Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was close for a long time, but in the last week or so, one record pulled ahead to stake a definitive claim on the top spot. Even so, more than the 2013 poll, this was a fun one to watch, three albums duking it out, trading back and forth in the raw votes depending on who happened to submit a list at any given time. In the end, 355 people participated in this year’s poll, which is an average of over 11 per day — there was a significant push at the end — and up from 2013, which now that it’s 2015 will no doubt soon feel like ancient history.
To that end, Happy New Year and huge, huge thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute a list to the poll. Even if it was one or two records, the simple fact that you felt it was worth your time to type out the names of bands and albums and take part in this thing is unbelievably gratifying to me. I do a lot of the talking around here, apart from comments and the forum, so to have your participation in this really means a lot to me. It’s nice knowing you give enough of a crap to take part.
You’ll find two lists below. The first, measured in points, is the weighted tally. A 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. After that comes the raw votes, a measure of what caught the most attention along the way.
After the jump, you’ll also find all the lists contributed to the poll — including my own, which seemed fair since I do a lot of reading on this site, mostly to experience shame at the typos and correct them hoping no one else noticed — presented in the order in which they were received. Thank you all again.
Top 20 of 2014 — Weighted Results
1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (560 points)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (404)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (367)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (334)
5. Conan, Blood Eagle (275)
6. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (254)
7. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (240)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (237)
9. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (235)
10. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (230)
11. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (225)
12. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (211)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (202)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (198)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (190)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (188)
17. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (161)
18. John Garcia, John Garcia (156)
19. Bongripper, Miserable (141)
20. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (127)
Honorable mention to:
Goat, Commune (126)
Swans, To be Kind (117)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (116)
Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes (105)
Floor, Oblation (104)
Mothership, II (104)
Stubb, Elephant Tree, Thou and plenty of others also did very well in the voting, but everything else I could find was less than 100 points. Again, it was close for a while between Wo Fat, Electric Wizard and YOB — and Pallbearer wasn’t so far behind them, either — but YOB pulled it out in the end and jumped way in front of everyone else. A lot of number-one votes for Clearing the Path to Ascend, which I can understand completely, since I happened to agree with the position.
On to the raw votes:
Top 20 of 2014 — Raw Votes
1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (138 votes)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (111)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (104)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (89)
5. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (78)
6. Conan, Blood Eagle (72)
7. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (71)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (66)
9. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (65)
10. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (64)
11. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (63)
12. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (60)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (58)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (55)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (52)
16. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (48)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (48)
17. John Garcia, John Garcia (47)
18. Bongripper, Miserable (41)
18. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (41)
19. Goat, Commune (37)
19. Mothership, II (37)
20. Swans, To be Kind (32)
And some honorable mentions:
Dwellers, Pagan Fruit (31)
Floor, Oblation (31)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (31)
Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty (30)
Thou, Heathen (30)
The Well, Samsara (30)
A couple ties here make the raw votes list a little more inclusive, and since it’s not like we’re giving out olympic medals, it didn’t seem fair to count out ties and sacrifice other numbers. The top 20 has 23 entries? Yeah, sounds about right. Again, not much mystery ultimately to who came out on top, but it was a more thrilling race than the final numbers might suggest. Cool to see some differences in placement emerge between the two lists as well, Greenleaf and Brant Bjork doing really well in the weighted results since they obviously inspire some strong support, and a couple of others working their way into the raw votes top 20. I’m not really a numbers guy, but it’s been cool putting this together.
About not being a numbers guy: All the lists that came in appear after the jump below. If you find some glaring error in my math, or something seems like it really got enough votes to be included in one or the other, it’s possible I just missed it. I hope you’ll point it out in the comments so that if there is a mistake, I can get on correcting it as soon as possible. Your vigilance is sincerely appreciated.
And thank you again so much for being a part of this readers poll. It’s been a really great experience and I look forward to doing it again come Dec. 2015.
Please find everybody’s list after the jump, and have fun browsing:
Posted in Features on December 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll, which is ongoing. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
This was a hard list to put together. The top three have been set in my mind for probably the last month, but trying to work my way backwards from there was a real challenge — what’s a top 10 record, a top 20 record, a top 30, honorable mentions and all the rest. I’ve never done a full top 30 before, always 20, but the truth is there was just too much this year to not expand.
I’m still juggling numbers even as I put together this post, and I’m sure that by the time I’m done several records will have switched places. That’s always how it seems to go. What I’m confident that I have is a list accurately representing critique and my own habits, both what I gravitated toward in listening throughout the year and what I feel is noteworthy on a critical level. This site has always been a blend of those two impulses. It’s only fair this list should be as well.
Before we dig in, you should note this is full-length albums only. I’ll have a list of short releases (EPs, singles, demos) to come, as well as a special list of debut releases, since it seemed to be a particularly good year for them. And since I’m only one person, I couldn’t hear everything, much as I tried.
The kings of London’s heavy scene offered more powerhouse heavy rock with their eighth album and second for Candlelight, and their rabid and ever-growing fanbase ate it up. Back from the Abyss proved yet again that few can attain the kind of vicious force that seems to come so natural to Orange Goblin, and made it clear their domination shows no signs of losing momentum.
A darker affair from Port Orchard, Washington’s Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty still found its core in the songwriting led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed. They’re a band with some changes on the horizon, and I’ll be interested to hear what hindsight does to these songs. As it was, the hooks and downer vibes may have been in conceptual conflict, but the execution was inarguable.
Richer in the listening than 2012’s Misery Wizard debut, Pilgrim‘s II: Void Worship nonetheless held firm to the doomly spirit that’s made the Rhode Island outfit such a sensation these last couple years. Its longer songs, “Master’s Chamber,” “Void Worship” and the emotionally weighted “Away from Here,” were particularly immersive, and they remain a bright spot in doom’s future.
His long-awaited solo debut, John Garcia‘s John Garcia offered memorable tracks culled from years of songwriting from the former Kyuss, Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano frontman, performed in the classic desert rock style he helped define. I’m not sure it was worth trading a second Vista Chino record for, but it was hard to argue with “The Blvd” and “All These Walls.”
An overwhelming two-disc barrage from a relentless creativity that, more than 30 years on from its first public incarnation, is still to be considered avant garde. I’m not sure planet earth realizes how lucky it is to have Swans running around unleashing all this chaos, but I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. To be Kind was brutal and beautiful in like measure.
Icelandic four-piece Sólstafir hit on a rarely attained balance of gorgeousness and melancholy, and while Ótta is expansive, it’s also gripping front to back and is the best execution of its style I’ve heard since Anathema‘s Alternative 4, which is not a comparison I make lightly. A challenging record, but satisfying in kind and universal in its expressiveness.
The follow-up to Greenleaf‘s stellar 2012 outing Nest of Vipers (review here) brought lineup changes and stripped away many of the textural elements of the band’s sound — guest appearances, arrangement flourishes — in order to get back to a classic heavy rock sound and translate better to the stage. With guitarist Tommi Holappa‘s songwriting ever at the core, it would be unfair to call the process anything but a success.
Most of the headlines went to the fact that Primitive and Deadly had vocals, where the generally-instrumental Earth had avoided singers for 18 years prior, but even putting aside Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi, whose performance on “From the Zodiacal Light” was the high point of the record, presented Earth‘s always progressive tensions in a rawer, heavier production, and was a joy for longtime fans.
Six years and one breakup later, Portland, Maine, doom trio Ogre returned with The Last Neanderthal, neither afraid to revel in Sabbathian traditionalism or rock out a more upbeat cut like opener “Nine Princes in Amber.” For bassist/vocalist Ed Cunningham, guitarist Ross Markonish and drummer Will Broadbent, it was a welcome resurgence of pretense-free heavy riffs and grooves.
Of course, at the time we didn’t know it would be the final outing from this lineup of UK doomers The Wounded Kings, whose guitarist/founder Steve Mills has now reunited with original vocalist George Birch, but Consolamentum was a hell of a closing statement anyway for this era of the band, showcasing their murky, increasingly progressive style still waiting for wider appreciation.
Wasn’t sure where to put Floor‘s reunion offering, Oblation, on this list at first, since I kind of fell off listening to it as the year went on, but I’ve gone back to it over the last couple weeks and it has held up to the revisit, whether it’s songs like the extended “Sign of Aeth” or shorter, catchy pummelers like “Rocinante” or “War Party.” Floor‘s 2002 self-titled holds an untouchable legacy in heavy rock, but I think the years will prove Oblation a worthy successor. Nobody knew what they had with Floor at the time either.
Little on 2011’s Motherfucker Rising (review here) or their 2010 demo (review here) prepared for the kind of assault that Druglord‘s Enter Venus brought to bear. Four stomp-laden slabs of tectonic crash and distortion, vocals buried under and calling up from the amp-bred fog. The Virginian trio were in and out on the 27-minute 12″ release, but had enough heavy for a record twice as long, and the tinges of darkened psychedelia made their songs like a lurking presence just on the edge of consciousness, a threat waiting to be unleashed.
