Posted in Whathaveyou on January 21st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Virginian stylemashers Inter Arma received no shortage of praise for 2014’s single-song EP, The Cavern, but seem keen not so much to rest on those laurels as to pummel them into the ground. Fitting. They’ll head out with grinders Yautja on April 10 for a month-plus of touring that will cap off with an appearance at Maryland Death Fest on May 23. It is not an insignificant run.
Already veterans of Roadburn and Gilead Fest, Inter Arma will continue to add notches to their collective belt throughout the year, and no doubt by the time this tour is over they’ll be ready to knock MDF on its ass. So be it. Worth going just for the chance to pick up The Cavern on CD from the band.
The PR wire:
Inter Arma Announce North American Tour Dates with Yautja
The Cavern EP Available Now
Richmond, VA genre-destroying metallers INTER ARMA have announced a five week North American Tour with deliciously dark, Nashville metallers YAUTJA. The dates kick off April 10th in Philadelphia, PA and end May 18th in Nashville, TN followed by a stop at the renowned Maryland Deathfest. A complete listing of tour dates is available below.
INTER ARMA recently released a critically acclaimed 45+ minute, single song EP entitled The Cavern. Originally written during the summer of 2009, but reworked and perfected over the last few years, The Cavern was recorded in 2013 during breaks from the relentless touring the band did with the likes of Baroness, Russian Circles, Ulcerate and numerous others. The recording was captured with producer Mikey Allred at Dark Art Studios in Madison, TN, the same surroundings and setup that captured 2013’s monolithic Sky Burial. Both records can be streamed via their official BandcampHERE.
Inter Arma Tour Dates: 04/10/15 Fri Philadelphia PA Boot & Saddle 04/11/15 Sat Boston MA TT the Bears 04/12/15 Sun Brooklyn NY St Vitus 04/13/15 Mon Washington DC DC9 04/14/15 Tue Durham NC Pinhook 04/15/15 Wed Asheville NC Mothlight 04/16/15 Thu Atlanta GA 529 04/17/15 Fri Orlando FL Will’s Pub 04/19/15 Sun St Petersburg FL Fubar 04/20/15 Mon Gainseville FL The Atlantic 04/21/15 Tue Birmingham AL Bottletree 04/22/15 Wed Baton Rouge LA Spanish Moon 04/23/15 Thu Houston TX Fitzgeralds 04/24/15 Fri Dallas TX Three Links 04/25/15 Sat Austin TX Holy Mountain 04/27/15 Mon Tucson AZ Flycatcher 04/28/15 Tue Phoenix AZ 51west 04/29/15 Wed Las Vegas NV Beauty Bar 04/30/15 Thu San Diego CA Soda Bar 05/01/15 Fri Los Angeles CA Complex 05/02/15 Sat San Francisco CA Bottom of the Hill 05/04/15 Mon Portland OR Doug Fir 05/05/15 Tue Vancouver BC Electric Owl 05/06/15 Wed Seattle WA Highline 05/07/15 Thu Spokane WA The Bartlett 05/08/15 Fri Missoula MT The Palace 05/09/15 Sat Boise ID Neurolux 05/10/15 Sun Salt Lake City UT Kilby Court 05/11/15 Mon Denver CO Lost Lake 05/12/15 Tue Lincoln NE Bourbon Theatre (small room) 05/13/15 Wed Minneapolis MN 7th Street Entry 05/14/15 Thu Chicago IL Empty Bottle 05/16/15 Sat Louisville KY Zanzabar 05/17/15 Sun Cincinnati OH MOTR Pub 05/18/15 Mon Nashville TN Stone Fox 05/23/15 Sat Baltimore, MD Maryland Deathfest
Posted in Reviews on December 31st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Yesterday was kind of crazy, but I don’t mind telling you I think today might be the most all-over-the-place of the week each of the five piles on my desk — now three, soon two — offers something different from the others, but it’s a wide spectrum being covered here, and there’s a couple abrupt turns from one to the next that I didn’t really do on purpose but I think will make for an interesting challenge anyway. In case you’ve been wondering, that’s what kind of nerd I am. Also the Star Trek kind.
