With a CD pressing limited, I presume, to however many the band felt like spraypainting, Wizard Fight make their debut on the new The Beast Lives Demo. The Hastings, UK-based trio recorded the three tracks live on March 11 and initially put them on a cassette, but the CD followed not far behind as they’ve begun to play more shows, discs spraypainted green with stenciled pink logos as above in a sleeve with photocopied artwork — a bit of a classic touch to go with the band’s heavy-footed sludge stomp.
The three tracks themselves keep the formula pretty simple. Riffs, screams and growls, a few tempo changes and a consistent level of aggression keep The Beast Lives Demowell within the realm of the straightforward, and the trio — guitarist/vocalist Luke Bolton (Rise of the Simians), bassist Dave Sage and drummer Daniel Kinsey (ex-Steak) — seem just fine with that. Across “The Devil Rides,” “Wizard of Black” and “Thine Enemies,” the three-piece settle into a solid groove that ebbs and flows while also keeping a strong sense of momentum moving within and between the songs.
Frills are slim to none — a sample at the beginning of “The Devil Rides” — but especially for a first demo recorded live, that winds up being part of the appeal, and though it’s abundantly clear throughout all three of the tracks at Wizard Fight are getting their bearings in terms of writing songs as a unit, their sense of structure works well on “Wizard of Black” as they move fluidly from the chorus to the instrumental ending, wherein they lock in the demo’s best groove as a precursor to the burly riffing that takes hold on “Thine Enemies,” closing out with a semi-metallic chorus that Bolton tops in post-Superjoint Ritual fashion.
They’ve got some work ahead of them, but considering The Beast Livesis as rudimentary as a release can get — a live demo — Wizard Fight sound tight and like they have a good idea of where they want to be in terms of sound. I wouldn’t ask anything more of a release like The Beast Livesthan that, and hopefully it sets the band up for something to grow on the next time out. Until then, in true demo spirit, they’ve made the songs available as a free download:
If one thinks of life as a quest for the perfect title, then London heavy rockers Steak have already won. The four-piece will issue their new EP, Corned Beef Colossus, on May 24.
You might like to take a second and let that sink in — perhaps close your eyes and contemplate the sandwich that could inspire such a title. Well, don’t take too long, because Steak (who killed at this year’s Desertfest) have a video for the track “Liquid Gold” from the EP, which is the follow-up to last year’s sci-fi/comic-themed Disastronaught(review here). If the snowboarding tricks — impressive as they are — are anything to go by, Steak seem to have let some of the futuristic narrative slide, but with a recording job by members of Truckfighters at their studio in Sweden, a crisp, profuzzional sound makes sure “Liquid Gold” leaves an impression anyway.
Corned Beef Colossusis out May 24. Enjoy “Liquid Gold”:
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.
It was difficult — even last night — not to look forward to today. I won’t say I was trying extra hard not to get hit by a bus on my way out of the hotel and down the block for day two of the 2013 London Desertfest, but if I had been, I certainly would’ve had reason. Strictly speaking, it was my most straightforward of the three days here. Virtually no running back and forth, just one venue change and that was it for the duration. Even before I saw any bands, today felt like a luxury, and sure enough I was able to kind of nestle my way into the groove of the evening and just let it carry me along as it went. This would turn out to be precisely the right strategy.
On a sheer cause and effect level — I went here and this happened — the results are mostly inarguable. I’ll note that there were a lot of bands who played today who I didn’t see. Some whose music I don’t know, some whose music I know and very much enjoy. Rather than lay out each option for each time slot and justify my decisions one at a time, please just know that I’ve put no lack of consideration into how I’m spending my days here, and that the choices I’ve made for what to see have not been easy.
Alright, let’s go:
The first thing was to get a heaping dose of native Londoner sludge, and for that I headed down to The Underworld to catch Gurt, stopping only for coffee and a blueberry muffin along the way. It was sort of half-slushing on the way — semi-frozen balls of unpleasantness falling from the sky — so I just assumed whatever pagan seabeast is in charge of the weather around here was making it appropriate for the onslaught that was coming. I have dug several of Gurt‘s releases, most recently the Collection tape (more here), but ultimately, that would do little to prepare me for seeing them live, since they proved all around to be a more diverse band than I’d previously given them credit for being, working in influences of post-Superjoint Ritual thickened punk along with their standard Eyehategod — or if we’d like to keep it local, Iron Monkey — fuckall, frontman Gareth Kelly‘s screams all the more vicious and throat-searing from the stage. The trend in terms of vocals has swung the other way to the cleaner, melodic end, but I still like to see a screamer who can really scream and keep it up for the duration of a set without losing power, and Kelly did that, making a highlight of “Fucknose” in the process. I also hadn’t given them credit for their sense of satire. “Dudes with Beards with Cats” was right on, and “You ain’t from around these Parts?” was presented as having an agenda that I hadn’t perceived originally — perhaps because I couldn’t understand the lyrics, perhaps because I’m clueless. Either way. Gurt brought up Diesel King vocalist Mark O’Regan for the finale, “Soapfeast,” the Church of Misery boogie of which was one more example of Gurt being better than I knew. Lesson learned.
It was hard to me to look at frontman Chris of Brighton four-piece Turbowolf and not think of a young Bobby Liebling of Pentagram. The superficial factors were there — moustache, mane, frilly shirt, tight pants and so on — but I doubt if many on the Trail of Dead tour that Turbowolf just wrapped had the same issue. There was also about as little in common with the bands as there could be and still have both of them play the same fest, Turbowolf opening at the Electric Ballroom – a new venue for Desertfest as of this year — playing a speed rock that bordered on punk but never really gave up its classic ethic. I wondered watching them if theirs is the kind of sound that has grown out of the next generation past the likes of Turbonegro and The Hellacopters, though I barely had time to get a mental process underway before Turbowolf were on to the next upbeat, catchy rager. They weren’t really my thing (who likes fast tempo and engaging music, anyway? Oh wait, everyone.), but they sure had the crowd on their side and it was easy to see why. While the rest of the band locked in their next ultra-tight, professional delivery, Chris tossed unopened cans of beer into the audience, from whence they did not return. If the room wasn’t theirs before, and it was, that was bound to help their cause, and though it was still pretty early, Turbowolf worked the larger space easily around its collective finger, stopping only to make sure everyone was getting in on the party.
House of Broken Promises
Though they’d apparently come right from their flight into town from the Berlin Desertfest, it was clear by the time Indio, California, trio House of Broken Promises dug into the start-stop stomp of “Obey the Snake” from their 2009 Using the Useless debut full-length (review here) that they were really just waiting for the strippers to show up. New bassist/vocalist Joe Mora fit right in with the band’s crotch-thrusting dude rock, though even if he’s not singing, guitarist/beard magnate Arthur Seay is doing most of the frontman work. Master of the guitar-face and the beard-bang, Seay is nonetheless a more than solid player, and for all the antics, he, Mora and drummer/backing vocalist Mike Cancino were as tight musically as they were uproarious and working to get the crowd into it. That didn’t take much, incidentally. House of Broken Promises may play what to my ears sounds like a very American take on heavy rock, but the Desertfest crowd knows how to dig into catchy songs delivered with quality heavy and quality energy alike, which is just what they got at Electric Ballroom, plus some old biker movie video backdrop courtesy of Mindzap Visuals. I think of some of the places I’ve seen these guys play — the Trash Bar in Brooklyn comes to mind, also the Brighton in NJ — but they seemed much more suited to the bigger stage, the bigger room than to either of those haunts. While I don’t think I would go as far as to call them desert rock — that would come later when Cancino and Seay returned as half of Unida – the three-piece definitely left a boot print in the Electric Ballroom, closing out their set with “The Hurt (Paid My Dues),” which had arms raised and lyrics sung along from the very start. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they get a follow-up to Using the Uselesstogether, what effect Mora‘s joining might have on their songwriting process or overall sound, but for today, they were dead-on. Rarely can I say the same for myself when I’ve just come from the airport.
