Posted in On Wax on April 24th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It seems unlikely that a casual listener or at very least someone who’s not already a fan would chase down an offering like Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley, which captures Dallas trio Wo Fat‘s five-song, 40-minute set at the 2014 edition of the German Freak Valley festival, held in Netphen. However, we live in a universe of infinite possibilities, so as a perfunctory notice, I’ll say that like the vast, vast majority of live releases, it’s better appreciated by those with some familiarity to the studio versions of the tracks, and that if you’re hearing Wo Fat for the first time — unless you were at Freak Valley (or somewhere else they played, I suppose), didn’t know the albums, saw them live, were super-into it and want a memento — the place to go is probably to one of their albums before you get back to Live Juju. That’s a condition of live records in general, not necessarily something related to the three-piece’s performance at the fest or anything about the recording, which is released by Fuzz Lab Records and was recorded by Jens Hunecke, but it’s a disclaimer worth putting out there anyway, should anyone happen to be new to the band. For the already-converted, Live Juju is an utter no-brainer. One of US heavy rock’s finest and fuzziest taking the stage at a major Euro fest, a setlist spanning six years in five songs recorded clean and crisp, pressed to thick-stock black LP with cover and inside-liner art by David Paul Seymour, live photos from the fest by Falk-Hagen Bernshausen (first published here) and a download code that includes a bonus 14-minute studio jam called “Dark Snow” that rumbles and grooves like the best of Wo Fat‘s latter-day explorations? If you’re already a fan of Wo Fat, there’s really nothing about Live Juju not to like.
Call it a victory lap. Guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump (who also mixed at the band’s Crystal Clear Audio in Dallas), bassist Tim Wilson and drummer/backing vocalist Michael Walter first took to European stages in 2012, then supporting their Small Stone label debut and fourth album, The Black Code (vinyl review here, CD review here). Their 2014 return trip, arriving on the heels of their fifth record and finest work to-date, The Conjuring (review here), was dubbed the “Texas Takeover” and Wo Fat were joined by fellow Dallas natives Mothership on their inaugural run. Freak Valley was an earlier stop on the tour, which lasted about two weeks. Not really what you’d call a “touring band,” in the sense of road-dogging their way back and forth from market to market, venue to venue, Wo Fat have nonetheless managed to concoct a formidable stage presence, and at least going by the audio (much as I’d like to, I’ve yet to see Freak Valley in-person), they hit stage in Netphen with no hesitation. Their set boasts highlights going back to their second full-length, 2008’s Psychedelonaut (review here), tying the material together with a fervent sense of ride-ready groove and weighted tones, Stump opting for a bluesman’s gruffness on “Read the Omens” from The Conjuring, which follows opener “The Black Code.” That song, the title-track of the 2012 album, is nothing if not a landmark hook for the band, and they faithfully give it a rendition north of 10 minutes, their motion no less fluid on stage than in the studio, rolling their way into the faster verses of “Read the Omens” before the chorus opens wide and echoing true to the outdoor space where it was recorded. Side A is just the two songs, and the flip does sort of pull you out of the live experience, but the way I wound up thinking about it was a second to tune ahead of “Bayou Juju” serving as the centerpiece of the set.
Side B is longer, beginning with “Bayou Juju” and rolling through “Enter the Riffian” and closer “Sleep of the Black Lotus” smoothly and with enough rumble in Wilson‘s bass as Stump tears into an extended solo on the first of them that it’s easy to imagine the grasses of Freak Valley vibrating from the low end. By the time they get there, Wo Fat are full on, about halfway through and nailing it. The track, taken from 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here), is a highlight, but the shorter “Enter the Riffian” from Psychedelonaut grounds the set and thus the recording with a more straightforward, less jammy movement. Wo Fat may have grown beyond the kind of dead-ahead heavy rock that Psychedelonaut offered — to their credit, keeping a balance of hooks and jams in doing so — but they use the older material well here, and Walter‘s ride-cymbal swing comes through loud and clear on Live Juju behind the winding riff. It’s the only song here under seven minutes long, but lives up to its multifaceted purpose, bleeding directly into “Sleep of the Black Lotus” with a cymbal wash and guitar freakout, Stump seizing an opportunity to tear into an improv-sounding take on the finale’s intro in front of the festival crowd. They telegraph the groove from the start, if only to bring that audience along, and it’s easy to imagine the sea of nodding heads that stood before them, maybe a puff of smoke here or there as the midsection evolves into a churning jam from the earlier verses and choruses, a model that came to light earlierand which The Black Code andThe Conjuring continued to grow. Feedback and earned applause ends and the arm returns, but for those listening digitally, the instrumental “Dark Snow” further affirms Wo Fat‘s improvisational sensibilities, building from a creepy backwards-cymbal fade-in to a solo-topped roll that shares in common with its live compatriots on Live Juju just how in their element Wo Fat seem to be. That’s really the story of Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley. It’s an act who have cut their teeth and organically developed their sound across five records getting on stage and sharing the fruits of their labor. The short version? They deliver, and prove that sometimes when a band doesn’t tour all the time, nine months out of the year on the road and so on, that only makes it more special when they do. This must have been something to see.