I’m feeling really good about this series so far. Really good. I reserve the right to, by Friday, be so completely done with it that I never want to even think of the idea again, but I can only begin to tell you how satisfying it is to me to be able to write about some of these records after staring at them for so long sitting on my desk. Today’s batch is reviews 21-30 of the total 50, so we’ll pass the halfway point in this pile. If you’ve been keeping count since Monday or checking in, thanks, and if not, thanks anyway. Ha.
It’s about that time:
Brain Pyramid, Chasma Hideout
Although it was streamed here in full in September, the persistent stoner charm of French trio Brain Pyramid’s debut album, Chasma Hideout (released by Acid Cosmonaut Records), seemed to warrant further highlight. Whether it’s small touches like the organ underscoring centerpiece “Lucifer” or the wah-ready bass of Ronan Grall – joined in the band by guitarist/vocalist Gaston Lainé and drummer Baptiste Gautier-Lorenzo – or the memorable if genre-familiar turns of “Into the Lightspeed,” the band’s first LP impresses with unpretentious heavy rock front to back. It’s not perfect. Lainé’s vocals come across high in the mix on opener “Living in the Outer Space” and there are points where the “familiar” runs stronger than others, but especially as their initial full-length offering, Chasma Hideout is one that one seems to continue to grow on the listener as time goes on, and one hopes that the heavy psych chicanery from which they launch the 11-minute closing title-track becomes the foundation from which they build going forward. Potential worth reiterating.
With the backing of venerable Swedish imprint I Hate Records, Canadian two-piece Zaum release their first LP in the four-song Oracles, a 48-minute work taking its central musical and atmospheric themes from Middle Eastern cues. Melodically and atmospherically, it relies on chants, slow, deep low end and minor key riffs to convey a dense ambience, reminding some of Om’s Mideast fixation on “Peasant of Parthia” – third and shortest here at 8:13 – but otherwise on a much heavier, darker trip entirely. Opener “Zealot” (12:55) and closer “Omen” (14:08) both offer plodding pace and a methodology not unlike Nile played at quarter-speed, but it would be a mistake to call the hand with which Kyle Alexander McDonald (vocals, bass, synth, sitar) and Christopher Lewis (drums) approach their aesthetic anything but commanding, and when McDonald switches to a semi-blackened rasp in the second half of “Omen,” Zaum demonstrate a desire to push even further into extremity’s reaches. I can’t help but wonder how far they’ll go.
Some of the organ sounds on “Eye Opener,” the aptly-titled leadoff from Virginia four-piece Fire Faithful’s second LP, Organized Occult Love, remind of what Beelzefuzz conjured atmospherically, but an even more primary impression is the uptick in production value from Fire Faithful’s 2012 outing, Please Accept this Invocation (review here). Recorded by Windhand’s Garrett Morris, songs like “Last Fool on Earth” and “Organized Occult Love” brim with tonal resonance and a perfect balance the mix. Guitarist Shane Rippey handled the latter with Morris, and throughout, his tones and that of bassist Jon Bone shine, but whether it’s a more straightforward, Earthride-style groover like the title-track, or a more ranging doomer like “Combat,” vocalist Brandon Malone is well balanced to cut through the morass and drummer Joss Sallade’s crash resides comfortably behind the thick chugging. Melissa Malone and Gabrielle Bishop contribute backing vocals to “Last Fool on Earth” and only affirm how much Organized Occult Love brings Fire Faithful’s Southern doom to another level of presentation. An important forward step.
Five years after debuting with 2009’s Cantos a Ma Vida, Amsterdam-based Pendejo return on Chancho Records with Atacames, a 10-track/44-minute wallop of classic heavy rock riffing and Latin American influence via the Spanish lyrics of vocalist El Pastuso and his readily-wielded-but-not-overused trumpet, which makes a surprising complement to Jaap “Monchito” Melman’s fuzz-heavy guitar, Stef “El Rojo” Gubbels’ bass and Jos “Pepellín” Roosen’s drums, but in context works well to bring personality and an individualized sensibility to a sound otherwise heavily indebted to the likes of Kyuss and Fu Manchu. Quality songwriting and variety in songs like the slower “Amiyano” and the building “Hermelinda” ensures Atacames offers more than novelty to those who’d gape at its other-ness, and when that trumpet does hit, it never falls flat. Closing out with a pair of big-riffers in “El Jardinero” and “La Chica del Super No Se Puede Callar,” Pendejo’s sophomore effort produces results as substantial as they are fun, and serve to remind that’s why we’re here in the first place.
