous two-guitar bombardment has given way to the much grittier, stripped-down feel of Mo’s single Les Paul.
The new single arrives just in time for Reign of Zaius’ “Obesity in Three Cities” mini-tour of the Northeast, beginning Thursday, July 30th at Brooklyn’s own Bar Matchless, and ending all the way up in New London, Connecticut on August 1st. Complete show info is available here: http://reignofzaius.net/events

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Reign of Zaius, “Power Hitter”

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Live Review: Elder, Thinning the Herd, Reign of Zaius and Pants Exploder in Brooklyn, 10.25.12

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

Another shitty day in another shitty week had me in full-on Fuck Everything Mode. Riffy redemption? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, but it wasn’t going to be easy going, and the traffic en route to The Grand Victory in Brooklyn to catch Boston’s Elder, with NYC natives Thinning the Herd, Reign of Zaius and Pants Exploder wasn’t helping. You ever yell at someone in your car with the windows up? I do it. All. The. Time. I honestly don’t know how I’ve made it this long.

So obviously I was drinking, right? I mean what’s better than the existential boner pill alcohol provides? What’s that? Depressant? Fuck that, let’s rock and roll.

I was (born too) late getting there, and so Pants Exploder — who immediately won moniker of the night — were already on. It was my first time at The Grand Victory, which is right across Grand St. (fancy that) from the Trash Bar, but I could tell right away when I walked in that I liked the place. Small, longer than it was wide, the bar was on the left side walking in, loaded with decent micro taps — I had a Brooklyn Somethingorother to start and switched after one to Kelso’s Pilsner, which I found wanted for crispness but went down smoothly nonetheless — and the small stage was in the back of the room. It was unrepentantly a rock and roll bar, but dark in the back and intimate enough that even if there wasn’t a show, I’d drink there. Maybe that’s not saying much these days.

Upon hearing that there was a band called Pants Exploder on the bill, I knew I wanted to see them. I mean, some names just dare the act to live up to them. It’s like naming your band We Will Blow Your Fucking Mind, right? You wanna be like, “Okay, so go ahead, make my pants explode, I brought an extra pair and they’re in the car so I’m ready to go.” They gave it their best shot. A noisy trio, there were elements on hand of High on Fire thrash offset by Torche-type melodies, and they showed they could rage when they wanted to, and they were metal-tight and punk-energetic, which is what you want on a hoppy Thursday night. Good fun. One more band to make me regret living in the suburbs.

There wasn’t much of a changeover, but I had another couple beers and before long, Reign of Zaius started up. It was my second time seeing the Brooklyn newcomers — the first was at Public Assembly in August with The Midnight Ghost Train (review here) — and I don’t know whether it was the beverages, the sound at The Grand Victory or just my already vastly-improved mood, but I got way more of a sense of where they were coming from this time around. Their sound has its classic ’70s elements in the riffs, but with charismatic vocalist David “Viking” Damiecki up front, they seemed way more in line with a post-grunge heavy ’90s rock this time out. One of their songs started out so much like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” that I thought they were doing a Primus cover. They weren’t, but they put that riff to good use anyway.

Elsewhere, Kyuss flourished as an influence, but there was a garage-type feel to their sound as well, guitarist Brady keeping a subdued presence while drummer Brian and bassist Davis added groovy push to the varying tempos. They’re pretty straightforward, and still feeling out where they want to be, but they seemed to have a much better idea last night than even two months ago, so I take that as an encouraging sign. It’ll be interesting to hear where they go sound-wise next time they hit the studio, and ditto that for Thinning the Herd, who followed and once again found guitarist/vocalist Gavin Spielman surrounded by a different band.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve seen them, but even since last year’s Oceans Rise (review here), Spielman has revamped the three-piece, bringing in mustachioed bassist Wes Edmonds and drummer Rick Cimato to underscore his should-be-heard riffs and solos and bluesy vocal delivery. I dug the band before — I’m pretty sure they’ve had a different bassist every time I’ve run into them, but none of them have been bad — but the latest incarnation seemed to be the most professional-minded. I don’t know what their plans are, if they’re looking to tour or whatever, but they were apparently recording with Steve Albini in August, so they’ve got something in the works.

They closed out by covering Fu Manchu‘s “Hell on Wheels” like it was no big deal, and that was an awesome surprise, since I don’t generally think of them as being aligned to that kind of sunshiny fuzz — their sound is dirtier, rougher around the edges — but they pulled it off well, and even in the back of the room, I was singing along. With just Elder to go, the night had already proven solid. All three of bands who’d played were going for something different under the umbrella of capital-‘h’ Heavy, and the varying senses of identity on stage made it an interesting show as well as just being good sets. Right about when I got to thinking about how many different ways there are to spin your red sun blues, Elder got on stage and moiderlized the joint.

Elder were on their way south to this weekend’s inaugural Autumn Screams Doom fest at the Sidebar in Baltimore, and well, I was really glad they made a stop in town. This was my second time being fortunate enough to see them without a piano falling on my head or some such other hindrance (the first was at SHoD in Sept.), and the trio just flat out destroyed. It was the kind of good that makes you stand back and go, “Holy fuck this is good,” backing it up with all kinds of ridiculous hyperbole about how they’re the best band you’ve seen since this one time 17 years ago when you saw someone else who were really killer. Point is, they’re something special to watch on a stage.

