We’re less than a month out from the release of the second Beastmaker long-player for Rise Above, Inside the Skull. Never ones for sitting still, the Fresno-based purveyors of cultish hooks have already been on the road to support the forthcoming offering, touring in March alongside Texas boogiejumpers Mothership and classic heavy rockers Slow Season on a three-band bill the likes of which would be enough to make one used a word like “stacked” in describing it. They’ll soon enough head out again to herald Inside the Skull, which is the follow-up to their 2016 debut, Lusus Naturae (review here), this time in the company of Zakk Sabbath, the Black Sabbath covers vehicle of Black Label Society founder/former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde.
Wylde‘s direct connections to heavy rock — as opposed to heavy metal — might be tenuous, but no question these gigs will be some of the biggest that Beastmaker will have played to-date. Listening to Inside the Skull — which starts with the immersive roll of “Evil One” and courses through the ghoulish drawl of “Give Me a Sign” and the rolling “Night Bird” en route to a rumbling finish in “Sick Sick Demon,” dropping righteous choruses along the way like they’re the Devil’s dry cleaning — there’s little question the three-piece are up to the task, and in giving a glimpse of the record’s overall mood and method in the new video for “Nature of the Damned,” they put emphasis on their blend of efficient traditional songwriting, modern doomly tonal heft and cult-rocker vibes.
I’ll hope to get a proper album review going at some point, but it’s the level of songcraft and execution that distinguishes Inside the Skull from its post-Uncle Acid, VHS-horror-flick-minded peers, and Beastmaker have only stepped up their game on the whole across its span. No doubt they’re going to turn some heads on the upcoming tour.
Video follows, along with tour dates courtesy of the PR wire.
Beastmaker, “Nature of the Damned” official video
Beastmaker will release their new album Inside The Skull May 19th on Rise Above Records. The band’s first video from the new album is for the track “Nature of the Damned”. Watch the video HERE. Pre-order the album on iTunes and check out the band’s upcoming North American tour dates with Zakk Sabbath HERE.
BEASTMAKER W/ Zakk Sabbath: 5/19: New York, NY @ The Gramercy Theatre 5/23: Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel 5/25: Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live Studio 5/26: Dallas, TX @ Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill 5/28: St. Louis, MO @ Fubar 5/30: Nashville, TN @ Exit/In 5/31: Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade 6/2: Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge 6/4: Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater 6/6: Spokane, WA @ The Pin 6/7: Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile 6/8: Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre 6/10: San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s
The arrival of Women, the third full-length from Los Angeles ethereal heavy rockers Ides of Gemini, has been a gradual process. True, their prior outing, Old World New Wave (review here), came out in 2014 and three years is hardly an egregious stretch between albums, but in the case of Ides of Gemini, the last year-plus has involved not only the usual playing out and writing time, but also the switching of labels from Neurot Recordings to Rise Above Records — substantial endorsement, in either case — and the reconstruction of the group itself, which went from a trio to a four-piece in adding the rhythm section of bassist Adam Murray and drummer Scott Batiste (the latter also of Saviours) to the founding duo of guitarist J. Bennett and vocalist Sera Timms (also Zun, Black Mare and formerly Black Math Horseman), the latter of whom gave up her dual role as bassist for the 10-track/43-minute, Sanford Parker-recorded offering.
One might think that with a degree of tumult surrounding its making, Women would be confused or uneven in some way, yet it’s arguable that Ides of Gemini have never sounded so clearheaded. From the early semi-metallized urgings in “The Dancer” to the vast soundscaping in “Heroine’s Descent,” which nods to goth dramas and black metal in like proportion, on through the lumber of “She Has a Secret” and ritualized-feeling closer “Queen of New Orleans,” Women basks in its diverse purposes and unites them through a foundation of performance. Timms, as ever, adds to the atmosphere on vocals, but her melodic command is unmistakable, and whether it’s the sway of “The Rose” or the more straightforward push of “Swan Diver,” Bennett‘s riffing is varied and crisp as backed by Murray‘s bass and Batiste‘s drums; the whole affair only given further reach by Parker‘s production work. In some ways, it is very much a “third album,” as it could easily be seen as a new level of maturity in the band’s approach and benefiting from the lessons of Old World New Wave and 2012’s Constantinople before it.
Women is out April 28 via Rise Above Records and the band have tour plans in the works for later this year. Bennett was kind enough to take part in a short interview about making the album and to discuss the development of Ides of Gemini from their beginnings to this point.
Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
Six Dumb Questions with Ides of Gemini
Tell me about writing Women. It’s been three years since Old World New Wave but the band has been through a lot in that time. When did these songs start to come together?
J. Bennett: I started writing songs for the album that would become Women not long after we recorded Old World New Wave. I usually have the title, concept and many of the songs ready for our next album before the most recent one is even available. At that time, our original drummer Kelly was still in the band and the album had a different working title. After Scott and Adam joined, I ended up abandoning most of the material I had and started writing new stuff that I felt was more suited to the new lineup — and was partly inspired by it. And I changed the title to Women. So almost everything you hear on the new album ended up being written after Adam and Scott joined.
Has bringing new members in changed the dynamic between you and Sera at all? You’re the founders of the band. How involved in making the album were Scott and Adam?
It’s changed the dynamic in the practical sense that she’s not playing bass anymore, which has freed up her vocals considerably. And she doesn’t have any gear to haul around anymore, which I know she loves. I think she and I are also more open to arrangement suggestions than we were in the past.
These songs absolutely would not be what they are without Scott and Adam. Sera and I can build a basic Frankenstein monster on our own, but those guys are the electricity that brings it to life. Scott in particular made some excellent arrangement suggestions that greatly improved the dynamics of the songs.
How was your time in the studio with Sanford Parker? Was there anything specific you wanted to get out of the experience of recording with him?