Cali trio Heavy Glow – guitarist/vocalist Jared Mullins, bassist Joe Brooks and drummer St. Judas – have spent a decent portion of the year on tour in support of their full-length, Pearls and Swine and Everything Fine. Understandable, and all the better to pick up your girlfriend in-person. Smooth, well-baked grooves permeate cuts like “Mine all Mine,” which also appeared on their prior 7” (review here), and the later “Nerve Endings,” a Queens of the Stone Age-style production giving about as much of a commercial vibe as a record can have and still be heavy rock, but the songwriting is paramount and definitely an element working in Heavy Glow’s favor, whether it’s the takeoff chorus of “Domino” or near-lounge vibe of “Fat Cat.” There’s an aspirational sensibility at the album’s core that’s going to make for an odd fit for some riff-heads who might be puzzled how something so nearly desert rock can still sound not at all like Brant Bjork, but hooks is hooks, and Heavy Glow use them well.
Bibilic Blood released three albums between 2009 and 2011, but the Eastlake, Ohio, duo haven’t been heard from since – their nightmarish, depraved psychedelic sludge vanishing in a smoky, somehow hateful wisp. Snakeweed marks their fourth album, and with it bassist/vocalist Suzy Psycho and drummer/guitarist Scott “Wizard” Stearns unfurl another demented collection of chaos snippets from an alternate, terrifying universe, the 11 songs totaling just 27 minutes with enough lumber and obscure freakout on two-minute mainliners like “Severed” and “Bloodnomicon” in the middle of the record to be a genre on itself — like a grainy horror flick made scarier by its rawness. Closer and longest cut at 4:10 “Bloody Rabbit” starts with Boris, Flood-style noodling from Stearns on guitar, but samples transition into Snakeweed’s most gruesome chapter, Suzy Psycho’s voice echoing, twisted, from out of an abyss that might as well be your own subconscious, referencing Jefferson Airplane along the way. Their particular brand of malevolence has been missed, and hopefully Snakeweed starts a new bout of activity.
Thera Roya & Hercyn, All this Suffering is Not Enough
Gloom prevails and takes multiple shapes on All this Suffering is Not Enough, the new jewel-case split between Brooklyn post-metallers Thera Roya and progressive New Jersey black metallers Hercyn. Each band includes one song, and for the trio Thera Roya, that’s “Gluttony,” which builds its churn from the ground up and intersperses spacious guitar and almost punkish clean singing en route to a wash of scream-topped distortion, trading off volume and ambience and ultimately delivering a lot of both in a densely-packed eight minutes. Hercyn, a four-piece, counter with the 14-minute “Dusk and Dawn,” which follows their also-longform Magda EP (review here) in grand and squibbly form, a gallop taking hold early topped with throaty screams and shifting between melodic and dissonant impulses, a midsection solo offering a standout moment before the bludgeoning resumes. Each act offers a quotient of noise not to be understated, and despite working in different styles, that’s enough to let them complement each other well on the searing 23-minute Ouro Preto Productions release.
Synapse, the third full-length from German trio The Spacelords, arrives like a gift from the bliss-jam gods. Four extended mostly-instrumental cuts arranged two per side on a Sulatron Records LP, crafting memorable impressions with washes of synth and guitar, intelligent jams that feel partially plotted and intelligent but still exploratory and natural in how they flesh out. Guitarist Matthias Wettstein is out front in the mix, but bassist Akee Kazmaier and drummer Marcus Schnitzler (also of Electric Moon) aren’t far behind, as much as a title like “Starguitar” might make you think otherwise. The chemistry between the three-piece remains tight across the album’s 41 minutes, and from the rich bass and chugging guitar of the opening title-track to the more laid-back groove of “No. 5” and voicebox strangeness of “Pyroclastic Master,” which has the record’s only vocals in robotically spoken lines, Synapse seems to make all of its connections along the way. Heavy psych heads previously unfamiliar will want to take note. The vinyl, of course, is limited.