If you’ve lived for more than 25 seconds, you know that life long. And if you’ve lived for more than 25 seconds, chances are something has happened to you over the course of your life that you didn’t expect would ever happen. Tonight, I saw Lowrider, the Swedish double-guitar four-piece who released in their day only one full-length album — 2000′s Ode to Io, on MeteorCity — and two splits, with Nebula and Sparzanza, played fewer than 50 shows, and disintegrated, to become in the years subsequent one of the single most pivotal blueprints for European riffing. Yeah, Dozer (wait for it…) came up concurrently, releasing their debut also in 2000, but what Ode to Io offered was a fealty to desert rock really just as the thing was beginning to exist outside of the desert itself. These bands showed not only that it could be done, but gave landmark examples of how to do it. I don’t know where people had come from, if they drove here, got on a plane, train, boat, whatever, but I have to believe that it was the chance to see bands like Lowrider, Dozer and Unida that brought them to Desertfest 2013. And though I don’t really know how a group of individuals could come out onto a stage and live up to that kind of impossible narrative, guitarist Niclas Stålfors, bassist/vocalist Peder Bergstrand, lead guitarist/vocalist Ola Hellquist and drummer Andreas Eriksson did precisely that. Most of what they played came from Ode to Io, as one would hope and expect, but they gave some time as well to the Nebula split, picking up “Lameneshma,” “Shivaree” and “Ol’ Mule Pepe” for anyone who might be looking for a deeper cut out after the mega-hooks of “Flat Earth” or “Caravan,” the latter which rang out as an immediate clarion as if to say, “Yes, this is really happening.” They were visibly glad to be on the stage together at the Electric Ballroom, the tone was right on — having nerded out so many times over for “Texas Pt. 1 & 2,” it was great to hear it announced from stage as the first song they ever wrote — and coming out of it, I have to say that if these dudes had any desire whatsoever to go back and write a new album, nothing I heard from them tonight would stand as argument against doing so. The material — minimum 13 years old — sounded vital and fresh, and when they were done, Bergstrand (who is also in I are Droid), took a picture of the crowd and said he didn’t want to wait another 10 years to do it again. Hell dude, me neither. I never thought I’d get to do it this once, so really, anything on top of tonight is gravy.
Dozer are a big part of the reason why I’m here. Not just here in London for Desertfest, but here, in front of this laptop, writing like I do more or less every day. That’s not hyperbole, it’s just fact. When I first started getting into this kind of music in college, it was acts like Dozer who fueled my curiosity to know more about it. The Swedish outfit announced an indefinite hiatus in 2009, and have been little heard from since — though as early as last summer, guitarist Tommi Holappa was dropping hints of a reunion at Desertfest — so to find them back at it with the lineup of Holappa, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Nordin, bassist Johan Rockner and drummer Olle Mårthans was special, and for me, something that will mark out this Desertfest among all the fests I’ve seen and any and all I might see. This was the one where I finally saw Dozer. I knew some of what to expect from Holappa‘s thrashing madness on stage from seeing him at Desertfest last year with side-project Greenleaf (another personal highlight), but wow. Opening with “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Exoskeleton Pt. 2,” they stormed through their hour-long set, making the most of their time with cuts from across their five albums like “Rising” from 2002′s Call it Conspiracy, “The Flood” from 2008′s Beyond Colossal(their last album to date), and “From Fire Fell,” “Big Sky Theory,” “Drawing Dead,” “Born a Legend” and “Days of Future Past” from 2005′s Through the Eyes of Heathens, the last of which Nordin singled out as his favorite song Dozer had ever written. It’s a strong candidate, with a memorable melody line and dynamic changes within an overarching moodiness that was not in the slightest lost in a live setting, the guitarist tempering his approach to the music and using a few effects here and there as well for echo and warble. His falsetto, shouts and straight-ahead melodic singing were right on, and with Holappa‘s headbanging his way back and forth on the stage, Rockner‘s quiet but steady low end on the other wise and Mårthans‘ positively huge drum sound — the kind of kick you feel in your chest — seeing Dozer was everything I could’ve asked it to be and more. They even jammed! Of course, they could’ve played twice as long and I wouldn’t have complained, but a track like “Headed for the Sun” from 1999′s Coming Down the MountainEP split with Unida (wait for it…) only underscored for me how much they need to do an early works compilation, like, yesterday. They wrapped with “Rings of Saturn” — the bonus track from the vinyl version of 2001′s Madre de Dios– and the opener of their 2000 debut, In the Tail of a Comet, “Supersoul,” which felt like home from the first note. I don’t know if this is the last time I’ll get to see Dozer play or not — I hope not — but for tonight, I’m just thankful that I got to see them this once at Desertfest. Really. When they were done, I felt like I’d accomplished something.
And if a night like this is going to have an epilogue, a 90-minute headlining set from Cali desert rockers Unida is a good one to have. In a lot of ways, Unida sort of sum up what seems to me to be the whole mentality of this fest. They’re a band who, just when they should’ve hit it big with a major label album produced by a major producer, it all came apart on them, and so what you had tonight was people singing along to tracks from a record that never came out. Without the passion for this music at the heart of this festival, there’s no way a band like Unida would resurface for a headliner spot. Vocalist John Garcia has Vista Chino at work on a new album, and guitarist Athur Seay and drummer Mike Cancino had already done a set in House of Broken Promises – the band was rounded out by Arthur‘s nephew, Owen Seay, on bass — so what made it happen? Money? I’m sure they got paid to be here, but money’s what makes you get up and go to work in the morning. What makes you spend months hammering out a set of songs to get up and deliver them in front of a couple thousand people most of whom (myself included) only caught onto your band after the fact? If it wasn’t passion, it would have to be madness. As he has been the several times I’ve seen him — in Kyuss-minded projects like Garcia Plays Kyuss and KyussLives!, from which Vista Chino springs – Garcia was a relatively subdued frontman, collected on stage if prone to the occasional leg-jerk softshoe. Seay as well was calmer for the Unida set compared to House of Broken Promises, and since some of my favorite Unida tracks are the moodier, more sedate, I thought it worked well. Over the course of their time, they certainly worked in their share of rocking material, whether it was the ultra-catchy “Red” from 1998′s The Best of Wayne-GroEP (which also served as their portion of the split with Dozer the next year) or the groovier “Vince Fontaine” from the unreleased For the Working Man. I was hoping they’d have some bootleg copies of that record on sale, but no such luck. The extended “Last Day” found the Seays and Cancino at some of their tightest, musically, and Garcia‘s voice was, as ever, crucial. “Thorn,” “Nervous” and “Human Tornado” were all met with rapturous welcome — they’d almost have to be — and after leaving the stage, Unida came back out and made a blasting two-song encore out of “Dwarf It” and “Black Woman” that answered back some of the quieter stretches of their set with full-fisted gut-punchery. Standing in the very back of the Electric Ballroom and watching the crowd go apeshit for them, I wondered if Unida might finally be getting the payoff they’ve been waiting for a decade to receive.
No time to think about it, really. They shuffled us out of the venue on the quick, and I decided to end the day with a check-in over at The Black Heart to see how things were shaking out there and pick up a copy of the new tape I’d heard Bong brought with them. No such luck on that one, and there didn’t seem to be much of a pathway to the stairs let alone up them to see the band, so I hightailed it back in the direction of the hotel, stopping to pick up some pizza along the way, since nothing says celebration quite like a pizza party for one.
Tomorrow is the last day of Desertfest 2013, with more running around than I had today, but still a decent amount of full sets I’ll get to watch. This trip is winding down, but we’re not done yet.
Housekeeping kicked me out of my hotel room. While I’m staying somewhere, I usually don’t like to have people come through and clean — I’m not making that much of a mess, and what mess I make, I can clean up myself — but sometimes it just has to be done. So they gave me the boot, but I was still early to head down for the official start of London Desertfest 2013. Or late, depending on how you want to look at it. I’ll explain as we go along, though before we get down to it and the rest of my night gets its course, let me just say that some of what I saw today is the kind of stuff that I’ve no doubt will stay with me for as long as I have the capacity to remember it. Really. It was like that. From watching friends kick ass to seeing bands I never thought I’d be lucky enough to see, it was the perfect start to a landmark weekend.