Our experience with Sanford was fantastic. A few years ago, we had talked with him about the possibility of recording Old World New Wave, but he was still living in Chicago at that time, and the logistics, timing and budget just didn’t work out. When we talked to him about doing Women, it just so happened that he was planning to move to Los Angeles right around the time we wanted to record. I think he had only been living here for two weeks or so when we went into the studio.
In addition to him being a hugely talented producer and engineer, the appeal of working with Sanford came largely from some of those pre-Old World New Wave conversations we’d had with him — he “gets” Ides of Gemini in a way that many people do not. The references he made when talking about our music were to the post-punk, gothic rock, and black metal records that we feel the most affinity with, rather than the doom or “stoner rock” references that most folks seem to make. So I guess you could say he told us what we wanted to hear.
What’s your relationship to heavy metal at this point? Women is definitely heavy, but where is the line for you between something being heavy and it being metal? Is “The Dancer” metal?
Great question. I’ve loved heavy metal since I was a little kid and will do so until the day I die. But as much as I enjoy heavy metal, I have no desire to play genre music in Ides of Gemini. Besides, there are so many bands out there that play straight-up metal better than I’ll ever be capable of. Why try to compete in such a crowded field when you can at least attempt to stand out by doing something different?
Then again, there are obviously elements of heavy metal in what we do. As far as the new album, songs like “Swan Diver” and “Raft of Medusa” are even predominantly metal. Is “The Dancer” metal? I don’t know. I can see how it could be perceived that way, but in the end it’s not up to me. This question gets to the heart of the weird conundrum we’ve been in since the band’s beginning. I get the sense that we’re often perceived as not heavy enough to play with the metal bands that we’re usually lumped in with, but then we’re considered way too heavy to play with the gothic rock bands that we might feel more affinity with. That can be frustrating at times, but ultimately I think it means we’re doing something right.
Three full albums in, how do you feel the band has grown and how conscious has that growth been? How much of the direction of Women just happened, as opposed to being a purposeful goal of songwriting?
I feel like the band has grown immensely over three albums. Constantinople to Old World New Wave felt like a pretty big improvement, and Old World New Wave to Women feels like a massive one. Like any band, we’re always striving to get better, but this time we did so in ways that we could never have anticipated because of the lineup changes. The second part of your question is a little tougher to answer. The songs always start with a riff—some of those riffs are written very purposefully, but many definitely just “happen.” So the initial inspiration — that first riff — could go either way. But the direction each song takes after that first spark happens with much more purpose.
Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?
We’re playing a record release show here in Los Angeles on May 6 with our friends Zig Zags and Taarkus. After that, world domination? A girl can dream.
Posted in Reviews on March 30th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
From harsh doom to urban pastoralism to heavy blues rock to rolling doom nonetheless metallic in its defiance, Day Four of the Quarterly Review spins around a swath of styles and hopefully, hopefully, finds something you dig in the doing. It’s been a long week already. You know it. I know it. But it’s also been really good to dig into this stuff and I know I’ve found a few records that have made their way onto the already-ongoing 2017 lists — best short releases, debuts, albums, etc. — so to say it’s been worth it is, as ever, an understatement. Today likewise has gems to offer, so I won’t delay.
Quarterly Review #31-40:
Unearthly Trance, Stalking the Ghost
Brooklyn’s Unearthly Trance make a somewhat unexpected reentry with Stalking the Ghost (on Relapse), their sixth album. In the years since 2010’s V (review here), guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lipynsky has delved into a wide variety of extreme genres, from the blackened fare of The Howling Wind to the deathly-doom of Serpentine Path, in which Unearthly Trance bassist Jay Newman and drummer Darren Verni also shared tenure, but reuniting as Unearthly Trance feels like a significant step for the three-piece, and on tracks like “Dream State Arsenal” and the darkly post-metallic “Lion Strength,” they remind of what it was that made them such a standout in the first place while demonstrating that their years away have done nothing to dull the surehandedness of their approach. At eight tracks/52 minutes, Stalking the Ghost is a significant dirge to undertake, but Unearthly Trance bring pent-up anguish to bear across this varied swath of punishing tracks, and reassert their dominance over an aesthetic sphere that, even after all this time, is thoroughly their own.
Probably a smart move on the part of Heavy Traffic spearhead guitarist Ian Caddick and drummer/vocalist Tav Palumbo to swap coasts from Santa Cruz to Brooklyn ahead of putting together their sixth (!) full-length in three years and Twin Earth Records debut, Plastic Surgery. Cali is awash in heavy psych anyway and Brooklyn’s been at a deficit (as much as it’s at a deficit of anything) since space forerunners Naam became one with the cosmos, so even apart from the acquisition of bassist David Grzedzinki and drummer Dan Bradica, it’s a solid call, and one finds the fruits yielded on Plastic Surgery’s dream-fuzzed blend of heft and roll, heady jams like “See Right Through,” the oh-you-like-feedback-well-here’s-all-the-feedback “Broth Drain” and winding “Medicated Bed” finding a place where shoegaze and psychedelia meet ahead of the low-end-weighted closing title-cut and the bonus track “White and Green,” which finishes with suitable push and swirl to mark a welcome and vibe-soaked arrival for the band. Hope you enjoy the Eastern Seabord. It could use you.
In the second Saturn album, Beyond Spectra, one can hear one of retro rock’s crucial next movements taking place. The Swedish four-piece, who debuted on Rise Above with 2014’s Ascending and return with a periodically explosive 10-track/45-minute outing here, find a niche for themselves in adding dual-guitar NWOBHM elements to ‘70s-style (also ‘10s-style) boogie, as on the scorching “Still Young” or opener “Orbital Command.” They’re not the only ones doing it – Rise Above alums Horisont come to mind readily – but they’re doing it well, and the last three years have clearly found them refining their approach to arrive at the tightness in the shuffle of “Wolfsson” and the creeping Priestism of “Helmet Man” later on. I’ll give bonus points for their embracing the idea of going completely over the top in naming a song “Electrosaurus Sex,” but by the time they get down to closing duo “Silfvertape” and “Sensor Data,” I’m left thinking of the subdued intro to “Orbital Command” and the interlude “Linkans Delight” and wondering if there isn’t a way to bring more of that dynamic volume and tempo breadth into the songwriting as a whole. That would really be far out. Maybe they’ll get there, maybe they won’t. Either way, Beyond Spectra, like its predecessor, makes a largely inarguable case for Saturn’s potential.
