Among the least regrettable purchases I’ve made this year is Toner Low, III — the Dutch trio’s heaviest and stonedest album yet. The three-piece occupy a region of low end that few can claim to know. Conan, Ufomammut sometimes, and that’s pretty much it. III is the firstnew Toner Low album since 2008′s II, and I was fortunate enough to be able to grab a CD copy at this year’s Roadburn. It’s been caving my skull in ever since.
It doesn’t happen very often, but every now and again I encounter a record for which the volume — whatever it might currently be — never seems like enough. Toner Low‘s IIIisn’t without its droning moments, harkening back to what the second album brought in terms of development from the more straightforwardly Sleep-derived 2006 self-titled debut, but one needs only to look at the bright, vivid, weedian imagery of the artwork (awash in secret, intricate hieroglyphs and containing the sound advice, “listen to Ween“) to get a beginning semblance of where the band is coming from. The four extended tracks — titled as “Phase Six” through “Phase Nine” — are no less stoned.
Mostly instrumental throughout their course, Toner Low nonetheless work in a few shouts on the opening “Phase Six” from guitarist Daan, before his voice like the rest of the universe gets swallowed in the seemingly unstoppable churn of low end. They keep a solid clip in the 10-minute opener (also the shortest track on III) but ride an ultra-slow lurch for most of the first half of “Phase Seven” before devolving the piece from its rumbling crash to minimal bass malevolence from Miranda and sporadic guitar notes while drummer Jack takes a break until just before the seven-minute mark, at which point he marches in the thick swirl of one of III‘s most righteous grooves, which they continue to push until well past 11 minutes in, at which point the swarming noise and effects take over and become abrasive at points, only to be drowned out by the re-emergent riff. Once again, like the rest of the universe.
Even at their slowest, most plodding point, Toner Low aren’t lacking movement, and that remains true in the subdued opening of “Phase Eight,” which begins with the guitar and drums before the bass returns to hint at some of the massiveness to come. Both Toner Low and II had their quiet moments, but here the trio uses the atmospheric take as the beginning point for an effective build, a wash of static gradually mounting with the rumble, airy guitar and steady drum beat, before at 3:45, the bass claims the lead position as the guitars wander off, and even Jack and Miranda come to an eventual halt before bringing the song to full impact just past five minutes into its total 13. The tonal brunt unveiled, the only thing left to build is the pace, and the trio sets to it almost immediately, winding up in a gear similar to that of the opener, but sounding more unhinged as the track shakes itself apart back to the initial guitar line and (relatively) peaceful feel.
Fall for it at your peril. Closer “Phase Nine” clocks in at 17:47 and is practically an album unto itself, with psychedelic effects, more of Miranda‘s ultra-low bass and the distinct impression that the only reason Toner Low didn’t decide to play this riff for an hour solid was they got bored and decided to get a snack instead. To call it Dopesmoker-worthy doesn’t feel like overstating it, though after the vibrations doled out by III‘s first three tracks, the last one might get lost on already-dazed listeners. If you need to break the record up into multiple sessions, it’s worth it. At 4:27, the band shifts into fuller motion, guitars spacing out over the consistent, hypnotic repetitions, and with a slowdown, drone-out and open-sounding section with vocals, they set the stage for a payoff riff that carries them past 12 minutes, at which point the songcommences its own destruction, pushed past whatever sonic event horizon, into a surprising final few minutes of piano that are the finishing point.
A simple rule for life is anytime you run into a Toner Low record, you should buy it. In the case of III — which is out through an allegiance between the band’s own Roadkill Rekordz, Kozmik Artifactz and Freebird Records — it was one I knew I wanted even before I heard the first note, and I continue to be astounded that the three-piece can both be that heavy and manage to make the songs move at all. One listen to their tones and it just seems like something so mammoth a human being shouldn’t be able to make it go. But they do, when they choose to, and IIIwinds up a listen that satisfies as much as it pummels. And that’s saying something, because this shit is seriously pummeling. Not to be missed.
The photo above is of my wristband for this year’s Desertfest. You’ll note it’s not attached to my wrist. I got back just a little bit ago from the Electric Ballroom and had meant to ask at the front desk of the hotel for them to cut it off with scissors, since it’s pretty sturdy material — it’s had to be to last these several days — but forgot on my way up and wound up just pulling it off around my hand. I feel like I should have it framed.
