Quarterly Review: Thou, Liquid Visions, Benthic Realm, Ape Machine, Under, Evil Triplet, Vestjysk Ørken, Dawn of Winter, Pale Heart, Slowbro

Posted in Reviews on December 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

quarterly-review

We meet again! The second week of this amply-proportioned Quarterly Review begins today as we move ever closer toward the inevitable 100-album finish line on Friday. There is an incredible amount of music to get through this week, so I don’t want to delay for too long, but as we look out across the vast stretch of distortion to come, I need to say thank you for reading, and I hope that you’ve been able to find something that’s kicking your ass a little bit in all the right ways so far. If not, well, there are 50 more records on the way for you to give it another shot.

Here goes.

Quarterly Review #51-60:

Thou, Magus

thou magus

How can something be so raw and forward thinking at the same time? Baton Rouge’s Thou might be the band of their generation who’ve added the most to sludge in terms of pushing the style in new directions and shaping genre to their purposes. Magus (on Sacred Bones), their fourth or fifth full-length depending on whom you ask, is an overwhelming 75-minute 2LP of inward and outward destructive force, as heavy in its ambience as in its weight and throat-ripping sonic extremity, and yet somehow is restrained. To listen to the march of “Transcending Dualities,” there’s such a sense of seething happening beneath the surface of that chugging, marching riff, and after its creeping introduction, “In the Kingdom of Meaning” seems intent on beating its own rhythm, as in, with fists, and even a stop-by from frequent guest vocalist Emily McWilliams does little to detract from that impression. Along with Magus, which rightly finishes with the lurching threat of “Supremacy,” Thou have released three EPs and a split this year, so their pace runs in something of a contrast to their tempos, but whether you can keep up or not, Thou continue to press forward in crafting pivotal, essential brutalizations.

Thou website

Sacred Bones Records website

 

Liquid Visions, Hypnotized

Liquid Visions Hypnotized

Sulatron Records‘ pressing of Liquid Visions‘ 2002 debut, Hypnotized, is, of course, a reissue, but also the first time the album has been on vinyl, and it’s not long into opener “State of Mind” or the grunge-gone-classic-psych “Waste” before they earn the platter. Members of the band would go on to participate in acts like Zone Six, Wedge, Electric Moon and Johnson Noise, so it’s easy enough to understand how the band ties into the family tree of underground heavy psych in Berlin, but listening to the glorious mellow-unfolding-into-noise-wash-freakout of 15-minute closer “Paralyzed,” the appeal is less about academics than what the five-piece of vocalists/guitarists H.P. Ringholz (also e-sitar) and Kiryk Drewinski (also organ), bassist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt (also Fender Rhodes and Mellotron), drummer Chris Schwartzkinsky and thereminist Katja Wolff were able to conjure in terms of being both ahead of their time and behind it. As the album moves from its opening shorter tracks to the longer and more expansive later material, it shows its original CD-era linearity, but if an LP reissue is what it takes to get Hypnotized out there again, so be it. I doubt many who hear it will complain.

Liquid Visions on Thee Facebooks

Sulatron Records webstore

 

Benthic Realm, We Will Not Bow

Benthic Realm We Will Not Bow

The second short release from Benthic Realm behind a 2017 self-titled EP (review here) finds the Massachusetts-based trio of guitarist/vocalist Krista van Guilder (ex-Second Grave, ex-Warhorse), bassist Maureen Murphy (ex-Second Grave) and drummer Dan Blomquist (also Conclave) working toward a refined approach bridging the divide between doom and darker, harder hitting metal. They do this with marked fluidity, van Guilder shifting smoothly between melodic clean singing and harsher screams as Murphy and Blomquist demonstrate like-minded ease in turns of pace and aggression. The penultimate semi-title-track “I Will Not Bow” is an instrumental, but “Save us All,” “Thousand Day Rain” and closer “Untethered” — the latter with some Slayer ping ride and ensuing double-kick gallop — demonstrate the riff-based songwriting that carries Benthic Realm through their stylistic swath and ultimately ties their ideas together. If they think they might be ready for a debut full-length, they certainly sound that way.