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 23rd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Corpus Christi, Texas, five-piece Switchblade Jesus have inked a deal to reissue their 2013 self-titled debut, which also saw a 2014 vinyl release on Bilocation (review here), on Ripple Music. The album landed with nothing short of a smash upon its initial arrival, and has continued to build an audience in the two years since — momentum that Ripple, who seem to be snapping up more bands each passing week, will no doubt help move forward. As it seems like the association between band and label will be ongoing, that is, not just for this reissue, it would be hard to find a more suitable home for Switchblade Jesus than where they’ve landed.
They’re on the road now with Fuzz Evil, having played El Paso last night on a quick four-date tour of Texas (one of few states one can legitimately “tour” within; see also California), and the date for the reissue is May 12, as told by the PR wire:
Ripple Music to reissue debut album from Switchblade Jesus | Share new video for ‘Oblivion’
Switchblade Jesus will be released on 12th May 2015
In the latest of a long line of formidable signings this year, LA-based record label Ripple Music is thrilled to announce the addition of Texan band Switchblade Jesus to their roster, and the official rerelease of their acclaimed 2014 self-titled debut this May.
Formed in 2010 in the land of oil and tar, the Corpus Christi outfit consisting of Peter Quarnstrom (vocals), Eric Calvert (lead guitar/vocals), Billy Guerra (guitar), Jason Beers (bass) and Jon Elizondo (drums) may be hard drinking operators of heavy rock and roll, but they are also well versed in the ways of the desert.
Switchblade Jesus, the band’s devastating right hook of a debut was originally released on Kozmik Artifactz and instantly found listeners hearing notable nods to Kyuss, Orange Goblin and Clutch deep amid from the record’s weighty grooves and vintage stoner vibes. A crushing, loose and alcohol-fuelled fistfight between heavy fuzz and wild peyote hallucinations, tracks like ‘Bastard Son’ and ‘Renegade Riders’ showcase the band’s raw and unruly power… and then some.
The band also take to the road this month to play a number of dates across their home state of Texas with Arizonan three-piece Fuzz Evil (See dates below).
22nd April – Low Brow Palace – El Paso, TX 23rd April – The Mix – San Antonio, TX 24th April – The Lost Well – Austin, TX 25th April – Club Dada – Dallas, TX
Switchblade Jesus by Switchblade Jesus will be rereleased on 12th May 2015 through Ripple Music.
Across five records and nine fuzz-laden years, Dallas trio Wo Fat have become an institution in Texas heavy rock. Their latest album and second for Small Stone, The Conjuring (review here), is in many ways their strongest release to date, benefiting from the naturally-developed chemistry between guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, bassist Tim Wilson and drummer Michael Walter, as well as from the self-sufficiency of the band recording at their own studio, Crystal Clear Sound, in Dallas. While their reputation has built steadily since the release of their 2006 debut, The Gathering Dark, and its ’08 follow-up, Psychedelonaut (review here), 2011’s Noche del Chupacabra (review here), on Nasoni, proved a particular breakthrough point, leading to the band’s signing to Small Stone for the next year’s The Black Code (review here), for which they toured in Europe for the first time, making their continental debut at the 2013 Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, the Netherlands (review here) and setting the stage for the triumph to come with The Conjuring and a return trip across the Atlantic, this one marked out by an appearance at last year’s Freak Valley in Germany.
Wo Fat‘s latest release is a document of their set there: Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley will hit the public on March 17. Later this year, the band will also take part in Magnetic Eye Records‘ tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland [Redux], covering “Gypsy Eyes.”
The Obelisk Questionnaire: Kent Stump
How did you come to do what you do?
Well, what I do is play music and I record music, which is how I make my living – recording music, that is. Music has always been a huge part of my life. Both of my parents are musicians, so it was something that was just ubiquitous and inescapable in our house when I was growing up. Never once in my life did I consider doing anything with my life other than becoming a musician and doing something relating to music, although the place I’m at now is not where I would have thought I would be when I was a teenager, or even when I was in college. My journey to the heavy and the riff is a bit of a circuitous one.