Late nights beget later nights, so I’m not gonna waste time here. Day three was no less righteous than one would have to expect after the first two. Here’s how it went down for me:
The other day I received a vehement recommendation to check out Throne, to which I responded, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure they played last year and were cool.” Turns out they did play Desertfest 2012, at The Underworld, but this year the trio moved over to The Black Heart, which was where my day began with their unpretentious Sleep riffing and nodding rhythms. They still didn’t have an album for sale downstairs that I could find, but The Black Heart was, as it has been this whole weekend, packed out. On my way through, I watched a couple seconds through the doorway in the spirit of Roadburn and found myself still persuaded by their languid pacing and largely-unfrilled stonery. I had finished my cup of coffee about two minutes before they started playing, so it was a cool way to wake up.
Meanwhile, at The Underworld, Brighton/Manchester-based Blackstorm were dishing out a pounding the likes of which I’d not yet seen here. They were a band about whom I knew next to nothing, but their double-guitar uptempo crushcore was a longer way away from what Throne were doing at The Black Heart than the street that divided the two acts physically. I arrived part of the way through their set, which the five-piece delivered in lively fashion, with lots of movement, a swinging mic stand and big, chunky riffs set to breakdown beats. “Then You’ll Drown” was a burly basher, and I caught “Run with the Wolves” from their late-2012 EP, The Darkness is Getting Closer, which was distinguished by the dual vocals of guitarist Neil Kingsbury and frontman Karl Middleton. They were tight and had it together on stage, though my head was already preparing itself for the cleaving it would no doubt receive from who followed them.
Suddenly I had to wonder why I bothered bringing earplugs in the first place. British trio Conan weren’t through the second verse of “Hawk as Weapon” from last year’s low-end raging Monnos(review here) before I felt like they’d melted in my ear canal. Guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil just released their set from last year’s Roadburn as the new Mount WrathCD and vinyl, and while that’s definitely a satisfying listen, I was glad to see them in-person again, because no matter how loud you turn up a record, I don’t know if there’s any way to do justice to what Conan are live. Beastly heavy. Heavy to whatever degree hyperbole you might want to put to it, and while that heaviness and Davis and Coumbe‘s tones are still the star of the show, the three-piece also have grown as a stage act since I last had the good fortune to see them. Coumbe‘s low growls and Davis‘ shouting worked especially well together, and in addition to “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” and “Grim Tormentor” from Monnos, Conan also played two new songs, “Foehammer” and “Gravity Chasm,” which continued the warmongering gallop of the earlier album tracks that set up an excruciatingly slow finale, all the while keeping their fury front and center and proving there’s more to their heaviness than what comes through their amps.The other day, when I got stopped by that customs agent, he accused me of trying to illegally emigrate to the UK. I’m still not planning on it, but Conan make a solid argument in favor of doing so.
Kudos to whoever handled scheduling the bands’ timeslots for putting Conan and Toner Low right next to each other. I’d never seen the Dutch three-piece before — they’re now in their 15th year and have just released their third album — but they actually share a lot in common with Conan in terms of their general ethic. They are unreasonably loud, unremittingly heavy in tone and seem like they’re ready to follow a riff anywhere it might lead them. The difference is aggression. Where Conan are all beheadings and mayhem, Toner Low are purely stoned. Toner Low played in the dark but for a psychedelic lightshow setup they placed in front of their drummer and a sheet with projected falling pot leaves on the guitarist/vocalist, but yeah, they’re about as stoner as stoner gets, working in elements of more primal drone here and there, but keeping a solid foundation of riffs at hand at almost all times. They brought their own rigs, which made sense for the bassist since her gear was different from what seemed to be on hand, but the guitar — which seemed to be actually coated in resin from the look of it — ran through an Orange half-stack and amp they brought, and there’s been so much Orange around Desertfest I can practically taste it. I can’t argue with their having done it, though, since Toner Low sounded unbelievably good. I bought their new record and am looking forward to checking it out.