Benthic Realm on Thee Facebooks

Benthic Realm website

 

Ape Machine, Darker Seas

ape machine darker seas

Maybe Ape Machine need to make a video with cats playing their instruments or something, but five albums deep, the Portland outfit seem to be viciously underrated. Releasing Darker Seas on Ripple, they take on a more progressive approach with songs like “Piper’s Rats” donning harmonized vocals and more complex interplay with guitar. It’s a more atmospheric take overall — consider the acoustic/electric beginning of “Watch What You Say” and it’s semi-nod to seafaring Mastodon, the likewise-unplugged and self-awarely medieval “Nocturne in D Flat (The Jester)” and the rocking presentation of what’s otherwise fist-pumping NWOBHM on “Bend Your Knee” — but Ape Machine have always been a band with songwriting at their center, and even as they move into the best performances of their career, hitting a point of quality that even producer Steve Hanford (Poison Idea) decided to join them after the recording as their new drummer, there’s no dip in the quality of their work. I don’t know what it might take to get them the attention they deserve — though a cat video would no doubt help — but if Darker Seas underscores anything, it’s that they deserve it.

Ape Machine on Thee Facebooks

Ripple Music on Bandcamp

 

Under, Stop Being Naive

under stop being naive

Stockport, UK, three-piece Under bring a progressive edge to their pummel with their second album, Stop Being Naive (on APF), beginning with the deceptively thoughtful arrangement of crushing opener and longest track (immediate points) “Malcontent,” which unfurls a barrage of riffs and varied vocals contributed by guitarist Simon Mayo, bassist Matt Franklin and drummer/keyboardist Andy Preece. Later cuts like “Soup” and “Grave Diggers” tap into amorphous layers of extremity, and “Happy” punks out with such tones as to remind of the filth that became grindcore in the UK nearly 40 years ago, but while “Big Joke” rolls out with a sneer and closer “Circadian Driftwood” has a more angular foundation, there’s an overarching personality that comes through Under‘s material that feels misanthropic and critical in a way perhaps best summarized by the record’s title. Stop Being Naive is sound enough advice, and it comes presented with a fervent argument in its own favor.

Under on Thee Facebooks

APF Records webstore

 

Evil Triplet, Have a Nice Trip

evil triplet have a nice trip

Trimming the runtime of their 2017 debut, Otherworld (review here) nearly in half, Austin weirdo rockers Evil Triplet present the six-song/38-minute single LP Have a Nice Trip on Super Secret with classic garage buzz tone on “A Day Like Any Other,” a cosmic impulse meeting indie sneer on opener “Space Kitten” and a suitably righteous stretch-out on “Aren’t You Experienced?” — which is just side A of the thing. The pulsating “Open Heart” might be the highlight for its Hawkwindian drive and momentary drift, but “Pyramid Eye”‘s blown-out freakery isn’t to be devalued, and the eight-minute capper “Apparition” is dead on from the start of its slower march through the end of its hook-topped jam, reminding of the purpose behind all the sprawl and on-their-own-wavelength vibes. A tighter presentation suits Evil Triplet and lets their songs shine through while still highlighting the breadth of their style and its unabashed adventurousness. May they continue to grow strange and terrify any and all squares they might encounter.

Evil Triplet on Thee Facebooks

Super Secret Records website

 

Vestjysk Ørken, Cosmic Desert Fuzz

Vestjysk orken Cosmic Desert Fuzz

To a certain extent, what you see is what you get on Vestjysk Ørken‘s debut EP, Cosmic Desert Fuzz. At very least, the Danish trio’s three-tracker first outing is aptly-named, and guitarist/vocalist Bo Sejer, bassist Søren Middelkoop Nielsen and drummer Thomas Bonde Sørensen indeed tap into space, sand and tone on the release, but each song also has a definite theme derived from cinema. To wit, “Dune” (11:41) samples Dune, “…Of the Dead” (9:13) taps into the landmark George Romero horror franchise, and “Solaris” (14:15) draws from the 1972 film of the same name. The spaciousness and hypnotic reach of the latter has an appeal all its own in its extended and subtle build, but all three songs not only pay homage to these movies but seem to work at capturing some aspect of their atmosphere. Vestjysk Ørken aren’t quite rewriting soundtracks, but they’re definitely in conversation with the works cited, and with an entire universe of cinema to explore, there are accordingly no limits as to where they might go. Something tells me it won’t be long before we find out how deep their obsession runs.