It should say something to that effect that when we did that informal Top 10 Stoner Rock Albums poll last month, their last full-length, Dead Roots Stirring, was right on the cusp of making the list — Brant Bjork and High on Fire aren’t bad company, if you have to tie with somebody. They started their set with the title-track from that record, and played material off the Spires Burn/Release 12″ as well (streaming here), guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto missing no steps in the songs and seeming to outmatch even Pants Exploder‘s volume level. Donovan had his mullet in a ponytail — I guess you can’t unleash a beast like that every single night, lest the back of your neck overheat — but they made the most nonetheless of the small stage and proved it was no fluke when after last time I said they’re some of the best American heavy psych I’ve ever seen. If you’re in Baltimore tonight, count yourself lucky.

I’d lost the cap to one of my lenses, and by the time I got back to my humble river valley, I was back to being impotently furious at everything, but it was probably good to get out of my own head for a couple minutes, you know, like a real human being might. Nonetheless, I stomped my feet like a spoiled child taking out the garbage and debated further beerings, but eventually crashed out, gritting my teeth in my sleep to the point of waking up with a sore jaw this morning. Went well with my half-hungover headache.

Music still sounds good.

Extra pics after the jump.

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Live Review: The Midnight Ghost Train, Reign of Zaius and Eidetic Seeing in Brooklyn, 08.09.12

Posted in Reviews on August 11th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I rolled into Public Assembly like a wheelbarrow full of suck. It was Thursday, and I’d worked late as the fourth day of the kind of week where even when I was ahead of myself, I was still behind (so much so, you might say, that I’m writing and posting this review over the weekend). Morale was low. What I needed was a bit of rock and roll revival, and in that regard, I was lucky it was The Midnight Ghost Train I was on my way to see.

The Kansas rockers you might recall from their stint earlier this year opening for Truckfighters (reviews here and here). They’re out touring — as they do, all the time — in support of their new album, Buffalo (review here), doing a US run before heading to Europe this fall. Simply put, they rip live. I liked Buffalo a lot when I reviewed it, and I still dig that record however long it’s been later (I thought I had it or I’d have picked up a CD at the show — more the fool I), but I know from the four or five times I’ve seen them over the last four years or so that they’re an entirely different beast on stage. Public Assembly paired them with local outfits Reign of Zaius and Eidetic Seeing, the latter of whom was just getting ready to go on as I arrived.

Some bands you can just feel the heat off the their tubes as they play, and that was the case with Eidetic Seeing. I knew nothing about the band — I could’ve easily looked them up beforehand, but frankly, I like going into shows sometimes without knowing what I’m going to get — and was pleased to find them a warm-toned heavy psych jam unit. The three-piece were still pretty clearly getting their bearings sound-wise, but it could’ve been much worse. There were maybe 15 or 20 people there when they got going, but Eidetic Seeing may have had the biggest crowd of the night, and the young lady who stood several feet in front of the stage seemed to love it.

They were, however, too loud for the room — which, if you’re keeping track, I believe makes me too old for the room. I like Public Assembly‘s back room. I saw Windhand and Pilgrim there with Magic Circle a few months back and dug the space, the layout of the darkened room reminding me of any number of dingy spots in and around Manhattan where these kinds of shows have happened throughout the last decade — the difference being that Public Assembly hasn’t been forced out of business as so many others have by the onslaught of corporately-owned or sponsored venues and promotion companies. Lucinda Williams was playing down the block at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Obviously I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, but at least on the surface, there seemed to be peaceful coexistence, and the bar between the two venues had live gypsy jazz, which, you know, is fucking awesome.

However, I only know about it because I went outside. Eidetic Seeing‘s wash of noise came through the Public Assembly P.A. as more abrasive than I think it wanted to be, so after several songs, I took my leave and took the air, chatting outside with The Midnight Ghost Train‘s guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss about how the shows were going, mutual acquaintances, and so forth. After a while, I decided to head back in, because I didn’t want to miss Reign of Zaius‘ start, and Eidetic Seeing were just finishing up. They had played a long set. I guess you can do that on a Thursday-is-the-new-Friday in Williamsburg, and they weren’t bad, just not really what I was looking for at the time — that being the aforementioned revival — so I won’t be surprised next time around when Eidetic Seeing and I run into each other and I have a deeper appreciation for what they’re doing.

One thing they had going for them, though, was their bassist. Please try to contain your surprise that I dug the bass tone in an underdeveloped heavy psych trio — something that’s definitely never happened before — but quality low end became a theme for the night. Reign of Zaius bassist Davis followed suit, playing through a fretless and being almost solely responsible for the thickness of his band’s sound. Not that something was lacking in the guitar of Brady, just that the band wasn’t geared on the whole to fuzz or showy about their distortion. They played relatively simple, straightforward heavy-type rock, however, called their frontman Viking and had an impressive, somewhat showy, drummer in the younger Brian.