In the spirit of doom, let’s do a slow count-in: 1… 2… 3… 4…
Native British trio Crystal Head were my favorite find of last year’s Desertfest — a band about whom I really knew nothing who just blew me away on stage. Obviously the surprise factor wasn’t there this go around, but the Londoners were perhaps even more satisfying to watch in 2013 since I knew most of the songs, which came from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here). As such, they made a great launch point for day one of this year’s Desertfest and though the setting was different at the Jazz Cafe, guitarist/vocalist Tom Cameron, bassist/backing vocalist Jon Deal and drummer Dean Deal nonetheless made short work of the room. Self-titled opener “Perfect Weirdo,” was a highlight, and Cameron‘s hollow-body Gretsch was as righteous as I remembered. Curiously, since I thought it was a shoo-in, they didn’t play “True to Say,” but I guess the DJ beforehand had gotten wind of the fact that they weren’t going to, and it was aired over the P.A. nonetheless before they took the stage. I had thought that was weird. Along with “Wouldn’t You Know” — which I might very well have stuck in my head for the rest of this weekend — they kicked into a new song called “Bellicose” that was introduced as being, “about how nice the world is.” So be it. Moody as they get, and they get plenty, Crystal Head never stray too far from the next hook, and even “Bellicose” had a solid crash groove from Dean that slammed into half-speed at just the right moment. When they closed with “Truth Hurts,” I wanted to hear a new record as badly as I wanted to hear the self-titled after they finished at The Underworld in 2012.
I went back and looked, and I haven’t called a band a hoot yet on this trip. Well, that’s what Groan were. They were a hoot. Just lots and lots and lots of fun. Fun to watch, fun to hear, fun from the moment of their ultra-pretentious classical intro to every over-the-top grandiose song of their set. I dug the hell of it. Not like I’d seen them before, but the now-fivesome have been through some lineup changes since they released The Divine Right of Kings (review here) in the latter half of 2012, shifting drummer Christopher West (also of Trippy Wicked) over to guitar while bringing on new drummer Zel Kaute and new guitarist Mike Pilat to join forces with bassist Leigh Jones and frontman extraordinaire Andreas “Mazzereth” Maslen. They brought the house down early with their unabashed heavy metal shuffle, dipping into their split with Vinum Sabbatum (review here) for “Cosmic Boogie” before “Magic Man” showed off some of the more metallic riotousness that showed up on the last album. They were a top-notch stage act, Mazz playing host to a chaotic carnival while Jones followed suit and the three relative newcomers kept the material in check while adding to the energy. Pilat contributed some vocals along with Jones in a few choruses, and it was cool to hear older songs from 2010′s The Sleeping Wizard(review here) like “Witchy Woman” and their finale, “Sleeping Wizard,” get treated to the band’s newer tones. Foremost, though, Groan were a really good time as they rushed through their set, and Mazz got in the last word of wisdom before they walked off stage: “Let’s have a party!” It seemed like we just had.
Mars Red Sky
The warmth. I guess in the intervening year since I saw them at Roadburn, I’d somehow tricked my brain into thinking there was no way France’s foremost ministers of fuzz Mars Red Sky could actually sound that thick and still be so languid, dreamy, psychedelic on stage. But no, they were. At The Underworld, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast (left above), vocalist/guitarist Julien Pras (middle above) and drummer Matgaz (right above) had the perfect balance of tonal weight and melodic sweetness, and of all the fuzz I’m bound to hear in the next few days, I’ve no doubt that at the end, theirs will have been some of the most satisfying. Most of the new Be My Guide EP (review here) was played, including “Clean White Hands” and the title-track before the trio moved on to “Curse” and “Marble Sky” from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), Kinast coming to the fore vocally for the latter. “Strong Reflection” from the full-length was even slower coming from the stage, which I didn’t expect, but that only made the rolling, nod-inducer of a riff even richer, Pras‘ vocals echoing but still conveying a single-layer’s fragility that doubling inherently removes from the studio versions of the material, giving what’s already ultra-natural-sounding a rawer vibe. The EP is still new, but the album cuts got a great response, and as Mars Red Sky capped with “Way to Rome,” I felt like I was being issued a reminder that summer is on the way and will be here before I know it. All the better for having Mars Red Sky‘s temperate fuzz to bake in solar scorch. They also let me take their picture outside the venue later. Right on.
Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight
My original intention had been to watch cumbersomely-named appreciated amigos Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (oft just Trippy Wicked) start the day with an acoustic set at the Vans store in Camden. The downside to this plan? I had no idea where said retail outlet was. This was a two-fold downer: First, because I like Trippy Wicked‘s acoustic stuff a lot — they break out a ukulele and really make it interesting and moody and varied — and Second, because the friggin’ Vans store in Camden was right in front of my god damn face the whole time. I walked past it on my way to Jazz Cafe for the start of Crystal Head and actually did a facepalm. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone back and forth in front of it since getting into town, but it’s several. Fortunately, my feeling like a jackass (familiar as it is) was tempered by knowing that Trippy Wicked were also booked for a full-on slot at The Black Heart, which is where I caught the St Albans trio, whose drummer Chris West and guitarist/vocalist Peter Holland had been kind enough to host me earlier this week. Time was a factor, but I did get to see them play a new song, and that was awesome, and I got to see them fill up The Black Heart such that people were queued (yeah, I’m in the UK) through the door and into the hallway to get in. Not really surprising, since last year they played The Purple Turtle (not a part of Desertfest 2013, which has already saved a few long walks, I’m sure) and garnered much the same reaction, and if not for the power of their oh-so-heavy rock and roll, certainly the fancy shirts of Holland and bassist Dicky King would’ve packed the house. I don’t know if anything will ever beat seeing them in Eindhoven last year, but whenever I get to watch them play I’m glad to be there. My only regret of the day was I didn’t get my dose of “Hillbilly Moonshine.”
What could’ve possibly drawn me away from such rock-your-socksery? The thing is, to say I have an enduring affection for the Sons of Alpha Centauri/Gary Arce collaboration — he being the “Yawning,” as in his main outfit, Yawning Man, and they being the “Sons” as in the first word of the name of their band — and their 2009 debut album, Ceremony to the Sunset (review here), is to grossly understate the situation. Theirs was the first in a trio of desert-based sets (Sons of Alpha Centauri are from the UK, but Arce counts in atmosphere as well as geography, so we’ll give them credit at least this time), that went from Yawning Sons to Yawning Man to Fatso Jetson as the closers for The Underworld. Frankly, it wasn’t the kind of thing I was going to be able to live with myself if I missed, and it seemed I was lucky when I got there and Yawning Sons hadn’t started yet. Unfortunately, in a couple short seconds within beginning to play, Arce‘s guitar cut out. Gone. The Sons portion of the lineup — guitarist Marlon King, bassist Nick Hannon, soundscaper Andrew Blake and the drummer who held together much of the jams that would ensue — locked in the gorgeousness of “Tomahawk Watercress” on their own while Arce figured out his situation, and just when it seemed to be up and running, off his guitar went again. It went on like that for a while, and was a genuine, visible bummer that cut into their set time. King and company were pros all the way, and the tech crew for Desertfest and even Arce‘s Yawning Man bandmate, Mario Lalli (also of Fatso Jetson), came out to help. Finally they got the guitar working and were able to build a bit of momentum over the remainder of their set. Lalli returned to guest on vocals for “Meadows” from the album, and that helped, and they ended with just King and Arce playing off each other on guitar, which was a cool moment to see, though I don’t think the set turned out the way anyone had anticipated or hoped. Still, I can’t call it a disappointment from where I stood. Getting to see Yawning Sons play any of their material at all was an automatic win.