A progressive heavy rock trio from the Netherlands, The Good Hand present Atman, their second album, on Minstrel Music, with an adventurous semi-desert sensibility given crisp production and a somewhat wistful feel in songs like “Greenwich Mean Time” and “Unity.” For a record that starts out with lead guitarist/vocalist Arjan Hoekstra (also tuba, trombone, bugle, keys, percussion) declaring “I am god,” Atman is surprisingly not-arrogant, owing probably as much to Radiohead as Kyuss and keeping an experimental feel to the stops and arrangement of “The Opposite,” bassist/vocalist Dennis Edelenbosch and drummer/vocalist Ingmar Regeling (both also Monotron) swinging out classic style but holding firm to a modern edge. Out of nowhere is the 19-minute closing title-track (nothing else hits six), on which The Good Hand unfold varied movements that push beyond the charm of “The Death of the Real”’s ‘60s affiliations and into spaces jazz-funky, or droning, or doomy, or all of them. No easy accomplishment, but The Good Hand manage to hold it all together fluidly.
Byzanthian Neckbeard, From the Clutches of Oblivion
Okay, seriously. What the hell do you think a band who live on an island in the English Channel and call themselves Byzanthian Neckbeard sound like? Burly as hell? Well you’re right. The Guernsey foursome of guitarist/vocalist Phil Skyrme, guitarist Jon Langlois, bassist Dano Robilliard and drummer Paul Etasse get down on some dudely, dudely grooves on their 2014 debut, From the Clutches of Oblivion. “Doppelganger” nestles somewhere between death rock, stoner and sludge, and there’s a heaping crash of doom on “Plant of Doom” (duh) and “To Seek the Cyberdwarf” to go with the more swaggering take of “Hive Mind Overlord” as well. But primarily, you don’t put the word “Neckbeard” in your band’s name unless you’re on a pretty masculine trip, and Byzanthian Neckbeard do not fuck around in that regard or in the aggro boogie of “The Ganch.” CD is limited to 200 copies in a four-panel digipak to house the growl-laden, riff-led plunder that ensues across its brief but bloody 32-minute span.
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
Icelandic four-piece Sólstafir hit on a rarely attained balance of gorgeousness and melancholy, and while Ótta is expansive, it’s also gripping front to back and is the best execution of its style I’ve heard since Anathema‘s Alternative 4, which is not a comparison I make lightly. A challenging record, but satisfying in kind and universal in its expressiveness.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend – YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Alunah, Awakening the Forest — Every time I make a list, no matter what kind of list it is, there’s a band I wind up kicking myself for forgetting about at the time. This is the case 100 percent with why Alunah aren’t in the Top 30. In fact, I might go in and swap them out with somebody.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe – I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.
Posted in audiObelisk on August 27th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Among the many Main Stage acts on the Roadburn lineup this year, few bands left the kind of impression Richmond, Virginia’s Windhand seemed to leave. After their set, which was on the third day of the fest proper, Saturday, April 12, you could hear their name being talked about for the rest of the evening outside the 013 in Tilburg: “Dude, did you see Windhand?” The five-piece had obviously made an impression with their 2013 Relapse label debut, Soma(review here), and they followed that up with a blistering live set that, come the fall, will be available as an exclusive vinyl release on Burning World Records and Outer Battery Records.
The opener from that set, recorded and mixed by Marcel van de Vondervoort and mastered by James Plotkin, was “Orchard,” but that’s only if you want to be technical about it. Really, the opener for the set was about a solid minute of gut-wrenching feedback from which the initial riff eventually oozed. Soon enough, Windhand are underway with the track’s doomly lurch, but they’re barely there at all before you can hear the audience get into it on the recording. Roadburn may have been a stop for Windhand on a longer tour, one that seems nearly endless with the road-time the band puts in — they’re out again in the States next month (dates below) — but after listening to the captured results, there can be little question it was a landmark both for them and for those who got to see them play.