Like Eidetic Seeing, it seemed watching Reign of Zaius that the band was still working out the kinks in their dynamic. There were a couple noticeable flubs, but nothing major, and overall their songs were inoffensive. The room as uncrowded as it was, it wasn’t going to be anyone’s best night, and as I pointed out in the very first sentence of this review, it wasn’t mine either. Nonetheless, cuts from their self-titled EP like “Cravings,” “White Horse” and “Revelation” gave a decent idea of the lack of pretense in their intent, and “Thick Thighs” had its own kind of charm. No shortage of it. Any band that lists Black Sabbath and the 1988 “Rowdy” Roddy Piper classic They Live among their influences is doing something right, and Reign of Zaius clearly were.

My spirits had picked up some by the time The Midnight Ghost Train had their gear set up. Since the last time they came through, the Topeka outfit jettisoned bassist David Kimmell, leaving Moss and drummer Brandon Burghart — who wore a Truckfighters shirt for their set — to search out a replacement. Before they went on, Moss told me they’d only been playing with Alfred Jordan, from Mississippi, for a few weeks, but watching them on stage, they were still easily the tightest band of the three that played, and Jordan‘s presence on stage, his dreadlocks tossed in several directions at once with each headbang, made a fitting complement for the already established dynamic between Moss and Burghart.

Moss introduced the band in his usual throaty affect, saying, “We’re The motherfucking Midnight Ghost Train from motherfucking Kansas,” pausing for a sip of water before adding, “That’s right, Kansas. Yes, we can read.” The Brooklyn crowd got a laugh out of that, and while I can’t imagine what talking like that with the kind of regularity Moss does so must do to your throat — if you’ve never seen them, think of any number of grizzled 85-year-old Delta blues players, then make it fast, and that’s kind of how Moss talks when he’s on stage — it’s clearly had no effect on his energy level over the course of the time he’s been doing it. The Midnight Ghost Train remain one of the most undervalued quality live acts in their genre, and at Public Assembly, they made a solid case for revisiting Buffalo.

The height of the stage at Public Assembly provides a little distance, and watching them closely, it’s pretty easy to discern the common patterning of The Midnight Ghost Train‘s riffing. They rely a lot on upbeat progressions, cycling through a riff, finishing it with a couple hits, then cycling through again, but what makes it exciting to watch live or to listen to on the album is that you don’t at any point know what they’re going to do with it, and they don’t always do the same thing. They are masters of the sudden stop. Burghart will mute his cymbals, Moss and Jordan will cut the strings, and even if it’s just half a second of silence, the raucousness that ensues following is that much stronger for the pause. Top that with Moss‘ hand-in-the-air raving testimonial vocal delivery, and Buffalo tracks like “Henry” and “Foxhole” wind up as exciting to watch as they are to hear.

Still, it was the slower “Tom’s Trip” that was the highlight of their set. Burghart played without a rack tom — his kit just the snare and bass drums and a floor tom, crash, ride and hi-hat — and that got me thinking about the balance for a drummer between stripping things down to force more creative play and oversimplifying. It’s easy for a drummer, provided he or she can afford it, to adorn a kit with extra toms, cowbells, wood blocks, china cymbals and the rest, but Burghart‘s minimal drumset worked to both his interests and those of the songs, and the play from the snare on his left to the floor tom on his right was a big part of what made “Tom’s Trip” so much fun. The song also reaffirmed that as bombastic and vibrant as The Midnight Ghost Train are on any given night, they’re also readily capable of locking in a stoner rock groove and letting it ride where and when they want it to.

All that feeds into the notion of their unpredictability, which is one of their strongest assets. They have a set context for themselves, but within that, you can never be quite sure where they’re headed. Shouts rose up when they finished for one more song, so they encored with “Southern Belle,” Moss rounding out the set by asking how much he should make it hurt, and then they were quickly done. With work in the morning and the drive back to Jersey ahead, I said a quick thanks and goodnight and split out back to my car, not knowing I’d spend the better part of the next hour in Holland Tunnel traffic.

And I won’t lie to you, there was a moment when — stuck in the tunnel after 1AM, having not moved for 10 minutes because of something no one could see or understand, as discordant chorus of car horns and New York-accented shouts rose up all around me — I really thought I was going to die there in that spot. There was a strange sub-harmony to the horns, and their futility — no one even knew what they were honking at — gave the anger driving them a melancholy edge. Sad, hopeless assholes, stuck in a tunnel together. No doubt after 12 hours, the weak among us would’ve been dismembered and eaten; my own flesh stripped off and cured, like bacon, for breakfast around what for the rest of the world would’ve been sunrise. No sunrise for tunnelfolk.

I barely escaped with my hide, and eventually got through to Jersey and back to my humble river valley, the driving rhythms of “Foxhole” still stuck in my head, where they remain. The Midnight Ghost Train were off the next day, and at The Station in Philly the night after (which is Saturday, tonight). All their tour dates domestic and abroad can be found on their website — they put them right out front. If the point hasn’t been made clear, they’re a highly recommended good time, and bound to improve whatever mood you might be in when you first show up.

Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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