I don’t know if it gets more of-the-desert than the Yawning Man lineup of Gary Arce, Mario Lalli and drummer Alfredo Hernandez. There’s plenty of acts and artists who’ve emerged from that vast, beautiful wasteland expanse, but aside from being pivotal to the creation of desert rock — period — is there anyone who so singularly embodies the heavy sound associated with that region? Maybe having Yawning Man play Desertfest 2013 was a way to find out, and if so, I’ll take it. I know they’re American and I’m American, but America’s a big country, and I honestly didn’t ever think I’d get to watching Yawning Man live, so this was something really special for me to witness — these three players jamming out still-unheralded classics for an audience that, if they went through and hand-picked a crowd, they couldn’t have found one more appreciative of what they do and what they’ve done for heavy rock and heavy psychedelia as a whole. And their albums, 2005′s Rock Formationsand 2010′s Nomadic Pursuits(review here) — even the latter, for which I still carry a nerd’s torch, don’t do them justice live. The songs are heavier, yeah, but also just plain deeper tonally, Arce‘s guitar expanding to full echo breadth as he signaled changes to Lalli and Hernandez for when to move to the next part. I know Yawning Man have had some lineup shuffles in their time and even recently, but to have these guys come out and start running through “Sand Whip” and “Perpetual Oyster” and get a real flow going from one jam into the next, the massive influence they’ve had on the probably thousands of bands who’ve taken bits and pieces of their sound over the course of a generation — some without even knowing they did it — made a lot of sense. By way of new material, they played “Dark Meet” from their split 12″ with Fatso Jetson, which is only the second piece of vinyl I’ve bought since I left home, and before they started, I got to hold Gary Arce‘s guitar for him while he went and grabbed a replacement part, and I felt honored just for standing where I was even more than I had already.
Boomer’s Blues! Boomer’s Boogie! Moving to guitar and getting a microphone for vocals, Mario Lalli commenced Fatso Jetson‘s set by asking the existential question, “What is desert rock, anyway?” I was going to yell out, “rebranded post-punk!” but thought better of it. In any case, Lalli isn’t quite post his punk. Joined in this iteration of his seminal outfit by drummer Tony Tornay, bassist/cousin LarryLalli, both mainstays,and his son, guitarist/backing vocalist Dino von Lalli — who may or may not be 16 now; Mario said something on stage about pulling him out of high school to do this show — Lalli and the band answered his question to whatever degree Yawning Man could possibly have left it unanswered. They ran through a fortified, boogie-fied groover set that touched on Fatso Jetson albums like Cruel and Delicious (2002), Toasted(2001), Flames for All(1999) and Power of Three(1997), but conspicuously absent was anything from 2010′s Archaic Volumes(review here). I don’t know if maybe the band decided to leave that material be on account of not having Vince Meghrouni on-hand to contribute sax and vocals as he did on the record, “New Age Android,” “I’ve Got the Shame” and “Tutta Dorma” go a long way. There wasn’t any new material to be had, but having seen them at Roadburn in 2010, I knew Fatso Jetson delivered live, and they did precisely that. To my misfortune, I was standing up front next to The Most Fucked Up Couple In London™ (my only challenge was deciding which between the two was, in local parlance, the bigger cunt) and promptly had beer spilled all down my back, so I wasn’t long for being there, and once wrenched off the floor level of The Underworld, soon decided to pick up that Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson split and head back to The Black Heart to close out the night in local style.
It was a little like walking into Mos Eisley with the lights off, going back to The Black Heart. All around me, drunken murmurs and shouts in a variety of mumbled languages couldn’t be placed to their source, and even as I turned the corner to go down the alleyway to get to the bar, I knew I was in for it. I’d already been doused — I mean, covered — in beer, so whatever was coming, I felt like I was ready. I saw Steak here last year and dug them, and dug as well their sci-fi/comic thematic Disastronaught EP (review here), and with a new one coming called Corned Beef Colossus, figured this would be a chance both to get in some last-minute fuzz for the day and sample their latest material. The band features guitarist Reece Tee, who also organized Desertfest (not totally on his own, as no great feat is accomplished single-handedly, but still), vocalist Kippa, who set up his mic on the monitor box at the front of the stage, bassist Cam and new drummer Sammy, replacing Dan Kinsey, now of Wizard Fight, and Sammy would soon make the presence of his doubly-floor-tommed kit felt in more than just a busted hammer on a kick pedal as the London four-piece unrolled tones and grooves sliced even thicker than I remembered. Kippa, not content to be on the box, climbed onto the monitor itself to get to the ceiling, and the assembled masses seemed to treat it more as a start to the inevitable after party than the final set of the night. No doubt that was exactly the intent. This is their scene, their friends, their party, and the moment was well earned, both on Tee‘s part and the band’s.
It’s nearly four in the morning as I type this and I still have pictures to sort. Tomorrow is fewer bands, more full sets, and I’m looking forward to that for sure, but today was fantastic front to back, so I’m not about to complain. You can really get a sense being here of the spirit of appreciation with which this fest is executed, and I hope that comes across both in this and in the posts to come tomorrow night and Sunday. Thanks as always for reading.
This was it. The official start of London Desertfest 2013. Well, okay, maybe not. That’s tomorrow, but tonight had the banner up and that’s something. The Black Heart hosted what was billed as the “Official Desertfest Pre-Show” with Greek stoner heavies 1000mods and UK rockers Enos and Blasted. Three bands to ease the way into what’s destined to be a landmark weekend of riffs and fuzz. Their task was laid out before them, but if any of the acts was feeling the pressure, the sweat was lost in that from the raging performances. It was a varied bill, with Blasted showcasing punkish roots and Enos hinting at heavier space rock while the headliners basked in European fuzz, but all three were met with a decidedly positive reception.
Since this is the start of the Desertfest 2013 coverage, I’m going to present the show like I will the fest as a whole. Hope you dig it. Let’s get started.
I guess if you had to pick one, Blasted would be the standout act on the bill, less riff-minded than either of the other two and they didn’t get through their soundcheck without shrapnel flying from one of drummer Tommy Randhawa‘s sticks, but it seems to not really matter which end of heavy a band comes from over here to make a good bill, and I like that. I was early to the show, but Blasted got going soon enough and sprinted through a set of speed rock with thoroughly punkish overtones and aggression. Guitarist/vocalist Ben Perrier used to be in Winnebago Deal, but Blasted is by and large faster and meaner, bassist James Phung answering back in call-and-response choruses to “This Place is Nothing” and “Living Nightmare,” both highlights of their set for being catchy as well as blazing. They were crisp and efficient in getting from point-A to punch-you-in-your-kidneys, but not without locking in the occasional heavy groove along the way, as though to portend what would come for the rest of the night.
Despite having some warning of what Enos got up to when I received and added their late-2012 All too Humanalbum and added the tracks to The Obelisk Radio, when the Brighton four-piece actually got to work on stage, they immediately surpassed my expectation. There are a lot of bands who blend heavy psych and stoner riffing to one degree or another, but Enos blur the lines well with a wash of echo and cymbals that nonetheless come underscored by a near-constant forward motion. They had an open sensibility, and with the two guitars of Sean Cox and Chris Rizzanski, there was plenty of room for exploration while bassist George Cobbold and drummer Sparky Rogers held down thick and dense grooves, but Rizzanski‘s vocals also had a throaty, motor rock delivery that grounded the songs well (when he wasn’t using a second mic setup for a talk box, that is). The crowd was obviously more familiar with their breadth than I was, though even with a regular sprawl of effects on Rizzanski‘s guitar, it was easy to dig into Enos‘ gripping material, the band tossing in a hook riff more than often enough to hold attention for the duration. They were a pleasant surprise, and I picked up a copy of All too Human on CD for further investigation. They were also selling glow-in-the-dark shirts, which are always fun, but I didn’t dare.
With riff-worship culled from early Dozer and stoner rock’s alleged ’90s glory days (I happen to think the glory days are going on now, particularly in Europe), 1000mods came up to Camden Town from Greece en route to the Desertfest in Berlin this weekend, and I’m glad they did. Their 2011 full-length debut, Super Van Vacation (review here) took cues from some of modern heavy psych’s laid back atmospheres, but it was the more powerful, rocking moments that stood out live. They got going with a cut listed as “Zamataz” that didn’t appear on the album — maybe new? — and just as they were kicking into The. Big. Groove., the power went out of Giannis and George‘s guitar. Like, gone. No coincidence I’m sure that they were rocking at full throttle. A couple minutes of lost momentum didn’t help — bassist/vocalist Dani (his instrument slung low in the tradition of Church of Misery) and drummer Lab did the best they could to fill the time — but by the time they were into their third song, it was more or less forgotten. They resumed their rush and continued on unabated. Highlights from Super Van Vacation included “7 Flies,” “Set You Free” and “Navy in Alice,” but the best came later into the set, with the sweet guitar interplay of “Vidage” and the sing-along-ready hook of “El Rollito,” The Black Heart crowd fist-pumping and shouting along to the chorus ending with the memorable, “…Nothing can save my soul.” They ended with the opener and closer of Super Van Vacationin that order, and both “Road to Burn” and “Super Van Vacation” locked in rolling riffs that drew likewise vehement response from the audience, duly sauced. They went a few minutes past the 11PM curfew, but fortunately no one seemed to register a complaint, and when it was over, there was as much a sense of something having begun as having ended.
