Review & Track Premiere: Alunah, Violet Hour

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on September 11th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

alunah violet hour

[Click play above to stream ‘Hunt’ by Alunah, from Violet Hour out Oct. 11 on Heavy Psych Sounds. Bassist Dan Durchmore says of the track, “During the writing process, it became clear that different dynamics were emerging. ‘Hunt’ is built on our earlier style, but becomes its own entity as the song unfolds. Some of us consider this a favourite to play, so it feels right to let it loose ahead of the album release.”]

The tumult of a few chaotic years of reorganization brings UK doom rockers Alunah to a new place with Violet Hour, their fifth full-length. It’s also their first for Heavy Psych Sounds after issuing 2017’s Solennial (review here) on Svart,  2014’s Awakening the Forest (review here) through Napalm, 2012’s White Hoarhound (review here) on PsycheDOOMelic (then Napalm, then PRC Music) and 2010’s Call of Avernus (review here) on Catacomb, but really, the fact that each one of their records has come out through a different label is the least of it. Just months past the release of SolennialAlunah bid farewell to founding vocalist/guitarist Sophie Day in Sept. 2017, announcing little more than a month later that Siân Greenaway had taken on the role of lead singer. Founding guitarist David Day remained in the band alongside bassist Dan Burchmore and drummer Jake Mason — also an original member — through last year’s Amber & Gold EP (review here) that was the studio introduction to some of the sonic shifts taking place in the band, but earlier in 2019, David Day followed Sophie‘s lead in splitting from the band he helped form, and guitarist Dean Ashton was brought in to fill the role.

So Ashton, who has also handled bass for NWOBHM legends Diamond Head since 2016, is the newest member of Alunah, but apart from Mason, who’s been drumming since the start, in 2006, the longest-tenured member is Burchmore, who joined in 2013. Six years isn’t nothing, and certainly the rhythmic fluidity of the eight-track/42-minute Violet Hour has plenty to say in arguing for the development of the dynamic there, but to trade out your guitarist(s) and vocalist in a riff-led band over the span of two years and still turnaround with an EP and album feels somewhat miraculous. Either Alunah — whose sound has always locked into a relatively laid back groove, marked by some shuffle here and there, but mostly comfortable in a thickened doom roll topped with righteous melody — thrive on this chaos, or it’s been an incredibly stressful time.

And though there are some ways in which Violet Hour feels like a second debut from what’s essentially a new band — Call of Avernus also followed a test-the-waters EP, way back when — a striking amount of the approach remains in accord with their past work. No doubt production from Chris Fielding at Foel Studio has a hand in that as well. Greenaway demonstrated her craft and charisma on Amber & Gold, and whether it’s the outwardly sexualized “Trapped and Bound” or “Hunt,” the ultra-catchy “Hypnotised” or the more doomed “Unholy Disease,” the personality of her work here is both malleable to the mood of the groove behind her and of a steady, engaging melodic quality. As both sides of the album feature four songs with two shorter-ish cuts leading into two longer-ish ones, there is a sense amid all the circumstantial fluster in which the album arrives that there’s still an overarching plan at work, and that goes a long way toward letting the listener relax and take Violet Hour on its own merits, which of course is how it’s best heard.

alunah

After the EP, it’s less of a surprise that Alunah have moved away from some of the nature-worship that previously defined their lyrical themes, but “Dance of Deceit,” the penultimate “Velvet,” the closer “Lake of Fire” and “Hunt” still have an organic sensibility to how they play out, and though “Trapped and Bound” provides an almost jarring push at the outset, as the entirety of side A seems devoted to trickery and dark seduction between that launch, “Dance of Deceit,” “Hunt” and “Hypnotised,” the energy with which Alunah carry across the material only bolsters the notion of Violet Hour as a new full-length debut from what’s essentially a new band. The advantage they have, however, is a clear sense of direction and an immediately apparent awareness of who they want to be and what they want to convey as a group, which even as they build chemistry together in this new form over time, is only an advantage for them.

Is it fair to judge Violet Hour by the standard of Alunah‘s other offerings? Probably. They did keep the name. But what Violet Hour does in relation to, say, Solennial, isn’t so radically different from what that album did coming off of Awakening the Forest. It builds on what came before and progresses toward new ideas and new manifestations of a high quality songwriting process that, speaking as one who’s been a fan of the band for some time, is thankfully still intact despite the changes in personnel, as “Hypnotised,” the side-B-leadoff title-track and “Lake of Fire” can easily testify. The lushness of Greenaway‘s layered harmony arrangements bodes well for future ongoing progression — more of that would only be welcome — and though Ashton has been in the band a mere matter of months, his contributions of harder-edged tone and lead work mesh well with the long-since established coherence between Burchmore and Mason.