I went to college to study jazz and fully planned on getting out of college and going on to be a jazz musician. While at college, I got turned on to a much wider world of music by so many great people with widely varying tastes. I discovered punk rock and ‘70s funk and African music and all the great ‘70s rock and the ‘80s NY noise scene, and on and on. And most importantly, I really discovered the blues. I had always known a bit about the blues since I was heavily into jazz, but I became much more hip to a lot of blues musicians that I hadn’t previously checked out, and that eventually led me to realize that my whole life I’ve been drawn to music that comes from the blues – rock, funk, etc. That, along with a friend I had that was into all things heavy who got me listening to Sabbath as well as a lot of ‘80s hardcore and metal, led to my desire to make heavy blues music.
When I was in college in Denton, Texas, the music scene at that time was absolutely electric, and the vibe was very open and experimental. Punk rock and funk and metal with a jazz edge were all kind of mixing together and it was a really artistically open-minded vibe at the time, which I think shaped my thinking about music a lot. So eventually in the late ‘90s I discovered bands like Sleep, Fu Manchu, Nebula, Kyuss and all the Man’s Ruin bands and I came to the realization that this is the music, along with the blues, that speaks to me on the most primal level and this is what I want to play.
Describe your first musical memory.
My first musical memory is laying on our living room floor when I was very young, maybe four or five years old, and my dad putting on a record of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It’s an amazing piece of music and it definitely left an impression on me. I think, if I’m not mistaken, when that piece was premiered in Paris it caused a riot. Stravinsky is pretty hardcore.
Describe your best musical memory to date.
I don’t know if I have just one best musical memory. I’ve got a lot of things that were landmark musical moments in my life though. Getting to play at Roadburn is without a doubt one of the best musical memories for me. Roadburn is such an iconic thing and it was the first show that we played on our first European tour, which was also the first time I had ever been to Europe and it was just kind of a surreal, epiphenal and mindblowing experience. It was amazing to walk into the scene there and see a whole bunch of people that are hardcore fans of the same music I dig. I had never seen that, at least not on that level, before.
You don’t see that kind of thing when it comes to this kind of music in the US. And to be performing at this amazing festival was just awesome, and also a bit nerve-racking at the same time. I remember going to see High on Fire’s set after we played and it was packed and the crowd was just electric and High on Fire sounded better than I’ve ever heard them before. I think they were just vibing on the amazing vibe of the fans. Same with Elder’s set, who I got to see a little later that night. The vibe from the crowd was so intense and Elder kicked ass riding that wave, I think. Amazing day.
I have memories of a lot of transcendental shows that I would put in the great musical memory category. Getting to see Sleep a couple years ago was bad ass. Sometime around 1997 or 1998 I went to SXSW in Austin, before SXSW totally turned into utter crap, and I got to see Fatso Jetson just destroy as well as an amazing showcase that had Fu Manchu and Queens of the Stone Age right before they hit big. There was a whole Man’s Ruin showcase that was killer.
When I was in college I got to see free jazz great Cecil Taylor. That was an absolutely kick ass show. He was just pounding the piano and pieces of the pads inside the piano were flying out as he was playing. And there were maybe 10 people there to see this free jazz icon. So many great shows that have shaped my thinking.
I also have a lot of memories of late nights fueled with alcohol, and other things, and hanging with friends who turned me onto heavy, heavy tunes that I wasn’t previously hip to. Some of these rank up there with the great musical moments to me – sitting on the couch and tripping out to amazing, life-changing jams… These things all are part of my story as a musician and music lover that has brought me to where I am now.
When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?
That’s a tough question. I kinda feel like most my life, my beliefs and likes/interests have been juxtaposed between two opposing worlds. For example, my heavily schooled musical upbringing versus a more primal, less technical, organic approach to playing. Or, being a recording engineer like I am, most of my peers are gearheads focused on the technical aspects of engineering, which I am to a certain extent, but I am far more focused on the musicality of recording and finding ways to make a recording reach you on an emotional level, so I’m not über-obsessed with technical- and gear-related things about recording.
Also in this particular time, my political versus spiritual beliefs, that to me, are completely simpatico, are to most, seemingly at odds with one another.
Where do you feel artistic progression leads?
Ideally artistic progression leads to more artistic progression. Art and music is a neverending journey. I don’t think I’ll ever have arrived at a stopping place artistically because every move forward reveals more things to reach for and directions to consider. That’s the beauty of it. You’re never finished. You can just abandon the quest if you want, but there is always further to go.
How do you define success?
I think it’s being happy and doing what you makes you happy. Despite the fact that financially, life is a struggle for me, I feel like I’ve achieved a good amount of success in the sense that I’m playing music I love and people are digging it, we own a killer studio and my day job involves doing things that are artistic and deal with music and, on top of it all, I’ve got the most amazing wife who I’ve been married to for 18 years.
What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?