At the downstairs bar, which is awesome, the Desertfest crew were holding an after party DJ’ed by none other than Rich from the The Day After the Sabbath, which, man, if you haven’t checked out his podcasts, you should. Certainly the guy for the job — I don’t think I’ve ever been to London and not heard Leaf Hound‘s “Freelance Fiend” at one point or another — he was holding it down for sure, but I needed to get back to the hotel and write and so didn’t linger as I otherwise might have. Many did, though, and it seemed like Desertfest was getting its due for an opening night pregame.
Tomorrow starts early and runs late, is my busiest day of the festival. I won’t have time to check in during the day, but will report in afterwards with words and pics on the proceedings. I was feeling beat going into today, but after tonight, I’m more geared up and excited for what’s to come over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s going to be a blast, I can tell already.
A long shower, some ibuprofen, a cup of coffee and a lemon poppy muffin later, I’m back on my way to feeling as human as I ever felt to start with, though the whole world still has that film over it that it gets when I haven’t slept. Like looking through wax paper at distorted colors. Would be psychedelic if it it wasn’t accompanied by such exhaustion.
I crashed last night harder than I’ve crashed in a long time. Even as I was riding up the Holiday Inn elevator to get to the room, I said to myself, “Just a little further.” After the last update, I fell asleep for a solid four hours and woke up feeling sick and miserable, barely able to move. At some point, I pulled a muscle in my left calf — I’m looking at you, Big Blue — and so there was a good deal of pain in addition to the fatigue. Writing that live review that went up yesterday took about three times as long as it normally would on account of having to constantly stop and put my head down. Even with the four-hour nap, I was out shortly after midnight. I put the Yankees radio broadcast on streaming and rolled over and that was it.
At about three in the morning, I was woken up by some weird interference noise and it turned out that The Patient Mrs. had called in on Skype and that was running the same time as the Yankees stream. I don’t know how it had answered, but I woke up for a couple minutes and spoke to her, which was good. This has already been a long trip, and it’s a long way from here to Monday afternoon when I catch my flight out.
Most of the night, I tossed and turned in various stages of discomfort, but I slept and that’s the important thing. Still, this morning it took me a solid half-hour to get out of bed and get myself together. When I finally did and finally figured out how to work the shower, I decided to head out and get some caffeine in me to get right. Could probably use another cup or two (or 10), but the muffin helped as well and I proceeded on to see if I could hit up the Music and Video Exchange, which I’ve visited a few times in years prior. Closed. What a shitter. Because just what this market stretch of tourist-hell Camden needs is another t-shirt shop. Bleh.
Resurrection Records, which wasn’t nearly as cool but which I’ve also been to, also seemed to be gone in favor of a shop selling shirts with pot leaves on them. So it goes.
Back to the hotel, then. I could’ve walked around some more, but honestly felt like I was about to keel over, and so I’ve been sitting in the air conditioning in this room trying to continue to regroup the best I can before the Desertfest pre-show tonight with 1000mods from Greece and Enos and Blasted. Would be nice to stay conscious through the whole thing, since it’s the start of the Desertfest coverage that’ll play out over the next three days as well.
A lot of really great stuff coming up. Time to get my head into it.
Posted in Reviews on April 24th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
The Black Heart is nestled into an alleyway that runs off a street behind The Underworld in Camden Town, London. I knew the place when I got there Monday night because it was one of the venues where Desertfest was held in 2012 and will be again this year, which made this kind of an unofficial pre-pre-show. Obviously I’ve only been a few times, but it seems to me like a hub of the London scene. I was early to the show and watching the people around me, it wasn’t long before so-and-so said hi to someone else, hey to this or that person, etc. There is a larger bar downstairs and the venue room upstairs (with another, smaller bar), so there’s plenty of room to mingle and shoot the shit if you’re so inclined.
I was introduced almost immediately to the cats from Serpent Venom, whose last album, Carnal Altar, I actually bought but didn’t open because I didn’t want to rough up the packaging; a CD housed in what looked like an old occult paperback. Still failed in that preservation, but I’d heard some stuff online in the interim and knew they were heavy trad doom of the sort in which England specializes, and that their singer, Gaz, was a madman on stage. That turned out to be true, but it was up in the air whether or not the show would even happen for a while, since Elder and Copenhagen heavy rock trio Pet the Preacher had been delayed at their ferry and forced to wait for the next one.
Ultimately, they arrived and the show started late, but it started. Having come from the Netherlands myself during the day, I knew it was a hell of a trip to make, and they were doing it by van and ferry while I rode on comfortable trains. In any case, a backline was secured and Serpent Venom played a five-song set comprised almost entirely of new material from an album that they’ll begin to record sometime over the next few months. Gaz was, as expected, feeling the riffs deep, headbanging, raising his arms, foot up on the monitor block at the front of the stage, but what I hadn’t realized was how much the rest of the band would follow suit. Guitarist Roland cut a few classic moves of his own, bassist Nick seemed to be in charge of thanking the crowd — which was considerable even for the first act — and even drummer Paul got in on the action with some great faces from behind the kit and a readiness at a moment’s notice to stand up and engage the audience.
They were a lot of fun to watch, and not that I anticipated they’d be boring, but I liked them more than I thought I would like them. They closed out with a cut from Carnal Altar(I want to say it was “Four Walls of Solitude,” but because of the feedback and rumble it was hard to hear Gaz between songs and I’m not 100 percent), and that was met with a duly riotous response — headbanging, fist-pumping, that thing doom dudes do where they put their hands over their heads to clap and sort of sway side to side in a stepping half-circle. Well earned on Serpent Venom‘s part. They were easily the doomliest band on the bill, but in their element nonetheless, and with the complex rhythms of some of their new riffs, starts and stops and off-time interplay between the drums and guitar, their next album will for sure capture some attention.
Camden was the 12th stop on Elder and Pet the Preacher‘s 15-date European tour, so getting to the venue aside, things were locked in for both bands. Pet the Preacher had played a set down the street from the 013 at Roadburn, but as I was committed elsewhere, I didn’t get to see it. All the more reason to get to The Black Heart and see the Danish threesome bust out their Euro bottom-end heavy stoner riffs. It was an immediate turn sonically from Serpent Venom, but the consistent factor was an underlying appreciation for the heavy, and Pet the Preacher had me asking at the end of the set if I could buy a CD. They too played some new stuff — three out of the four on their setlist (which was scribbled on a torn off piece of a Red Stripe box) don’t appear either on 2012′s The Banjo debut full-length or the preceding Meet the CreatureEP — and only “Into a Darken Night” appears on the first release.
Unquestionably, the highlight of the rest was set finale “What Now,” which featured the simple-but-speaking-volumes Q&A chorus, “What now/Fuck it,” atop a lumbering stoner riff that seemed out of the Euro heavy playbook but was still well placed and put to more than solid use. I could feel myself starting to pre-second-wind drag before they were done, but a shot of adrenaline from Elder was just the thing to revitalize.
Now, it had only been two days since I saw them tear a hole through a packed-out Het Patronaat at Roadburn, so yeah, I knew what was coming, but how awesome to watch Elder deliver the same kind of energy to 200 people in Camden as to 1,000 in Tilburg. The setlist was mostly the same — “Gemini,” “Release,” “Spires Burn,” “Dead Roots Stirring,” “Riddle of Steel,” and “The End” — but the real highlight was seeing how tight the band had become after 11 days on the road. They were in good spirits throughout, and their insistent, circular grooves were met with vigorous enthusiasm, bassist Jack Donovan‘s volume shaking the wooden floor of the place while guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo‘s lead notes cut through the tonal assault and drummer Matt Couto provided both sonic punctuation and the addition of his cymbals to the already consuming wash of glorious heavy psychedelic volume.