Violet Hour may have arisen through a turbulent stretch for them, but the songs stand true and want for nothing either in aesthetic or performance. Perhaps tellingly, as “Unholy Disease” takes off in its second half, the band seem particularly steady locked into that faster stretch, but there’s much to be said for the slow-rolling payoff in the hook for “Lake of Fire” as well, so if the band are growing, that’s the most consistent thing they could possibly do. That’s what Alunah have always done. One has learned the hard way over the years not to attempt prediction of what their situation might be in the future, but Violet Hour is a bold stride, and an album rife with character, melody, heft and impact. No doubt there will be those who write it off because of the lineup changes — that’s just the way it always goes with this kind of thing — but it’s their loss in the end, and easy to imagine fresh ears catching on as well. Fair enough, as Alunah set a whole new high standard from which to work as they continue forward, which one hopes — without predicting how it might happen — that they do.

Alunah, Violet Hour (2019)

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Technical Ecstasy

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Technical Ecstasy (1976)

 

Alright, let’s do this. Let’s talk about Technical Ecstasy. In a world where the saying goes, “you can only trust yourself and the first six Black Sabbath albums,” it’s the seventh. Widely regarded as the nadir of the doom forebears’ original lineup, including by the band itself, it was released in 1976 through Vertigo Records and there’s no question it was a departure from their prior work. That’s been blamed on a number of sources, whether it’s commercial or indeed more technical aspirations in the songwriting, but most centers around the fact that production was handled by guitarist Tony Iommi on the part of the full band. But really, even on paper it was kind of a recipe for disaster. They were a bunch of coked-out rockstars recording in Miami in 1976. That’s not an album. That’s a movie.

But history has been awfully kind to Iommi, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward. Let’s remember that it was their late-’90s reunion tour that solidified their singular place in the pantheon of heavy metal, a comeback that followed an era of confused recordings like 1995’s Forbidden (discussed here) as the band tried to fit a modern context a quarter-century after getting their start. The truth is Technical Ecstasy does have some elements that show the band wanting to move forward from the prior darkened sound that would eventually become their legacy. The penultimate “She’s Gone” is based around acoustic guitar and a string arrangement in a way that feels grown out of “Fluff” from 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and presages some of the more grandiose sonic reaching of the Ronnie James Dio-fronted era that began in 1980.

At the same time, Technical Ecstasy wasn’t without an edge. I won’t attempt to defend the ultra-sleazed-out lyric of closer “Dirty Women,” but the song had a riffy crunch that fit with what the band had done a year earlier on Sabotage and though opener “Back Street Kids” reaffirms a working class origin that the band had readily given up in favor of fame and fortune, its drive was also a foreshadow of what the band would do on cuts like “Neon Knights” or “Turn up the Night” in their second iteration, or even on the title-track of the subsequent 1978 LP, Never Say Die! — a barnburner to lead-off. Experimentation with keyboard prominence in “You Won’t Change Me” came coupled with some fair tonal heft and a suitable vocal performance from Osbourne, whose voice was continuing to take on the affect it would further develop in his solo work also beginning in 1980, and a concluding solo that could please even a discriminating Iommi fan.

It was the album’s attempts at commerciality that came up lame. “It’s Alright” put Ward on vocals, and he handled it ably, black_sabbath_technical_ecstasy_retail_cd-frontmoving into a falsetto series of “oohs” to complement the McCartney-esque piano bounce of the initial verse before Iommi‘s out-of-nowhere sweeping solo. But for a band who made their name with raw impact, it was too stark a contrast for many. I won’t take away from the honky-tonk piano line of the later “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor” or the riff that accompanies, but the track sounded like the work of a band running on empty, and after “Gypsy” and the rolling groove and highlight bassline of “All Moving Parts (Stand Still),” it just seemed like Sabbath had run out of things to talk about. “She’s Gone” and “Dirty Women” would do nothing to dispel that notion in closing out the record.

That left “Gypsy” and “All Moving Parts (Stand Still)” as highlights one way or the other. They moved Sabbath‘s sound forward from Sabotage and introduced a more lush sense of melody (“Gypsy”) and were able to toy with structure in interesting ways. I’d put “You Won’t Change Me” in that category as well, despite its lyrical redundancy to the opener and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor.” It had only been five years since the band went “Into the Void” on Master of Reality (discussed here), but Black Sabbath were a different group than they were in 1971, in concept if not yet in personnel, and Technical Ecstasy represented the turmoil that was beginning to take hold that would ultimately result in the ouster of Osbourne and the arrival of Dio following Never Say Die! It was a step along a much longer, broader path.