Naam beckoned. I won’t lie, there was a part of me that was like, “Why the hell would you go to London and see a band you can see in New York?” The other part of me was all, “No way dude, this is gonna be awesome. Naam have a new record coming out,” and that part of me won. Once a trio, now a foursome and tonight playing as a five-piece with the addition of a second guitar — not that they were lacking texture before, but more never hurts – Naam‘s universe seems to be in permanent expansion, both in terms of their lineup and their sound. Tonight was the best I’ve seen them play, and I’ve seen them play a few really killer shows. The integration of John Weingarten‘s keys along with Ryan Lugar‘s guitar/vocals, John Bundy‘s bass/vocals and Eli Pizzuto‘s drums is complete, and to show that, “Starchild” from last year’s The Ballad of the StarchildEP was the highlight of their whole set, though “Beyond” from their forthcoming sophomore full-length, Vow, came pretty close. They’ve nearly perfected a balance between stoner riffing and Hawkwindian space rush, and not surprisingly, their heavy psych went over huge at the Electric Ballroom. Naam are just starting a two-month European and UK tour that will have them in this part of the world for a while — perhaps it’s telling of their relative receptions that they’ll be in Europe when Vow releases — so I imagine they’ll only further solidify, but already they played a headliner’s set, closing as always with “Kingdom” from the EP of the same name (it also appeared on their 2009 debut LP), the layers of which shimmered with psychedelic vibes prior to a full-on freakout at the end of pushed-over drums and guitar destruction. Awesome.
Here’s a direct quote from my notes on Truckfigters‘ set: “Everyone in the world who’s never seen Truckfighters live is a jive sucker and that’s that.” More or less, that covers my feelings on the matter. The Örebro trio — Ozo on vocals/bass, Dango on guitar and now Poncho on drums — are easily the most energetic and engaging fuzz rock acts I’ve ever seen, and before they were through perpetual opener “Desert Cruiser,” both Ozo and Dango had gone past the monitors at the front of the stage to be closer to the crowd, who were singing along loud enough to be heard over the instruments. But Truckfighters – who are fresh off a tour with Norwegian blackened punkers Kvelertak and shortly headed to Australia and New Zealand for a run of shows — aren’t just getting their cardio in, they’re also nailing the material and delivering it with a genuine sense of spontaneity and the impression that anything can happen at any given moment, such as Ozo jumping into the crowd during closer “In Search of The” or the band launching into “Chameleon” after someone in the crowd requested it, jamming on “Desert Cruiser” or unveiling two new songs, the first which fit (“fett?”) well with the bounce of “Monte Gargano,” which came later, and the second which had a fuller, fuzzier shuffle in the beginning and wound up thicker but still moving, with a quick bass and drum break to set up a return to what seemed on first impression to be a solid hook. “Majestic” was welcome, and from their audience interaction to the tightness of their performance — at one point Dango fell on stage after jumping off the drum riser and didn’t even stop playing as he got up — there are few records supposedly coming out before the end of this year that I’m looking forward to as much as the new Truckfighters.
An hour hardly seemed like enough time for a proper Colour Haze set. Back in September 2012, the ultra-influential Munich heavy psych trio rolled through London and did a full three hours, complete with guest appearances, keys, and so on. Still, I’ll take what I can get, and when it came to “Transformation” from She Said (review here) — my album of the year last year — I still heard the horn parts in my head even though no one was playing them live, so I’m not about to bitch that the experience was somehow lacking. It wasn’t. Colour Haze were a complete 180 in terms of presence from Truckfighters, mostly subdued, no jumping, no running around, plenty of grooving, but less about getting the heart rate up than giving the audience something to shut its eyes and get lost in. As guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philip Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald jammed past “Moon” from 2008′s Alland into “Love” from their ’04 self-titled, they were so locked into what they were doing that the real miracle of it seemed to be they didn’t lose the crowd in the slightest. An extended take only gave everyone watching more to dig on, so that by the time “Peace, Brothers and Sisters” and “Tempel” came around, the Electric Ballroom was suitably hypnotized. Seriously, I just wanted to give them money. Like, “Here, Colour Haze, I have 50 Euro left over from last weekend. Please take it.” I’ve seen them before — their set at Emissions from the Monolith in 2006 changed my life (ask me about it sometime), and at one or two Roadburn fests along the way — but even though this felt like a sampling, it was ultra-satisfying to watch these godfathers of the modern European scene do what quite simply nobody does better. As I already knew I wouldn’t be staying for the entire Pentagram set, Colour Haze were sort of my closeout for Desertfest, and I couldn’t have asked for a warmer farewell than that. They were masterful.