“The End,” which is a later track from 2011′s Dead Roots Stirring(review here), made for an especially righteous ending. I don’t think I’d pick it over “Dead Roots Stirring” or “Spires Burn” as the best thing they played, but DiSalvo’s leads and the Colour Haze-inspired apex of it was striking all the same, and when they kicked into the final progression, the rush of that riff, it clearly earned its place as the sendoff. Because they were late, their set had to be cut short to meet an 11PM curfew, and that was a bummer, but The Black Heart has neighbors and it was a Monday night, so it’s certainly understandable. When it came to seeing Elder, I think the audience was happy to get what they got. I know I certainly was.
Extra pics after the jump. Thanks to you for reading and to Reece Tee for making me feel at home a long way from it.
Looking up at the Cathedral at St Albans, it was pretty easy to understand why doom was invented here. The building, massive and begun about a millennium ago, is as ornate as it is elaborate as it is definitely-letting-you-know-who’s-in-charge-of-this-here. Mix something like that in with some inherited post-WWII trauma (I have a whole theory about how World War I was the end of the world; ask me about it sometime and then interrupt before I finish), driving blues rock, industrial/working class Birmingham malaise, twisted psychedelia, and you’re good to go. Every now and again something just clicks into place in my brain.
I got into St Albans on Tuesday night after the train to London. ChrisWest,drummer of Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight and now guitarist for Groan as well (both bands play Desertfest this weekend), was kind enough to meet me at the Kings Cross St Pancras station, which resulted in a few anxious minutes until we ran into each other — I had been outside, back in, downstairs, upstairs, whathaveyou looking for the statue where we were supposed to wind up, and we went into Camden to catch Elder, Pet the Preacher and Serpent Venom at The Black Heart. Review forthcoming on that, but afterwards, it was back to St Albans, where most of yesterday after sleeping late was dedicated to checking out the area and chatting in a variety of pubs.
The cathedral is a sight to see, old crypts dating back centuries and still basically saying, “Yeah, this guy was alright. We liked him well enough,” but even the pubs have more history to them than the country I call home. One had a sign up that it was rebuilt “After the flood of 1599.” Oh yeah.Thatflood.
A walk through Verulamium Park — which in the States would be a golf course not in the slightest dedicated to public use — had me run into a bird that looked like a hybrid pigeon and chicken that I not surprisingly dubbed the chicken-pigeon, finally giving me a reason for the distinction of saying pigeon pigeon twice, as I often do. So now it’s “‘Pigeon pigeon,’ as opposed to what?” “Well, as opposed to chicken-pigeons.” Those conversations, incidentally, never happen.
We hit a couple pubs and I sampled the local tap water whilst digging on the low ceilings and townie vibes, wood beams, dogs sharing benches with people, the whole thing. Chris happens to be an exceedingly good dude, and though I was kind of run down post-Roadburn, it was a great time to see the town and get a feel for something that wasn’t the big city in London. I ended up watching the whole first series of the tv show Big Train, which I can now safely recommend to anyone who enjoys the Python tradition and may not yet have seen it.
Early this afternoon, following a bangers and mash lunch that was just what I was looking for, I and Big Blue made our way to the St Albans city station and headed to Kings Cross St Pancras and then Camden Town, winding up on the Northern line of the Tube for the last of it after taking what I guess is the normal commuter train. It wasn’t an overly long trip, but I patted myself on the back for being able to do it without asking anyone where I was supposed to be. I walked from the Camden Tube station to the hotel here to basically catch up on writing and crash out for the rest of the day.
I may or may not see if I can head over to Music and Video Exchange, but probably not before a nap, given the fact that I’m currently typing with my eyes closed. I can hear the murmur of conversations and laughs coming up from the cafes below, and for just right now, that’s really all the reminder of the world outside that I’m looking for. Big things coming up over the next couple days — by the time I get to Heathrow on Monday, I will have seen Dozer, and by that I mean “life complete” — so it’s worth my time to regroup, and that’s just what I intend to do.
Posted in Features on April 22nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
04.22.13 – 16.17 Euro Time – Monday – Eurostar Train to London
My only goal for today was to get from Tilburg to London. This meant up at nine to shower, finish packing and roll out of the Mercure – another fond farewell – walk down the street to the train station, catch the 10.24 train bound for Utrecht Centraal, change at Den Bosch, keep on to Amsterdam Centraal, catch a Thaly’s train to Brussels and then get on the Eurostar to London. I’m not there yet, but it seems I’ve been successful in this barring disaster from here on out. For what it’s worth, I’m way less concerned about twisted metal impalement than I am about sky-explody-fireball, which is part of why I’m taking the train in the first place.
The other reason is that my past experience with the Eurostar was nothing but pleasant, and so comparing that to any flight I’ve ever taken in my life – I wouldn’t go as far as to call even the best of them “pleasant” – it was an easy enough choice to make. I’m pretty sure the route I took from Tilburg to the Eurostar wasn’t the most efficient, but familiar names help. I’ve never been much for cartography.
While on that train, I met Joe Hall from British instrumental post-metallers Wiht, totally by random, and had a good chat as he was on his way back to Leeds. Aside from having seen them at Desertfest last year, we also had the same watch (Casio F-91W — accept no substitutes), so there was much to discuss. We walked to the Eurostar terminal at Brussels Midi together, but where his UK passport got immediately stamped and he was sent on his way, I was detained by the officer for a pretty extensive line of questioning. Where are you going, what are you doing there, how long, where are you staying, do you have friends, who are your friends, what do you do for a living, what do your friends do for a living, I don’t believe you, I think you want to come and stay in the UK, I think you’re lying to me, when are you leaving, show me your flight confirmation (which I didn’t have – huge help that was), and so on. Finally I got my, “I’m gonna let you go,” which was marvelous because I hadn’t realized I’d been detained. He told me in which direction to fuck off and I made it to the train a couple minutes before departure. Hall, who was being polite and waited for as long as he could, had split. He’s somewhere on the train, presumably. Nice to meet you, man. Hope you got home safe.
In London, I’ll meet Chris from Trippy Wicked at the Kings Cross St. Pancras station and go to see Elder in Camden tonight at The Black Heart, which is also one of the Desertfest venues for this weekend. That’ll be good. I’m still kind of keyed up after talking to the customs agent – my inner smartass came out at first and I had to work really hard not to be a complete prick, which of course would have gotten me nowhere except stuck in Belgium for an indeterminate amount of time. Hardly a fate worse than death, but not where I’m trying to be at the moment. I put on some Kyuss and then Mars Red Sky’s new EP (it’s France and I couldn’t resist) to get my head right, slow my breathing. I was really glad I had my old passport to show the guy I’d actually been to the UK twice before, though on some level it’s nice to know that despite being old, married, fat and balding, I can still look dangerous to somebody. If I had a fucking nickel for every, “I’m gonna let you go,” I’ve heard when there’s no reason for me to have been stopped in the first place. Yeah homie, search my baggage. Do it. Prepare to be bored.
Rolling through France on the train and it’s beautiful, so no complaints. Everything up to this point has worked out. I have no reason to think it will not continue to work out from here.
Posted in Reviews on April 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’m not about to take credit or anything, but last year, when London-based trio Stubb posted a homemade video for the track “Under a Spell,” I said I thought the song, originally recorded for but left off of their 2012 self-titled debut (review here), was good enough to warrant release as a single. It had been included on a Ripple Music compilation, which was how it initially got out, but it seemed to me that with a Kozik-style cover and a track to pair with, “Under a Spell” would be more than able to hold its own on a 7″. Lo and behold, the band actually made it happen, teaming “Under a Spell” with new song “Bullets Rain (From the Angry Sky)” as a B-side for a Stone Stallion Rex Records release, limited to 300 copies press to blue vinyl. Again, I’m not taking credit, but it was cool at least to see that Stubb – comprised at the time of guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson, bassist/backing vocalist Peter Holland and drummer Christopher West (who’s since been replaced by Tom Fyfe) — also thought enough of the song to make Under a Spellhappen in such a manner. One more time, not taking credit.