On the one hand there’s probably a lot I wish I hadn’t seen, but at the same time, all those experiences contribute to making me who I am, although there are some things that I could probably do without ever seeing that wouldn’t change me too much. One thing that I wish I hadn’t seen is this: The studio that we run is in an industrial area of Dallas and there are a lot of stray dogs that run around in packs in that area. Seeing a stray dog is something I don’t like seeing to begin with because I love dogs and I want to help them all, but we’re full up at my house with dogs. My wife and I already have five dogs so there’s no more room at the inn.
Anyway, one day I saw a little Chihuahua-mix stray being harassed by a couple of big dogs. At first I thought they were playing, but then I realized that that was not the case and I wasn’t able to get to them to break it up before the larger dogs had inflicted a mortal wound on the little guy. It just breaks my heart that I couldn’t help him and it still pains me to this day to think about it. I hate to see the helpless get brutalized by the powerful, which, sadly, happens all around us every day.
Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.
I really wish that I could draw and paint. I would love to be able to create art like Frank Frazetta or Boris Vallejo. I don’t think that will ever happen for me, though, because I don’t have any of those skills. There is, of course, much more music I’d like to create. I’m always wanting to incorporate disparate musical styles and influences together in our music, like Afro-Cuban music, blues, jazz and metal.
Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 20th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Houston four-piece Venomous Maximus — whom I’d call VenMax if it didn’t sound like a prescription drug; maybe something for the kidney? or beard growth? — have announced the details for their forthcoming Shadow Kingdom Records debut, Firewalker, as well as unveiled the cover, which is part Bathory in only the best way. The record is due out May 5, and it seems reasonable to expect tour dates will follow soon after. VenMax — ask your doctor — hit the road pretty hard in support of their latest outing, 2012’s Beg upon the Light, which also got a reissue through Napalm Records, and I don’t think you call your record Firewalker if you’re not ready to walk across a few coals yourself.
The PR wire brings words, because it knows how much you love words:
VENOMOUS MAXIMUS to Release New Album Firewalker May 5
Dark Metal Band Set to Explode with Red Hot New LP
Houston heavy metal band VENOMOUS MAXIMUS will release its new album, Firewalker, on May 5 via Shadow Kingdom Records. The award-winning four piece, who has won back-to-back-to-back titles at the Houston Press Music Awards as the city’s Best Metal Band, recorded the album at the Diamond Factory in Austin, TX with engineer Travis Bonner (Ancient VVisdom). The record was mastered at PLX Mastering by Paul Logus (Satyricon, Clutch, Anthrax), with early reports indicating the band’s new music to be “big, bold and bad ass.”
VENOMOUS MAXIMUS is an explosive, unbridled force. The band’s music combines intense, unabashed metal riffing that locks into heavy rock grooves featuring interjected dual leads and surprisingly darkened atmospheres. A live powerhouse, VENOMOUS MAXIMUS has toured the U.S. as hand-picked guests of metal legends DOWN, HIGH ON FIRE and PENTAGRAM, and has created a huge buzz as part of both Austin’s SXSW and Fun Fun Fun festivals. VENOMOUS MAXIMUS consistently blows the doors off every venue in its touring path, leaving a whole new contingent of music fans awestruck and hungry for more. The group’s most recent album, Beg Upon the Light, hit with adamantine force, and has met to widespread celebration.
Now, with the impending LP, Firewalker, VENOMOUS MAXIMUS is poised to prove that each and every accolade it has earned since its formation in 2010 is backed with the determination and drive necessary to push modern metal forward in 2015.
“One thing that underground music has been missing for the last 10 years is danger,” says VENOMOUS MAXIMUS vocalist / guitarist Gregg Higgins. “Making this record almost killed us and pissed a lot of people off in the making, but chaos and drama make good art.”
Firewalker track listing:
1.) Angel Heart 2.) Dark Waves 3.) Fire in the Night 4.) Ghost Beast 5.) My Machine 6.) October 14 7.) White Rose
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
As announced here back in December, Dallas trio Wo Fat will release their new live album, Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley, on March 17. The three-piece, who stood tall in 2014 both on that festival’s stage (and elsewhere) and with their fifth full-length, The Conjuring (review here) on Small Stone, have the vinyl up for preorder now through their Bandcamp, and have announced a host of appearances for the coming months. They’ll play with Elder and Mos Generator for a handful of shows as the two bands make their was through Texas ahead of a slot at the Borderlands Fuzz Fiesta, and in May they’ll take part in the Psycho California festival with Sleep, Pentagram and tons of others. All this ahead of a slot at the Sylak Open Air fest in France, which would seem to hint at more European plans to be announced for the summer.
They sent the following update down the PR wire:
Live Wo Fat record and upcoming spring shows
Upcoming album release and shows in the coming months with Elder, Mos Generator, Sleep, Fireball Ministry, Pentagram and more!