Vestjysk Ørken on Instagram

Vestjysk Ørken on Bandcamp

 

Dawn of Winter, Pray for Doom

Dawn of Winter Pray for Doom

I have no interest in playing arbiter to what’s “true” in doom metal or anything else, and neither am I qualified to do so. Instead, I’ll just note that Germany’s Dawn of Winter, who trace their roots back nearly 30 years and have released full-lengths on a one-per-decade basis in 1998, 2008 and now 2018 with Pray for Doom, have their house well in order when it comes to conveying the classic tenets of the genre. Issued through I Hate, the eight-track/51-minute offering finds drummer Dennis Schediwy punctuating huge nodder grooves led by Jörg M. Knittel‘s riffs, while bassist Joachim Schmalzried adds low end accentuation and frontman Gerrit P. Mutz furthers the spirit of traditionalism on vocals. Songs like “The Thirteenth of November” and the stomping “The Sweet Taste of Ruin” are timeless for being born too late, and in the spirit of Europe’s finest trad doom, Dawn of Winter evoke familiar aspects without directly worshiping Black Sabbath or any of their other aesthetic forebears. Pray for Doom is doom, because doom, by doomers, for doomers. The converted will be accordingly thrilled to hear them preach.

Dawn of Winter on Thee Facebooks

I Hate Records website

 

Pale Heart, Jungeland

pale heart jungleland

Semi-retroist Southern heavy blues boogie, some tight flourish of psychedelia, and the occasional foray into broader territory, Stuttgart three-piece Pale Heart‘s StoneFree debut long-player, Junegleland is striking in its professionalism and, where some bands might sacrifice audio fidelity at the altar of touching on a heavy ’70s aesthetic, guitarist/vocalist Marc Bauer, key-specialist Nico Bauer and drummer Sebastian Neumeier (since replaced by Marvin Schaber) present their work in crisp fashion, letting the construction of the songs instead define the classicism of their influence. Low end is filled out by Moog where bass might otherwise be, and in combination with Hammond and Fender Rhodes and other synth, there’s nothing as regard missing frequencies coming from Jungleland, the nine songs of which vary in their character but are universally directed toward honing a modern take on classic heavy, informed as it is by Southern rock, hard blues and the tonal warmth of yore. A 50-minute debut is no minor ask of one’s audience in an age of fickle Bandcamp attentions, but cuts like the 12-minute “Transcendence” have a patience and character that’s entrancing without trickery of effects.

Pale Heart on Thee Facebooks

StoneFree Records website

 

Slowbro, Nothings

Slowbro Nothings

UK instrumentalist three-piece Slowbro‘s full-length debut, Nothings, brings forth eight tracks and 51 minutes of heavy-ended sludge rock notable for the band’s use of dueling eight-string guitars instead of the standard guitar/bass setup. How on earth does something like that happen? I don’t know. Maybe Sam Poole turned to James Phythian one day and was like, “Hey, I got two eight-string guitars. So, band?” and then a band happened. Zeke Martin — and kudos to him on not being intimidated by all those strings — rounds out on drums and together the trio embark on cuts like “Sexlexia” (a very sexy learning disability, indeed) and “Broslower,” which indeed chugs out at a considerably glacial pace, and “Fire, Fire & Fire,” which moves from noise rock to stonerly swing with the kind of aplomb that can only be conjured by those who don’t give a shit about style barriers. It’s got its ups and downs, but as Nothings — the title-track of which quickly cuts to silence and stays there until a final crash — rounds out with “Pisscat” and the eight-strings go ever so slightly post-rock, it’s hard not to appreciate the willful display of fuckall as it happens. It’s a peculiar kind of charm that makes it both charming and peculiar.

Slowbro on Thee Facebooks

Creature Lab Records website

 

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Friday Full-Length: Cathedral, Forest of Equilibrium

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Cathedral, Forest of Equilibrium (1991)

As lauded as they were during their time — from their stint touring with Black Sabbath in the ’90s to impact at MTV, influence on doom in and out of their native UK, etc. — I still think that for the actual quality of the work they did, Cathedral are underrated. While much of their legacy would be set on subsequent offerings like 1993’s The Ethereal Mirror (reissue review here) and 1995’s The Carnival Bizarre, paying a much-needed revisit to their 1991 Earache Records debut, Forest of Equilibrium (reissue review here) only demonstrates the powerful nature of the band from their very beginnings.