Measuring its impact between doomly traditionalism and attitudinal fuckall, Lucifer’s Fall’s II: Cursed and Damned (on Nine Records) is a doom-for-doomers affair that tops 55 minutes with its nine tracks, recalling Dio-era Sabbathian gallop on opener “Mother Superior” and landing a significant blow with the slow-rolling nine-minute push of “The Necromancer.” Shades of Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, and the most loyal of the loyalists show themselves throughout, but whether it’s the crawl in the first half of “Cursed Priestess” or the blistering rush of the clarion centerpiece “(Fuck You) We’re Lucifer’s Fall,” there’s an undercurrent of punk in the five-piece’s take that lends an abiding rawness to even the album’s most grueling moments. One looks to find a middle ground in songs like “The Mountains of Madness” and closer “Homunculus,” but Lucifer’s Fall instead offer NWOBHM-style guitar harmonics and soaring vocals, respectively, only pushing their stylistic breadth wider, playing by and breaking rules they’re clearly setting for themselves rather than working toward outside expectation. As a result, II: Cursed and Damned keeps its fist in the air for the duration, middle finger up.
Over the course of six-minute opener “A New Architecture,” guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw gradually moves the listener from abrasive noise to sweet, folkish acoustic guitar backed by amplified wavelengths. It’s a slowly unfolding change, patiently done, and it works in part to define Uptown (on The Flenser), the Pelican guitarist’s six-song solo debut long-player. Noise and drone make themselves regulars, and there’s a steady experimentalism at root in pieces like “Distinct Frequency,” the low-end hum and strum of “You Were Sure,” and the should’ve-been-on-the-soundtrack-to-Arrival “Turn up for What,” which unfurls a linear progression from minimalism to consuming swell in eight minutes ahead of the more actively droning 11-minute sendoff “From the Black Soil Poetry and Song Sprang,” but de Brauw manages to keep a human core beneath via both the occasional acoustic layer and through moments where a piece is being palpably manipulated, à la the spacious distorted churn of “They Keep Bowing.” I’m not sure how Uptown didn’t wind up on Neurot, but either way, it’s an engaging exploration of textures, and one hopes it won’t be de Brauw’s last work in this form.
Someone in Scuzzy Yeti has roots in metal, and the good money’s on it being vocalist Chris Wells. Joined in the Troy, New Hampshire, five-piece by guitarists Brad Decatur and Jason Lawrence (ex-Skrogg), bassist Wayne Munson and drummer Josh Turnbull, Wells casts a sizable frontman presence across the five-tracks of Scuzzy Yeti’s self-titled debut EP, belting out “Westward” and “BTK” as the band behind him hones a blend of classic heavy rock and doom. The sound is more reminiscent of Janne Christoffersson-era Spiritual Beggars than what one might expect out of New England, and the band amass some considerable momentum as centerpiece “Conqueror” and the shorter shuffle “Knees in the Breeze” push toward slower, lead-soaked closer “Flare,” which finds the lead guitar stepping up to meet Wells head-on. They might have some work to do in finding a balance between the stylistic elements at play, but for a first outing, Scuzzy Yeti shows all the pieces are there and are being put into their rightful place, and the result is significant, marked potential.
The insistent push from punctuated Denver trio Urn.’s self-titled debut demo/EP is enough to remind one of the days when the primary impression of Mastodon wasn’t their complexity, but the raw savagery with which that complexity was delivered. Urn. – the three-piece of Scott Schulman, Graham Wesselhoff and Jacob Archuleta – work in some elements of more extreme metal to “Rat King” after opener “Breeder,” both songs under three minutes and successfully conveying an intense thrust. The subsequent “Stomach” ranges further and is the longest cut at 4:45, but loses none of its focus as it winds its way toward closer “To the Grave,” which in addition to maintaining the nigh-on-constant kick drum that has pervaded the three tracks prior, offers some hints of lumbering stomp to come. As a first sampling, Urn.’s Urn. is a cohesive aesthetic blast setting in motion a progression that will be worth following as it develops. Call it rager metal and try not to spill your beverage while you windmill, you wild headbanger.
2016 found San Diego aggressors Nebula Drag making their self-titled, self-released debut (review here) with a record that seemed to work in willful defiance of their hometown’s psychedelic underground while at the same time occasionally nodding to it. The forebodingly-titled Always Dying three-song EP does likewise, launching with a vengeance on “Crosses” before burying the vocals and spacing out behind the crashes of the more languid-rolling title-track and giving a bit of both sides with the four-minute closer “Flying Fuckers.” It’s almost as if the three-piece of Corey Quintana, bassist Mike Finneran and drummer Stephen Varns, having thus completed their first album, decided to boil it down to its essential stylistic components and the result of that was this 14-minute outing. An intriguing prospect, but it could also be these were leftovers from the prior session with Jordan Andreen at Audio Design Recording and putting them up for a free download was an easy way to give them some purpose. In any case, if you haven’t yet been introduced to the band, Always Dying is an efficient telling of their story thus far.
If their moniker doesn’t have you immediately running through the most legendary of cheat codes, congratulations on being born after 1990. Cleveland burl-sludge metallers Contra make their full-length debut on respected purveyor Robustfellow with the 10-track/41-minute Deny Everything, and if it sounds like they have their shit together – at least sound-wise – it should make sense given the pedigree of drummer Aaron Brittain (ex-Rue), bassist/guitarist Adam Horwatt (So Long Albatross), guitarist Chris Chiera (ex-Sofa King Killer) and vocalist Larry Bent (ex-Don Austin). Be it established that songs like “Snake Goat” and “Son of Beast” are nobody’s first time at the sludge rodeo. Fair enough. Doesn’t mean Contra don’t establish their own personality in the overarching fuckall and total lack of pretense throughout Deny Everything – hell, seven-minute closer “Shrimp Cocktail” proves that on its own – just that that personality has roots. What Contra wants to do with them still kind of seems up in the air, but something about these tracks makes me think the band likes it that way. See the aforementioned “fuckall.”
Comprised of four songs tracked live in the trio’s native Córdoba at 440 Estudio, the self-titled debut EP from Argentine trio IAH – guitarist Mauricio Condon, bassist Juan Pablo Lucco and drummer José Landín – would seem destined to catch the attention of South American Sludge Records if it already hasn’t. In the interim, the three-piece have made the instrumental EP available as a free download and its unpretentious heavy psychedelics and edge of rock-minded thrust on opener “Cabalgan los Cielos” and the early going of closer “Eclipsum” more than justify their intention to spread the word as much as possible. Set to a balance of post-rock guitar, the bassline of “Stolas” carries a progressive inflection, and the fuzz that emerges halfway into second track “Ouroboros” shows a desert rock influence that blends well into its surroundings as a part of a richer sonic entity. A nascent but palpable chemistry at work across its 26 minutes, IAH’s IAH could portend expansive ideas to come, and one hopes it does precisely that.
Posted in Reviews on March 29th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Always a special moment in the Quarterly Review when we pass the halfway mark. That’s where today’s batch brings us, and in rocking style as well. You might say I’ve been taking it easy on myself with the selections this time out — albums there’s plenty to say on and generally good stuff — but the basic fact of the matter is even with 50 reviews in a week, this is still just a fraction of what’s out there and still just a fraction of what I’d cover if I had the time. I couldn’t in terms of my own sanity, but one could probably do 10 reviews a day every day of the year and still have room for more. I do the best I can. Picking and choosing is a part of that process. Let’s get to it.
Quarterly Review #21-30:
After the bold departure presented in 2014’s Shelter (review here) toward even-airier, more indie-hued fare, French post-black metal innovators Alcest make a no-less-bold return to their core sound – screams included, as they’re quick to show on “Eclosion” – with 2016’s Kodama (on Prophecy Productions). It’s a less progressive move, and for that distinct in Alcest’s discography, but one can’t argue with their execution of a track like “Je Suis d’Ailleurs” and the immediately recognizable melodic wash they craft, as resonant emotionally as it is heavy in its tone. Most of the six cuts seem contented to have (re-)found their place, but “Onyx” finishes out with just under four minutes of layered guitar droning, and so Alcest seem to tease that perhaps they’re not completely ready to settle the issue of their aesthetic just yet. One hopes that’s the case, and in the meantime, the reorientation that Kodama brings with it should no doubt please those longtime fans who bristled at the turn they made their last time out.
Galley Beggar’s fourth offering and second for Rise Above, Heathen Hymns, brings 42-minutes of the traditional acid folk one has come to expect from them over the last half-decade plus, no less graceful in its melodies, harmonies and weaving into and out of psychedelia, Eastern inflections on the sitar-laced “The Lake” and cleverly rhythmic in the post-rocking electric flourish of “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme.” Knowing what to expect, however, does nothing to diminish the joy of the listening experience. Rather, the return of Galley Beggar’s fluid string and/or more rock-based arrangements, memorable songcraft and gorgeous vocal treatments is welcome, and perhaps most of all on closer “My Return,” which draws their multiple sides together in a cohesive vision of futures past that only benefits from the maturity they’ve grown into. With poise as a defining feature as much as their British folk stylistic lineage, Galley Beggar remain a special outfit doing deeply individualized and satisfying work.
A steady foundation of low-end drone underpins songs like “Ignorance Makes Me High” and “Hidden Prettiness” on Pontiak’s Dialectic of Ignorance (released via Thrill Jockey), and though they move away from it somewhat in the more active freakout “Dirtbags,” the patience shown by the Virginian trio forms a key part of the album’s personality. To wit, they open with “Easy Does It,” essentially telling their listener their intention for what will ensue throughout the eight-track/46-minute offering. Brothers Jennings, Van and Lain Carney bring forth willful drift in that opener and across the percussive-but-still-shoegazing “Tomorrow is Forgetting,” finding an organ-laced folkadelic middle ground later in “Youth and Age” and punctuating the dreamy harmonized gorgeousness of “Herb is My Next Door Neighbor” with fervent tom runs and ping ride before closer “We’ve Fucked this Up” starts out amid blistering chaos only to smooth itself as it goes. Serene and somewhat moody to the same degree their last outing, 2014’s Innocence, was raw, Dialectic of Ignorance carries the feel of a personal journey undertaken, but is ultimately too warm in tone and melody not to welcome its audience to be a part of that as well.
Nearing the mark of their first decade together, Louisiana Southern heavy four-piece White Light Cemetery issue their second full-length, Careful What You Wish For, through Ripple Music and keep a steady focus on songcraft throughout. Heavy riffs, a bit of boogie on “Sky River” and the stomping “Better Days,” boozy Southern-isms on the directly countrified “On a Dime” and a cowbell-infused finish with “Bullet to Erase” – it’s only fair to say White Light Cemetery hit all the marks. The beery post-Deliverance execution of “Looking Out (For Number One)” will likely ring familiar to many who take it on, but that’s the idea, as vocalist/guitarist Shea Bearden, guitarist Ryan Robin, bassist Tara Miller and drummer Thomas Colley are clearly less concerned with reinventing rock in their own image than honoring the pantheon of those who’ve come before them in the style. Hard to argue with the ethic preached or the dual-guitar harmonies of “Quit Work, Make Music,” though the record as a whole seems awfully “workingman’s rock” for any such bohemian aspirations.
It’s been three years since next-gen Californian desert trio Fever Dog released their last album, Second Wind (review here), which was long on potential, big on songwriting and resonant in vibe. I’d been hoping for a third long-player in 2017, but even the arrival of new single Mainframe – which of course doesn’t preclude a subsequent album release – is fine by me, the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Danny Graham, bassist Nathan Wood and drummer/organist/synthesist/vocalist Joshua Adams digging into progressive vibes on the title-track and the subsequent, talkbox-inclusive “Let Me Out.” I don’t know if they’re planning to press a 7” – somebody call H42 Records! – but the cover art certainly justifies one if the songs themselves don’t (and they do), and the name-your-price download comes with the raw 19-minute classic heavy rock jam “Alpha Waves Medley Live at Club 5,” which emits buzz like it’s a bootleg from 1973. If Mainframe is the process of Fever Dog getting weirder, it bodes well. All the more reason one might keep their fingers crossed for a new full-length.
“If you see him it’s much too late/Close your eyes, girl, accept your fate.” So goes the title-track hook of Duel’s Witchbanger, the Austin-based rockers’ second album for Heavy Psych Sounds. Released on a quick turnaround from last year’s debut, Fears of the Dead (review here), the eight-track/34-minute swaggerfest delves into fantasy themes drawn from classic metal – hard not to look at six-minute closer “Tigers and Rainbows” and not think of Dio, at least thematically – but cuts like “Astro Gypsy” and “Heart of the Sun” in the record’s midsection build on the ‘70s loyalism of the first outing and find guitarist/vocalist Tom Frank, guitarist Jeff Henson, bassist/vocalist Shaun Avants and drummer JD Shadowz clear in their intentions in that regard. Though it takes a sizable grain of salt to get over that title, Duel’s heavy rock traditionalism comes complemented by efficient songwriting and a natural-sounding recording that’s neither completely retro nor totally modern but draws strength and fullness from both sides. A worthy and rousing follow-up.
Seven Nines and Tens, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Slums
If the dates are to be believed, the second full-length from Vancouver’s Seven Nines and Tens, cleverly-titled Set the Controls for the Heart of the Slums, has roots going back to 2014, when basic live tracks were recorded and subsequently built on for about two years. Indeed, the four-song offering – whose tracks “I Come from Downtown,” “Metropolis Noir / Rigs” and closer “Rave Up” have been presented in the meantime as singles and/or on early 2017’s Live at the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret – has plenty of layers in its heavy post-rock wash, and it’s with depth and heft that guitarist/bassist/vocalist David Cotton and drummer Mario Nieva (the current incarnation of the band has a different lineup), make their prevailing impression, be it in the roll of 13-minute “Metropolis Noir / Rigs” or the loud/quiet trades of “Dope Simple,” which follows. With a focus on atmosphere over structure, Seven Nines and Tens offer a quick 32-minute immersion that feels less pretentious than purposeful and would seem to have been worth the time it took to construct.
With their third album, Nijmegen’s Automatic Sam bring together a straightforward and coherent collection of well-intentioned semi-psychedelic heavy rock. Their past works, 2011’s Texino and 2013’s Sonic Whip, have been conceptual or at least thematic pieces, and it may be that the 13-track/38-minute Arcs (on Goomah Music) is as well, but if so, it would seem to find that theme in a vision of post-grunge ‘90s alt rock, cleanly and clearly executed and vibrant in the performance of vocalist/guitarist Pieter Holkenborg, guitarist/vocalist Rense Slings, bassist/vocalist Erik Harbers and drummer/vocalist Lars Spijkervet, who open with the five-minute “Ukiyo” (their longest inclusion; immediate points) and then run through a varied swath of shorter pieces from the attitude-laden “City Lights” through the uptempo post-punk of “This is Not a Holiday” and the fuller push of “Parnassia.” Side B seems more flowing, with that song, “Tarantula,” a complementary reprise, the title-track and drifting acoustic closer “So Long in E Minor,” but Automatic Sam manage to hone a diverse approach across Arcs’ span while skillfully directing themselves around choppier waters.
Ambition may be the defining aspect of Not the End of the World. The 2016 self-released debut from Birmingham, Alabama’s The Next Appointed Hour willfully refuses easy categorization, basking in bright psychedelic space rock harmonies one minute and digging into folkish melancholia the next in a way that one is left with no other option but to call “progressive.” What ultimately makes songs like “Keeper’s Heart” and the ethereal pop of “Back to You back to Me” work is an underlying cure of songcraft, and whatever ground the six-piece cover on the 10-track outing, from the fuzzy rush of “Drone Riot” to the trippy shimmer of the penultimate “Red Flame,” that core is maintained, uniting the material and making Not the End of the World a work of scope rather than haphazard. It requires an open mind, but rewards open-mindedness with moments like the accordion on “Valley,” or the rhythmic drift of “Any Who but Here,” the nuance of which is no less gracefully held together than the overarching flow of the album as a whole.
Already sold out on preorders, the vinyl edition of Superior Venus from UK cosmic jammers Blown Out features two tracks – one per side – of space-wash heavy righteousness. “Impious Oppressor” and “Superior Venus” both top 15 minutes (and are accompanied by demo versions if you get the download), and proffer the kind of progressive improvisation-based flow that, indeed, might make one inclined to get an order in while the getting’s good. Blown Out, with members of Bong and Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, have put out a slew of live and studio releases over the last three years, but as planets invariably revolve in cyclical patterns, so too does the regular frequency of their work become part of the expression itself. If you’re going to jam, do it all the time. On Superior Venus, Blown Out once more bring this ethic to life, and the resulting material spreads itself wide over its still relatively brief span. A short trip to orbit, perhaps, but well worth the undertaking.
Is it a surprise to find the new single from Örebro, Sweden, heavy rockers Troubled Horse to be catchy as all hell, loaded with groove and a heavy-but-modern sense of boogie that’s far too busy kicking ass to worry about what decade you think it’s influenced by? Probably not if you caught wind of the four-piece’s debut, Step Inside (review here), when Rise Above released it in 2012. As announced in January, the same label will offer up Troubled Horse‘s awaited second album, Revolution on Repeat, on March 31, and “Hurricane,” which you can see and hear below, gives due emphasis on the above while also highlighting the urgency that shows itself throughout the record as a whole. Five years on from their first outing, Troubled Horse are very clearly ready to get down to business. Emphasis on “get down.”
Along with the crisp production, blistering performance by the band and unmistakably Svensk vibing, “Hurricane” offers the near-maddening hook: “I know you hate me/It doesn’t bother me though/I’ve got nothing but love for you.” It comes quick as delivered by cheapeau-clad frontman Martin Heppich, but even as he, lead guitarist Mikael Linder (also bass on the album), and newcomer guitarist Tom and drummer Jonas get their asses kicked by the throng that the thin-tie-wearing square calls in for backup, presumably in response to an initial noise complaint, that message resonates. It’s not about aggression (at least not on the part of those getting their asses kicked), or chestbeating, or any of that stuff. It’s about the idea of music as something that can bring people together. I dig that. As a species, we need more of that.
“Hurricane” isn’t really a complete summary of everything Troubled Horse do throughout Revolution on Repeat in terms of its general sound, but it makes for an energetic statement of purpose. It’s memorable, and presents the band as having their own take on elements that might be familiar to those for whom the mere mention of Örebro is a dogwhistle of a host of acts in the Swedish retro set, but moreover, it puts the focus on songcraft, which is what shines through most of all in Revolution on Repeat regardless of where an individual track actually starts out or winds up.
Once again, the album is out March 31 on Rise Above. Please find the “Hurricane” video premiere below, followed by more background from the PR wire.
Troubled Horse, “Hurricane” official video
Formed in 2003 in their hometown of Örebro (also home to Witchcraft), the Horse crew erupted into the consciousness of riff-worshippers everywhere with a low-key seven-inch vinyl release in 2010, and then their debut album Step Inside, which was released by Rise Above Records in 2012. An invigorating whirlwind of spiky garage rock, propulsive psychedelia and thunderous, overdriven soul-meets-doom riffing, Step Inside showcased a band with little interest in current or nostalgic trends, instead revelling in a consciously classic but undeniably fresh new take on the most revered and ageless of musical components.
Troubled Horse’s forthcoming second album is Revolution On Repeat. With a refreshed line-up featuring new members Jonas (drums) and Tom (bass) alongside loyal guitar lord Mikael Linder, frontman Martin Heppich’s vision of a no-holds-barred celebration of heavy rock in all its colourful, subversive glory has never sounded stronger. From the barrelling, high-energy thunder of Hurricane and Which Way To The Mob through to the sprawling head-rush of The Haunted and acid-tinged, lo-fi psych of Desperation, Revolution On Repeat is an instinctive and naturalistic triumph for fire, fury and feel over the forces of plodding revisionism. Throw in a sublime rendition of Warren Zevon’s death-premonition anthem My Shit’s Fucked Up, and the album amount to a bold, pertinent and subtly dispiriting statement on the state of the world, all underpinned by the loudest guitars imaginable.
“Hopefully people will enjoy the record and we’ll get to go on tour and play live,” Martin grins. “That would be really awesome! I know it’s a cliché, but playing and writing songs is a venting process at least for me. But this is a team effort, even though I always have the last word because I’m a jerk…ha ha ha!”
West Coast purveyors of heavy atmospheric rock Ides of Gemini have unveiled the cover art and release details for their awaited next album. Titled Women and set to arrive April 28 through Rise Above Records, the new outing follows some three years behind 2014’s Old World New Wave (review here) and sees the core duo of vocalist Sera Timms and guitarist J. Bennett working with a new rhythm section in drummer Scott Batiste (also of Saviours) and bassist Adam Murray, as first announced last Spring.
The album’s been in the making more or less since then, and with the added intrigue of being recorded by the esteemed Sanford Parker, it for sure remains among my most anticipated for 2017. Of course the art and tracks and background is all an important step heading into the actual release, but we’ve still got a ways to go before April 28 gets here, so no audio yet. It’ll come, no worries.
Till then, get informed:
Ides of Gemini to Release Women April 28th via Rise Above Records
Artwork and Track Listing Revealed
Where would heavy music be without singular visions and the lure of the willfully perverse? Formed in Los Angeles, California, in 2010, Ides Of Gemini have built a formidable and enigmatic reputation by stoutly refusing to conform to anyone else’s idea of what lurks in the shadows-with a sound that elegantly salutes the greats of the post-punk and proto-goth eras while simultaneously harnessing the oomph and clangor of underground metal. The ornate sparkle of something else, something irresistibly alien has long ensured that Ides Of Gemini have stood proudly alone, and yet their stately invective has clearly connected with the discerning masses.
“We get lumped in with a lot of metal bands, I guess for obvious reasons,” says guitarist and songwriter Jason Bennett. “There are some metal songs on the new album, but it’s really not a metal record. And we’re not exactly a goth band, either. So I don’t know what to call what we do. Is it heavy? Yes. Is it metal? Not exactly. I guess you could say it’s a mystery…”
Even the haziest of musical entities undergo some process of regeneration between records. Ides Of Gemini are no different, but their journey from their stunning 2012 debut, Constantinople, and its formidable follow-up Old World New Wave-both released via post-metal mavens Neurosis’ Neurot Recordings-to brand new studio album Women, the band’s first for Rise Above Records, has been a turbulent and challenging one. Original drummer Kelly Johnston-Gibson incurred a career-threatening injury while on tour in the US in 2015, causing Bennett and vocalist (and then-bassist) Sera Timms to reassess their next move. After enlisting Scott Batiste of Saviours as a stand-in drummer for a short West Coast tour, a new alliance was formed and Scott soon became a permanent member. The band then expanded to a quartet for the first time, as Sera relinquished her bass-playing duties to newcomer Adam Murray.
“Having Sera make that change ended up being the best thing we ever did,” Bennett recalls. “It’s freed her up to do so much more vocally. She was somewhat confined by also playing bass, and now she doesn’t have to do that anymore-the sky’s the limit. Scott and Adam are awesome. It’s almost a new band. I think that the new record would’ve been pretty similar if we’d stayed a three-piece, but it wouldn’t have been this good. There’s a totally different dynamic now. We’re new and improved.
Still recognizable as the work of the band behind those early triumphs, the new Ides Of Gemini album is both a dramatic leap forward for these idiosyncratic spirit guides and their most direct and impactful collection of songs to date.
Produced by the inimitable Sanford Parker, Women also features guest appearances from Tara Connelly of Clay Rendering (on “Queen Of New Orleans”) and bewitching singer-songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle (on “She Has A Secret”). As ever, Ides Of Gemini’s new songs uniformly fizz and crackle with a storyteller’s verve, as Timms’ emotionally devastating delivery and Bennett’s scabrous riffs paint vivid images of womanhood’s multifarious routes to the gates of Hell and beyond. As a result, the new album’s title was a no-brainer.
“Why Women? The short answer is that all the songs are about women!” Bennett laughs. “The way we work is that I title all the songs and Sera writes all the lyrics, and I give her an idea of what inspired each title for me. She can either take my idea and use it or totally discard it and come up with her own concept for it. Some of these women are mythological figures, some are historical figures, some are obscure actresses, and some are people we just made up. But every song is about a woman, so the title seemed obvious.” Determined to make up for the time lost during recent upheavals, Ides Of Gemini hope to use Women as a springboard to re-launch their assault on the consciousness of the world’s outcasts and eccentrics. Revitalized and armed with their finest album to date, these inveterate square pegs may yet prove to be unstoppable.
“We want to tour as much as possible,” Bennett avows. “There are a lot of places we haven’t been yet and a lot of places we haven’t been to in a while. We never finished the tour when Kelly got injured, so we haven’t done a full national tour since 2013 when we went out with Ghost. And we haven’t been to Europe since 2012, so it’s been a while. We can’t wait to get started.”
Women Track Listing: 1. Mother Kiev 2. The Rose 3. The Dancer 4. Raft of Medusa 5. Heroine’s Descent 6. Swan Diver 7. The Last Siren 8. Zohra 9. She Has a Secret 10. Queen of New Orleans
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Cali sky-darkeners Beastmaker have set a May 26 release date for their second album, Inside the Skull, beyond ‘summer,’ and they’ve already booked two tours to herald the record’s arrival. This March, they’ll be out in the formidably rocking company of Texas forerunners Mothership and RidingEasy Records traditionalists Slow Season on a diverse-sounding-but-universally-righteous package tour, and following that, they’ll hit the road concurrent to Inside the Skull in May in the major markets alongside Zakk Wylde‘s Zakk Sabbath covers outfit, which is sure to expose them to an entirely different audience from that which they might otherwise engage on a given night. Pretty badass.
Well earned on the part of Beastmaker, who also toured last year with with the likes of Monolord and The Well in support of their 2016 debut, Lusus Naturae (review here), which was released — as Inside the Skull will be — through Rise Above Records. Glad to have the news about the new record and awesome to see Beastmaker are going to continue to kill it in 2017. I’ll hope to have more on the album as we get closer to the release.
For now, dates and particulars from the PR wire:
BEASTMAKER Announce North American Tour Dates With Mothership and With Zakk Sabbath on Tap!
Sophomore Album Inside the Skull Out This Summer via Rise Above Records
BEASTMAKER hail from the unlikely locale of Fresno, California. Sweating profusely in a parched no man’s land about three and a half hours northeast of Los Angeles, the city isn’t exactly a cultural mecca-and yet it’s the birthplace of Hollywood outsiders and weirdos like Sid Haig, Slim Pickens and director Sam Peckinpah. Still, it suffers from an unsurprising dearth of musicians interested in heavy rock.
As the band prepares for the release of their sophomore album Inside the Skull this summer they are ready to hit the road again in North America! The first run of dates with Mothership and Slow Season begins March 10th in Costa Mesa, CA and runs through March 18th in Seattle, WA.
Following a quick break the band will return to the road supporting Zakk Sabbath (Zakk Wylde’s Black Sabbath Cover Band). These dates begin May 19th in New York, NY and run through June 10th in San Francisco, CA. A complete list of all dates can be found below.
Drummer Andrew Alejandro Saldate IV cannot wait to hit the road:
“We are pumped to go out a support our new record Inside The Skull with the rockin folk of Mothership & All star trio of Zakk Sabbath!! It’s gonna be a hell on wheels!!! Look out!!!”
BEASTMAKER released their debut Lusus Naturae earlier this year via Rise Above Records. Lusus Naturae is available to order HERE.
Though frontman Trevor Church had the concept for BEASTMAKER as far back as 2006, it wasn’t until he and drummer Andres Alejandro Saldate IV, a.k.a. Juan Bonham, hooked up with bassist John Tucker in 2014 that the band was fully realized.
BEASTMAKER’s lyrical landscape is awash in imagery from midnight movies and the dark arts, but that’s only part of the picture.
BEASTMAKER W/Mothership and Slow Season: 3/10: Costa Mesa, CA @ The Wayfarer 3/11: San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar 3/12: Santa Cruz, CA @ Blue Lagoon 3/13: Oakland, CA @ The Golden Bull 3/14: Sacramento, CA @ Starlite Lounge 3/15: Bend, OR @ Volcanic Theatre Pub 3/16: Eugene, OR @ Old Nick’s 3/17: Portland, OR @ World Famous Kenton Club 3/18: Seattle, WA @ The Funhouse
BEASTMAKER W/ Zakk Sabbath: 5/19: New York, NY @ The Gramercy Theatre 5/23: Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel 5/25: Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live Studio 5/26: Dallas, TX @ Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill 5/28: St. Louis, MO @ Fubar 5/30: Nashville, TN @ Exit/In 5/31: Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade 6/2: Chicago, IL @ Bottom Lounge 6/4: Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater 6/6: Spokane, WA @ The Pin 6/7: Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile 6/8: Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre 6/10: San Francisco, CA @ Slim’s
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 25th, 2017 by JJ Koczan
Following up on the raucous classic style of their 2014 debut, Ascending, Swedish heavy rockers Saturn have announced a March 31 release through Rise Above Records for their second album, Beyond Spectra. The PR wire brings copious background, and its diligence in so doing is appreciated as always, but the takeaway narrative going into the new record seems to be that the band is attempting to look beyond ’70s retroisms fed through ’10s boogie, in concept and sonics alike, and that can only help further distinguish them among Europe’s crowded heavy scene. Shades of mid-’70s metal showing up a few years afterwards in places where one might’ve previously found early-’70s heavy rock? Yeah, that makes sense to me. Bring on the Priestisms.
Oh, and just so I say it out loud, the above photo is by Ester Segarra, who is amazing, and the art below is by Branca Studio, who is amazing.
Saturn To Release Beyond Spectra March 31st via Rise Above Records
Artwork and Track Listing Revealed
Disciples of the heavy metal code don’t just love our music, we need it: to maintain our cultural, personal and – perhaps most importantly – cosmic equilibrium. As a result, there is nothing more essential to our musical lives than bands that tap into our beloved genre’s purest essence and re-imagine that primal magic in brand new and gloriously vivid hues. Sweden’s Saturn more than fit the bill.
Having already proved their worth and potential three years ago with their stunning debut album Ascending, this young band have evolved into something truly extraordinary this time round. In stark contrast to many retro-minded records currently doing the rounds, Beyond Spectra offers much more than affectionate pastiche and Luddite petulance. Instead, this is the sound of red-blooded heavy metal with its eyes focused on the depths of outer space, as the rampaging grooves and analogue hiss of prime ’70s proto-doom, the swaggering boogie braggadocio of UFO and the stately grandeur of Sad Wings-era Priest collide in a mesmerizing shower of irresistible riffs, unearthly melodies and moments of shimmering psychedelia.
“How we have evolved since Ascending? Our guitarist Linkan cut off his dreadlocks and that generally contributed to a good vibe, ha ha!” guitarist Robin Tidebrink laughs. “More seriously, the production of Beyond Spectra is way better. It sounds fatter without loosing that vintage feeling to it. I also think that we’re starting to find our own sound. You could say that every new song that we write is more and more Saturn. I would also say that we’re more comfortable in writing new songs and we know what kind of different elements to add to make it all sound like we want it to.”
Fans of Saturn’s first album will not be freaked out by the band’s great leap forward, but Beyond Spectra is plainly an album driven by a broader vision and an enhanced desire to forge a unique path. Songs like opening intergalactic rager Orbital Command and the sumptuous interwoven dynamics and dark drama of Nighttime Badger proudly proclaim their debt to the pioneering heavy metal greats of the ’70s but there is so much energy, verve and ingenuity on display throughout that Saturn sound much more like the future than the past. That said, Beyond Spectra is also very much an album with its mind on the modern world too.
“The lyrical content on the album tries to explore and compare events in the world today from a historical point of view,” says vocalist Oscar Pehrson. “Both from our personal perspective but also on a more global scale. The album title is a word play on trying to see the world in as many ways as possible and to be able to understand what is going on and where we are going.It is a serious topic but we’re trying to add some humour and fiction to it as well. Music and comedy have the ability to be fun and still deliver a serious message.”
As much as they exist in the present day, it hardly needs stating that Saturn are huge fans of old school, analogue tones and the ageless allure of that classic ’70s hard rock sound. For those with a similar passion for that bygone era, Beyond Spectra offers an object lesson in conjuring ancient vibes and emboldening them with fresh perspective.
“Everything was recorded through two old mixing tables that used to belong to Swedish Radio, the government controlled public service radio, and anything that you run through those tables will sound really warm and sweet,” says Robin. “Another factor is that we didn’t add lots of effects in post-production because we wanted a clean and simple sounding recording.We didn’t do any overdubs on this album…and we didn’t on Ascending either! It’s kind of tricky, because when somebody goes off to do a solo and you only have one rhythm guitar it can sound kind of weak… but that’s part of the charm! It’s more honest in a way. I believe that’s a huge factor in how the final record sounds.”
The sound of yesterday, filtered through the limitless refractions of an unknown future but rooted firmly in the here and now, Beyond Spectra pulls off the neat and laudable trick of getting everything right and making it look easy, while also offering great substance to stir the soul and a few, jolting shots of originality and effortless cool. If you’re lacking some steel in your aural diet, look no further. This band’s fascinating voyage into virgin skies looks certain to provide all the nourishment you could ever need.
Beyond Spectra Track Listing: 1. Orbital Command 2. Wolfsson 3. Nighttime Badger 4. Linkans Delight 5. Electrosaurus Sex 6. Still Young 7. Force of the North 8. Helmet Man 9. Silfvertape 10. Sensor Data