For the sheer variety of Ararat‘s third album in rockers like “Nicotina y Destrucción,” “El Hijo de Ignacio,” the experimentalism of “El Arca” and the piano-driven “Los Viajes” and the acoustic closer “Atalayah,” and the assured, flowing manner in which the Argentina trio pulled it all off, Cabalgata Hacia la Luz should be higher on this list than it is. Part of that might be my frustration at my apparent inability to buy a copy, but don’t let that take away from the quality of the material here, which is wonderfully chaotic, memorable and engaging, rushing in some places and stopping to weep in others.
You won’t hear me deny that Radio Moscow‘s primary impact is as a live band, but their fifth album, Magical Dirt, managed to bring forth much of their psychedelic blues presence in “Death of a Queen,” “Before it Burns” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the blinding rhythmic turns and wah-soaked guitar supremacy of Parker Griggs front and center throughout. Together with bassist Anthony Meier (also Sacri Monti) and drummer Paul Marrone (also Astra and Psicomagia), Radio Moscow are hitting their stride as one of heavy rock’s most powerful power trios. One never knows what to expect, but hopefully they keep going the way they are.
Four years isn’t the longest time I’ve ever waited for a record to come out, but in the case of Indianapolis’ Apostle of Solitude, it felt like an especially long stretch. Their third full-length and first for Cruz del Sur, Of Woe and Wounds followed the anticipation-building Demo 2012 (review here) and a couple splits and brought aboard bassist Dan Dividson and guitarist/vocalist Steve Janiak (also Devil to Pay), who fit well with drummer Corey Webb and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Brown to result in a payoff worthy and indicative of the time that went into its making. Hands down one of the finest acts in American doom.
Stubb‘s second long-player, also their debut on Ripple, gets a nod for the sense of progression it brought in answering the potential of the trio’s 2012 self-titled debut (review here), guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist Peter Holland and new drummer Tom Fyfe expanding the scope to include more heavy psych influence and soul along with the fuzz riffs and steady rolling while giving no ground in terms of the level of craft at work. Cry of the Ocean has become one of those albums where all I have to do is look at a title, be it “Cry of the Ocean Pt. I” or “Sail Forever” or “Heartbreaker,” and the song is immediately stuck in my head. With these tracks, that’s not at all a complaint.
14. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower
Brant Bjork has worn many hats, literal and figurative, over the years, whether it’s drummer in Kyuss or Fu Manchu, producer, solo artist or bandleader. With Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, he steps once again into the latter role, and with guitarist Bubba DuPree, bassist Dave Dinsmore and drummer Tony Tornay, presents not only on his heaviest record to date, but what could easily begin a sustainable full-band progression that can go just about anywhere his songwriting wants to take it. “Stokely up Now,” “That’s a Fact Jack,” “Controllers Denied” and “Boogie Woogie on Your Brain” made for some of 2014’s best in desert rock, and Black Power Flower was an stellar return for Bjork to his “solo” work.
An earlier version of this list had Pagan Fruit at a lower number, but I couldn’t live with it not being closer to the top 10. Salt Lake City’s Dwellers pushed deeper into laid back psych and blues on their second album, and in doing so, crafted an atmosphere entirely their own. From “Creature Comfort” down to “Call of the Hollowed Horn,” with triumphs along the way like “Rare Eagle,” “Totem Crawler” (“Ohh, my queen… To whom, I crawl…) and “Son of Raven,” Pagan Fruit became a staple of my 2014, building off their 2012 debut, Good Morning Harakiri (review here), but presenting their stylistic growth with a confidence and poise that can only come from a band who’ve figured out what they want to be doing and how they want to do it. Front to back, Pagan Fruit sounds like an arrival.
What made Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass‘ self-titled debut such a special released wasn’t just that it was heavy, or that the tracks were catchy, or that guitarist Michael Rafalowich and drummer Adam Kriney could harmonize over Joe Noval‘s warm-toned basslines. That was all great, don’t get me wrong, but what really stood out about The Golden Grass was its irony-free positivity, the way it was able to capture an upbeat, sunshiny feel without having to smirk about it on the other side of its mouth. It was self-aware, to be sure — knew what it was doing — but the way I see it, consciousness only makes the stylistic choices more impressive. Add to that the nuance they brought to ’70s revivalism, and all that stuff about catchiness and the harmonies, and there just wasn’t a level on which the album didn’t work.
My appreciation continues to grow for The Well‘s Samsara, which successfully pulled together influences from garage doom and heavy psychedelia while crafting an identity for the Austin, Texas, three-piece at once raw and melodically accomplished, guitarist Ian Graham and bassist Lisa Alley sharing vocals to classic effect on “Refuge” while otherwise trading off lead position to bolster variety in the material. The high point might’ve been the eight-minute “Eternal Well,” on which Graham, Alley and drummer Jason Sullivvan conjured some of their grooviest demons, but the hooks of “Mortal Bones,” “Trespass” and the attitude-laced “Dragon Snort” were no less engaging. One of many strong releases from their label this year — Slow Season, The Picturebooks, etc. — they seemed to come ready to serve notice of a stylistic movement underway.
10. Montibus Communitas, The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Peruvian psych adventurers Montibus Communitas more or less blew my mind when I heard their late-2013 offering, Harvest Times earlier this year, and the narrative, conceptual 2014 release, The Pilgrim to the Absolute, is even more of an achievement in its portrayal of improvised exploration, sonic ritualism and open creativity. The weaving of longer pieces against shorter ones with the various steps along the path as presented in the titles, some journeying, some arriving, some descriptive, almost all accompanied by nature in one form or another, gives The Pilgrim to the Absolute an almost impressionistic quality, so that even as you listen to it, you engage it as much as it carries you along its vibrant, breathtaking progression en route to the closing title-track, which is a destination every bit worthy of the journey. This is the most recently reviewed inclusion on this list, but Montibus Communitas‘ latest readily earns its place in the top 10. It is unique in its surroundings.
Looking back at the last two Fu Manchu records, 2007’s We Must Obey and 2009’s Signs of Infinite Power, it seemed reasonable to expect the groundbreaking SoCal fuzz foursome to put out another collection of big-sounding riffs in a big-sounding production. Nothing to complain about, but probably not a landmark. By going the other way completely — stripping their buzzed-out riffing down to its punkish core thanks in no small part to recording with Moab‘s Andrew Giacumakis — Fu Manchu served up a raw reminder both of where they came from and how top notch their songwriting remains. Reissuing their earliest work and being on their own label might’ve had something to do with it, but whatever it was, the 35 minutes of Gigantoid was as efficient a heavy rock outing as one could hope from an already legendary band, whether it was the hook-prone opening salvo of “Dimension Shifter,” “Invaders on My Back,” “Anxiety Reducer” and “Radio Source Sagittarius” or the righteous ending jam “The Last Question.”
Given the origins of The Skull — ex-Trouble members Eric Wagner, Jeff “Oly” Olson and Ron Holzner joining with Lothar Keller and a series of other guitarists, finally Matt Goldsborough, working essentially as a tribute band to their former outfit — I think not only did the quality of the material and performance on For Those Which are Asleep surprise, as well as the classically doomed feel that resonates throughout the album, but the sheer heartfelt nature of songs like “Sick of it All,” “Send Judas Down” and the title-track itself. This wasn’t a cynical attempt to make a go of an already set legacy. It was an expression of appreciation both for what they accomplished as Trouble and a desire to continue that work. The Skull‘s whole thing has been that they’re “more Trouble than Trouble,” and in their lineup that’s been true since they brought Olson on board. For Those Which are Asleep demonstrated that the classic spirit of that band is alive and well, its address has just changed. Moreover, it’s the beginning of a new progression for that spirit, and I hope it continues.
Nineteen years after releasing their self-titled debut, New York’s Blood Farmers contended for 2014’s comeback of the year with their sophomore outing, Headless Eyes — a morose, horror-obsessed six-track collection that on “Night of the Sorcerers” owed as much to Goblin as to Sabbath. The closing cover of David Hess‘ theme from The Last House on the Left, “The Road Leads to Nowhere,” was a late bit of melodic flourish to add depth, but how could the highlight be anything other than the 10-minute title-track itself, with its samples from the 1971 horror flick The Headless Eyes, bassist Eli Brown in a call and response with lyrics comprised of lines directly taken from the movie? That after playing shows the last several years, Blood Farmers managed to get a record out was impressive enough. That Headless Eyes turned out to be the year’s best traditional doom release was an entirely different level of surprise. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for their third, but Brown, guitarist David Szulkin and drummer Tad Leger gave plenty to chew on with Blood Farmers‘ second. It was better than would’ve been fair to expect.
A lot of what you need to know about Lo-Pan‘s fourth album you learn in the first five seconds of opener “Regulus.” There’s no fancy intro, no time wasted, nothing to take away from the directness of the song itself. Tones are crisp — the verse is already underway — and guitar, bass and drums are laser-focused in their forward movement. Even when vocalist Jeff Martin enters the song, roughly six seconds later, his arrival comes with no indulgence, no pomp. Colossus is easily Lo-Pan‘s most immediate work to date, and throughout, Martin, guitarist Brian Fristoe (since replaced by Adrian Zambrano), bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz retain that focus no matter where the material takes them, delivering a clinic in how to kick as much ass as possible at any given moment on cuts like “Marathon Man” and “Eastern Seas,” or even bringing in guest vocalist Jason Alexander Byers, who also designed the album cover, for a spot on “Vox.” They had a hard task in following up 2011’s Salvador (review here), but the Columbus, Ohio, unit stood up to the challenge and met it and everyone else head-on.