I don’t think the story needs to be recounted here of vocalist Lee Dorrian growing weary of punk following his time in Napalm Death and finding himself in the company of guitarist Gaz Jennings to found Cathedral and move in a decidedly different, more Sabbath-influenced direction. On Forest of Equilibrium, the lineup would be Dorrian, Jennings, guitarist Adam Lehan, bassist Mark Griffiths and drummer Mike Smail (Dream Death), and with additional flourish of keyboard and flute, they’d run through a CD-era-runtime set of seven songs and 54 minutes of raw but deceptively complex, grueling doom that, even 27 years later, remains striking in both how ahead of its time it was is arriving, how progressive the underpinnings of Cathedral‘s sound were even at that point, and how assured they seemed to be of what they were doing even as they flew in the face of trend in both punk and metal.

Cathedral didn’t invent modern doom by any stretch. Trouble had been around for more than a decade by the time Forest of Equilibrium came out, and others like Saint Vitus, Pentagram and Candlemass had been lumbering the earth for some time as well. But they did represent a different, more loyalist aspect of the generation up and coming in England at the time. Consider what Cathedral did with songs like “A Funeral Request,” “Comiserating the Celebration” and “Ebony Tears” in terms of concurrent groups like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Pagan Angel, who’d later become Anathema. While not emotionless and not without its own sense of drama at times — looking at you, “Reaching Happiness, Touching Pain” — Cathedral‘s songs took from punk a sense of bare scathe, and their material was less about theatrics and drama than it was about the basic impact of their plod and wretched atmospheres. As the intro “Picture of Beauty and Innocence” leads into “Comiserating the Celebration” (the title of which just screams grindcore in its alliterative construction), Cathedral were very clearly on their own wavelength separate from the emerging death-doom movement. Throughout their career, they would never quite fit in. Forest of Equilibrium was the crucial beginning point of that.

The band seemed to know it. Not necessarily that they’d go on to release 10 LPs and have one of doom’s most storied tenures before calling it quits after 2013’s The Last Spire (review here), but just that they were right to be so firm in their sonic convictions. Even in its faster moments — the centerpiece “Soul Sacrifice” or in the later reaches of “A Funeral Request” — Forest of Equilibrium maintains its viscous tonality and ambience, and Dorrian‘s harsh, morose vocal approach only adds to the way in which the riffs of the chugging “Serpent Eve” and the nod-ready dual-guitar-highlight semi-title-track “Equilibrium” seem to ooze from the speakers even these many years later. It would be rare for a band making their debut to be so confident in what they were doing in any case, but to have Cathedral emerge from the UK’s primordial doom soup as cohesive in their purposes as they were continues to be striking. Plenty of acts talk about going against the grain. Far fewer have lived out that particular cliche and stood as tall in doing so as Cathedral.

Not only that, but listen to the acoustics and flute at the outset in “Pictures of Beauty and Innocence” as they foreshadow the flute and keys to be included as “Reaching Happiness, Touching Pain” rounds out, and you begin to realize just how little of Forest of Equilibrium was an accident, and that, however much its primary statement is made with excruciating tempos and/or a take on doom informed in part by what was happening in extreme metal at the time, there was also so much more behind the band’s approach as a whole. That’s easier to read in hindsight than it would’ve been at the time, but even so, it is one more element at play that makes the first Cathedral long-player one of the boldest doom releases certainly of the 1990s, if not ever. They knew what they were doing, they knew how they wanted to do it, and they were brazen enough to make it expansive as well as loaded with sonic grit. It would be improper to consider that anything less than a triumph of sound and aesthetic.

Of course, Cathedral‘s career would be marked with several of those along the way, but Forest of Equilibrium holds a special place as the first of them, and while they’d develop through phases more indebted to heavy rock and a kind of middle-ground traditionalism before 2010’s The Guessing Game (review here) made their most progressive statement and the aforementioned 2013 swansong found them coming full circle in a return to darker fare, their position as stylistic forerunners never wavered, and in their latter material or their earliest work, they’re defined ultimately by the same relentless creative drive, and yeah, as much praise as they’ve gotten over the decades, that’s still underappreciated.

I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

So uh, this week was the Quarterly Review. Did you notice? It seemed like it was pretty quiet. A few of the bands shared links and whatnot, and that’s always appreciated, but by and large it was kind of a muted response. Fair enough, I guess, but I still hope you managed to find something you dug in that batch of 50 records. I found a few, to be sure.