Exciting things are afoot in the Wo Fat world. First of all, we will be releasing Live Juju:Wo Fat at Freak Valley on vinyl on March 17th. This was recorded live at, you guessed it, Freak Valley Festival last May 30th in Germany. It will be black vinyl, which we decided to do exclusively because of the superior sonic quality, and it will include a download card that will have a bonus, previously unreleased jam called Dark Snow. Pre-ordering is open now on our bandcamp page:https://wofat.bandcamp.com/
We’ve also got some exciting gigs coming up this spring including an appearance at Psycho California, which has arguably the best lineup of bands of any festival in the USA this year. Check out the poster. Get more info here:http://www.psychoca.com/
We’ll also be playing the Borderland Fuzz Fiesta in Tucson in February with Fireball Ministry and Mos Generator, among others, as well as doing some shows on the road with Mos Generator on the way to Arizona. Get your tickets for Borderland Fuzz Fiesta here:http://therocktucson.ticketleap.com/borderland-fuzz-fiesta-2015/
And that’s not all! We’ll be playing the 3rd annual Fuzzed Out! Fest in Fort Worth.
Upcoming Shows: 2-18 The Grotto, Fort Worth, TX with Mos Generator, Mothership, Cosmic Trigger’ 2-19 The Lost Well, Austin TX with Mos Generator, Mothership and Duel 2-20 The Low Brow Palace, El Paso, TX with Mos Generator 2-21 Borderland Fuzz Fiesta, The Rock, Tucson, AZ with Fireball Ministry, Mos Generator, and more… 3-13 Silver Dollar, Texarkana, AK with Elder and Mos Generator 3-14 Double Wide, Dallas, TX with Elder, Mos Generator and Blood of the Sun 3-21 Fuzzed Out!, Lola’s, Fort Worth, TX lineup tba 4-25 Club Dada, Dallas, TX with Mothership, Switchblade Jesus and Fuzz Evil 5-17 Psycho California, The Observatory, Costa Mesa, CA headliners: Sleep, Pentagram, Cult of Luna and many more. 8-8 Sylak Open Air Festival, France
Posted in Reviews on January 1st, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
I thought last night about changing the name of this feature to “First Licks 2015,” but on further reflection, that’s just too much licking. It’s bad enough as it is. All the same, Happy New Year to you and yours, wherever you and they may be. I hope in 2015, your reviews pile never gets so backed up that you think about doing something so absolutely insane as tackling them all at once to wipe the slate clean. Then again, being completely inundated with music has its upsides. The music, for one.
We press on today with the fourth installment in the “Last Licks 2014″ series. These are reviews 31-40. I passed the halfway point yesterday with barely so much as an inward breath to appreciate the moment, and I can only hope the pile of discs before me goes so smoothly. I’ll let you know when I get there. Until then, no need to dally, let’s get underway with the first reviews of 2015.
Thanks for reading:
Seven that Spells, The Death and Resurrection of Krautrock: Io
Reportedly second in a series of three albums from Croatian heavy psych rockers Seven that Spells, The Death and Resurrection of Krautrock: Io follows a first installment subtitled Aum released in 2011 and brings forth heady, mostly instrumental progressions of extended runtimes and a satisfying blend of weighted tones and stylistic clarity. The three-piece who released their first album in 2003 alternate between three shorter pieces and two longer ones across the 47-minute Sulatron Records outing’s five tracks, and while I’m not entirely sure what is the narrative that’s taking place across them, there’s definitely a plotted course and concept at work behind the material – it does not come across as haphazard in any way. When they arrive, vocals do so as chants coinciding with sweeping passages, as on “Burning Blood,” the culmination of which is worthy of being the apex of a trilogy in progress. Io takes the off-the-cuff authenticity in heavy psych and gives it direction and purpose beyond simply being. No small feat, no small results.
Some metal isn’t doom, some doom isn’t metal, but Texas trio Elliott’s Keep play doom metal, and make no mistake. Their third long-player, Nascentes Morimur, comes after 2008’s In Medias Res (review here) and 2010’s Sine Qua Non (review here), and like them, it was produced and mixed by J.T. Longoria, so that their darkened, metallic chugging is presented with a crisp bite. The three-piece of Kenneth Greene (bass/vocals), Jonathan Bates (guitar) and Joel Bates (drums) toy with the balance between death and doom effectively across Nascentes Morimur’s nine tracks, making highlights of early moments like the double-kick-laden “Now Taken” and the chorus of the proceeding “Days of Hell.” Later cuts like “Tale of Grief” and “Omen” follow suit, with Jonathan riffing out classic metal vibes while Greene switches between clean singing and a rasping, almost black metal in places, scream. Their command never wavers, though, and while there have never been many frills about their approach, Elliott’s Keep have come to offer a fist-pumpingly heavy, sharp-edged push.