If you were there, Live at Roadburn 2014is a chance to relive that moment. If you weren’t there, it’s still about as quality a live recording of Windhand as you’re going to get, so I don’t really see how you could lose. The LP is available now to preorder, and you can hear “Orchard” on the player below. Please enjoy:
Windhand will release the vinyl-only Live at Roadburn 2014 late September/October on Burning World Records (EU preorder here) and Outer Battery Records (US preorder here). The pressing is limited to 400 copies in the US. Windhand also head out on tour starting Sept. 4 with All Them Witches. Dates follow:
Windhand tour with All Them Witches: 9/4 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar 9/5 Pittsburgh, PA – 31st St Pub 9/6 Akron, OH – Musica 9/7 Columbus, OH – The Basement 9/9 Iowa City, IA – Gabe’s 9/10 Chicago, IL – Cobra Lounge 9/11 Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock 9/12 Milwaukee, WI – Metal Grill 9/13 Ferndale, MI – Loving Touch 9/14 Toronto, ON – Coda 9/16 Ottawa, ON – Cafe Dekcuf 9/17 Montreal, QC – Petit Campus 9/18 Cambridge, MA – Middle East (upstairs) 9/19 Providence, RI – AS220 9/20 Brooklyn, NY – Saint Vitus Bar
Posted in Whathaveyou on August 19th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
As a general stance, I’m way down with single-song releases. I feel like a lot of the time they’re what a band is building toward and then afterwards they have to be even more creative because, well, they’ve already done that, so what next? They show ambition and a will to challenge a progression to come to its fullest point. Richmond, Virginia’s Inter Arma have a sound more than varied enough to pull off a single-song release, and while I’d question calling their upcoming The Cavernouting an EP at 40 minutes long, when one considers the fact that their 2013 Relapse debut, Sky Burial(track stream here), was over the hour mark, it probably makes more sense.
This is one I’ll hope to hear. The PR wire has details, preorder links and an audio sample featuring Windhand vocalist Dorthia Cottrell:
INTER ARMA: Announce The Cavern EP, Release Album Trailer
40-Minute Single-Song EP to See October 14th Release
Richmond, VA genre-destroying metallers INTER ARMA are set to release a brand new, 40+ minute, single song EP entitled The Cavern this Fall. Originally written during the summer of 2009, but reworked and perfected over the last few years, The Cavern was recorded last year during breaks from the relentless touring the band did with the likes of Baroness, Russian Circles, Ulcerate and numerous others. The recording was captured with producer Mikey Allred at Dark Art Studios in Madison, TN, the same surroundings and setup that captured last year’s monolithic Sky Burial LP.
Shifting from Americana laced extreme metal to doom to stoner rock to prog all within a single song, INTER ARMA’s The Cavern is an opus that will surely be heralded for years to come as a work of true artistic vision and endurance. A sample of The Cavern which also features guest vocals from Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell can be heard HERE.
The EP will see its official release in North America on October 14th, in the UK/World on October 13th and in Germany/Benelux/Finland on October 10th. Physical pre-orders are currently availablevia this locationwith digital pre-orders availableHERE.
The STB Records vinyl for Virginian psychedelic doomers Druglord‘s Enter Venuscomes in three editions. The “diehard” is limited to 48 copies, has custom art from W. Ralph Walters, and comes with foil stamp, hand-numbered, clear vinyl with “dopesmoke” green splatter. An “OBI” version is what it sounds like — it comes with an OBI strip in Japanese and English. The vinyl is green with a white swirl and it’s limited to 90 copies. Given the quality of the presentation and its still-limited pressing of 115 copies, I hesitate to call third version “standard,” but I suppose of you think of it as a “high standard,” it makes more sense.