That being the case, and in light of my ongoing affections for Stubb‘s self-titled and these dudes in general — and in the case of Holland and West, for their other band Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight — I feel like it’s worth pointing out that when it comes to Under a Spell, likely any rock you might want to throw in any direction you might want to throw it is likely to hit a more impartial reviewer than I am, but with that disclaimer, I’ll also say that both “Under a Spell” and “Bullets Rain (From the Angry Sky)” actually have the songwriting to back up their fuzzy vibes. To wit, the single’s eponymous chorus emerges out of a moodier feel than most of what made up the self-titled and is grandiose without being pompous and a payoff for the tension created through the guest Hammond of Nick Siepmann during the verse. With cuts like “Hard Hearted Woman,” “Road” and “Scale the Mountain,” the self-titled showed Dickinson‘s penchant for helming a memorable hook, but Under a Spell shows Stubb also can change to a darker vibe if need be while still keeping tonally consistent with the fuzz of the record. “Under a Spell” and “Bullets Rain (From the Angry Sky)” both center around darker lyrical themes, but the strength of structure remains and, as ever, it’s the riffs driving the two cuts forward.
The organ on “Under a Spell” is an immediate identifier, but it’s not the only one, as the song starts off with a quiet, contemplative guitar line, complemented by Holland‘s fills on bass and West‘s ride cymbal before shifting, at 1:20, into its driving central progression — heavier, thicker, meaner. Dickinson‘s lyrics are a classic rocker’s tale of betrayal, the opening lines, “You and me, man/We are not the same,” being all the more resonant for their simplicity. Siepmann (who also recorded these tracks while Tony Reed mixed and mastered) is present throughout the bridges but takes a backseat to the guitar, bass and drums during the verses and chorus, returning for the instrumental push that ends the song after being introduced on guitar before the four-minute mark. Dickinson and Holland work especially well together in the solo section, and Holland‘s time in Trippy Wicked with West isn’t lost in their fluidity of groove in the final slowdown, Dickinson letting himself get lost in a fuzzy lead while the bass and drums slow to lock in a final groove. On the flip side, “Bullets Rain (From the Angry Sky) is both more immediate and longer, reaching to 6:37, which makes it longer than everything on the self-titled save for the jamming closer — the same could be said of “Under a Spell” at 5:19, but only by a few seconds.
Holland joins Dickinson in the chorus each time in a call and response, and there are several points where Stubb seem to all come together around the central idea, one hitting after the next particularly in the post-chorus second half solo section. There are Sabbathian moments on guitar, but despite its grim imagery, “Bullets Rain (From the Angry Sky)” is all movement and little doomed, even as the bass takes the fore past five minutes in and introduces the final section of the track, vocal hooting matching Dickinson‘s leads for a few measures before he launches into a run that would likely make that impossible to finish up. A long ringout and some fading noise takes care of the remaining 30 seconds or so, and Stubb come out of Under a Spell smiling through the dirt they’ve kicked up along the way. For anyone who heard the self-titled, these two tracks make a sound follow-up and something of a collector’s piece as well, but most importantly, they offer a shift in atmosphere even from what the twanging “Crying River” brought to the full-length’s otherwise forward fuzz, perhaps indicating that Stubb‘s next outing will be a much different affair. Whether or not that’s the case, I feel the same way about Under a Spell as I did the first time I saw the video: It’s more than strong enough to stand on its own. Very cool release, and one for which I’m absolutely not going to take any credit.
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 11th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Well, it’s a bummer Dutch fuzzonauts The Machine won’t be making the trip to London this year for Desertfest — and not just because it means I won’t get to pick up a copy of their split with Sungrazer in-person — but at least there’s the consolation of knowing Finnish acid folk ritualists Hexvessel are stepping in to fill the vacant slot. The announcement came through earlier today, and if you haven’t yet had the chance to catch wind of Hexvessel‘s No Holier Temple, it’s definitely worth some investigation. A video for the track “His Portal Tomb” is also included below, courtesy of the Desertfest London website:
Hexvessel Set Controls for Desertfest
Here at DesertFest HQ, we’ve got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that Dutch psych jammers The Machine have unfortunately had to pull out of their performance at DesertFest 2013. The good news is that we’re extremely chuffed to announce Finnish doom-folk experimentalists Hexvessel as their replacement!
Hexvessel are a six, sometimes seven, piece band from the Helsinki and Tampere areas. Formed by English musician Mat ‘Kvohst’ McNerney, who recruited several well-established comrades from the likes of Dark Buddha Rising and Galacticka, they set about to realise the frontman’s vision of setting ‘60s and ‘70s acid rock into a mould of puritanical Scandinavian mysticism. The band’s two albums to date, the occultist 2011 debut ‘Dawnbearer’ and the 2012 underground phenomenon ‘No Holier Temple’, have established this psychedelic, transcendental act as one of the great folk-rock forces in world music.
By fusing atmospheric vocals with guitars which abandon all aggression, yet retain the heavily weighted vibes of Amon Düül, The Beatles and Pink Floyd, and throwing non-electric instruments like trumpet and violin into the mix, Hexvessel capture a primitive form of rich enchantment very few can match. Lyrically, McNerney repeatedly approaches themes surrounding the preservation of Finland’s natural woodlands, terrains and forestry, and it’s the understanding of this environmental ethos alongside an esoteric outlook on the darker sides of rock music which holds the key to understanding his band’s inner beauty.
Make sure you’re on the right side of the hex this year at DesertFest 2013, and join us to witness these acid-fried sorcerers perform their magic on a dark Friday night in Camden Town.
Posted in Features on April 11th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
In 2011, London-based doomers Pombagira released an album called Iconoclast Dream. It was comprised of a single, 42-minute track, but really, they should’ve kept the title in their pocket for the subsequent outing — because as it turns out, the latest, Maleficia Lamiah, is far more subversive. The duo’s fifth LP overall, it answers the question of what comes after that single-song record, what you could possibly do after you’ve already pushed your sound as far is it can go? It’s an issue Ufomammut tackled with last year’s Orotwo-parter, and their answer was to keep getting bigger, to release one album as two. For Pombagira, it wasn’t going to be that easy.
The two-piece of guitarist/vocalist Pete Giles and drummer Carolyn Hamilton-Giles would keep working in extended tracks — Maleficia Lamiahhas two, its title cut and the subsequent “Grave Cardinal” — but for the latest recording, they adopted a far more psychedelic context for the sound. It’s not a complete reinvention, but for the first time in a career that goes as far back as when he played in Azagthoth with Napalm Death‘s Shane Embury in 1987, Pete uses clean singing on the songs, and the material as a result calls back to early psychedelic influences that Pombagira has adopted with striking ease as part of their aesthetic, from Maleficia Lamiah‘s deep-toned artwork to their promotional photos for the album, taken by Vic Singh, who also shot the cover of Pink Floyd‘s debut, The Piper at the Gates ofDawn,in 1967.
And not only does Pete sing clean, but he works in an eerie falsetto depending on which of the album’s movements it seems to fit. The song “Maleficia Lamiah” sprawls its just-under-19-minutes in varied movements, Carolyn‘s drums backing bizarro synth and cawing crows in the post-midsection after what’s already been an alternatively driving and stupefying journey through the first half. What Pombagira make clear on Maleficia Lamiahmore than anything is that they’re unwilling to be tied to expectation — even their own — and as the title-track winds up in a tempest swirl resuming the intonation of the name of the record, the only tenet Pete and Carolyn are adhering to is that which they’ve created for themselves.
Given the changes in approach Maleficia Lamiahrepresents, there was as you might imagine a lot to talk about. In the interview that follows, Pete discusses how Maleficia Lamiahcame about followingIconoclast Dream, the band’s reticence toward playing live and how they’re handling the inevitability of bringing the new material to a stage, how the working relationship between the duo has grown over the course of five albums, where he thinks this new direction might lead them and much more.