I got a press release earlier this week that oft-imitated doom pioneers Pentagram had a new guitarist in the form of Philly-based Matt Goldborough, but that the lineup was otherwise the same as when Victor Griffin was still slinging axe, with Sean Saley on drums and Greg Turley on bass with frontman/defining presence Bobby Liebling on vocals. Of course, lineup changes are nothing new for Liebling‘s band — their legacy is as much about tumult as it is about the riff to “Forever My Queen” — but Griffin‘s presence brought a certain legitimacy to Pentagram‘s recent run and their 2011 Last Rites comeback album (review here), and his departure, whatever the circumstances may have been, changes the context of the band, Griffin – who also played today with his new outfit In~Graved – being one of very few others who’ve done time in Pentagram who can lay reasonable claim to the material. He may well have come out to guest on guitar (I recall seeing the band in 2009 when he wasn’t with them and that happened), but if he did, I wasn’t there to see it. I stayed for about four songs and then had to split to come back to the hotel, write and pack for my flight out tomorrow. For the portion I did catch, however — “Day of Reckoning,” “Forever My Queen,” “Treat Me Right” and “Livin’ in a Ram’s Head” — Pentagram were tight and Liebling was Liebling. There are few things as much fun to watch in a concert setting as Bobby Liebling flipping out to a guitar solo. Like he hasn’t been staring at them for 40 years now. Awesome. Turley and Saley have the material on lockdown, and as the new guy, Goldborough more than held his own on guitar, a younger presence giving some freshness to what might just as easily have come across stale otherwise. I’ve seen worse from Pentagram, and though one can dream of this or that reunion lineup, the simple fact that they exist and persist is to be… respected? Maybe. Probably. Definitely gazed at in astonishment. And so they were.
I have work to do. As in, for my job. And so I know that Desertfest, as blissful as it has been, must be over. My plan is to write up some concluding thoughts for this whole trip tomorrow on the plane, and I’ll include a thanks list with that, but before I switch off to picture-sorting mode, I just want to say it’s been an absolute pleasure and an honor to be back here in Camden this weekend, to see the bands I’ve been lucky enough to be here to see and to meet the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. This place is awesome (but for the weather), the music is great and I feel like even more than last year, Desertfest is developing a genuine vibe all its own. I was beat today, t-i-r-e-d, but at the same time, I knew I wanted to take as much of the proceedings in as possible, because when I’m back home slogging away in the office, I’m going to miss it.
More to come tomorrow, and more pics after the jump. Thanks as always for reading.
Science — whose greatest hits include gravity and, more recently, the Higgs boson — has proven time and again that Dutch trio Toner Low are as heavy as, if not heavier than, your face. Next month, the heft purveyors will unleash their first album in five years, III, on CD, tape and LP.
Not much of a surprise, but it sounds heavy as hell. Toner Low‘s fattened fuzz is many things, and in the trailer posted below, which feature song samples from the upcoming, you can find out just a few of the descriptors that the band use for themselves. Spoiler alert: “Meaner” is included. Enjoy:
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 5th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Ideally, this news would’ve gone up last friday, which marked the release of Toner Low‘s 2005 debut album on vinyl for the first time. Quantities are limited, but still available in either orange or black 180 gram double-LP through the recently-launched White Dwarf Records.
This band needs to put out a new record like nobody’s business, but the self-titled remains a shining orange beacon of heavy righteousness. If you haven’t heard it yet, an orange vinyl copy might just be the way to go.
Finally the debut album by Dutch psychedelic doomstoners TONER LOW will get its long awaited reissue on limited double vinyl in November 2012 on White Dwarf (Berlin, Germany).
Originally released in June 2005 on cd by the bandmember’s DIY-label Roadkill Rekordz, the vinyl version of this classic piece of one of Holland’s finest stonerdoom releases got first available in December 2006 at Freebird. The double album sold out quickly, but demand for it from the world-wide stonerdoom scene never waned. Luckily White Dwarf now decided to listen to those demands and gives TONER LOW’s self-titled debut its much deserved re-release.