What to do with All Them Witches‘ Lightning at the Door? The Nashville four-piece released the album last fall digitally, but it wasn’t until this September that it saw a physical manifestation. In fact, if you go back, it was included on the Top 20 of 2013 as well. Which is the release date? I don’t know. What I know is that in terms of the sheer amount of time spent listening, I put on Lightning at the Door more than any other record this year. From where I sit, that alone gets it a place in the top five. Yeah, it might be a cop-out to do a “5a,” but sometimes exceptions have to be made, and All Them Witches have proved to be nothing if not exceptional in their still relatively brief, jam-laden history, the psych-blues dynamic between bassist/vocalist Michael Parks, Jr., guitarist Ben McLeod, Fender Rhodes specialist Allan van Cleave and drummer Robby Staebler pushing them quickly to the fore of American heavy rock’s innovators, their natural, improv-sounding material feeling brazen and exploratory while reshaping the elements of genre to suit their needs. One can only see this dynamic developing further as they continue to grow as a live band, so Lightning at the Door may just be the start, and that’s perhaps most exciting of all.
A beautiful, stunning work made even more powerful by the honesty driving it. Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain completed a trilogy with the Billy Anderson-produced Mobile of Angelsthat brought about some of the best doom of this young decade, their 2011 return from a years-long hiatus, South of Salem (review here) serving as the foundation for a stylistic progression that continued on the following year’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) and onto Mobile of Angels itself as the four-piece’s most accomplished album to date. The reason it feels like such a concluding chapter is because of the departure of vocalist Uta Plotkin, whose voice helped establish Witch Mountain both on stage and in the studio, leaving founders Rob Wrong (guitar) and Nathan Carson (drums) with the sizable task of finding a replacement. That situation will be what it will be, but Mobile of Angels remains a gorgeous, lonely testament. Plotkin gives a landmark performance on “Can’t Settle” and “The Shape Truth Takes,” which in the context of what was happening in Witch Mountain at the time ring with a truth that’s rare in or out of doom, and she seems to have left the band just as they were hitting their finest hour. So it goes.
In all of heavy, there is no assault so severe as Conan‘s. With their second full-length and debut on Napalm Records, the UK trio solidified the two sides of the preceding 2012 outing, Monnos (review here), in constructing material that, fast or slow, short or long, retained an epic feel melded with their ungodly tonality and memorable songwriting. Their first recording at guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis‘ Skyhammer Studio, it affirmed Conan‘s will to conquer in its two massive bookends, “Crown of Talons” and “Altar of Grief,” and in the High on Fire-worthy gallop of “Foehammer” — a bludgeon commandingly wielded by Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil, the latter to of whom have since left the band to be replaced by longtime-producer Chris Fielding and Rich Lewis, respectively. What effect the changes might have on the band — except apparently more touring, which isn’t a bad thing — have yet to be seen, but Conan are already in the process of writing a follow-up to Blood Eagle, so it doesn’t seem like it’ll be all that long until we find out. With Davis still steering the band in songwriting and overall direction, one severely doubts they’ll be fixing what obviously isn’t broken anytime soon. None heavier.
Dallas riff-rockers Wo Fat have grown steadily over the course of their five albums, from the nascent heavy roll of 2006’s The Gathering Dark, to the hooks of 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), the jamming that started to surface on 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here) and was pushed further on 2012’s The Black Code (review here). And their approach has been as steady as the frequency of their releases. In making The Conjuring, the three-piece were simply engaging the next step in their progression, but the material on the five-track/48-minute outing goes further than just that. Putting aside (momentarily) the 17-minute closer “Dreamwalker,” the other cuts, “The Conjuring,” “Read the Omens,” “Pale Rider from the Ice” and “Beggar’s Bargain” each found a place for themselves in pulling together jammed-sounding elements with a memorable construction, and when guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter did kick into “Dreamwalker,” they hit on not only their longest piece yet, but their most accomplished showcase of the chemistry that has developed between them. That song is a beast unto itself, but as has been the case with Wo Fat each time out so far in their career, there’s nothing on The Conjuring to give the impression the band can’t or won’t continue to keep going on the path that’s worked so well for them on this point. They’ve spent the last eight years on the right track and have yet to waiver. The Conjuring should be played at top volume for anyone who contends there’s no life left in heavy rock and roll.
Mars Red Sky‘s second LP and first for Listenable, Stranded in Arcadia was originally supposed to be recorded in the California desert, but visa problems kept the French trio of guitarist/vocalist Julien Pras, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast and drummer Matgaz in Brazil, where they’d previously been touring. Thus, “stranded in Arcadia,” which is basically another way of saying “lost in paradise.” Can’t say the Bordeaux three-piece didn’t make the most of it, though. Songs like “The Light Beyond” and “Hovering Satellites” — not to mention the utter melodic bliss of “Join the Race” — took cues from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here) in terms of memorable songwriting and melodic craft, but added to that heft and tonal richness more of a psychedelic vibe, so that not only was there fuzz and wah, but a spacious world in which the songs took place. With Kinast on lead vocals, the sneaky boogie of “Holy Mondays” became a highlight, and the one-two swing ‘n’ stomp of “Circles” and “Seen a Ghost” were a perfect demonstration by the band of the various sides of their sound, particularly following after the dreamy instrumental “Arcadia,” an echoing jam distinguished by Pras‘ wistful guitar lead and coming before the closing “Beyond the Light,” which reprises the opener’s resonant unfolding. It probably wasn’t the record they intended to make, but Stranded in Arcadia became one of my go-to albums for 2014, and like the best of any given year’s output, I’ve no doubt it will transcend the passage of time and continue to deliver for years to come. Hell, I was barely done with the debut when this one came out.
Can’t imagine this is any great surprise. Not only did Clearing the Path to Ascend – YOB‘s seventh album and first for Neurot — produce my pick for song of the year in its sprawling, emotionally weighted 18-minute closer, “Marrow,” but in the three full-lengths the Eugene, Oregon, trio of drummer Travis Foster, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt have released since the latter reformed the band after breaking it up following 2005’s The Unreal Never Lived, all three have been my album of the year. The Great Cessation was in 2009, and Atma was in 2011. Consistency aside, I’ll point out specifically that each of the same three records has earned that position, perhaps Clearing the Path to Ascend most of all for its progressive feel, moving past genre even at its most raging moment, second cut “Nothing to Win,” the chorus of which proved that among everything else YOB could be, they could be anthemic. The cosmic, spiritual questing that has always been present in their songs, that feeling of searching, showed up in opener “In Our Blood,” but even there, it was evident YOB were pushing themselves beyond what they’ve done before, rewriting their own formulas incorporating lessons from their past in among their other points of inspiration. “Unmask the Spectre” could have easily been an album closer itself, with its patient exploration and feverishly intense payoff, but with the melodic progressivism of “Marrow” and the soul poured into every second of that track, every verse and chorus, solo and build — including the Hammond added to the last of them by producer Billy Barnett — YOB created a landmark both for themselves and the increasing many working under their influence. I’ve said on several occasions (bordering on “many” at this point) that YOB are a once-in-a-generation band, and it feels truer in thinking of Clearing the Path to Ascend than it ever has. Without a doubt, album of the year and then some.
First, special note to Colour Haze‘s To the Highest Gods We Know. I’ve decided to count it as a 2015 release since the vinyl will be out in Spring, but otherwise surely it would earn a place on this list. Blackwolfgoat‘s Drone Maintenance also deserves note.
A few other honorable mentions:
Mothership, Mothership II — It’s hard to argue with a classic heavy rock power trio kicking ass. I won’t try.
Alunah, Awakening the Forest — Every time I make a list, no matter what kind of list it is, there’s a band I wind up kicking myself for forgetting about at the time. This is the case 100 percent with why Alunah aren’t in the Top 30. In fact, I might go in and swap them out with somebody.
Ice Dragon, Seeds from a Dying Garden — Boston experimental psych/garage doomers continue to defy expectation. May their weirdness last forever and continue to produce material so satisfying.
Truckfighters, Universe – I thought at some point I’d go back to Universe again, but never really did. A problem with me more than the album.
Steak, Slab City — An impressive debut following two strong EPs.
Godflesh, A World Lit Only by Fire — I never got a review copy, so I never reviewed it. Its name is here because I’m a fan of the band and glad they’re back.
Thou, Heathen — Just recently purchased this and am only getting to know it, but a ridiculously strong album.
Corrosion of Conformity, IX — Everybody who gets a boner whenever Pepper Keenan is mentioned in connection with this band has missed out. This record and the self-titled kick ass.
Spidergawd, Spidergawd — Holy shit they’re over here! No they’re over there! No wait over here again! Oh my god I’ve just gone blind!
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars — I wasn’t sure what to do with this since technically it’s not a new album, mostly reworked songs from the last one. I still listened to it a ton though, whatever it is.