Does that make it the worst original-lineup Black Sabbath record? Well, something’s bound to be at the bottom, and it certainly isn’t Vol. 4. I wrote a post nearly six years ago about a live version of “Dirty Women” that was so sloppy, raw and high-sounding that it encapsulated for me the crashing-out of Sabbath as a whole, and defenders of the late-Ozzy era rallied to tell me how wrong I was to malign that period of their work. So maybe bad Sabbath is still better than a lot of other things. I have the feeling if the commercial experiment had paid off and “Gypsy” or “It’s Alright” had been huge hits, the band wouldn’t be so quick to write them off, but that’s here or there. And doesn’t change the fact that their most influential work remains across the first six records, if not the first four.

Technical Ecstasy has more than a little contextual appeal. It’s part of the narrative of Black Sabbath, and an important part for what it would lead to and the changes that would come in the band in the years that followed, but on its own, the powerhouse songwriting and performances, the sheer urgency of their earlier work was largely gone. And fair enough as the popular consciousness had largely moved on from early ’70s rock and the NWOBHM had yet to take hold. Technical Ecstasy resides in that somewhat awkward between-place: mature but stoned, classy but sleaze, loud but soft. And while in hindsight one can look back and appreciate the confusion for what it is, how it represents that pivotal time for Black Sabbath as a whole, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the record you reach for when you want to listen to them. But hey, every now and then, you could certainly do much worse.

And seriously, how great would the movie about recording it be?

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

My alarm was set for 4:30 this morning. I was giving myself a break since I got in late from the Crowbar/Lo-Pan show last night and didn’t get to sleep at 8PM as I otherwise might. Lose like four hours, gain a half-hour back. Whatever. I woke up at 3:50AM and that was it. Blew that plan like a vacuum tube.

Worth it though. Show was low key, but the bands sounded good and I was glad I went, not the least for having bought a Hawaiian shirt from Lo-Pan. Best $25 I spent all week.

Next week is packed, so let’s do notes:

MON: Horseburner track premiere; Weird Owl track premiere.
TUE: Ghost: Hello track premiere; Rancho Bizarro video premiere; Holy Grove mixtape.
WED: Hound the Wolves/Glasghote stream; Gurt video premiere.
THU: Warcrab track premiere.
FRI: Oblivion Reptilian review.

Busy busy busy.

This week has been much the same, I guess. Couple six-post days in there. I’m still pretty surprised about Des leaving High on Fire and interested to hear how they sound with someone else in that spot. Everyone on the West Coast seems to give the new guy a rousing endorsement, so either he’s a beast or just a generally awesome person or maybe both. Both would be nice in a good-for-him kind of way, but if he’s a prick and can drum, well, it’s not like I’ll have to hang out with him. Low stakes for me, is what I’m saying.

This weekend, yeah, I don’t know what’s up. I think I’ll try and take tomorrow and not to Obelisk stuff at all. We’ve got a lot going on with getting this house ready to receive the rest of our crap from Massachusetts — including like 35 boxes of CDs that allegedly are going to go somewhere other than a storage unit — so yeah. Having a toddler pull ladders down on himself does not make that process any easier, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to find out.

Dude was like CRASH and then lost his mind for like a minute and then was fine. Two black eyes and a bloody nose this week. Oy.

He’s gonna be one of those kids who breaks his arm falling off the roof. When he’s four.

No Gimme Radio show this week, but thanks for asking. I’ll get a playlist together for the next one though, so if you’re not tired of me being like, “Duh, songs,” there will be plenty more opportunity for that.

Until then, I wish you a great and safe weekend. Thanks again for reading. Have fun, be safe, live long, prosper, all that silly whatnot.

Forum, merch and radio.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

The Obelisk shirts & hoodies

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Opium Lord Sign to Sludgelord Records; Vore Coming Soon

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 27th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Yeah, that’ll do nicely. You don’t get too much of a sense of what Opium Lord might be up to with Vore from the new teaser clip posted to herald the album’s coming-soon status, but even the fuckall violent atmospheric threat is sitting pretty nicely as far as I’m concerned. File under “current mood.” The Birmingham-based five-piece will release the album later this year through Sludgelord Records following behind a 2016 split with Churchburn — any band that would dare stand up to that kind of aural hatefest must be onto something — and their 2015 debut, The Calendrical Cycle: Eye of Earth, which was issued by Candlelight amid some apparent discontent, as well as an initial EP the year prior. Seriously, the clip is only a minute long and you can check it out below. Just feel that misery.