As ever, my photos don’t do the package justice. W.Ralph Walters‘ cover is part-glossy and part-matte on the front and back, the platter is the same milky-clear/green splatter as the diehard version, and both the cover and the liner sleeve are of a stock thick enough to do justice to the four cuts on Enter Venusitself, which hurls forth an otherworldly swirl of low end rumble and psychedelic echo. The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist/organist Tommy Hamilton, bassist Greta Brinkman and drummer Hufknell have reveled in righteous-order aural fuckery since (probably before) their 2010 self-titled demo (review here), and while 2011’s Motherfucker Rising(review here) expanded that form, Enter Venusis in a different class of sonic fullness. A recording job by Windhand‘s Garrett Morris positions the guitar and bass at the fore with Hufknell‘s cymbal wash behind and the vocals calling out as through trapped within the barrage of languid, drawling riffs.
On headphones, Enter Venusis all the more consuming, through the opening “Grievous Heaving” — still the best description I’ve encountered for Druglord‘s sound — and “Feast on the Eye” on side A, but particularly into the depths of side B’s “Enter Venus” and the closing “Let us Bleed.” This is something that was true of STB‘s limited tape version (review here), but while the tape benefited from the claustrophobic compression of the format, the LP — set for 45RPM presumably so that if you want to play it even more inhumanely slow than it already is, you can — likewise capitalizes on the expansive breadth and clarity. It’s like staring at a really clear blur. Hamilton, Brinkman and Hufknell shift into ambience here and there, as on the title-track, but the sense of plod is never completely gone, and at atmosphere of horror emerges not just because the lyrics (presented in the inner sleeve) throw in lines like “Rest in pieces/Ripped up and thrown in the grave” in “Let us Bleed” and “Haunt me forever/Demons underneath my skin” in “Grievous Heaving.” Vocals are often indecipherable without the lyric sheet. It’s the overarching dreadful impression of the vocals along with the morass of distortion, all of it taken together, that results in the brutal sensibility.
All told, the LP checks in at 27 minutes, so one could hardly accuse it of overstaying its welcome, but even just with two songs on each side and both sides clocking in under 15 minutes, there’s no lack of substance. An opening sample gives darkly religious overtones and from there it’s a slow-motion slaughter. Still, the vivid colors of the packaging in which Enter Venusarrives suit it well, playing to the psychedelic elements brought through in the recording, which even if they’re brought forth in a grueling, wretched manner hold strong to an otherworldly feel. It just so happens that the other world is populated by monsters.
Today I have the extreme pleasure in addition to checking out the vinyl itself of hosting a full stream of the album. Find it on the player below and please enjoy:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
The Enter VenusLP is available now for preorder through STB Records and will be released Feb. 22. More info at the following links:
It’s a rather formidable group of bands playing Stoner Hands of Doom XIII, and I won’t lie, part of the reason I wanted to do this “10 Days of SHoD XIII” series was because of the drama that surrounds this year’s fest. Early last month, founder and promoter Rob Levey bowed out of Stoner Hands of Doom XIII, saying simply that his heart wasn’t in it anymore. Understandable. Levey‘s work at the head of SHoD has gone unnoticed and underappreciated for more than a decade; some measure of burnout is not only expected but damn near mandatory. It was the timing of it, with bands and venue booked, tours in place and all systems go about a month before the event itself, that created such a stir. If Levey had said in May he didn’t want to do it anymore, I don’t think anyone would have been able to argue he should keep going in what for years has been a passion-driven endeavor.
Neither is this the first time Stoner Hands of Doom has called it quits. Between 2010 and 2012, it looked like the festival — which over the years has taken place in Ohio, Arizona, Germany, Oregon, Maryland, and so on — was done for. Last year’s fest in New London, Connecticut, was killer but poorly attended. Richmond, Virginia, where SHoD XIII will take place at Strange Matter from Nov. 7-10, is home to a slew of creative heavy acts, from Valkyrie to Lord and many more on the bill, and I assume it was Levey‘s hope that by delving into the local scene, the festival would be able to capitalize on a grassroots, word-of-mouth kind of promotion from the bands. Whether or not that happened, I don’t know. I don’t have numbers on ticket sales, but the fact of the matter is I think SHoD, both with its history and its impending lineup for this coming weekend, is a cause worth supporting in any way I can. Obviously Brendan Burns of The Eye of the StonedGoat,who stepped in to take Levey‘s place as the promoter, felt similarly. However things turn out, his efforts are to be commended.