Bluesy Minneapolis double-guitar four-piece The Lone Crows show an affinity for classic rock stylization on their World in Sound second full-length, Dark Clouds. Produced modern, with lead guitar front and center, there’s more rock to Dark Clouds than heavy rock, but the vocal style of guitarist Tim Barbeau – joined in the band by guitarist Julian Manzara, bassist Andy Battcher and drummer Joe Goff – has some ‘90s inflection to it, and every now and then they get into a bit of bounce, as on the title-track and “The Dragon.” The penultimate “Midnight Show” would seem like the peak of the album, and sure enough it has one of its best hooks, but the recording doesn’t allow for the same push one imagines the material would carry live, and the quiet ending of “On that Day” feels flat compared to some of The Lone Crows’ bluesy peers. I chalk it up to the difference between blues rock and heavy rock and my own expectations, rather than some fault in the band.
I’m not sure if it would be appropriate to call Krautzone an offshoot of Zone Six, of which all four members – guitarist Rainer Neeff, synth-providers Modulfix and Sula Bassana, and percussionist Komet Lulu (the latter two also of Electric Moon) – take part, plus bassist Onkel Kaktus, but either way, the sound is nebulous, brilliantly textured for a meditative, slow-motion churn, and utterly engrossing. Their Sulatron debut, Kosmiche Rituale, is comprised of three lengthy explorations, tones washing in and out of each, smoothly offset by Neeff’s flight-taken guitar, minimal but earthy percussion and an improvised sensibility. “Liebe” (12:46) and “Kosmiche Rituale” (9:09) comprise side A and “Only Fools Rush In” (20:41) consumes side B entirely, a wash of synth and cymbals announcing its arrival as it sets about unfolding its long course, every bit living up to the album’s title in the process. Krautzone also released a split with Lamp of the Universe in 2014 (review here), but on their own, they shine with the chance to really stretch out.
Italian instrumentalists L’Ira del Baccano make their full-length debut with the lushly conceived Terra 42, a six-track, 57-minute outing that works in three overarching “phases.” The first of them includes tracks one through three and is dubbed “The Infinite Improbability Drive,” and it makes up more than half the album’s runtime, the first, 13-minute part standing alone while the two subsequent nine-minute stretches feed one directly into the next in a psychedelic wash of open guitar building to a raucous heavy rock finish. Phase II, “Sussurri… Nel Bosco di Diana” is the next two cuts, and moves smoothly from a Yawning Man-style jam to more riff-based thickness. The longest individual part, Phase III, is the 14-minute “Volcano X13,” track six, on which the band move fluidly through their heavy psych and rock impulses, synth and guitar intertwining well as L’Ira del Baccano affirm their more-than-burgeoning stylistic breadth. It’s an interesting, somewhat familiar blend, but they put it to good use on Terra 42 and engage with the spaciousness created.
Reactivated Montreal noisemakers Lae enlisted the help of their producer, Today is the Day’s Steve Austin, in handling lead vocals for their debut, Break the Clasp, which is a move fitting for their anti-genre approach to noise, drone, doom, post-everything, and so on. A Battleground Records/The Compound release, Break the Clasp reworks unheard material from Lae’s original run in the mid-‘90s – an album that never came out, essentially – but the vitality in the 13 tracks (yes, even the crushingly slow ones) is fresh to the point of its newness, and even the parts meant to be abrasive, opener “Sexy Sadie” or pieces of “17 Queen,” for example, hold onto a wonderful depth the mix and a feeling of texture that feeds Break the Clasp’s otherworldly spirit and brings you along its path of consuming strangeness. Austin is a presence, but by no means the star, and the whole band Lae shines across Break the Clasp’s fascinating span. A debut no one knew they were awaiting, but they were.
Psychedelia implying such a colorful sound, and black metal implying essentially the absence of that color, the two have rarely been paired well, but Finnish four-piece Atomikylä display a resounding space on their five-song debut full-length, Erkale (released by Future Lunch), and they’re not through the 13-minute opener, “Aluaineet,” before I think they might have mastered the balance between effects wash, unmitigated thrust and far-back screaming that most others have left too far to one side or the other. The four-piece with a lineup half from Oranssi Pazuzu and half from Dark Buddha Rising don’t stay in one place stylistically – the title-track has an almost krautrock feel, while the subsequent “Ihmiskallo” is more resolved to doom – but they keep a consistency of blinding bleakness to Erkale that results in a decidedly individualized feel throughout the 48 minutes. Droning and jazzy guitar experimentalism prevails in “Who Goes There,” and 10-minute closer “Musta Kulta” both broadens the atmosphere and underscores Atomikylä’s vicious stylistic triumph, capping Erkale with a mash of squibblies and screams, effects and distortion that’s so filthy it can’t help but be beautiful.