Slomatics, Estron — Another one I’m just getting to know, but am very much digging.
Electric Wizard, Time to Die — People seem to do this thing where Electric Wizard puts out a record, everyone slathers over it for a few months and then spends the next two years talking about how it sucked. I guess I’ll be on the ground floor with not having been that into Time to Die.
Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden — Had to put their name somewhere on this list or someone would burn my house down. Album of the year for many.
The list goes on: Monolord, Comet Control, Mammatus, Triptykon, Eyehategod, Fever Dog, Moab, Karma to Burn, Atavismo, Grifter, 1000mods, Megaton Leviathan, Wovenhand, Mr. Peter Hayden, Primordial, and many more.
Before I check out and go sit in a corner somewhere to try and rebuild brain power after this massive dump of a purge, I want to sincerely thank you for reading. If you check in regularly, or if you’ve never been to the site before, if you don’t give a crap about lists or if you’re gonna go listen to even one band on here, it’s fantastic to me. Thank you so much for all the support this site receives, for your comments, for sharing links, retweeting, whatever it is. I am a real person — I’m sitting on my couch at this very moment — and being able to do this and have people see it and be a part of it with me is unbelievable. I realize how fortunate I am. So thank you. Thank you.
More to come as we close out 2014. I’ll have a list of short/split/demo releases, a year-end podcast, a list of the best debuts, a round up of the best live shows I saw, as much more as time allows. Please stay tuned.
And again, thank you. If I left anyone off the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments and contribute your own top albums, however many there are, to the Readers Poll.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 13th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Considering that by the time they hit the road in May to support their latest album, To be Kind (review here), they were already playing new material, it’s probably safe to figure Swans will have progressed significantly when February rolls around, and that if they’re still around, “Frankie M.” and “Don’t Go” will be much different than they were when they started out. Or at least a little different. Probably angrier. Okay.
The Michael Gira-led troupe had previously announced an initial batch of 2015 dates that I didn’t get to post because I suck at this and they’ve just added some more for March and April. My trouble is debating whether I want to go north to Portland or south to Providence to see them in February. Maybe I’ll just drive to Albuquerque. That seemed like a nice town.
Swans will release a new digital EP called Oxygen with a few different versions of the To be Kind track of the same name on Nov. 25. You should buy it because when Swans sell things they use the money to make more music.
Swans add March and April dates to 2015 N. American touring
Swans have commenced the sixth leg of a year-long world-wide tour celebrating the release of their 2 CD set To Be Kind, the third studio album from this outfit since their reactivation by band primum mobile Michael Gira in 2010 after a 14 year hiatus. In addition, on November 4 they re-issued their 1983 debut album Filth on vinyl for the first time in decades. In addition on November 25 they release a digital EP of “Oxygen” from To Be Kind, featuring four different versions: an edit of Oxygen by Mute founder Daniel Miller, a live version from Primavera, an early version recorded at Gira’s home and an acoustic version recorded at StudioMute.
The touring line-up is: Michael Gira – guitar, voice (original Swans); Norman Westberg – guitar (original Swans); Christoph Hahn – guitar (mid period Swans and most Angels Of Light); Phil Puleo – drums, percussion, dulcimer etc etc (final Swans tour and most Angels); Chris Pravdica – bass and gadgets (Flux Information Sciences / Services/ Gunga Din); Thor Harris – drums, percussion, vibes, dulcimer, curios, keys, etc etc… (Angels / Shearwater). I’m hoping you’ll consider advancing this show with a feature, CD review or advance blurb.
To Be Kind was produced by Michael Gira, performed by the touring line-up, recorded by the venerable John Congleton at Sonic Ranch, outside El Paso Texas; further recordings and mixing were accomplished at Congleton’s studio in Dallas, Texas. Gira says of the new album, “A good portion of the material for this album was developed live during the Swans tours of 2012/13. Much of the music was otherwise conjured in the studio environment.” The album debuted at #37 on Billboard’s Top 200 sales chart and has garnered a huge amount of ecstatic coverage from a host of impressive outlets.
SWANS North American Tour Dates 2015 2/17/2015 Portland ME Port City Music Hall 2/18/2015 Providence RI Columbus Theatre 2/19/2015 Montreal QC Theatre National 2/20/2015 Toronto ON Phoenix Concert Theater 2/21/2015 Chicago IL Thalia Hall 2/23/2015 Grand Rapids MI The Pyramid Scheme 2/24/2015 Cincinnati OH Woodward Theater 2/25/2015 Cleveland OH Beachland Ballroom 3/23/2015 Philadelphia PA Union Transfer 3/25/2015 Baltimore MD Baltimore Soundstage 3/26/2015 Richmond VA The Broadberry 3/27/2015 Carrboro NC Cats Cradle 3/28/2015 Atlanta GA Terminal West 3/29/2015 Knoxville TN BIG EARS Festival 3/3/12015 Jacksonville FL Jack Rabbit’s 4/1/2015 Saint Petersburg FL State Theater 4/2/2015 Pensacola FL Vinyl Music Hall 4/3/2015 New Orleans LA One Eyed Jacks 4/4/2015 Dallas TX Trees 4/6/2015 Austin TX The Parish 4/9/2015 Albuquerque NM Sunshine Theate
Posted in Whathaveyou on October 20th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
The track “Oxygen” from Swans‘ 2014 album, To be Kind (review here), is a fitting example of the way that record just kind of whams you in the face with sound. Edited by Mute Records founder Daniel Miller, it’s an even-more-pointed thrust and a quicker summary of the rhythmic insistence on hand throughout. I doubt that’s why it was chosen for release as a digital EP on Nov. 25 through Michael Gira‘s Young God Records anymore than the edit was done so they’d have a three-minute version to send to radio — the likely motivation is the usual; Swans put out a short or limited release in order to fund whatever they want to do next — but it winds up that way anyhow. That edit will be one of four versions of the track on Oxygen when it arrives at the end of next month.
Swans – who also put on one of the best shows I’ve seen all year — will also be reissuing their first album, 1983’s Filth, on vinyl Oct. 28. The PR wire invites us all to get schooled:
SWANS RELEASE “OXYGEN” – DIGITAL EP, NOVEMBER 25
SWANS release a new EP, “Oxygen,” out digitally on November 25 2014. Featuring an edit of “Oxygen” by Mute founder Daniel Miller, a live version from Primavera, an early version recorded at Gira’s home and an acoustic version recorded at StudioMute, the title track of the four-track EP is taken from their latest album, ‘To Be Kind’, out now on Young God (Mute outside of North America).
Swans recently confirmed their biggest UK headline show yet, at London’s historic Roundhouse, on May 21 2015 plus an appearance at Drill : Brighton festival on Sunday December 7. Drill festival, curated by Wire, will include a one-off collaboration between Wire and Swans – full details over at www.drillfestival.com, this appearance follows the Michael Gira / Swans curated Mouth To Mouth festival in Utrecht on November 22 which Wire are also appearing at, full details over at http://leguesswho.nl/
In addition, Swans round off an incredible year which has seen the release of their critically acclaimed album, ‘To Be Kind’, with a remastered vinyl edition of their debut studio album, ‘Filth’, out on October 28 2014.
Swans, led by Michael Gira, formed in 1982 and, after disbanding in 1997, returned with the critically acclaimed albums ‘My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky’ (2010), ‘The Seer’ (2012) and this year’s ‘To Be Kind.’
Swans are Michael Gira, Norman Westberg, Christoph Hahn, Phil Puleo, Thor Harris and Christopher Pravdica.
OXGYEN EP TRACKLISTING Oxygen (Edit) Oxygen (Live at Primavera) Oxygen (Early Version) Oxygen (Acoustic Version)
Posted in Whathaveyou on July 22nd, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ll be honest. There are times when I post about all these badass European fests when I get frustrated, wondering when I might get to see Conan and Black Shape of Nexus and YOB and Wovenhand on the same bill in the US. But you know what the answer to that question is? Never. It’s never gonna happen. Talk to me all you want about the growing fest culture in the States — meaning there are like two that are sustainable over the long term — but we’re likely to win the World Cup before we’re able to make a show like this happen. Our healthcare sucks too and we’ve spent over a decade bankrupting ourselves fighting needless wars so that five or six dickbags can viciously profiteer therefrom. You take the good with the bad. At least we’ve got new Sleep.
I won’t get to Amplifest in Portugal, unfortunately, but if you’re in that part of the world at the beginning of October, consider yourself fortunate. The two-dayer has confirmed screenings for two Chelsea Wolfe films, and added Swans and others to its already considerable lineup.
AMPLIFEST: Chelsea Wolfe’s “Lone” and “March of the Gods” to be screened || Swans, Cult of Luna, Ben Frost & more confirmed
Amplifest is due to happen in Porto, Portugal, on the 4th and 5th of October. This year’s line-up features performances from Swans, Cult of Luna, Ben Frost, Conan, Pallbearer, Wolvserpent, Wovenhand, Pharmakon and more. Tickets on sale.