No release date yet, but there’s time. We’ll get there. I included the track from the split in the meantime as well, for further digging if you’re so inclined.

Have at it:

opium lord (Photo by Stuart Lee-Tovey)

Opium Lord to Release Vore on Sludgelord Records

Birmingham misery soaked metal band Opium Lord joins Sludgelord Records for the release of their second album.

The band who started life in 2014 on Leeds based record label Thirty Days of Night Records via Candlelight Records and Dry Cough Records will join Sludgelord Records for the release of their 2nd album ‘Vore’ which will be released this year.

With their 1st album ‘The Calendrical Cycle: Eye of Earth’ selling out on Candlelight Records and Dry Cough Records the band now look forward to linking up with Sludgelord Records.

The band said “we are really chuffed to join Sludgelord Records, we obviously follow the magazine side of the label closely and we’ve found some amazing bands through that and we know how passionate they are about our little scene, so we know full well they will work really hard for us.”

“It’s been a tough few years for us and we’ve been a bit irritated with issues that were out of our hands in regards to releasing this album, waiting on people and being a little pissed around but we are just happy we can now move on and get it out so people can hear it, we are really proud of this record.”

Following the success off the back of their debut album it led them to multiple European tours including a North American tour with Primitive Man. Opium Lord also released a split 7” with former Grief and Vital Remains members Churchburn from Rhode Island.

On the forthcoming record ‘Vore’ they added “we worked with our friend Wayne Adams in London at Bear Bites Horse Studio and we are really happy with it, it’s a slight departure from our first record but we think people will get it – we also have a special guest from an artist we all really respect, but I don’t want to spoil who it is just yet.”

The band plan to tour the UK on release of the Vore, details on when the album will be released as follows.

Opium Lord is:
Nathan James Coyle
Adam Beckley
Bruce Goodenough
Luke Fewtrell
Simon Blewitt

https://www.facebook.com/opiumlord/
https://opiumlord.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/SludgelordRecords/
http://instagram.com/sludgelordrecords
https://thesludgelord.bandcamp.com/

Opium Lord, Vore teaser

Opium Lord, “Control”

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Alunah Release Violet Hour Oct. 11; Preorders Available

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 25th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

alunah

We knew this news was coming last week when Alunah were announced as being picked up by Heavy Psych Sounds and the pre-sale date for their next record was given as this past Thursday. Violet Hour is the name of the record and it’ll be out Oct. 11. Preorders are indeed up right at this very moment, and I’m particularly interested to hear what it might sound like as not only will it be the band’s first album with Siân Greenaway on vocals — she also sang on last year’s Amber and Gold EP (review here) — but also with guitarist Dean Ashton, who plays bass in Diamond Head. Essentially they’ve revamped half the band since their last full-length, which is a considerable amount of change. How will that change the atmosphere, dynamic, theme, etc.? Well, the EP was a preview, but I look forward to finding out the real deal upon the album’s arrival, or preferably, before.

PR wire info follows here:

alunah violet hour

Heavy Psych Sounds to start the presale of ALUNAH new album VIOLET HOUR

ALBUM PRESALE: https://www.heavypsychsounds.com/shop.htm#HPS112

USA PRESALE via All That Is Heavy: https://allthatisheavy.com/search?type=product&q=alunah

RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 11th

On the back of last year’s critically acclaimed “Amber & Gold” EP, Alunah return with “Violet Hour”, the new album and first for Heavy Psych Sounds (Brant Bjork, Nebula, Nick Oliveri).

“Violet Hour” sees the energy of Alunah’s dark, doom tinged hard rock being cranked up with the arrival of guitarist Dean Ashton (bass, Diamond Head) alongside the soaring vocals of Sian Greenaway and rhythmic foundation of Dan Burchmore and Jake Mason. Recorded at the historic Welsh Foel Studio and produced by Chris Fielding (Conan, Electric Wizard, Primordial) the 8 tracks on display show the fruits of a productive early 2019 with a searing combination of melodies, riffs and focused writing. From the opening combination of “Trapped & Bound” and “Dance of Deceit” the album pulls the listener in to an ominous world brought to life by artist “Felipe Froeder – Arcano XV” and doesn’t let go until the brooding finale “Lake of Fire”.

With roots dating back to 2006 in “Sabbath City” UK and an evolution that has grown over four previous albums and numerous European tours/festival dates, the momentum now picks up the pace. A UK summer tour with The Obsessed and an appearance at this year’s prestigious Damnation Festival have just been confirmed with further live dates to TBA.

AVAILABLE IN :
40 ULTRA LTD TEST PRESS VINYL
250 LTD ORANGE Trasp. Background SPLATTER in Purple-Black-Blue VINYL
500 LTD PURPLE VINYL
BLACK VINYL
DIGIPAK
DIGITAL

TRACKLIST
Trapped & Bound
Dance of Deceit
Hunt
Hypnotised
Violet Hour
Unholy Disease
Velvet
Lake of Fire

UK tour w/The Obsessed:
17.7 Coventry The Arches
18.7 Glasgow Audio
19.7 Manchester Rebellion
20.7 Bristol Exchange

Alunah is:
Siân Greenaway – Vocals
Dean Ashton – Guitar
Daniel Burchmore – Bass
Jake Mason – Drums

http://www.facebook.com/alunah.doom
http://twitter.com/#!/alunah_doom
http://alunah.bandcamp.com
http://www.alunah.co.uk

Alunah, Amber and Gold (2018)

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Alunah Sign to Heavy Psych Sounds; Finish Recording New Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 17th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

I guess the first hint was when Alunah were confirmed for the Heavy Psych Sounds Fests in Berlin and Dresden, but now we have confirmation that the UK four-piece will release their next full-length through the label as well. Presales start on Thursday, so I expect another press release will follow then with the album title, cover, tracks, release date, and so on — maybe even a track to stream — but for now, the band put out word the other day that they’ve finished the recording process with Chris Fielding at Foel Studio, and the label has passed the news down the PR wire of the pickup, so much joy all around.

Alunah hit the road next month with The Obsessed, and those dates are below as well, along with the stream of their 2018 EP, Amber and Gold (review here).

Have at it:

alunah

Heavy Psych Sounds to announce a NEW BAND signing: UK doom rockers ALUNAH !!!

HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS RECORDS is proud to welcome a new member to their eclectic artist roster and family: UK hard doom rockers ALUNAH have signed a worldwide deal for a brand new album with the Italian cult label !!!

Says the band:

“The first half of this year has been an incredibly positive, creative and productive period for Alunah. We are therefore extremely honoured and excited for the resulting album to be coming out on Heavy Psych Sounds and to join a roster that features such inspirational artists. After a week in the idyllic Welsh countryside, our time at Foel Studio has come to a conclusion. As ever, it was an absolute pleasure to work with Chris Fielding and we are immensely happy with what we have created. Stay tuned for more news!”

NEW ALBUM PRESALE STARTS: JUNE 20th

On the back of last year’s critically acclaimed “Amber & Gold” EP, Alunah return with a brand new album, the first for Heavy Psych Sounds.

With roots dating back to 2006 in “Sabbath City” UK and an evolution that has grown over four previous albums and numerous European tours/festival dates, the momentum now picks up the pace. A UK summer tour with The Obsessed and an appearance at this year’s prestigious Damnation Festival have just been confirmed with further live dates to TBA.

UK tour w/The Obsessed:
17.7 Coventry The Arches
18.7 Glasgow Audio
19.7 Manchester Rebellion
20.7 Bristol Exchange

Alunah is:
Siân Greenaway – Vocals
Dean Ashton – Guitar
Daniel Burchmore – Bass
Jake Mason – Drums

http://www.facebook.com/alunah.doom
http://twitter.com/#!/alunah_doom
http://alunah.bandcamp.com
http://www.alunah.co.uk

Alunah, Amber and Gold (2018)

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Alunah Announce New Guitarist; UK Tour with The Obsessed

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

alunah

Something of a surprise announcement from UK doomers Alunah in that they’ve parted ways with original guitarist David Day and brought in Dean Ashton to fill that role. Of course, one recalls that late in 2017, the Birmingham-based outfit bid farewell to guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day — also a founding member — and subsequently brought aboard Siân Greenaway as a standalone singer making her first appearance on last year’s Amber and Gold EP (review here).

The departure of David Day is one more level of intrigue surrounding what will become of Alunah on aesthetic terms. The EP answered some of the questions how the change on vocalists might play out, but now of course there’s an entirely new level of mystery surrounding the band and what Ashton might bring to the fold.

They’ve got some choice live dates booked to start to answer that question, and reportedly there’s new label news forthcoming as well for their next album.