Freiburg, Germany, trio Deaf Proof – guitarist/vocalist J. Fredo, bassist JP and drummer Pedro – released their first demo in 2013, but the three-song/34-minute EP (it’s more like an album, but I won’t argue) Death Sounds Angry is a decidedly more assured, professional affair. The vibe is loose and, in the reaches of 18-minute middle cut “Origin of Pain,” jammy, but the three-piece still seem to have some idea of where they want their material to go, even as they feel their way toward those ends. A Colour Haze influence? Maybe, but less than one might think given the current climate of European heavy psych. JP’s bass has a tendency toward darker undertones, and when they hit the payoffs for “Death Sounds Angry and Hungry for More,” “Origin of Pain” and “The Sense,” they reveal themselves to be in search of something heavier and less peaceful. J. Fredo’s vocals are a little forward in the mix, but Death Sounds Angry still offers plenty to chew on for the converted.
Progressive, mostly instrumental and hypnotic, Zagreb, Croatia, trio Jastreb released their self-titled debut as a single 36-minute song in 2012, and the follow-up, Mother Europe (on HauRucK), is no less ambitious. Vocals appear here and there, both from the core three-piece and a guest spot, but the heart of what Jastreb do is rooted in their ability to craft movements that pull listeners in without falling into lulls of unconsciousness – to wit, the repetitions of “The Black Mountain” seem still but are constantly building and moving forward – as well as in arrangement flourishes like synth, Hammond, sitar and violin among the shades of post-metal in “Haemmer” or the bleary, drone-backed opener “North,” which comes companioned by the subtle churn of “South” to end the album. Not necessarily psychedelic in a loose or jammy sense, but immersive, and purposeful in its variety; the sitar and guest vocals on “The Silver Spire” arrive just at the moment when one thinks they might have heard it all. Could say the same of the record itself, I suppose.
Passage of Gaia is the sixth album from progressive melo-doomers Arctic Sleep. A four-piece from Milwaukee including bassist/drummer/cellist/vocalist Keith D, guitarist Mike Gussis and vocalist Emily Jancetic (John Gleisner plays drums live), one is reminded both of the Floydian consciousness of mid-period Anathema (my go-to comparison point for this kind of stuff, admittedly) and the drama in Katatonia and some of Novembers Doom’s clean sections, but ultimately, Arctic Sleep emerge from the eight-track/54-minute DIY long-player with their own personality, measured out in the careful vocal collaboration between Keith D and Jancetic, songs like “Terra Vindicta,” “Green Dragon” and “Passage of Gaia,” and the varied structures between the more rocking “Terra Vindicta” and the build of “Solar Lament.” Through it all, nothing’s out of balance, and Arctic Sleep execute Passage of Gaia with the poise demanded by the style and the fact that it’s their sixth album, accomplishment suiting them as well as the melancholy of closer “Destroy the Urn,” which almost loses its restraint at the end. Almost.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Interesting news all around from Texas three-piece Funeral Horse. The Houston-based rockers have netted fascination on their two releases to-date, 2013’s Savage Audio Demon (review here) and this year’s Sinister Rites of the Master (review here, stream here), and it seems they’ll continue to do so as we move into 2015. Having already done a stint along the West Coast, they mention in the update below they’ll do more US touring — maybe this time they’ll come east? — and also the word “Europe” is included as a possibility for next fall. Curious to see what shape that takes as the months go on, and if Funeral Horse will wind up at any of the annual fests that happen over there around that time. That would explain early hint-dropping of the tour. Hmm…
Also — and maybe that’s me burying the headline a bit — they’ve swapped drummers, bringing in Chris Bassett alongside guitarist/vocalist Paul Bearer and bassist Jason Argonaut in place of Chris Larmour, who if you’ll recall wrote the short story that came with the Sinister Rites of the Master vinyl. No small change, but with mention of Bassett making the band tighter and doomier in the announcement below, which also brings word that Funeral Horse are hitting the studio next month, the plot gets even thicker.
FUNERAL HORSE announce recording of new album, new drummer
Dusting themselves off from their recent West Coast USA tour, Texas stoner doom trio FUNERAL HORSE has announced that they will be entering the studio to record the follow-up to their acclaimed second album, Sinister Rites of the Master (Artificial Head Records).
Additionally, the band wishes to officially announce Chris Bassett as their new drummer. Chris will be joining the band in the studio to lay down the tracks for the third FUNERAL HORSE release.
Recording will begin in January with nine songs currently slated for release. The band has once again selected Digital Warehaus in Houston, Texas as the studio for recording. Renowned artist Savage Pencil has been tapped for the cover art to the new album.