I guess the week was up and down in general, though. “Iron” Al Morris fucking died. “Fast” Eddie Clarke fucking died. A new YOB record was announced. I got to premiere a video from The Obsessed. So yeah, lows and highs. I end the week today with a trip to the dentist to follow-up on the root canal I had a couple weeks ago and a couple festival writeups, so yeah, even that: hits and misses.

Next week The Patient Mrs. goes back to work. The semester is starting up, classes start Wednesday and she’s teaching Wednesday night. Her schedule means that I’m home with The Pecan for stretches at least on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it — not the least because the kid still won’t take a bottle from me. We’ve been through like five different brands at this point and he just wants no part of it. Before he came along, I was nervous about changing diapers. I’d never really done it before. Hell. I’ll change diapers all fucking day. I don’t care. You wanna rocket-ass poop all over the place? Whatever Pecan, I can clean it up. But a miserable kid who’s hungry and over-tired and screams inconsolably when you try to feed him? Yeah, that’s way rougher. Shit everywhere if you want, but save me from that fucking bottle.

We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, my food issues continue. I have an appointment Monday afternoon with a nutritionist whose position, I expect, will be something along the lines of, “Um, eating disorders are bad, m’kay?” and for that I will have driven probably an hour each way because that’s how long it takes to get just about anywhere from where I live. I’ve had one meal so far in 2018 (actually since Xmas) not comprised of protein powder. It was garlicky cloud bread with pesto. I think on the 8th? Somewhere around there. The Patient Mrs. also made me low-carb scones that I inexplicably gained four pounds from eating and haven’t been able to get rid of since. The rest is shakes, coffee and fake peanut butter, though even the fake peanut butter now seems like too much food to me and I don’t eat it every day. I’d just about take a human life if the tradeoff was a guarantee I could have a cheeseburger and not put on three pounds from it. I don’t even need a bun.

You don’t give a fuck. Save it for your therapist. Get back to the riffs, bro. Riffs. Fair enough.

Here’s what’s in the notes for next week:

Mon.: Somali Yacht Club review/track premiere.
Tue.: Wolftooth review/track premiere; Ozone Mama track-by-track/full-album stream.
Wed.: Clamfight review/full-album stream.
Thu.: Manthrass track premiere/review.
Fri. Six Dumb Questions with Atala.

All subject to change, addition, subtraction, etc., but that’s the plan. It’s a considerable amount of stuff for what’s a busy week otherwise, but hell, I did 50 reviews this week, have a two-month-old baby kicking around the house and basically starve myself as much as I possibly can and still manage to live through the day. Ain’t nothing that hard. The track premieres will get done. Ha.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. I’m going to sleep late tomorrow, which is a thing I’m very much looking forward to doing, and then some family is coming up from CT on Sunday into Monday, which I also expect will be enjoyable. Beyond that, maybe some reading, new Star Trek on Sunday night, protein shakes and coffee. Good times will be had, no doubt.

Thanks for reading. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Cathedral to Reissue In Memoriam June 16

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 9th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

cathedral in 1990

A quarter century after its initial release and two years after Cathedral‘s final album, The Last Spire (review here), came out, their In Memoriam demo will be reissued by Rise Above Records. One can hardly imagine the band had any idea of the legacy they were starting when they named their first offering in memory of something already passed away, but the irony of the title notwithstanding, In Memoriam is a landmark document in the history of doom from a time when its practitioners were still few and far between. The reissue, which is out June 16, comes with a live set from 1991 and a bonus DVD for those who’d like to extend their studies.

The PR wire has it like this:

cathedral in memoriam

CATHEDRAL “In Memoriam”

As with a choice few truly great bands, the first self-financed cassette recording by Cathedral – made available in October 1990 – was a pioneering underground masterpiece in its own right; the sound of a young band exploring its newfound chemistry, finding confident variations on a flawless list of influences and cultivating a sound and style that would prove hugely inspirational throughout the 1990s and beyond, being a major influence on everyone from Electric Wizard through to Reverend Bizarre.