Chelsea Wolfe’s “Lone” and documentary on metal music in Botswana “March of the Gods” will be screening in Amplifest 2014, scheduled to the weekend of October 4th and 5th. With talks with the confirmed artists and exhibitions still to be announced, this year’s edition will also feature concerts and performances from artists as influential and important to modern art and music as Swans, Cult of Luna, Ben Frost, Marissa Nadler, Yob, Wovenhand, Wolvserpent, or Pharmakon, to name just a few.
“Lone” works as a cinematic counterpart of Chelsea Wolfe’s latest album “Pain is Beauty”, but it stands perfectly on its own as a beautiful and enthralling art piece. Crafted both by Wolfe herself and renowned director Mark Pellington, “Lone” brings to a visual dimension all the distinctive factors in Chelsea Wolfe’s music: beauty in darkness, innocence and violence. Following her memorably breathtaking show at last year’s Amplifest, we will again be delighted by Chelsea Wolfe’s art, this time on screen.
Heavy Metal music is, unquestionably, a product of western culture – but the anger that leads to such an extreme way of expression is universal. “March of the Gods”, directed by Raffaele Mosca, is a rockumentary that portrays the thriving Metal scene in Botswana, a sparsely populated, and mostly deserted, country in Southern Africa. With a focus on the story of Wurst, one of Botswana’s most popular metal bands, the film shows us how such an orthodox music style can blend with African traditions and create a microcosm full of passionate and peculiar characters.
Announced acts: Alhousseini Anivolla, Ben Frost, Black Shape of Nexus, Bosque, Conan, Cult of Luna, Hexis, Marissa Nadler, Pallbearer, Peter Brötzmann & Steve Noble, Pharmakon, Swans, Urfaust, VVOVNDS, ?, Wolvserpent, Wovenhand, Yob
Amplifest is more than a festival, it’s an experience. It is due to happen in Porto, Portugal, on the 4th and 5th of October. Tickets available atAMPLISTORE: 2-day passes: 65 euros 1-day pass: soon
Posted in Reviews on May 19th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Outside Boston’s Royale, elaborately made-up young women in expensive-looking dresses stood waiting in a line while bearded-types smoked cigarettes on the sidewalk. Royale, which hosted Swans on Saturday, is a nightclub in what I guess was Boston’s theatre district. There are at least two rooms in the place, maybe more. Swans played upstairs, a larger hall, good lights, good sound, an elevated area in front of the stage that it took me a second to realize would become a dance floor as soon as 10PM hit and the weirdo contingent shuffled out to let the clubbers lang — if that can be a verb for what one does when clubbing at the risk of betraying my inexperience in this regard.
And indeed, 10PM. The show was even earlier than I anticipated it being from the Royale‘s website saying doors at 6, show at 7. In the rare and appreciated company of The Patient Mrs., I rolled in at about 6:50 and found Jenny Hval on stage, maybe halfway through her set. Who knew? A lot of people, judging by the crowd. I didn’t find out about that whole “out by 10″ thing until I was already there, and needless to say the evening made more sense afterwards. For Hval‘s part, the Oslo native and her accompanying duo of Håvard Volden and Kyrre Laastad ran a line between moody alternative pop and more experimental indie ambience. Probably not something I’d have gone to see were Swans not coming on next, but creative and well-presented from the few songs I saw. I wouldn’t have minded showing up earlier if I’d been so lucky.
Hval and Co. played in front of Swans‘ elaborate setup — a pedal steel was brought out later for Christoph Hahn, but drummer Phil Puleo and multi-instrumentalist Thor Harris already had their stations ready, and amps for guitarist/vocalist Michael Gira, bassist Chris Pravdica and guitarist Norman Westberg were prepositioned — and that made the changeover shorter than it probably would’ve been otherwise, but still, barely being 8PM, it hardly felt like they needed to rush. Supporting their newly-released third full-length since reactivating, To be Kind(review here), the Swans tour was newly begun. A night in D.C., a night in Philly, then Boston, followed by Manhattan and Brooklyn as a warmup for a longer stretch through the UK taking them through the rest of May into early June, with a longer summer US tour to follow mid-June into July.
My expectations for Swans were high. I remembered well the teeth-vibrating heaviness they conjured at Roadburn 2011, playing material from 2010’s don’t-call-it-a-comeback My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky(review here) as well as some early versions of songs like “The Apostate,” which would appear on 2012’s The Seer. “The Apostate” was aired at the Royale as well, making it the oldest song in a set that included two-point-five from To be Kind in “Oxygen,” “A Little God in My Hands,” and a mutated take on “Bring the Sun,” which appears as the first half of the 34-minute “Bring the Sun/Toussaint l’Ouverture” on the record, and two new songs, “Frankie M.” and “Don’t Go.”
The impulse with Swans since they started playing again — Gira transitioning from Angels of Light back to Swans as he shifted in 1997 from Swans to Angels of Light — has been to think of how apocalyptic they sound, to delve into drone-as-shattering-consciousness hyperbole. I’ve done it too more than once. I think it says much more about who these people are as artists and the deep creative need at work that, the same week their new album is released, they’re already remolding the material and playing two brand new, yet-unrecorded cuts, one of them opening the set. I don’t know whether “Frankie M.” or “Don’t Go” will wind up on the next Swans studio outing, and if they do, I’d expect they’ll be retooled in one manner or another, but just the fact that that’s how Swans go about their business where they could just as easily be plugging the t-shirts and vinyl at the merch booth said a lot about their priorities and how passion-driven they are.
Most likely, two nights into what will be several months of shows, Swans would tell you the show will get tighter. Gira hinted at same in mentioning how the stuff was all pretty new after “Don’t Go,” before he put his guitar down and danced like the mad conductor Jim Morrison wanted to be when he grew up for the bulk of “The Apostate,” directing Harris to hit this or that effect, maybe go for the flute, the horn, the gong, the chimes, or any number of other of the instruments he had in the little box constructed around him next to Puleo‘s also-expansive drum kit, or matching eyes with Pravdica in timing out measures for the insistent slams that start “Bring the Sun.” This lineup of Swans, inexperienced though they may be with bringing To be Kind to the stage, have been playing together for a few years now and it shows. Gira‘s signals, whether it’s a reeled-back leg kick to time a hit for the whole band or a subtle eye-glance to one player or another around him, are well read, and the fullness of sound Swans craft when they choose to do so is as consuming as their reputation would have you believe.
“A Little God in My Hands” was the second song played, behind “Frankie M.,” and offered an early bit of accessibility for what would soon turn into an amorphous spread of builds and crashes. “Oxygen” has form, and so does “The Apostate,” but live the bleed from one piece into the next was only distinct when it came to a silent finish, and while “The Apostate” seemed when they were done like that was it, “Bring the Sun” justified its place as the finale by giving an interpretation of drone-as-ritual that few I’ve seen live could rival. Whatever that track is going to turn into by the time Swans are done doing shows for To be Kind remains to be seen, but hopefully some recording of it surfaces somewhere along the line. It was distinct from the album version not just for dropping the “Toussaint l’Ouverture” half, but also it seemed to be finding its way as it went on — not a jam exactly, but live exploration unfolding in real-time swells of volume and tension. A solid 90 minutes had passed when they were done. I was surprised to look at my watch and see it was 20 after nine.
Downstairs at Royale, thudding dance beats pumped through the wall and as the art students, aged-out goths, metal intellectuals, kids who Pitchfork told to be there, stoners, girlfriends, industrial heads and others poured out of the front door, I spied some sidelong glances from those waiting to go upstairs and… well, whatever it was. So be it. If palpable, willful deviance from the norm was to be the vibe given off, then Swans made perfect figureheads for the evening.
Some more photos after the jump. Thanks for reading.
Posted in Reviews on May 9th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
What makes To be Kind so devastating isn’t the fact that it’s chaos or that, led by guitarist/vocalist/founder Michael Gira, Swans are tossing out random strands across the 2CD/3LP’s two-hour span and just waiting to see what sticks. It’s that there’s consciousness at work in this material, that these pieces have solidified around initial ideas, come together over a period of time to be what they are, and that even in the 34-minute we’re-gonna-outdo-The-Beatles-and-The-Doors-at-their-own-games-and-still-be-Swans “Bring the Sun/Toussaint l’Ouverture,” which over its time runs from snare-driven tension and pseudo-religious chanting to Gira sloganeering in French — “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” makes an appearance with an extra rolling of the ‘r’ in the latter before Gira seems to switch to Spanish — there’s direction. Usually that’s linear, and the third album since Swans‘ reactivation follows suit with its predecessors, 2012’s The Seer and 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (review here), in its inimitable complexity and in how it was constructed. The core Swans lineup around Gira has been remarkably consistent since they ended their 15-plus-year hiatus, with Norman Westberg on guitars, Phil Puleo on percussion, keys and vocals, Christoph Hahn on guitar and vocals, Thor Harris drumming and adding further percussion, also playing viola and singing and Christopher Pravdica playing bass and guitar and singing. Bill Rieflin (also of King Crimson) also appears on various instruments and is credited as “honorary Swan forever,” which if you’ve got a business card is a nifty title to have on it. These players shift their roles depending on what the song calls for at any given moment — no word on who does the sawing that appears midway through “Bring the Sun/Toussaint l’Ouverture,” though the horses were wrangled by Guillermo Tellez Gonzales “Charo” — and as has been their wont, Swans bring in multiple guests throughout to handle brass instruments, additional vocals, piano, strings, etc. A varied sound is something of a given — to wit the funky stomp of disc-one centerpiece “A Little God in My Hands” or its rawer disc-two counterpart “Oxygen” — but To be Kindis cohesive and gripping in its intensity, whether it’s the bombast later in “She Loves Us” or the brooding psychedelia that emerges on the subsequent “Kristen Supine.”
The response has been accordingly hyperbolic. Big surprise, right? Swans put out an album that sounds like Swans and critics line up to wax poetic about the genius at work in their dark artistry, all sentence-wank and extremity of phrase. Whatever. Fact is that Swans have always been a challenging listen — yes, even The Burning World– and for as long as they want to, they’ll continue to be one. With Gira‘s laser-guided übersneer in “Just a Little Boy (For Chester Burnett),” the derisive laughter that follows, the teeth-grinding build of “Screen Shot” that finally and thankfully pays itself off near the end of the song, the base judgment in “Some Things We Do,” particularly the first half of To be Kind, with “Screen Shot” (8:05), “Just a Little Boy (for Chester Burnett)” (12:40), “A Little God in My Hands” (7:08), “Bring the Sun/Toussaint l’Ouverture” (34:05) and “Some Things We Do” (5:09), isn’t.The second disc comes across friendlier, if one can use that word, with “She Loves Us” (17:01), Kirsten Supine” (10:32), “Oxygen” (7:59), “Nathalie Neal” (10:15) the “To be Kind” (8:23) — at very least the titles speak to ideas of love and life, whereas on “Some Things We Do,” those are broken down into a listing, “We laugh, we drink, we fuck,” and so on. “Screen Shot,” with its gradual beginning and eight-minute build, sets a precedent for several of the other pieces to follow. A course is established and the journey is undertaken. Elements are added on the way and a build begins. That build is carried out over some stretch of time, skillful, linear. They keep it going. Tension mounts. Just when they get to the point where you feel like your head is going to explode if the song doesn’t, they hold it. That’s what they sustain. The payoff isn’t the climax — it’s that moment just before that gets drawn out. “Bring the Sun/Toussaint l’Ouverture” does this twice. “She Loves Us,” with its frenetic bassline, percussive tribalism and backing drone, also does it twice, deconstructing itself to disjointed noise both times. “Kirsten Supine” culminates in a stomp and wash. “Oxygen” builds on that with horns and slamming single hits, and though “Nathalie Neal” is more straightforward, its chanting chorus providing an incantation of a hook, it too comes to a head before dropping out to the quiet conclusion that continues on with the closing title-track before it hits its own stride of impossible tension and release.
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 21st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Supported by a seemingly endless supply of vitriol nearly as much as by a string of limited live and homemade releases, the ongoing reactivation of Swans will release its latest document, a 2CD called To be Kind which undoubtedly isn’t, on May 13 via frontman Michael Gira‘s Young God Records — Mute for everywhere outside North America. The hugely influential outfit have announced tour dates across various regions of the country as well as in the UK and into Canada that will keep them busy through the summer and into fall as they support the new album.
The new song, “A Little God in My Hands,” can be heard below, following details off the PR wire:
Swans announce new Sept. tour dates in N. Am.
Swans announce details of the first few legs of a year-long, worldwide tour starting May 2014, following the release of the new album To Be Kind on Young God Records (North America) May 13 and on Mute May 12 in the rest of the world.
The US dates begin in Washington, DC May 14. Full details below.
Swans are Michael Gira, Norman Westberg, Christoph Hahn, Phil Puleo, Thor Harris and Christopher Pravdica and these are their first US dates since last July.
‘To Be Kind’ features several special guests: Little Annie, St. Vincent, labelmate Cold Specks and Bill Rieflin. The album was produced by Michael Gira, and recorded by John Congleton at Sonic Ranch, Texas. Further recordings and mixing were accomplished in Dallas, Texas.
Explaining the proposed formats, Gira has said, “It will be available as a triple vinyl album, a double CD, and a 2XCD Deluxe Edition that will include a live DVD. It will also be available digitally.
Swans, led by Michael Gira, formed in 1982 and, after disbanding in 1997, returned with the critically acclaimed albums ‘My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky’ (2010) and 2012’s ‘The Seer’. 2014’s new album ‘To Be Kind’ was in part funded through sales of the live 2 CD set “Not Here/Not Now” availableexclusively from the band’s site.
SWANS SPRING US TOUR Jenny Hval supports on May dates May 14 – Washington DC, Black Cat Mainstage May 15 – Philadelphia PA, Union Transfer May 17 – Boston MA, Royale Nightclub May 18 – New York NY, Bowery Ballroom May 19 – Brooklyn NY, Music Hall of Williamsburg
UK TOUR May 22 – Manchester UK, Academy 2 May 23 – Newcastle UK, Hoults Yard May 24 – Glasgow UK, The Arches May 25 – Aberdeen UK, The Lemon Tree May 27 – London UK, Brixton Electric May 28 – Bristol UK, Trinity Community Arts May 29 – Reading UK, Sub89 May 31 – Birmingham UK, Supersonic Festival – Custard Factory June 1 – Leeds UK, Cockpit June 2 – Brighton UK, Concorde 2 Support comes from Jenny Hval on all the May dates.
SWANS SUMMER US TOUR – Xiu Xiu support on June/July dates June 17 – Quebec QC Le Cercle June 18 – Montreal Qc Theatre National June 20 – Toronto ON Yonge-Dundas Square Stage- MNW Festival June 21 – Detroit MI St Andrews Hall June 22 – Chicago IL Lincoln Hall June 24 – St Louis MO The Ready Room June 26 – Dallas TX Trees June 27 – Austin TX Mohawk Austin June 28 – Houston TX Fitzgerald’s Upstairs June 30 – Nashville TN Exit / In July 1 – Charlotte NC Neighborhood Theatre July 2 – Louisville KY The New Vintage July 3 – Pittsburgh PA Rex Theater July 5 – Buffalo NY Tralf Music Hall July 6 – New Haven CT Toad’s Place Tue 9/2 Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater Thu 9/4 Seattle, WA – Showbox Fri 9/5 Vancouver, BC- the Venue Sat 9/6 Portland, OR – Roseland Theater Mon 9/8 San Francisco-, CA Independent-Bluebird Theater Thu 9/11 Hollywood CA- The Roxy Theatre
Posted in Features on January 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Happy New Year to everyone around the world. It’s January 1, 2013, and to celebrate the New Year the best way I know how, I got right to work on tabulating the results of the 2012 Readers Poll. I’ve been tracking the results as they’ve come in over the course of December, and as you can see in the list below, it was a tight race for the top spot right up to the end.
Before we run down the finished list, I want to extend gratitude to each and every one of the 296 people who contributed their top 12 so this list could be put together. It’s an amazing response and I was super stoked that so many of you were able to take part. Thank you for that. Right from the first day the form went up, I knew this was going to be awesome, and it wound up exceeding my every expectation. It was a great sendoff to the year. Much appreciated.
Here are the results of the Top 20 of 2012 Readers Poll:
1. Om, Advaitic Songs – 108 votes
2. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis – 106
3. Graveyard, Lights Out – 86
4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay – 65
5. Ufomammut, Oro – 63
5. Witchcraft, Legend – 63
6. Colour Haze, She Said – 56
6. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65 – 56
7. Kadavar, Kadavar – 49
7. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction – 49
8. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned – 46
9. Baroness, Yellow and Green – 39
10. Conan, Monnos – 38
11. Swans, The Seer – 35
12. Astra, The Black Chord – 31
13. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers – 31
13. The Sword, Apocryphon – 31
14. Royal Thunder, CVI – 26
14. Wo Fat, The Black Code – 26
15. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time – 25
16. Torche, Harmonicraft – 23
17. Corrosion of Conformity, Corrosion of Conformity – 22
18. Enslaved, Riitiir – 19
19. Goat, World Music – 18
19. Melvins Lite, Freak Puke – 18
19. Soundgarden, King Animal – 18
20. Amenra, Mass V – 17
20. Samothrace, Reverence to Stone – 17
Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild Rush, Clockwork Angels Stoned Jesus, Seven Thunders Roar Troubled Horse, Step Inside
Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind – 15 Mighty High, Legalize Tre Bags – 15 My Sleeping Karma, Soma – 15
Pretty wild to have Om and High on Fire so close, and they were tied for a long, long time, but Om retained an early lead and managed to pull it out in the end. As you can see, there were a number of releases that tied with others for their position. Seemed only fair to me to include all of them, and I also threw in those with 16 and 15 votes as well, just because it was close. In total, there were an astounding 1,200+ albums entered into consideration.
Once again, thanks to everyone for making this Readers Poll happen and for taking the time to be a part of it. Already looking forward to some fantastic things to come in 2013, so please stay tuned and keep your lists handy.
We’re more than halfway through 2012, and we’ve already seen great releases from the likes of Orange Goblin, Pallbearer, Conan, C.O.C., Saint Vitus and many others, but there’s still a long way to go. The forecast for the next five months? Busy.
In my eternal and inevitably doomed quest to keep up, I’ve compiled a list of 13 still-to-come releases not to miss before the year ends. Some of this information is confirmed — as confirmed as these things ever are, anyway — either by label or band announcements, and some of it is a little bit vaguer in terms of the actual dates, but all this stuff is slated to be out before 2013 hits. That was basically my only criteria for inclusion.
And of course before I start the list, you should know two things: The ordering is dubious, since it’s not like I can judge the quality of an album before I’ve heard it, just my anticipation, and that this is barely the beginning of everything that will be released before the end of 2012. The tip of the fastly-melting iceberg, as it were. If past is prologue, there’s a ton of shit I don’t even know about that (hopefully) you’ll clue me into in the comments.
Nonetheless, let’s have some fun:
1. Colour Haze, She Said(Sept./Oct.)
I know, I know, this one’s been a really, really long time coming. Like two years. Like so long that Colour Haze had to go back and remake the album because of some terrible technical thing that I don’t even know what happened but it doesn’t matter anymore. Notice came down yesterday from guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek that the recording is done and the long-awaited She Saidis on the way to be pressed on vinyl and CD. Got my fingers crossed for no more snags.
2. Enslaved, RIITIIR (Sept. 28)
The progressive Norwegian black metallers have put out 10 albums before it, and would you believe RIITIIRis the first Enslaved album that’s a palindrome? Kind of cheating to include it on this list, because I’ve heard it, but I’ve been through the record 10-plus times and I still feel like I just barely have a grasp on where they’re headed with it, so I think it’ll be really interesting to see what kind of response it gets upon release. Herbrand Larsen kills it all over these songs though, I will say that.
3. Mos Generator, Nomads(Oct. 23)
Hard for me not to be stoked on the prospect of the first new Mos Generator album since 2007, especially looking at that cover, which RippleMusic unveiled on Tuesday when it announced the Oct. 23 release date. It’s pretty grim looking, and even though Mos once put out a record called The Late Great Planet Earth, I’ve never thought of them as being particularly dark or doomed. I look forward to hearing what Tony Reed (Stone Axe, HeavyPink) has up his sleeve for this collection, and if he’s looking to slow down and doom out a bit here, that’s cool too. I’ll take it either way.
4. Ufomammut, Oro – Opus Alter(Sept.)
No, that’s not the cover of Oro – Opus Alter, the second half of Italian space doom grand masters Ufomammut‘s Oro collection — the first being Opus Primum (review here), which served as their Neurot Recordings debut earlier this year. That cover hasn’t been released yet, so I grabbed a promo pic to stand in. I’m really looking forward to this album, though I hope they don’t go the Earth, Angels of Darkness Demons of Lightroute and wind up with two records that, while really good, essentially serve the same purpose. I’ve got my hopes high they can outdo themselves once again.
5. Witchcraft, Legend(Sept. 21)
I guess after their success with Graveyard, Nuclear Blast decided to binge a bit on ’70s loyalist doom, signing Witchcraft and even more recently, Orchid. Can’t fault them that. It’s been half a decade since Witchcraft released The Alchemist and in their absence, doom has caught on in a big way to their methods. With a new lineup around him, will Magnus Pelander continue his divergence into classic progressive rock, or return to the Pentagram-style roots of Witchcraft‘s earliest work? Should be exciting to find out.
6. Wo Fat, The Black Code(Nov.)
After having the chance to hear some rough mixes of Texas fuzzers Wo Fat‘s Small Stone debut, The Black Code, I’m all the more stoked to encounter the finished product, and glad to see the band join the ranks of Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk and Gozu in heralding the next wave of American fuzz. Wo Fat‘s 2011 third outing, Noche del Chupacabra (review here), greatly expanded the jammed feel in their approach, and I get the sense they’re just beginning to find where they want to end up within that balance.
7. Blood of the Sun, Burning on the Wings of Desire(Late 2012)
As if the glittering logo and booby-lady cover art weren’t enough to grab attention, Blood of the Sun‘s first album for Listenable Records (fourth overall) is sure to garner some extra notice because the band is led by drummer/vocalist Henry Vasquez, better known over the past couple years as the basher for Saint Vitus. Whatever pedigree the band has assumed through that, though, their modern take on classic ’70s heavy has a charm all its own and I can’t wait to hear how Burning on the Wings of Desire pushes that forward. Or backward. Whatever. Rock and roll.
8. Swans, The Seer(Aug. 28)
This one came in the mail last week and I’ve had the chance to make my way through it only once. It’s two discs — and not by a little — and as was the case with Swans‘ 2010 comebacker, My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky(review here), the far less cumbersomely titled The Seeris loaded with guest contributions. Even Jarboe shows up this time around, doing that breathy panting thing she does. Unnerving and challenging as ever, Swans continue to be a litmus for how far experimentalism can go. 3o years on, that’s pretty impressive in itself.
9. Swallow the Sun, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird(Sept. 4)
Apparently the Finnish melo-doom collective’s fifth album, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird, came out earlier this year in Europe, but it’s finally getting an American release in September, and as I’ve always dug the band’s blend of death metal and mournful melodicism, I thought I’d include it here. Like Swans, I’ve heard the Swallow the Sun once through, and it seems to play up more of the quiet, weepy side of their sound, but I look forward to getting to know it better over the coming months.
10. My Sleeping Karma, Soma (Oct. 9)
Just signed to Napalm Records and tapped to open for labelmates Monster Magnet as they tour Europe performing Spine of Godin its entirety this fall, the German four-piece are set to follow-up 2010’s Tri(review here) with Soma. Details were sketchy, of course, until about five minutes after this post initially went up, then the worldwide release dates, cover art and tracklist were revealed, so I updated. Find all that info on the forum.
11.Eagle Twin, The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale(Aug. 28)
Way back in 2009 when I interviewed Eagle Twin guitarist/vocalist Gentry Densley about the band’s Southern Lord debut, he said the band’s next outing would relate to snakes, and if the cover is anything to go by, that seems to have come to fruition on The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale, which is set to release at the end of next month. As the first album was kind of a mash of influences turned into cohesive and contemplative heavy drone, I can’t help but wonder what’s in store this time around.
12. Hooded Menace, Effigies of Evil(Sept. 11)
You know how sometimes you listen to a band and that band turns you on in their liner notes to a ton of other cool bands? I had that experience with Finnish extreme doomers Hooded Menace‘s 2010 second album, Never Cross the Dead (review here), except instead of bands it was hotties of ’70s horror cinema. Needless to say, I anxiously await the arrival of their third record and Relapse debut, Effigies of Evil. Someone needs to start a label and call it Hammer Productions just to sign this band.
13. Yawning Man, New Album (Soon)
Make no mistake. The prospect of a new Yawning Man album would arrive much higher on this list if I was more convinced it was going to come together in time for a 2012 release. As it is, Scrit on the forum has had a steady stream of updates since May about the record — the latest news being that it’s going to be a double album — and Scrit‘s in the know, so I’ll take his word. One thing we do know for sure is that the band in the picture above is not the current Yawning Man lineup. Alfredo Hernandez and Mario Lalli out, Greg Saenz and Billy Cordell in. Bummer about the tumult, but as long as it’s Gary Arce‘s ethereal guitar noodling, I’m hooked one way or another.
Since we closed with rampant speculation, let me not forget that somewhere out there is the looming specter of a new Neurosis album, which the sooner it gets here, the better. Perhaps also a new Clutch full-length, though I doubt that’ll materialize before 2013. And that’s a different list entirely.
Thanks for reading. Anything I forgot or anything you’d like to add to the list, leave a comment.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 10th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
These updates are quickly becoming the highlights of my week. Although I can’t imagine the room won’t be so packed as to allow one to breathe and exist at the same time, seeing Michael Gira perform a solo acoustic set might just be worth the lack of oxygen. Toss in Killing Joke and Dutch doom innovators Celestial Season and the latest Roadburn news just made my afternoon. Dig it:
Voivod and Roadburn are equally thrilled to announce that seminal post-punk pioneers KillingJoke will perform at Roadburn 2012 on Thursday, April 12th as part of the newly expanded Au-delà du Réel event.
Killing Joke was at the top of Voivod‘s wish list as soon as they accepted the curator invitation.
Unfortunately, JazColeman (vocals, keyboards and arrangements), GeordieWalker (guitar), Youth (bass) and PaulFerguson (drums) could not make it to Tilburg on Friday, April 13th due to prior commitments. However, in the spirit of Roadburn and true to the OuterLimits theme, it was quickly decided to expand Au-delà du Réel and turn Voivod‘s dream of sharing a stage with KillingJoke into reality.
Please note that Voivod‘s second show originally scheduled for Saturday, April 14th has been moved to Thursday, April 12th as part of the specially extended Au-delà du Réel. The main stage lineup for Thursday, April 12th (in alphabetical, not official running order): Agalloch, d.USK/diSEMBOWELMENT, KillingJoke, OM, Ulver and Voivod.
While Swans’ intensely heavy headliner performance at this year’s Roadburn is still resonating in our collective minds, we’re elated to announce the return of MichaelGira for an acoustic solo performance on Thursday, April 14th at the MidiTheatre in Tilburg, Holland.
In related news: Reunited Dutch doomsters CelestialSeason will perform their influential, groundbreaking second album, Solar Lovers in its entirety for the first time ever at Roadburn Festival 2012 on Saturday, April 14th, MidiTheatre in Tilburg, Holland.
Barn Owl, Jucifer, Urfaust, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, Purson, Hammers of Misfortune, Orchid, Sigiriya, LordVicar and End of Level Boss have also been confirmed for Roadburn Festival 2012.
Tickets for Roadburn 2012 will go on sale Saturday, November 26th, 10:00 Central European Time. There will be a 2 ticket limit (per order) for 3-day and 4-day passes and Afterburner tickets –the same goes for the Campsite Tickets. More info here.
Posted in Features on September 23rd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Usually, in interviews, there’s a brief bit of smalltalk at the beginning and the end. “Thanks for taking the call,” “Appreciate the time,” and that sort of thing. A question I get asked a lot is, “Hey, are you coming out to X show?” It’s something people ask mostly to be polite.
At the end of our interview, when Swans guitarist/vocalist Michael Gira asked me if I’d be on hand for either the I’ll be Your Mirror fest in Asbury Park that his band is playing or the Brooklyn show preceding, I said I’d like to hit up Brooklyn (to which David Eugene Edwards of Wovenhand has been added for an acoustic set), but that if I did, I’d have to deal with being surrounded by Williamsburg hipsters.
Gira‘s response — without a second of delay or hesitation of any kind — was, “bring a flamethrower.”
Shit you not.
It’s that kind of unbending will for confrontation that’s helped Gira and Swans cast a hugely influential net on underground music, be it Neurosis and the post-metal born in their wake or Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the avant-garde style experimentation they in turn have fostered. Swans are a root band, setting a lineage of distinct and aggressive crescendos. Their music feels like it’s crashing down on you as you listen.
Despite the long break between the studio albums Soundtracks for the Blind (1996) and My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (2010) and Gira‘s shift in direction that took place with the dark acoustic-led Americana of Angels of Light (whose seven-album discography is a beast unto itself), that oppressive feeling has remained consistent. The personnel may have changed — and Gira‘s drive for challenge has led to a sound that’s moving forward rather than trying to harken back to something it would inevitably fail to capture — but new Swans is still Swans.
My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky was one of 2010’s densest and most crushing releases, and in the interview below Gira discusses what led him to revive the band, the development of even newer material — some of which has already been recorded — a forthcoming live album, the practicalities involved in putting out music on his own label, Young God Records, the relationship between Swans and Angels of Light and much more.
Posted in Features on April 16th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
3:01AM — Saturday Night/Sunday Morning — Hotel Mercure, Tilburg
I wound up giving up on seeing Shrinebuilder and Ufomammut tonight in favor of Stone Axe and Swans. I don’t know if it was the right decision, and quite frankly, fuck it, I’m through making the right decisions. I’m too tired and I’m too fuck-offy to care what I should be seeing. I made tonight at Roadburn what I wanted it to be, and you can fuck right off if you think I should have been somewhere other than I was.
Pushed my way through to Ramesses in the Green Room when I got back to 013, and no regrets for that, although the space was packed. They were ballsy, they were heavy, they killed, blah blah blah. It was good, and the more I stood there the more I wanted to hear their upcoming album, the promo for which is on my desktop at the office, so I guess mission accomplished. I’m starting to run out of euphemisms for “I liked it.” So fuck it. I liked Ramesses. They were good.
While making my way through the merch area for the umpteenth time this weekend, I ran into the dudes from Stubb, who were on tour with Stone Axe until tonight. I kind of offered to put out their record if they couldn’t find a better deal, so that was something, but more importantly, after shooting the shit for a while, I did the science and decided to see Stone Axe instead of Shrinebuilder. The math was simple and went like this: I’ve seen Shrinebuilder; I haven’t seen Stone Axe. Equation over.
Stone Axe, for what it’s worth, laid rocking waste to the Bat Cave. Theirs was the first set all weekend I’d seen in there, and if it’s the only one — which, since nothing for the Afterburner is booked in there, I guess it will be — it was the right choice. They rocked. And that’s it. I felt like I knew them from listening to the records, but live, Stone Axe is a different beast entirely. Tony Reed killed it on guitar and Dru Brinkerhoff was drunk enough to swipe my beer from the front of the stage before their set even started. It was a rock and roll party, and for a couple minutes, I managed to let go of what a miserable bastard I am, how fucking stressed out I’ve been about work, about school, about this site, all that shit.
It was brief, but for just a bit of Stone Axe, I genuinely didn’t care anymore about any of it. I pulled my earplugs out and let go, and honestly, I don’t think I’ve done that since Neurosis played here in 2009. It didn’t matter that when I get back to Jersey I have a ton of shit to catch up on, or that I spent most of the day wanting to blow my brains out all over the gorgeous Tilburg sidewalk, or that hits are down this month and everyone thinks I give a shit one way or the other what gets posted on the forum when I don’t, or what kind of asshole dwells on this crap anyway when he’s supposed to be having the time of his life: I just rocked out and that was it. I had to travel over 3,600 miles to make that happen.
Like I said, the respite was short-lived, and I was soon back to my grumpy fuck-all. I walked out of Stone Axe partied out, watched them close through the door and soon and set up shop in the main stage photo pit (fucking where else?) for Swans, who proved unphotogenic and apocalyptic in equal measure. I stayed until they did “Jim” from last year’s My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky and then split to come back to the Mercure and call it a night and revel in the foulness of mood for a bit. Oh, if only Evoken were playing now.
One more day to go. It’ll be 4AM at least by the time I finish uploading the photos for this post, so I’ll wake up when I wake up and head over to 013, probably same as today. I’m tired, I miss The Patient Mrs. and my tolerance for weirdos is at its end, but on my way out of the venue, I ran into Winter‘s drummer and he seemed like a cool cat, and I got Johan Lundquist, Robert Lowe and Leif Edling to sign my Roadburn flyer, and I told David D’Andrea I wanted to interview him for this site, so I don’t at all mark the night a loss. I also got one of the last discs of whatever it was White Hills was selling, so tongue out to anyone else who wanted it.
A photographer took my picture yesterday for the Dutch 3voor12 site, which in addition to covering the fest is doing a special pictorial on beards. I had to give my name (JJ Koczan), where I was from (New Jersey) and how long I’ve been growing my beard (a year-plus), and though she told me it would be online today, I can’t find it. Probably for the best. The first part of the series is here if you want to check it out. The rest I don’t know. Maybe I’ll show up there sooner or later and you can find out first-hand why I make it a policy never to put pictures of myself on this site.
Afterburner tomorrow. I want to see Sungrazer so bad I can taste it.
Posted in Reviews on September 22nd, 2010 by H.P. Taskmaster
With the first new Swans album in 14 years, My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (Young God),vocalist/guitarist/producer/songwriter Michael Gira is showing how a reunion is properly handled. You don’t just go out there and trot out the greatest hits. You don’t make it a blatant cash-grab. You create something. You reenter a headspace, make a new record, and give your fans a new context for understanding how you’ve grown and progressed since the last go around. Most importantly, you don’t try to remake what you’ve already done. Gira, who’s spent his post-Swans years developing the apocalyptic-folk strains of Angels of Light, reignites Swans with the vigor of a new band already established in its approach, vehement in its creativity and positively crushing in its sonics.
Joining him in the endeavor are former Swans guitarists Norman Westberg and Christoph Hahn, as well as a host of personalities from various Swans and Angels of Light tours and albums, including drummer/percussionists Phil Puleo and Thor Harris and bassist Chris Pravdica. Conspicuously absent is Jarboe. Gira’s songwriting is center, as ever, and several of the My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky cuts could be heard on the precursor limited acoustic record I am Not Insane (also Young God), which was released in order to finance the recording of this new album. Here, though, the tracks are fleshed out with sundry noises and percussive twists and very much “plugged in,” opener “No Words/No Thoughts” tackling a godless universe with all the crushing weight that implication has for mortality. At over nine minutes, the song undulates rhythmically, reeling back and unleashing a growing barrage of new elements one after another until cutting to Gira’s vocals so the effect can be even greater when the music starts again.
So this new incarnation of Swans isn’t afraid to be heavy, but there’s more to their sound than slow builds and crashes. Anyone wondering why Swans had such an influence over the generation of acts that followed need look no further than tracks like “Reeling the Liars In” or the even-more sinister “Jim,” which evoke dark atmospheres that’s largely to Gira’s desolate-sounding vocals. In “Jim” especially, Gira’s vocal cadence shows what players like Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly of Neurosis were able to glean from Swans’ original run and put in the context of their own work. One could say the same for “My Birth,” on which every snare hit feels like a gut-punch in an insistent rhythm the likes of which Godflesh based most of its tenure on. Despite a number of jumps in aesthetic, from “Reeling the Liars In,” which but for the personnel involved probably could have been an Angels of Light song and no one would have batted an eye, to “Jim,” to “My Birth,” and so on, Gira is what ties the album together.