Here’s what they had to say:

alunah uk shows

Alunah are honoured to confirm we will be joining Doom Rock Pioneers The Obsessed on their July UK tour. These dates, alongside our previously announced appearance at Manor Fest with Orange Goblin, Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons and a very special headline show at Birmingham O2 Academy3, will see us showcase material from our new album to be released later this year.

These upcoming shows will also feature our new guitarist and friend Dean Ashton (current bass player in NWOBHM legends Diamond Head). Some of you will already be aware that David Day left at the turn of the year to concentrate on life outside of the band and we wish him all the best for the future.

Those wishing to see Alunah prior to the above dates will be able to on March 22nd as we have been invited to join A Pale Horse Named Death at the London Islington O2 Academy2. As APHND, Type O Negative & Life Of Agony Famiglia fans this is again something we are very excited about.

Further details on the new Alunah album & label signing will follow shortly. As always, we thank our followers for the continued support and look forward hitting the road with new material once more.

Alunah UK shows:
22.3 London Islington 02 Academy 2 w/ A Pale Horse Named Death
17.5 Birmingham headline show 02 Academy 3
18.5 Bradford Manorfest w/ Orange Goblin

UK tour w/The Obsessed:
17.7 Coventry The Arches
18.7 Glasgow Audio
19.7 Manchester Rebellion
20.7 Bristol Exchange

Alunah is:
Siân Greenaway – Vocals
Dean Ashton – Guitar
Daniel Burchmore – Bass
Jake Mason – Drums

http://www.facebook.com/alunah.doom
http://twitter.com/#!/alunah_doom
http://alunah.bandcamp.com
http://www.alunah.co.uk

Alunah, Amber and Gold (2018)

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Forbidden

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 30th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Forbidden (1995)

Even the most strident of Black Sabbath apologists have a tough time with Forbidden. Tony Iommi himself, who by the time 1995 came around had been at the core of the band as its founding guitarist for over 25 years and was the sole remaining original member, ragged on it pretty hard in his 2011 autobiography, Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath. He went so far as to title the short chapter about it, “The One that Should’ve Been Forbidden,” and to blame the band’s record label at the time, IRS Records, for hooking them up with producer Ernie Cunnigan, aka Ernie C, guitarist of Body Count — who Iommi alleges wasn’t familiar with Black Sabbath at all — in an attempt to regain street cred. And while Iommi acknowledges that if it had worked, he’d probably feel differently about the record, he goes on to describe an unpleasant studio situation with drummer Cozy Powell before shifting into nonsequitor stories about pranks pulled on the subsequent tour. So maybe this is needless to say, but Forbidden isn’t necessarily Black Sabbath‘s finest hour.

To wit, 20 years earlier, the original lineup issued Sabotage as their sixth album in five years, which is a run the impact of which is still rippling outward today. Even the beginnings of the era in which the band was fronted by Tony Martin in 1987’s The Eternal Idol (discussed here) held promise for what the group might still accomplish — or at very least that they’d do right by the legacy they’d already built. Martin‘s tenure in Black Sabbath has the odd distinction of being interrupted when Iommi did a reunion with the band’s second vocalist, Ronnie James Dio, for 1992’s Dehumanizer (discussed here). Already in addition to The Eternal Idol, he’d appeared on 1989’s Headless Cross and 1990’s Tyr, so it was not a case of a one-and-done spot in the band as had been experienced by Glenn Hughes on the would’ve-been-an-Iommi-solo-record Seventh Star in 1986 or even Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan, let alone Ray Gillen and others who’d come and gone in the ’80s. Still, Sabbath‘s left turn was sudden with the Dio reunion — lest we forget that founding bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Vinny Appice also returned at that point and left again, the latter with Dio and the former after the band’s subsequent LP, 1994’s Cross PurposesMartin was back in two years for that album as well, but the next year, ’95, Forbidden would be his final outing with Black Sabbath.

So what happened, and is Forbidden really all that bad? Yes and no. I don’t think anyone is about to argue that its 11-track/47-minute run is a landmark like anything Sabbath in their original incarnation, or when they were fronted by Dio, or even that its held up with age as well as the Gillan-fronted 1983 outing, Born Again (discussed here) — to which history has been particularly kind — but neither is it to be entirely written black sabbath forbiddenoff as Iommi would seem to do in his book. Whatever his conflict in the studio, Powell (who would pass away three years later) gave a rousing performance on songs like “Loser Gets it All,” which closes, and the earlier “Sick and Tired.” Bassist Neil Murray stands in well for Butler and keyboardist Geoff Nichols (R.I.P. 2017) fleshes out Iommi‘s guitar with characteristic melodies that enhance the atmosphere of the record overall. But it was a weird time for metal. The genre had already survived the commercialism of glam and grunge by going underground, but a band like Black Sabbath — so long a major presence both on the touring circuit and in terms of influence — couldn’t really do that. And the idea of “classic metal” that would let Judas Priest and eventually Black Sabbath flourish well into the 2010s didn’t really exist yet. So they were in a position of either trying to keep up with the times or continue to ride a steady decline in wider relevance. Which I guess is how you get Ice-T doing a short spoken word appearance on Forbidden opener “The Illusion of Power.”

It’s hard to begrudge Iommi taking a stab at it, and however much he might disavow Forbidden now, the album does have enduring qualities. The single “Get a Grip” remains catchy with a strong performance from Martin over a trademark later-Iommi riff. Ballads “I Won’t Cry for You” and especially the six-minute “Kiss of Death” tend toward redundancy with other cuts from the Martin era, but still serve the purpose of adding diversity to the album, while “Rusty Angels” finds a kind of midpoint between that style and the grittier push of “Guilty as Hell” and “Sick and Tired,” which form a tandem in the middle of the record — recall it was the mid-’90s, so they would’ve been structuring for CD rather than vinyl — that holds resonant vitality, while the odd, jerky vocal patterning in “Shaking off the Chains” actually hearkens back to Black Sabbath‘s earliest days and the immediately prior “Can’t Get Close Enough” finds Martin doing his best in conjuring Dio‘s swagger and nearly getting there. There are ups and downs, as the title-track is mostly forgettable and “Kiss of Death” plays toward Sabbathian epics while landing well short thereof, but even “The Illusion of Power” stands as a demonstration that the band so often credited with codifying heavy metal was still willing at the time to try to make it do different things. There was precedent for metal/rap crossover, but it was still a risky proposition. I don’t know if it worked or not, but it’s especially bold that that track leads off the record, and for all the purported incongruity, Ernie C‘s production does well in contrasting some of the grandiosity in the band’s sound at that point and bringing them back down to earth. Onto the street. Where the cred happens.

Alright.

Those looking to further mine some positive aspects from Forbidden should also consider the fact that it was the album that led to Iommi‘s 1997 reunion with original vocalist Ozzy OsbourneButler, and original drummer Bill Ward and nearly two decades of touring on and off with Ward in and eventually finally out of the band owing to a contract dispute. Black Sabbath was finally laid to rest last year, but their 2013 studio album, 13 (review here), was widely hailed as a return to their past glories. That proposition, like everything, is debatable, but how could it not have been the flop of Forbidden that was at least in some part responsible for making that reunion happen?

I’ve been working over the course of the last year or so to reconcile myself and really explore what is more typically considered Sabbath‘s darker period in the Martin years. I don’t think I’d put on Forbidden before Headless Cross or Tyr, but neither should it be entirely discounted. It’s emblematic of the time in which it was made, and for 18 years, it stood as the last Black Sabbath studio full-length. That in itself makes it all the more worthy of consideration.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Next week, Quarterly Review. It’s about quarter to 5AM right now, and after I finish this post I’m going to make the banner image and set up the back end for the posts. It’s a double-size deal. 100 records in 10 days, because if you’ll recall, we missed the Fall one owing to that whole I-got-robbed thing.

I have some premieres slated besides that — actually, I just got hit up for a full album stream on Wednesday that I really, really want to do, but a full review aside from 10 shorter ones? oof — for videos and the like, but as it’s still coming together and the point is that it’s the Quarterly Review, you’ll pardon me if I skip the notes. I’ve been doing that more lately. Should I stop doing the notes altogether? Does anyone care? I’m asking, really. If you get a second and have any idea what I’m talking about, please leave a comment.

You may have also noticed the Year-End Poll is up! I’m stoked. Get stoked. Add your list. Tell two friends to add their list, and then have them tell two more friends, and so on. I’d love to see this one really do well. It’s been a hell of a year for music.

And while I’m plugging stuff, this Sunday is a new episode of ‘The Obelisk Show’ on Gimme Radio. I spend the whole episode talking with Mike Cummings from Backwoods Payback, who is awesome. He picks tracks and some of it is pretty out there, so I hope you enjoy. 7PM Eastern on Sunday night. Listen at http://gimmeradio.com.

Ah hell, the baby’s awake. It’s early. I hope he goes back down or this is going to be a rough day. Yesterday — ugh.

If you dig what’s going on with the site, please buy a shirt from Dropout Merch. The sales have slowed down a bit since the start, but as I hate doing merchandise in the first place, I really want to get rid of what’s there so I don’t have to think about it anymore. They’re at http://dropoutmerch.com/the-obelisk.

That’s it for me. I gotta go stare stressfully at the baby monitor and then diaper, feeding, day, etc. Have a great and safe weekend. Thanks for reading and please hit up the forum, radio stream, merchandise, and so on.

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Alunah Premiere Title-Track of New EP Amber & Gold; Limited Release Due Nov. 16

Posted in audiObelisk on October 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

alunah

Having started playing shows together late last year, it only makes sense that UK doom rockers Alunah would want to test the breadth of their new lineup in the studio as well. Thus arrives on Nov. 16 the limited self-release vinyl/digital EP Amber & Gold comprised of an instrumental introduction, two new original songs and a cover of Chris Isaak‘s “Wicked Game” that mark the first recorded appearance of the band with new frontwoman Siân Greenaway at the mic. Both the title-track and “Awn” make for a fitting showcase for Greenaway‘s integration with the lineup of guitarist David Day, bassist Dan Burchmore and drummer Jake Mason, and as the group move past their latest full-length, 2017’s Solennial (review here), they seem poised as well at the precipice of a new era with Greenaway taking the place of former guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day.

It is not a minor replacement. For a decade, Soph was a major factor in Alunah‘s sound and lyrical aesthetic. Greenaway does not shy from the task before her in these tracks. Instead, as the opening “Mångata” builds tension across its two and a half minutes leading into the title-cut, she steps forward and cuts through the chugging riff around her and a lead guitar line with immediate command and melodic presence. Richalunah amber and gold with vibrato and an almost goth sensibility, to some of her semi-spoken verses, she nonetheless suits the rolling groove of the chorus fluidly, and as the song dips into a psychedelic bridge in its second half, she meets the drift head on in a manner that provides a human foundation and cleverly sets the stage for a return to the hook, which, as is Alunah‘s wont, is top grade. “Awn” follows suit with a more patient unfolding and arrangement of layers, with Mason‘s drums assuring the signature bounce of Alunah‘s rhythms is maintained through the verse as Burchmore‘s thickened tone provides familiar warmth and Day peppers in solos for accent between verses.

That Alunah would come out of these two originals sounding so much like Alunah is something of a relief for someone who’s a fan — as I am — but Greenaway makes an impression here as well, and it’s clear the band are looking to expand their sound in multiple directions even as they hold onto some familiar aspects of their approach. About the Chris Isaak cover: Alunah actually aren’t the first heavy band to take on “Wicked Game.” I believe that honor goes to Slow Horse circa 1999, but it well suits the largesse of tone Alunah bring to it, and the brooding vocals take on a sultry tone despite reminding of the kind of atmosphere Type O Negative might bring to such a cover.

As to what Alunah will do next, I haven’t a clue. I didn’t know there was an EP in the works until last week, so obviously I’ve got zilch as regards the inside track. Even so, if Amber & Gold is laying the groundwork for an eventual first full-length with Greenaway in the lineup, they only sound ready for it in these tracks. They have live dates set for the next couple months and presumably more plans for 2019 after that. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds.

Burchmore offered some comment on the EP, and you’ll find other info below, including the preorder link. Right under the player where you can hear the premiere of “Amber & Gold” itself, which it’s my distinct pleasure to host.

Enjoy:

Dan Burchmore on Amber & Gold:

Siân joining the band really opened up the potential for how our sound could change. She already had some idea of the direction her lyrical themes would take us, and that helped when we were constructing the songs. When it came to writing for the EP we wanted to capitalise on that, so when we were in the studio it was important that the different nuances and new energy of the songs could be heard clearly and that Siân was putting her stamp on this new definition of Alunah.

Alunah, Amber & Gold tracklist:
1. Mångata
2. Amber & Gold
3. Awn
4. Wicked Game

Preorder: http://alunah.bandcamp.com/album/amber-gold

Alunah live:
21.10 The Frog and Fiddle Cheltenham UK w/ Diamond Head
27.10 The Angel Microbrewery Nottingham UK
03.11 The Green Room Welwyn Garden City UK
10.11 Doom Over Vienna XIII Vienna AT
17.11 Asylum 2 Birmingham UK*
24.11 Temple of Boom Leeds UK
01.12 Pilgrims Pit Stoke UK
08.12 The Swan Ipswich UK

Alunah is:
Siân Greenaway – Vocals
David Day – Guitar
Daniel Burchmore – Bass
Jake Mason – Drums

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