I won’t be traveling to Virginia this weekend, contrary to my initial plans, and we close out the series tomorrow with an interview with Beelzefuzz guitarist/vocalist Dana Ortt, but I just wanted to get one more plug in for what I feel is a perfect example of some of the best in doom’s motivations. If this is or isn’t the final installment of Stoner Hands of Doom, it will have lived and died as a festival put on out of love for music and the community of people making it. Long live SHoD.
Posted in Features on November 4th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Richmond natives Gritter have been banging around abrasive sludge metal since they started out as Rube with the Angry at the Missus EP in 2009 (review here). That record worked within some engaging-if-familiar sludge methods, but it was clear Gritter had outgrown even a year later when they switched monikers and put out the Vince Burke-recorded Sour Mash and Spanish MossLP (review here). Likewise, it seems their 2013 six-song EP, Welcome to the Sinkhole, put to tape by Kevin Willoughby, is another jump in approach, if not in the band’s actual name, taking cues less from underground sludge and more in the modern Southern metal of Lamb of God on songs like “Black Teeth” and “Welcome to the Sinkhole” itself. If it seems like a fine line, there are times where it is, but because most of Welcome to the Sinkholekeeps an upbeat push to its chugging riffs and because vocalist Ryan Kent has dialed back some of his Phil Anselmo-isms, Gritter emerge from their latest outing sounding their most individualized yet. Also metal. Very, very metal.
I have yet to post something about this band — Kent on vocals, Adam Kravitz on guitar, Justin Wolz on bass and Kevin White on drums — and not have someone they’ve rubbed the wrong way chime in about it (you can check the comments on past reviews for proof if you’d like), but I think there’s something to be said for an act who elicit a strong response one way or another, and it’s hard not to have an opinion listening to Welcome to the Sinkhole. Superficially, the elements at work are familiar, but to dig below the surface of a song like “Sayonara” is to reveal something not only ably structured in terms of its verse and chorus progression, but a thick, professionally-presented groove. Kent‘s balance of screams and cleaner singing adds drive to the arrangements throughout, whether it’s propelling the adrenaline of “Bowie” or adding just a touch of melody to the early verses in “Sayonara,” and the music behind him is no less thoughtfully constructed. I’m not sure where the animosity comes from, but there are a whole lot of bands out there working from a similar base of influence as Gritter on Welcome to the Sinkholewho don’t put as much of themselves into their songs as these guys seem to do.
The penultimate instrumental “Sea of Trees” makes a well-placed change of pace after four pummelers in a row, and a linear build not only showcases the foursome’s ability to work in more than verse/chorus songwriting, but provides a lead-in to the resurgent aggression of closer “Drunk Tank,” also the longest song on Welcome to the Sinkhole at 5:51, the extra time dedicated to a stretch of this-is-the-mosh-part riffing and a final slowdown that only makes the chugging more vicious and which Kent can’t seem to help himself from topping with like-minded screams and venomous spitting. Can’t say I blame him. Gritter‘s sound is less burly than some, but lacks nothing for chestbeating, and with the crisp production and clear intent toward Southern metal brutality, they’re just about asking for every scream they get. After three years since their last release, they’re almost frighteningly mature on Welcome to the Sinkhole, and whatever attention they’re able to glean from it is attention earned more or less by a punch in the face. Something tells me these guys are alright with pissing people off.
Gritter play Stoner Hands of Doom XIII on Thursday, Nov. 7, at Strange Matter in Richmond, Virginia, sharing the bill that night with Clamfight, Druglord, Compel, Pillbuster and more. Welcome to the Sinkholewas released in July in a variety of vinyl editions — black and red swirl, white with black swirl, lavender with black swirl — as well as on CD and download, all of which (except for some of the vinyl, which is sold out) are available from the band via Bandcamp, from whence I also nabbed the player with the album below: