Posted in Reviews on April 11th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Underrated Philly instrumentalists Serpent Throne have a talent for making songs memorable without the use of lyrics. Brother Lucifer is their fourth album, released through Prophase Records, and it follows behind 2010’s White Summer – Black Winter (review here) in furthering the four-piece’s wailing chemistry. As with the last record, guitarists and principle songwriters Don Argott and Demian Fenton lead the charge here while the rhythm section of drummer Sean-Paul Fenton (brother to Demian) and bassist Colin Smith provide a solid foundation of groove that I’d almost call an anchor were it not so able to shift at a moment’s notice. The eight-track/39-minute full-length basks in stoner guitar glories, taking classic metal harmonics and using them to elicit instrumental hooks that stay with the listener long after closer “Napalm Mourning” has faded. As with any sans-vocals release, Brother Lucifer relies heavily on its artwork to reinforce the atmosphere of its songs, and so from the jungle spectre and helicopter above the treeline evoking Apocalypse Now to the photo on the CD’s inside liner of helmeted troops crossing a rice paddy, it’s pretty clear Argott and Fenton had the Vietnam War on their minds when putting together the material. If there’s a direct narrative at work in the flow of tracks, I don’t know, but certainly titles like “Foxtrot Tango Whiskey” (a clever allusion to the acronym FTW, which in internet speak is “For the Win,” but I’d suspect is actually a reference to its original and more timely to the Vietnam-era meaning, “Fuck the World” – Serpent Throne’s prior and current ‘70s worship can stand as further argument in favor of the interpretation, and their history of bikerisms as seen on their 2007 debut, Ride Satan Ride), “Widowmaker” (the nickname given to the AR-18 rifle), “Fubar” (itself derived from a military acronym, “Fucked Up Beyond all Repair”), and “Napalm Mourning” (also a reference to Apocalypse Now, given to a play on words) feed into this theme, while side A’s “Devil’s Breath” and “Brother Lucifer” – even the CD tracklisting is broken into sides – comport with Serpent Throne’s long-established penchant for heavy rock Devil-worshiping traditionalism. Second cut “Enough Rope to Hang Yourself” and side B’s corresponding “As the Crow Flies” seem not necessarily to belong to either sphere, but neither are they out of place, the former answering the opener’s bombastic crash with some of Brother Lucifer’s most landmark leadwork and “As the Crow Flies” offering an acoustic build into driving riffs that set up the psychedelia to come on “Fubar,” each functioning to serve the album’s overarching flow.
Which is paramount. Foremost, Brother Lucifer sets up the listener for a direct, album-long ride. Leaner and a full six minutes shorter than White Summer – Black Winter, it’s also more focused, so that as mellotron emerges to add drama to side B, the effect can be genuinely startling after side A’s rush, Fenton and Argott playing leads off riffs on “Enough Rope to Hang Yourself” in a way that sets up Serpent Throne’s chief dynamic. They are guitar rock, through and through, but as up front as the six-stringers are, it’s pivotal to understand the role of Smith’s bass and Sean-Paul’s drums in establishing the sway and swagger underlying the screaming leads that typify so much of the band’s approach. In harmony, the two guitars are given to triumphant runs, but Brother Lucifer has less raucous moments as well, not so much in “Foxtrot Tango Whiskey,” which makes no attempt to interrupt its movement from one killer riff to the next, but in the second half of “Enough Rope to Hang Yourself,” and in the midsection of the subsequent ultra-groover “Devil’s Breath,” they hint at the flourish to come with what sounds an awful lot like Hammond scratch backing airier leads en route to bookending with a stop and return to the nod-worthy groove that began, Demian and Don adding a little soul to the slower final run. And though its title might not immediately feed the Vietnam/military theme, the snare march and dirge leads that introduce “Brother Lucifer” definitely do, prior to gong-ing into the song proper, which at 6:19 is the longest on the first half of the album. This is mirrored on the second half with “Napalm Mourning,” which is the longest on Brother Lucifer as a whole at 6:25, and one more show of Serpent Throne’s sense of structure – of course that’s audible throughout as well. The title-track riffs out for a while in a progression less bouncing but consistent with “Devil’s Breath” and drops into a contemplative, quiet break soon to be built up with (what else?) soloing accompanied by mellotron strings, casting a drama that crashes and fades to end side A, leading to the Iommian solo that starts “Widowmaker” before the Iron Maiden-style pop and chug takes hold.
Posted in Features on March 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
…Yeah, I know, 24 is a buttload of records to buy in the span of about a month and a half. To do the division, it would mean buying a new album every 2.04 days. Probably not feasible in terms of time, let alone budget, but hell, it’s a nice thought and seeing the onslaught of new stuff coming between now and the end of April, I thought maybe a list would help keep it all straight. Even if I’m only helping myself, I could probably spend my time in worse ways.
Worth noting that even with 24 albums, presented below in order of release, I feel like there’s stuff I’m forgetting. Frankly, it’s an overwhelming amount of material, so if I’ve missed something or there’s something you’d like to see added to the list, as always, that’s why there’s a comments feature.
Okay. These are numbered just for fun, but listed by date:
1. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Fans (March 12)
My understanding is that London’s foremost doom scoundrels, none other than Orange Goblin, have been selling copies of A Eulogy for the Fans since starting their US tour with Clutch on March 8 in Cincinnati, Ohio, but today is the official release date, and I can think of no better place to start than with the four-piece’s ferocious performance at the 2012 Bloodstock festival, captured audio and video in all its bloodsoaked glory. Not to be missed or taken lightly because it’s a live record. Album review here.
2. Borracho, Mob Gathering 7″ (March 13)
Even though it’s comprised of older tracks, the new Mob Gathering 7″ from Borracho is welcome by me for two reasons: I’ve never heard the songs before and Borracho rocks. The Washington D.C.-based riffers recorded “Mob Gathering” and “Short Ride (When it’s Over)” in 2009 and are set to release the cuts on a limited platter in black and orange swirl through Spain’s Ghost Highway Recordings and Germany’s No Balls Records. They’ve been playing live as a mostly-instrumental outfit while guitarist/vocalist Noah is out of the country on what I can only assume is an awesome spy mission, so if you need a Borracho fix — and it’s obvious from the way your hands are shaking that you do — this might be the way to go. More info here.
3. Inter Arma, Sky Burial (March 15)
Like Windhand below, Inter Arma are recent Relapse Records signees from Richmond, Virginia, and Sky Burial will serve as their first release for the label. Literally and figuratively, the album is expansive, topping 69 minutes and pummeling the whole way through with a genre-transcending concoction of bleakness that’s not so much aligned to any particular heavy aesthetic so much as it is set to its own atmospheric purposes. Through this, Inter Arma emerge terrifyingly cohesive where many others would falter, and their second LP behind 2010′s Sundown (review here) leaves a progressive impression despite an almost complete lack of sonic pretense. Mostly, it’s fucking heavy. Track stream and info here.
4. Clutch, Earth Rocker (March 19)
If 2013 ended tomorrow, Clutch‘s Earth Rocker would be my album of the year. That’s not saying the situation will be the same nine months from now when I actually start putting that list together (already dreading it), but as of March 12, it’s the cat’s pajamas and no foolin’. The long-running Marylanders outdid themselves and put together a surprisingly fast, energetic collection of songs that don’t forsake the bluesy tendencies of their last album, 2009′s Strange Cousins from the West, so much as they put some of the jamming on lockdown in favor of all-out pro-grade heavy rock and roll. The velocity is crucial and the wolfman is out, but it feels like the party’s just starting. Look for them on tour sometime between now and forever. Album review here.
5. Black Mare, Field of the Host (March 20)
Black Math Horseman and Ides of Gemini frontwoman Sera Timms (who’s also recently collaborated with Yawning Man‘s Gary Arce in the new outfit Zun) steps further out on her own with the solo-project Black Mare, from whom Field of the Host is the first album. Due March 20 on LP through The Crossing and on cassette through Breathe Plastic, limited in both cases and sure to be gone shortly after release if they’re not already taken through pre-orders. Fans of Timms‘ past works will be glad to hear the misty wash of melody and dreamy, somehow sad, languid roll of “Blind One,” for starters. Audio and info on the forum.
6. Kvelertak, Meir (March 26)
Short of setting themselves on fire, Norwegian triple-guitar six-piece Kvelertak did just about everything they could to get noticed in support of their 2010 self-titled debut LP (review here), and sure enough, their work paid off in getting signed to Roadrunner Records for all territories outside their native Scandinavia (where Indie Recordings holds sway) and trumpeting up a wave of anticipation for their second full-length, Meir. Their energetic, genre-crossing approach might not be for everybody, but the band have turned a lot of heads and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to find them on bigger tours this year with Roadrunner behind them. More info on the forum.
7. Black Pyramid, Adversarial (April 2)
This is actually the first time the Eli Wood cover art for Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial has been seen in full, so you know. The Hydro-Phonic Records release of the third Black Pyramid album and first to be fronted by guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard along with bassist David Gein and drummer Clay Neely punctuates the beginning of a new era for the Massachusetts trio. If the advance listen to closing track “Onyx and Obsidian” is anything to go by, they could very well be at their most potent yet, and though I’d hardly consider myself an impartial observer, as a fan of the band, this is one I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. More to come. Track stream here.
8. Moss, Horrible Night (April 2)
I’ve yet to hear the complete album, but UK trio Moss seem poised to surprise with a cleaner vocal approach on Horrible Night, their first offering since 2008′s impressive Sub Templum LP and two EPs in 2009, so in addition to wondering how they’ll pull it off, the level of the shift remains to be seen. That is, how big a deal is it? Should I call my mom? Is this something grandma needs to know about? Time will tell, but for it having been five years since the last time a Moss record reared its doomly head, it seems only fair to give the band a little breathing room on their evolution. More info and video here.
9. Mars Red Sky, Be My Guide EP (April 8)
How glad am I that French fuzz rockers Mars Red Sky have a new EP coming? Well, I’m not as happy that it’s coming as I am that it’s frickin’ awesome. The trio keep the weighted bass tones that gave so much depth to their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), but they’ve also clearly set to work expanding the formula as well, adding stomp to second track “Seen a Ghost” and an eerie repetitive sense to side B closer “Stranger,” while also broadening their melodic reach and taking claim of whichever side of the line they want between fuzz rock and heavy psychedelia while remaining so much more to the ears than either genre descriptor can offer to the eyes. At half an hour, my only complaint with it is it’s not a full-length album. Video trailer and info here.
10. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era (April 9)
A sample of the poet Ron Whitehead — who also featured on Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s late-2012 debut EP for Tee Pee Records, The Storm Generation (review here) — comes to clarity just in time for the gonzo Boomer poet to let us all know that, “America is an illusion” (that may be, but it’s an illusion with an army of flying killer robots), and from there, the youngin’ desert transplants embark on a low-end-heavy freakout topped with sweet surf rock guitars and set to use in intricate, sometimes surprisingly jagged, rhythmic dances. Mario Lalli of Fatso Jetson guests, Scott Reeder produced. Review is forthcoming, but till then, there’s more info here.
11. Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse (April 9)
Fate is Your Muse serves not only as Indianapolis rockers Devil to Pay‘s Ripple Music debut, but also as the double-guitar foursome’s first outing since 2009′s Heavily Ever After. With tales of lizardmen attacks and the alleged end of the world, it’s got its fair share of personality, and set to the chugging riffs, melodic vocals and straightforward heavy grooves, that personality still goes a long way. I’ll have a review up before this week is out (I hope), but still, I wanted to make sure to include Devil to Pay here too, since their songs command both attention and respect. To wit, I just can’t seem to get “This Train Won’t Stop” out of my head. Video and info here.
12. Cough & Windhand, Reflection of the Negative Split (April 15)
Virginian doomers Cough and Windhand share a hometown in Richmond, a love of volume, a bassist in Parker Chandler and now a label in Relapse Records, so yeah, a split makes sense. Reflection of the Negative will be Windhand‘s first release through Relapse ahead of their sophomore full-length, scheduled for later this year (info here). For Cough, this split marks their first outing since 2010′s An Introduction to the Black Arts split with UK masters The Wounded Kings (review here), and they’ll present the 18-minute “Athame,” while Windhand bring forth “Amaranth” and “Shepherd’s Crook.” More info here.
13. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Mind Control (April 15)
What the last Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats album, 2011′s Blood Lust (semi-review here), did so well was capture the atmosphere and the grainy imagery of late ’60s/early ’70s psychedelic horror and put it into audio form. For that, Blood Lust earned massive praise, but I still think that without the central core of songwriting underneath the genre trappings, it would’ve fallen flat. When it comes to Mind Control, the question waiting to be answered is if the band wants to stick to the blueprint they’ve established or go brazenly into uncharted weirdness. I’m not really sure they can lose, either way. Info and music here.
14. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar (April 16)
Their debut on new label Nuclear Blast and the quick-arriving answer to my pick for 2012 debut of the year, Abra Kadavar arrives with plenty of anticipation leading the way. The retro-rocking German trio have their work cut out for them in following that self-titled, but however it turns out in the comparison, it will be fascinating to learn how Kadavar develops the band’s sound and whether or not they prove able to push the boundaries of their aesthetic while simultaneously setting a new standard for promo photos. New video here.
15. Spiritual Beggars, Earth Blues (April 16)
I guess when it comes to these long-running Swedes, everybody’s got their favorite lineup, their favorite tunes, etc., but for me, I’m just impressed that Michael Amott — now more than 20 years on from starting Spiritual Beggars as a side-project while still in grindcore pioneers Carcass — still has any interest in keeping the classic rock Hammond-loving outfit grooving. Their last outing, 2010′s Return to Zero (review here), was the first to feature vocalist Apollo Papathanasio, formerly of Firewind, and though those songs were solid, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re more settled in on Earth Blues when it drops via InsideOut Music on April 16. More info on the forum.
16. Beastwars, Blood Becomes Fire (April 19)
Alternating between periods of brooding intensity and all-out crushing heaviness, the second full-length from New Zealand’s Beastwars, Blood Becomes Fire, is nasty, nasty, nasty. It’s nasty when it’s quiet and it’s nasty when it’s loud. It’s the kind of record you put on and you’re like, “Damn that’s nasty.” And you’re not wrong. The four-piece — touring shortly with Unida — upped their game even from 2011′s self-titled debut (review here), and for anyone who heard that record, you know that’s saying something. I’m still in the “getting to know it” phase, but so far all that nasty feels pretty right on. More info here.
17. Ghost, Infestissumam (April 19)
Man, this one just kind of happened, huh? I suck — and I mean S-U-C-K suck — at keeping up with band hype. I’m the dude who hears the record three months later and goes, “Yeah, I guess that’s cool,” as countless reviews here can attest, including the one for Ghost‘s 2010 debut, Opus Eponymous, but with the Swedish cult heavyweights, all of a sudden I turned around and blamo, major label deal, semi-name change to Ghost B.C., and enough slathering over the impending Infestissumam to make the first album seem like less than the hyperbole it was treated to initially. Funny how that happens. Out in April? I’m sure I’ll review in June and go, “Yeah, I guess that’s cool.” More info on the forum.
18. One Inch Giant, The Great White Beyond (April 19)
Now signed to Soulseller Records, Swedish heavy rockers One Inch Giant will unveil their debut full-length on April 19 and as three of my favorite words in the English language are “Swedish heavy rockers,” I’m excited to find out how this Gothenburg four-piece follow-up their Malva EP, and if they can capture some of the extreme dynamic they brought to their live show when they toured the US last summer — a run of shows that included a stop at SHoD. Hard not to pull for a band after they come over to play club dates. More info and music here.
19. The Heavy Co., Midwest Electric (April 20)
It was actually the other day writing about The Heavy Co.‘s Midwest Electric that I had the idea for this feature, so however high the profile might be for some of these albums — Ghost walks by on their way to cash a check — it was these unpretentious Hoosier rockers and their new outing, Midwest Electric, that started me off. From what I’ve heard so far, the new collection sounds a little more confident in exploring psychedelia than did the trio’s 2011 debut EP, The Heavy (Please Tune In…) (review here), so I’m looking forward to hearing if and how that plays out over the course of the whole thing. Video trailer here.
20. Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man (April 23)
I have an interview slated for later this week with Gozu guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney, and I’m even more excited for this time than I was when we last spoke, around their 2009 Small Stone debut, Locust Season (review here), since in everything but its goofball song titles, the sophomore outing marks a huge developmental step in the band’s melodic reach and songwriting chemistry. Stay tuned for that interview and check out the Bandcamp stream included with the album review here.
21. Yawning Man & Fatso Jetson, European Tour Split 7″ (April 26)
Note: I don’t actually know that April 26 is the day that what’s sure to be 2013′s most desert-rocking split is due to arrive, I just know that it’s Fatso Jetson and Yawning Man‘s European tour split, and that’s the day the Euro dates start — with performances at Desertfests London and Berlin, to be more specific. Given both the greatness of Fatso Jetson‘s last record, 2010′s Archaic Volumes (review here), and of Yawning Man‘s own 2010 outing, Nomadic Pursuits (review here), the bands’ shared lineage and the relative infrequency of their touring, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to hope that, even for a single, they pull out all the stops. And starts. And riffs. More info on the forum.
22. Serpent Throne, Brother Lucifer (April 29)
Philly-based instrumental heavy rockers Serpent Throne will follow-up 2010′s White Summer/Black Winter (review here) with Brother Lucifer, and while no one can ever really know what to expect, it’s a safe bet that the dual-guitar outfit will have the solos front and center once again. Having seen them do a couple new songs back in December, I can’t blame them in the slightest. Looking forward to letting these songs sink in for a while and having those solos stuck in my head. Track stream here.
23. Melvins, Everybody Loves Sausages (April 30)
Hey wow, a Melvins covers album. Finally, an opportunity for the band to let their hair down and go wild a bit, right? I mean, at long last, they can really feel free to indulge a little and explore their musical roots in a free and creative way. Okay, you get the point. In all seriousness, it’s a pretty cool idea and anything that teams the Melvins with Scott Kelly to do a Venom song is probably going to be a worthy cause. The most amazing part of it is they haven’t already done a version of “Black Betty.” More info on the forum.
24. Revelation, Inner Harbor (April 30)
Their most progressive outing yet and their first album since 2009, Revelation‘s Inner Harbor (review here) is bound to surprise some who thought they knew what to expect from the Maryland doom stalwarts who double as the classically rocking Against Nature. Good thing Inner Harbor had a digital release last year through the band’s Bland Hand Records to act as a precursor to this Shadow Kingdom CD issue. Rumor has it vinyl’s on the way as well, so keep an eye out, since John Brenner‘s guitar tone should be heard on as natural-sounding an apparatus as possible. More info here.
Okay, so you’re saying to yourself, “Golly, that’s a lot of stuff.” You’re absolutely right. But even as I was typing up this feature, I got word of a new Queen Elephantine full-length coming in April, so even as much as this is, it’s not everything. And that’s not even to mention May, which will bring a new Shroud Eater EP, a new Kylesa record and a new Mark Lanegan collaboration, among however much else. Tons of stuff to keep your ears out for, and like I said way back at the top of this thing, if you have something to add, a comment’s always appreciated.
Posted in audiObelisk on March 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I was fortunate enough to catch Serpent Throne playing the title-track of their new album, Brother Lucifer, back in December in their native Philadelphia (live review here), and immediately upon hearing the dueling leads that seem to permeate the entire song, the memory of its impact from the stage came flooding back. The four-piece’s last album, White Summer – Black Winter(review here), had no shortage of acrobatic soloing either, but the sway of “Brother Lucifer” seems patient somehow in its sway, and is all the more lethal for it, the mourning intro lines from guitarists Demian Fenton and Don Argott set to the military-style snare roll of drummer Sean-Paul Fenton while bassist Colin Smithholds down the emergent groove below likewise dramatic mellotron sounds.
Prophase Music will release the album on April 29 and currently has the CD up for pre-order. To tease/herald the coming of their fourth full-length, Serpent Throne have posted “Brother Lucifer” for streaming-type enjoyment on their Soundcloud page, and as I’ve listened to it about four times in a row now, it seemed only fair to give you the same opportunity to get the song stuck in your head that I’ve had to get it stuck in mine. These guys are killer, and stay tuned for album review, interview and other whathaveyou to come on Brother Lucifer, because by everything I’ve seen and heard of it so far, it’s going to hit pretty hard.
Posted in Reviews on December 17th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
My intent was to catch Columbus, Ohio, psych rockers EYE when they hit Brooklyn the night before, but a yes-that-late workday prevented me from making it to the show in time. As such, there was a tinge of stubbornness that came with the decision to head down to Philly on Friday night and see EYE at Johnny Brenda‘s on a bill that also included opener Randall of Nazareth and local heroes Serpent Throne as headliners. Even if I wasn’t doing it partly out of frustration, that’s a pretty killer lineup and I figured that if I’m going to refuse to miss EYE rolling through, that’s the show to refuse to miss.
Everything was fine until, just as I was getting on I-95 and approaching downtown Philly, the Google Maps app on my phone shit the bed. I wound up finding Frankford Ave., but going the wrong way down it — after going the right way and then turning around to be wrong; a very me way of getting lost — and having no idea what the hell I was doing. I called The Patient Mrs. and wound up calling out street names as I passed by them until she could figure out where I was and get me turned back around the right way. Which was the way I’d gone initially. Ugh.
Even with getting all turned around, it was early when I got to Johnny Brenda’s. Early enough so that the upstairs room above the bar/restaurant that serves as the venue proper wasn’t open yet. The woman at the door looked at me, asked me if I was in a band, and when I said no, sent me on my way. I wasn’t drinking, had nowhere to be, so I sat down at a table, took out a notebook and ordered a caesar salad to help pass the time. It arrived some moments later a whole wedge of iceberg lettuce resting on a generous dollop of dressing, topped with a grilled breast of chicken — all the ingredients of a caesar salad waiting to be chopped up and turned into one. I was happy to kill another two or three minutes obliging my dinner its construction.
These are the hazards of going to shows alone, I thought to myself as I made my way up to the balcony to do some more writing. Downstairs the DJ was just beginning to spin heavy ’70s rock — familiarities from Blue Cheer and early Pentagram met with modern derivatives from Graveyard and Kadavar — and there were still about 40 minutes to pass before Randall of Nazareth took the stage. They went slow. I wrote, screwed around on the internet, loaded this site to make sure the radio stream was still up, then did it again, looked over to the bar, waited. Waited. Finally, tired of being in that spot at that table on the balcony, I went downstairs and waited there, stood in the back for a while went through the same routine all over.
It’s not that the show was late, I was just early. Randall of Nazareth – AKA guitarist/vocalist Randall Huth of underrated PA pastoralists Pearls and Brass — went on at about 9:20PM, maybe a couple minutes after, but that was hardly off the scheduled start time, I’m just awkward. Huth put out an album under the Randall of Nazareth moniker on Drag City in 2007, and though I was always curious as to what it might sound like, it eluded me. I’d hoped for a copy at the merch table, or better, something newer, an independently released CDR or something like that, but no dice.
Still, Huth brought to his acoustic solo set much the same sense of town fair twang he brings to the sepia blues-worship of Pearls and Brass — it was mostly the context was different. He had two acoustics with him and his vocals were suited to the material, soft and sometimes barely there and never really hitting more than a bluesman’s garble. Perhaps an affectation, but one well used, in any case, and his presence on stage matched. Cutting a humble figure in the spotlight while EYE‘s not-inconsiderable Moog setup loomed in the darkness just a few feet adjacent, Huth played his songs banjo-fast — adding impressive neo-folk fingerpicked noodling to his semi-countrified moodiness on the acoustic guitar — but gave off no perceptible sense of anxiousness. As he turned after his first or second song, he listened to the strings and said, “This is gonna be terrible.” It wasn’t.
As will happen to the acoustic opener at the rock show, a swell of conversational volume gradually took hold the longer he played. In addition to his other songs, he did two instrumentals, one which closed the set, and one cover, and then was gone as quick as he’d gotten started once he took the stage. EYE arrived shortly thereafter and started into their first song I think before anyone actually realized they were beginning with a jam that sort of gradually took shape as a classic progressive space rocking thrust, very much indebted to Hawkwind but more visceral necessarily than their 2011 full-length, Center of the Sun(review here) — re-released by Kemado earlier this year — might have you believe. The Moog, handled by Adam Smith, played a major role in the band’s sound, and Smith added his vocals to those of drummer Brandon Smith – it was reportedly his birthday — and guitarist Matt Auxier for three-part post-lysergic ritual paeans to the cosmos. They were an easy band to dig.
Almost immediately, I was glad to have made the trip. Bassist Matt Bailey locked into the groove with Brandon, which allowed Matt to explore a solar system of effects while Adam tore into a raging solo or two of his own. Parts of songs I recognized from Center of theSun, but some of the material seemed to be new as well, or at least more loosely constructed for a live setting, the band using the space afforded them by the Moog to wander where and when they willed. Their repetitions proved almost hypnotic, but were very definitely headed in that direction, and if 2013 is to bring new recordings from EYE, they’ll be welcome by me. They had space rock down, and the crowd that had been growing at a steady clip since the show started only agreed more as time went on.
When it was Serpent Throne‘s time to take the stage, I realized just how much of the room was their audience. They conquered Johnny Brenda’s before playing a single note as only the best of local noteworthies can, inspiring a particular devotion for their instrumental sonic niche somewhere ’70s motor groove, doomly stomp, classic dual guitar metal and devil-loving stoner rock. The brotherly duo of guitarist Demian Fenton and drummer Sean-Paul Fenton dominated the room, but neither bassist Colin Smith or by-no-means-second guitarist Don Argott gave any ground of their own real estate — and it was theirs but the time they actually started playing. The place lit up for “Rock Formation” from 2009′s The Battle of Old Crowand continued the enthusiasm for cuts like “Controlled by Lunar Forces” or the title-track from 2010′s White Summer – Black Winter, which Demian preceded with a warning that, “it was a long one.”
He had a mic, despite the band’s being instrumental-only, and the between-song banter showed his familiarity with the room and the people in it. New cut “Foxtrot” from a forthcoming release reportedly titled Brother Lucifer was advanced with a dedication to “any Vietnam vets in the room,” which drew a couple laughs, and afterwards the guitarist apologized to Vietnam vets everywhere before Serpent Throne launched into “Wheels of Satan” from their 2007 debut, Ride Satan Ride, the classic biker riffing of which earned the night’s most vehement response. By then, I was sitting at the bar — again, not drinking — but watching from there I could find no argument against what they had on offer nor with “yes” vote the rifferendum gleaned. Johnny Brenda’s had packed out pretty well and when Serpent Throne were done, the staff of the place came through and said they were towing cars outside, which may or may not have been a load, but having already gotten lost once, I wasn’t about to risk having to look for a city tow yard. I cut out on the quick like I do.
Still without GPS, the ride back was pulled off successfully by memory, and the act of mental engagement was enough to keep me awake, as if the day’s news reports weren’t enough. Nothing makes your shit feel trivial faster than dead kids, and rightly so. I was glad for the opportunity to get out of my head for a little while, and I don’t think I was the only one.
Posted in Reviews on August 22nd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was my first time at Saint Vitus. The bar, in Brooklyn‘s Greenpoint neighborhood — the mere fact that I didn’t have to be in Williamsburg on a Friday night was enough to make it worth driving into and through the city in the rain – is still a relatively recent advent, but it’s quickly become a hotspot for heavy shows featuring quality bands. My trip in to catch the revived Pennsylvanian trio Pearls and Brass was the first of two nights in a row I’d be spending there.
The door outside unmarked, the bar appropriately dark and the DJ spinning mostly ’80s metal when I walked in, I knew I was in the right place. The Saint Vitus homebrew ($4) is light and crisp and goes down easy. It was the kind of beer you could easily spend a night with, and doubtless they picked it as their flagship for just that purpose. I didn’t see brew-works anywhere (though they’d probably have room in the basement if it goes all the way back), and the place is split between the bar up front and the stage room separated by a thick curtain in the back.
I dug it. I dug the layout. I dug the fact that it was easy for me to get there from Jersey (if you’ve ever been to Europa, you already know how to get there), and I dug that it wasn’t peopled by assholes either of the heavy metal or hipster variety. There was some of that element — a group of people seemed to be having a photoshoot toward the end of the bar after the show — but it’s unavoidable, and if a place like Saint Vitus is going to stay in business, it’s that crowd’s disposable income that’s going to let them do it. In any case, cool room. There was a copy of the Holy Diver vinyl on display behind the bar, and that’s automatic points in my book.
The sound in back was decent as well, which I first got to experience with the avant/noise-making outfit Eleven Twenty Nine. The trio were instrumental, two guitars and a drummer, and all three members of the band seemed to be working in not only a different time signature, but a different time zone. It was the kind of noodling self-indulgence that you can either read as super-progressive or noise for noise’s sake, and either way, an odd fit for comradeship with the riffy Serpent Throne or the sweet tones of Pearls and Brass.
Serpent Throne took over following a short break and that was where the show really got on track. When last I saw them, I was getting embarrassingly drunk in their native Philadelphia and they were opening for Solace and Pentagram. That was quite an evening on multiple levels, but at Saint Vitus they proved no less engaging. Rather, with their third album — White Summer/Black Winter, which was reviewed earlier this year — behind them, they seemed relaxed and able to settle into the grooves their riffs inevitably led them.
They had several highlights to their set, but the unnamed new song they closed with hit especially hard. They’re not really doing anything that’s never been done before, but the interplay between the guitars is interesting, and as they’ve developed as a band, their songs have gradually become more intricate. They sound like they’re having a lot of fun, and they looked that way on stage as well. With stage banter that centered largely on the freeing of the West Memphis Three, a jovial atmosphere was set.
When Pearls and Brass announced their reactivation toward the end of last year, they did so with a show in the bar of a hotel (at least I seem to recall that was the situation) in their native Nazareth, PA. I tried to get advance tickets to that show, but it quickly sold out, and so I was even more eager to see them at the Saint Vitus bar. Their sunshine blues rock was three or four years ahead of the curve when they released their last album, The Indian Tower, on Drag City, and so I expected they’d pull a decent audience in Brooklyn, and they did. I don’t think there was any threat of the show selling out, but the room was crowded anyway, and the people who showed up knew what they were there for.
Myself included. I’d been a fan of Pearls and Brass since they released their self-titled on Doppelganger Records in 2003, and so the chance to see them now, eight years and one reunion later, was exciting. Guitarist Randall Huth and bassist Joel Winter, whose shared vocals came through low in the mix, played right into Sunn amps and made the most of the tones therefrom. The songs they played carried across a lighthearted Americana despite their distortion, and with drummer Josh Martin‘s punkish backbeat, there was never any energy lacking in the performance.
It was a joy to see them after so long. As I stood and watched their too-short set (though the last song they played was at least 10 minutes long and had multiple movements) progressed, I remembered hearing the Pearls and Brass record and feeling like I’d stumbled on something really special. They were tight like a band who’d never gone away, and should they decide to record new material, I can’t see them having any problem aligning themselves with Tee Pee Records or someone like that should Drag City not be able to put it out. The aesthetic having caught up to where they were half a decade ago, I’d be eager to hear where they went next on a studio album.
The Jersey-bound drive ahead of me, I left almost immediately after they finished. I’d made the drive into Brooklyn with one headlight, and decided to change the broken one before I headed back, which took a humiliating amount of time (big American hands, tiny Swedish spaces). That feat finally accomplished, I hightailed it back to the valley and caught as much sleep as possible, ready to do it all again the next night for Totimoshi.
Posted in Reviews on January 11th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
One listen to the conscious “War Pigs” reference that caps off “Controlled by Lunar Forces” on White Summer/Black Winter (Translation Loss) and it’s all too obvious that Philadelphia instrumentalists Serpent Throne know full-well what they’re doing. Their third album overall following last year’s The Battle of Old Crow, White Summer/Black Winter is not only a continuation of the four-piece’s fetish for vinyl-ready ‘70s-style LP artwork, but is also a tour de force of classic rock, dropping riff-led nods like the above-mentioned with ease while integrating them seamlessly into the sans-vocal Serpent Throne sound. The pace varies throughout, if not the approach, and though they never quite hit the same kind of unhinged bluesy playfulness as the first Cactus record or the same cowbell-ly vibe of some of their Mountain climbing earlier work – their strengths more evident here in the Iommi-driven “Riff Forest” – they pull off an individualized sound within a well-established aesthetic.
That’s thanks largely to the guitar work of Demian Fenton and Don Argott, who trade leads fluidly throughout White Summer/Black Winter without ever losing sight of the groove thanks to the stalwart efforts of rhythm section Colin Smith (bass) and Sean-Paul Fenton (drums). The percussive Fenton and Smith make a highlight out of a break on the six-minute “Pagan Eclipse,” showing some versatility from the straightforward rocking earlier into White Summer/Black Winter, as on opener “Headed for an Unmarked Grave” or the extended and stylized title track which immediately follows it. Acoustic guitar work blends well among the electric leads, which are prevalent enough so that I don’t find myself pining for vocals or feeling like they should be somewhere they aren’t. That’s a double-edged sword, though, because it makes a song like “March of the Druids” busier than it might need to be – at least until the cymbal-wash/percussion break that presumably represents when the titular march is taking place – but is also one of Serpent Throne’s greatest strengths. If those leads weren’t there, they’d be missed.
Posted in Reviews on January 18th, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster
The deal was basically that I was going to drive back from Maryland to catch one of two shows, though even as I made my way out of Sparks where I’d been staying, I wasn’t 100 percent sure which. Short story shorter, Pentagram in Philly won out over Mighty High/The Brought Low in Brooklyn, and given the events to be detailed in the second part of this review, I’m glad it did.
We’ll get there.
I’d never been to the Starlight Ballroom before, but its name being so similar to Jersey‘s own Starland Ballroom, I was perhaps prejudiced against it from the start, even if only on a subconscious level. Any regular attendees out there should be well familiar with pre-made excuses for being an asshole. Well, there’s another one.
Serpent Throne was on when I walked in, the native instrumental stoner act chosen from out of the ether to open the show. It was early, around 8:30, and the place was mostly empty. The Solace guys were hanging out in the crowd, The Gates of Slumber too. Both bands waiting their turn to kick ass as the audience grew in number and intoxication.
In the second part at least, I also count myself. And though it started innocently enough with living the High Life, all smiles and laughs and appreciation for what was to take place on the stage, by the time The Gates of Slumber were finished and Pentagram were getting started, my buzz had morphed into that special kind of belligerence and nastiness that’s both embarrassing and shameful. I was at the show with a friend whose patience I’ve tried far more times than intended. It’s hard to be an asshole.
I’m getting ahead of myself. When Jersey natives Solace were on stage, it was still the land of smiles and good times. As ever, Solace were amazingly heavy, the double guitars sounding massive through the surprisingly large Starlight Ballroom, and Keith Ackerman‘s destructive force on the drums not to be forgotten. It wasn’t the best I’d ever seen them (though if you asked me what was, I don’t think I’d have a specific answer; likely it occurred in a smaller room), but they gave a great showing as few bands can.
All the while, more beer. Hadn’t been my original intent to drink myself to a point much past sobriety, but I did, and while The Gates of Slumber were on stage, once again impressing is a way that I’m beginning to see more and more as their own, I and my compadre began handing out fliers for a show of our own back in Jersey that’s coming up. Seems simple enough.
We went outside and put them on cars, came back in and put them on tables, etc. Normal flier protocol. By the time The Gates of Slumber finished, the word had been spread. Soon, shortly after Pentagram went on, a young woman in a Kill Hannah hoodie (minus points) came up to my friend holding several of the fliers and said, “Are these yours?” He said they were, and was promptly told that we couldn’t hand them out inside the building because they advertised another venue.
Sounded like bullshit to me. And even more right then. I’ll cut to the end (in no small part for my own sake) and say I didn’t make enough of a scene to get kicked out, but having paid $25 for a ticket and already spent over $100 on beer and merch, leaving some pieces of paper around at the show didn’t seem too much to ask, especially when the “other venue” being advertised was more than two hours away from the Starlight Ballroom. But you know, some situations just don’t call for being a dick.