Where most demos are little more than a dry run for the first album, ‘In Memoriam’ still has its own distinct and important identity in the Cathedral canon. The debut LP that followed, ‘Forest Of Equilibrium’, has a sombre, devout, melodic and mystical grandeur all of its own – but ‘In Memoriam’ has a far murkier, earthier, more deathly intent. Creepy, cryptic and bowel-looseningly heavy, it represents the first time that the doom metal stylings of Trouble, Saint Vitus, Pentagram and Witchfinder General had been rendered in a new, more extreme metallic form.

At the beginning of the new decade, it was really only Cathedral who were proud to assert the influence of true doom metal – a perennially unfashionable genre, but especially in a turn-of-the-decade metal scene so obsessed with speed, technicality, brutality and modernity.

*Highly influential cult Doom Metal debut recording by the UK masters, Cathedral.
*CD edition comes with bonus DVD, featuring a rare live performance from 1991. Also includes booklet with extensive notes and rare photo’s.
*Vinyl edition comes as a double 180gm LP set in gatefold sleeve and full sized 8-page booklet.

Demo 1990
Mourning of a New Day
All Your Sins
Ebony Tears
March
Live Holland/Belgium 1991
Intro/Comiserating the Celebration
Ebony Tears
Neophytes For Serpent Eve
All Your Sins
Mourning of a New Day
DVD Live in Groningen (NL) May 1st 1991
Intro/Comiserating the Celebration
Ebony Tears
Neophytes For Serpent Eve
All Your Sins
Mourning of a New Day

https://www.facebook.com/cathedral
http://www.cathedralcoven.com/
http://www.riseaboverecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/riseaboverecords

Cathedral, “Ebony Tears”

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Rog & Pip, Our Revolution: Doin’ Alright Today

Posted in Reviews on June 4th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Like a lot of “lost” groups the origins of Rog & Pip are winding and complicated. The duo of Roger Lomas and Philip “Pip” Whitcher trace their origins back to mid-’60s Coventry outfit The Sorrows, which found success not in the UK, but in Italy, and relocated to capitalize on a successful tour. Lomas and Whitcher both wound up leaving The Sorrows and worked with each other in a number of iterations, including Rog & Pip, the bands Renegade and The Zips, before reuniting The Sorrows in the late ’70s. They had anticipated commercial success in working together initially, but no such luck, and their collaboration fizzled, their material faded, and more or less sat waiting for Rise Above Relics to step in and give it its due. Whether or not Rise Above head Lee Dorrian has a personal connection to these songs, I don’t know, but the shared Coventry origin and the fact that Dorrian put together the layout for this new collection, Our Revolution, at least speaks to a general appreciation beyond it’s-heavy-’70s-and-hasn’t-been-reissued-yet novelty. Rog & Pip are joined by various other players throughout the 12 songs/39 minutes of the compilation/reissue, and the sound varies from raw heavy riffers like “Evil Hearted Woman” to the deceptively memorable psychedelic bliss of “It’s a Lonely World” and even some Thin Lizzy-style dual-guitar shenanigans on “Why Do You Treat Me Like That?” and the glammy “My Revolution” and “Why Won’t You Do What I Want?” the latter of which opens the proceedings on a particularly catchy note.

“Why Won’t You Do What I Want?” is a suitable leadoff in that it captures what Rog & Pip really had to offer an audience at their best — quality songwriting and a sounds somewhere between glam’s swaggering showoffery and heavy ’70s swing. It’s an engaging blend, the one having evolved out of the other, and Rog & Pip put it to good use on the opener, offering early Alice Cooper Band-ish grit prior to “My Revolution”‘s guitar-led vocal layering. “Rock with Me” sounds earlier and is more rock and roll at its core, but in the context of the A and B sides at the start, those roots are there, and while Our Revolution might seem front-loaded, there’s strong material front to back. Songs like “Hot Rodder” and the more emotional proto-doom of “Gold” stand out stylistically, as does the aforementioned “It’s a Lonely World,” but even “Doin’ Alright Tonight” has a solid hook, fuzzed-out guitars and a touch of boogie in the groove. It’s not quite as shuffling as “Why Do You Treat Me Like That?” arrives late in the running order and feels like a complement to the opener in more than just the construction of its title, but still, it works for what it is. Closing single “Warlord” stands up to Blue Cheer‘s blown-out sensibility and rounds out Our Revolution as one of the several could-have-been-classics included, a solo ranging into some psychedelic layer work, but never losing sight of the heavy chug at its core. Whatever band they may have been in at the time, Rog & Pip brought some essential elements to their collaboration, and that gives Our Revolution a sense of flow from song to song here.