TONER LOW started the recordings of their first album in a studio in Leiden in June 2004, laying down the drumtracks. Guitars, bass, vocals, samples and sounds were added in several periods in 2004 and 2005. Early June 2005 mastering took place at Electric City in Brussels by the legendary Alan Ward (Astrosoniq, Cowboys & Aliens, Within Temptation and many others). TONER LOW’s debut double album takes its listener on a 54-minutes doomed stoner trip through heavy guitars, slow-riding drums, long instrumental riffing, low-frequency bassparts, distorted vocals, repetitive hypnotizing themes, psychedelic sound effects, alienating samples and minimalistic soundscapes. All elements combined create an album that sounds close to unique and has to be listened to as one journey, kicking off with the upcoming feedback and coming to a close in audio-psychedelica.”
Limited edition of 100 copies on orange 180 gram vinyl! Gatefold sleeve with embossing!
A while back, I did a Buried Treasure piece on the second album by Toner Low, appropriately dubbed II, and the near-universal response I got was, “You think that’s some shit, you need to get their first record.” Well, I’m basically a slave to peer pressure anyway, so I figured the recommendations of those who took the time to make them could only be steering me in the proper direction.
There’s a line in a Nine Inch Nails song from The Fragile (their last album worth a damn) that goes something like, “I listened to everyone, now I know everyone was right.” That fits very well here.
As massive as II was — and it was — Toner Low‘s Toner Low has the dubious honor of being the first album I’ve ever run through my computer speakers that vibrated the mouse as I moved it. I could feel the vibrations of the bass in my hand while “Praying for Murphy’s Law to Arise” was on, and that only made me want to play the record even louder. So I did.
I promised myself I wasn’t going to get hyperbolic as I wrote this, because I’m still going on first impressions, but god damn, if you haven’t heard this record yet, you should seriously get on that as soon as possible. My suggestion is you do what I did following the advice of Obelisk attendee and commenter Bufftbone: get in touch with guitarist/vocalist Daan via the band’s MySpace to begin the purchasing process. Thanks to Bufftbone and everyone else who prodded me to do so.
Sometimes I run into bands I don’t want to check out just because they’re so highly recommended they can’t possibly live up to the hype. Case in point: Toner Low from The Netherlands. Everything I’d ever heard about them rounded out to, “Oh my god this is the best shit ever you need to hear it right now why are you still standing here go listen to it it’s as good as Sleep,” with emphasis on that last part. As good as Sleep? Come on, man. Your name better be John Garcia if you’re gonna talk that kind of crap.
But, because it was bound to happen eventually, I recently snagged a copy of Toner Low‘s aptly-named second full-length, II, from a certain interwebby shop I probably don’t even need to name at this point (hint: it was All that is Heavy). Even after it came, I sat and stared at it for a long while before putting it on. “Oh yeah, think you’re so good?” Holding the hype against the band when the band had literally nothing to do with the hype isn’t exactly fair, but neither is life, so screw it. Alright, Toner Low. Bring it on.
And they did. For a solid hour of Sunn and Orange-amped stonerly psych drone doom with, yes, a Sleep influence, but stretched into four Goastsnake-thick numbers-only tracks all over 13 minutes long. Parts reminded me of Ufomammut‘s take on heavy and sprawling psychedelia, but II was less outwardly experimental and more bent on riff worship and dooming out. I’ll say this for it: it was fucking s l o w — and yes, that is absolutely meant as a compliment. So many bands out there think they’re playing slow just because they’re not Slayer-speed thrash. No dice. Toner Low is the slow’s slow. They’re slow like continental shifts. Slower than those days at school where the clock moves backwards. Really, really slow.
And they’re slow too.
As it happened at the time I was listening, I needed a good dose of slow, so it was perfect. I don’t know if it’s as good as Sleep, since that’s like saying Sleep is as good as Sabbath, but I’ve no doubt II is in line for many return trips. Now just to track down a copy of their 2005 self-titled and I’ll be good to go for Toner Low. Obscure European distros here I come.