Please find the complete 3,400-word Q&A after the jump, and please enjoy:
Posted in Reviews on April 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
After debuting in 2010 with the so-rare-it-barely-exists Volume 1 and following it in 2011 with the landmark arrival that was Blood Lust – an album for which one can still hear the hyperbole echoing on the wind if one listens just right – British horror rockers Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats emerge with another round of malevolent fuzz on Mind Control. Though Blood Lust was reissued by Rise Above last year, Mind Control marks the Cambridge four-piece’s debut proper on the label (Metal Blade in the US), and if the response to the advance single “Poison Apple” and the sold-out live debut at London’s The Garage venue are any indication, the monstrous hype that swelled for Blood Lust is primed to take hold again for the new collection, which is longer at nine tracks/50 minutes than the second album. More importantly than the visceral nature of the blind praise it’s almost predestined to receive, Mind Control showcases some distinct changes in Uncle Acid’s approach, taking their late-‘60s garage fuzz to far-out psychedelic ranges while also balancing those influences with the strong pop sensibilities that came to fruition the last time out, so that a song like the later “Valley of the Dolls” is languid, fuzzed mellotron’ed and meandering – also doomed – but still proffering one of Mind Control’s strongest hooks. While one of the most distinct aspects of the band’s sound two years ago was their ability to capture a classic horror aesthetic in their songwriting, Mind Control is less tied to that single idea specifically, and though it doesn’t want for foreboding atmosphere or an underlying sense of ill intentions, the impression is delivered through what’s at times a strikingly sweet package. To wit, “Follow the Leader,” which owes more to The Beatles’ Revolver than to the Hammer House of Horror, or the progressive soloing that arises in the second half of the earlier “Desert Ceremony.” They’re on a different – though no less individualized – trip, still putting the overarching affect of the material at the fore rather an any one member’s performance, but taking the means of their methods to new and more evolved ends.
One of the great strengths of Blood Lust was its use of classic pop structures, and that’s something Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have carried over into Mind Controlas well, though as much as that album transferred verses and choruses into felonies of surgical precision, some of these songs’ best moments are their most drawn out. The opener and one of the longer cuts, “Mt. Abraxas” (7:09), hints at some of the psychedelia that comes up later in the closing trio, but really does most of its work in heralding the tonal consistency with the band’s prior outings while also showcasing the uptick in production value accomplished through working with Jim Spencer at Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire, showing also in its midsection just how much of Uncle Acid’s tonality – fast becoming their signature – is owed to circa-1974 Black Sabbath, the guitars taking on classic Iommi layered interplay between lead and rhythm lines. I was left wondering though why the song had been chosen to lead off Mind Control until the crashes and slowdown after the 4:30 mark that leads the way instrumentally through the remainder of the track, which hone directly in on Uncle Acid’s psychotic cabaret stomp and give the record one of its most lasting grooves, duly ridden. Perhaps also “Mt. Abraxas” is meant to signal a departure from the form of Blood Lust, since it functions not so much as a direct chorus hook as did that album’s launch, “I’ll Cut You Down,” but instead as more of a lead-in to the rest of this album as a whole, the pace picking up with the ensuing “Mind Crawler.” With a synth line buried beneath the guitars, bass and drums to offer a sense of urgency fitting the more upbeat tempo, “Mind Crawler” is both a strong hook and an immediate contrast to the opener, finding companionship shortly with the more metallic “Evil Love” in a quicker rush that builds to a stop in the second half before repetitions of the title at the end give it a second chorus as much as an outro. The swaggering jaunt of “Poison Apple” follows, its initial verse following a simple pattern of proclamations rounding out with the lines, “Don’t you worry baby, you’re safe with me/I’m the poison apple in your tree.” From there, it’s riffy groove, spiders in the brains, infections and a host of other threatening images to go with one of Mind Control’s best basslines and a toe-tapping rhythm. The vocals, almost always delivered by more than one member of the band at once, are rarely at the fore, but present enough in the mix to carry across the hook of “Poison Apple” well, setting up the more spacious “Desert Ceremony,” which takes some of the Sabbathisms that showed up in “Mt. Abraxas” and makes them the core of the progression.
One can look at Mind Control as functioning on a couple different levels. Cuts like “Mt. Abraxas,” “Follow the Leader,” “Valley of the Dolls” and “Devil’s Work” are longer, and particularly in the case of the last three, working in more psychedelic realms, where “Mind Crawler,” “Poison Apple,” “Evil Love” and “Death Valley Blues” keep a more straightforward – structurally – feel, the latter nonetheless providing transition atmospherically into the rest of side B’s freakout. At very least I’d argue that’s the case, and if so, “Desert Ceremony” is where the two sides of Uncle Acid’s sound meet and get down on some drawn-out lysergics while smoothly shifting into some of the album’s most satisfying riffing, the guitars harmonizing here and there and setting a table for the end of the first half that arrives with “Evil Love.” Classic proto-NWOBHM chugging – more biker movie than otherworldly horror creep, but well done – shows up in the chorus, but the sound is stripped of the lushness that “Desert Ceremony” hinted at in its midsection, and that’s the biggest change. The momentum already established by the time “Poison Apple” ends carries through “Desert Ceremony” to “Evil Love,” so that the shift back to a faster tempo isn’t jarring, and the simple chorus of “You need our love/Our evil love/You are dear/To our purpose” (that third line might be something else) showing off the band’s ability to make the most out of near-minimalist lyricism. The song ends cold, marking a distinct break between the first halves of Mind Control even on a linear medium (CD or digital), and “Death Valley Blues” starts with a quiet introduction to its chorus guitar line, establishing a theme with “Desert Ceremony” even as the sweet first verse turns sinister with the heavier guitar that enters for the chorus at full breadth. Its threat made clear, “Death Valley Blues” plays off the I’m-harmless-watch-me-kill-you contrast of the airier pop verse and the vicious chorus, moving after a couple turns through to a near-vaudevillian riff that seems to echo the ending “Mt. Abraxas” even as vocals are introduced over top, the chaos coming to a head as the murderous vibe loses consciousness in its own repetitions, crashing and ringing out to start “Follow the Leader” from a base of total silence.
Posted in Reviews on April 4th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
It’s been five long years since Southampton, UK, doomers Moss debuted on Rise Above Records with their sophomore album, Sub Templum, and though the band issued a couple EPs and the Never Say Live live album since that release, they’ve been silent since 2010 and emerge now with a new outlook on the full-length Horrible Night. Still aligned to Rise Above, the trio of Olly Pearson (vocals), Dominic Finbow (guitar) and Chris Chantler (drums) have shifted away from the deathly influences that typified their many earlier works in favor of cleaner singing and a darkly psychedelic, cultish sprawl. Where Sub Templumwas comprised of four tracks totaling nearly 74 minutes, Horrible Nightis more efficient on the whole, clocking in at just over 54 with six tracks, none of which go much past 11. That’s quite a change from songs like “Gate III: Devils from the Outer Dark,” which closed the prior outing at an insurmountable 35:31, but the bigger shift is in Moss‘ actual aesthetic, which is more atmospheric than in the past and echoing its abysmal feel rather than bludgeoning with volume. In some ways, Horrible Nighthas more in common with latter-day Electric Wizard than did Sub Templum, which was produced by that band’s vocalist, Jus Oborn, but Moss show comparatively little of the same psychotic pop fascination. Songs here like “Dark Lady” and opener “Horrible Nights” have choruses that are memorable and engaging as much as this kind of feedback-drenched morass can be or wants to be, but they’re never rushing to get to them. Or to anywhere else, for that matter.
That’s one factor that Moss have kept consistent with their prior output — they are slow. Moss take ultra-thick plod and let it ride for however long they feel it needs to, and while one could easily consider Horrible Nightan overall more manageable or accessible record than its predecessor, it’s hardly a comfortable listen. Weary, sluggish groove pervades the verse of “Horrible Nights” (note the ‘S’ at the end, where the title of the album is singular) as Pearson tops Finbow‘s guitar with Sabbathian lines, buried deep but still cutting through the mix, caked in reverb. I suppose compared to some of what Moss has done, this is fast, but put to the scale of most anything else, its lurching still qualifies as extreme — and it’s also probably the most accessible moment of the record — even as it moves into wailing guitar leads and malevolent screams in the second half, feedback setting a bed for chaos reminiscent of early The Wounded Kings at their bleakest or the first Cough full-length. If I’m comparing Moss, who’ve been around for over a decade, to bands getting their start, it’s because they essentially are. Horrible Nightcovers new ground for them, and even if on paper, their latest work shares elements they’ve used in the past, the reality of the situation makes for a much, much different listen, “Horrible Nights” even going so far as to return to its verse at the end, giving the second half’s chaos a sense of purpose and symmetry as the fadeout leads to the beginning of “The Bleeding Years,” even slower and more ill-meaning.