“We are extremely lucky to have found Chris and have him on board with us,” explained singer/guitar player Paul Bearer. “Not only has he picked up the new material quickly, he has helped to tighten the focus of the band and bring more of the doom element into our sound.”
Additional info on the upcoming album will be released in the coming weeks as FUNERAL HORSE prepares to finish recording and then hit the road again around North America and Europe in the fall of 2015.
Posted in Features on December 26th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: These are not the results of the Readers Poll. That’s still going on. Please feel free to submit your list.
Making and releasing a first full-length album is a special moment in the life of any band, and that’s why I wanted to single out some of the best debuts of the year. I’ve never done this before, and so maybe with a top 10 I’m testing the waters a bit, but it seemed a worthwhile project anyway. It was a long (inner) debate about whether or not to include EPs and singles here too, but in the end, it just seemed to work better with albums.
Not to take anything away from shorter releases, but putting out a debut EP is much different than a debut LP. First of all, a debut LP can come after several EPs or singles or demos or whatever and still be considered first. What a first album says to the listener is, “Okay, we’ve come this far and we’re ready to take this step.” Some bands, once they start putting out albums, never go back to EPs. Others who’ve been around for 30 years still release demos every now and then, but even so, a group only ever gets one crack at their first album, and it can be one of the most important things we ever do.
Compared to how many come out any given month, year, century, etc., very few debut long-players ever wind up being classics, and who knows what the future might hold for any of these acts on this list, but that not knowing and that excitement are part of the fun.
Let’s get to it:
The Top 10 Debut Albums of 2014
1. The Well, Samsara
2. The Golden Grass, The Golden Grass
3. Spidergawd, Spidergawd
4. Atavismo, Desintegración
5. Blues Pills, Blues Pills
6. Steak, Slab City
7. Comet Control, Comet Control
8. Elephant Tree, Theia
9. Black Moon Circle, Black Moon Circle
10. Temple of Void, Of Terror and the Supernatural
A couple honorable mentions. First to Valley of the Sun‘s Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk, which I still didn’t know what to do with the release date for. Officially 2014, but kinda released in 2013 too. I was back and forth on it. Also Wasted Theory‘s burly debut, Monolord‘s Empress Rising, Child‘s Child, the Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart sprawling one-song LP from Sylvaine.
Some notes: Actual time spent listening played a big role in the structuring of this list. More so than the Top 30 of 2014, I would say. The Well‘s Samsara and the self-titled debut from The Golden Grass featured pretty high on that list as well, and that’s because both of them were records that I continually went back to and found satisfying after they came out. In both bands I think there’s significant stylistic potential, but more importantly, they both came out of the gate with their mission solidified and ready to roll.
With Spidergawd‘s Spidergawd, the progressive take on classic heavy rock boogie was blinding, but righteous. Their second album is due early next year on Stickman and I’ll have more on it to come in the weeks ahead. Atavismo‘s Desintegraciónhit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Just four songs, but the atmosphere was gorgeous enough that after listening I went back and asked the band if I could host a stream in hopes that more people would hear it. Fortunately for anyone who listened, they were kind enough to comply.
On sheer impact alone, I think Blues Pills‘ Blues Pills warrants inclusion on this list, but in my own listening, I put on the top four so much more often that I couldn’t really justify placing it any higher. But in terms of a first album coming out and really propelling a band to the next level, I think for a lot of people it’s probably the debut of the year. Fair enough. Steak‘s Slab City found the London four-piece physically and stylistically right in the heart of the California desert and their passion for that place and its sound came across heartfelt on the recording, which only heightened the appeal.
And while I’m still sorry to see Quest for Fire go, the debut from offshoot Comet Control helped ease that sorrow neatly with a blend of driving heavier space rock and psychedelic vibing. Cool album, bodes well. You could say the same for Elephant Tree‘s Theia, I suppose. Their take on psychedelia melded with screamy sludge successfully where I think a lot of bands would’ve fallen flat trying the same thing, and that’s definitely something noteworthy in an initial offering, particularly one not preceded by an EP or other kind of release.
To round things out, two very different records. Black Moon Circle‘s self-titled took a popular stylistic course — melding heavy rock and psychedelic jamming — and showed the trio beginning to make it their own. That’s something I hope will continue on their second outing, which, like that of Spidergawd, is coming on quick early in 2015. And finally, Temple of Void‘s extreme, deathly take on doom courted genres smoothly and delivered its punishment with efficiency while holding together a coherent atmosphere of darkness and aggression. It was a sadistic joy to behold.
If you missed it, there were a couple debuts included on the Top 20 Short Releases of 2014 list as well — Gold & Silver, Wren, Death Alley, and so on — so if you’re looking for more of that kind of thing, you don’t have to look too far. I hope if there was a debut album this year that particularly caught your attention, you’ll let me know in the comments.