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Cathedral, The Last Spire: Circle of Time Has Stopped

Posted in Reviews on May 24th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Whatever else you might want to say about Cathedral‘s catalog as it’s developed over the course of their massively influential more than 20-year run, the band has always made the album they wanted to make. Even during the British doom legends’ mid- and late-’90s period of wandering through the stoner rock wilderness — see 1996’s Supernatural Birth Machine and 1998’s Caravan Beyond Redemption — they didn’t wind up there by happenstance. Still, their legacy will always be for morose, stomping, thoroughly British doom, and it’s that side of their approach that their fans have most clamored for over the years. Their last studio outing, 2010’s The Guessing Game (review here), offered two discs of classic prog-influenced songs that asked much of their audience but offered much in return. Where the prior full-length, 2005’s The Garden of Unearthly Delights, had sought to marry some of the rock and doom sides together, The Guessing Game marked the band’s 20th anniversary with a bold and uncompromising progression of their sound. The results were never going to be as heralded as the band’s earliest works on landmark albums like 1991’s Forest of Equilibrium debut (presented in its entirety on the Anniversary live album; review here) or the subsequent offerings The Ethereal Mirror (1993) and The Carnival Bizarre (1995), but again, it was the album Cathedral felt compelled to write, and that was what mattered at the time.

Now Cathedral have called it quits, played their last live show, made their last video and the somewhat cleverly titled The Last Spire (released through Rise Above/Metal Blade) is reportedly to be their final album. One never knows for sure — surely over their time together the band must have amassed suitable fodder for rarities collections, live albums, greatest hits, cover records and so forth — but if it actually is the end of their run, The Last Spire is also the point at which the album Cathedral wants to make meets with the album that fans want to hear. It is an 56-minute victory lap that — far from actually sounding like one — presents eight songs of the dark, dreary doom that has come to be thought of as traditional in no small part because of Cathedral‘s crafting of it. The band’s lineup of vocalist Lee Dorrian, guitarist Gary “Gaz” Jennings, bassist Scott Carlson and drummer Brian Dixon present some progressive moments reminiscent of or at very least nodding toward The Guessing Game — the synth interlude that interrupts the sluggish lumber of “An Observation” comes to mind; David Moore‘s contributions of Hammond, Moog, synth and mellotron aren’t to be understated in establishing The Last Spire‘s murky atmosphere — but in their structure and in their intent, cuts like the early “Pallbearer,” “Cathedral of the Damned” and “Tower of Silence” underline the doomed feel for which Cathedral have become so known both in their home country and abroad. They are Cathedral at their most Cathedral. And rightly so. One couldn’t possibly hope for more of them than that.

The aforementioned trio occur sequentially following the intro “Entrance to Hell,” which finds Dorrian repeating the phrase “Bring out your dead” — which in my mind always goes right back to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but he sells it well — over suitably plague-addled atmospheres, with “Pallbearer” as the longest track on The Last Spire at 11:39 and marked aside from its strong hook by the backing vocals of Rosalie Cunningham behind Dorrian‘s signature semi-spoken delivery and the chorus of “War, famine, drought, disease” repeated to memorable effect. There’s a mournful acoustic break in the middle, but by and large, Jennings, Carlson and Dixon sound big, thick and threatening, and when the acoustics (backed by organ) give way to the resurgent groove and faster push of the song’s peak movement, the effect is fluid and entirely metal. They end slow and offer a more mid-paced distortion on “Cathedral of the Damned,” which is marked out by the spoken guest vocal by Chris Reifert of Autopsy and the line “Living in the shadow of a damned cathedral,” which may or may not be Dorrian dealing with his own legacy and the prospect of moving on after ending the band. Either way, it’s the riff and the buzzsaw guitar tone that stands out most as the band meet their longest track with the shortest full song (that is, non-interlude or intro), slamming head-on into the chorus as they do with no diminished returns on the subsequent “Tower of Silence,” the pair affirming Cathedral‘s potency on all levels as they round out The Last Spire‘s first half, whether it’s the vocals, Jennings‘ righteous solo, the heavy nod of the bass and drums, or the overarching catchiness of the chorus itself: “A tower of silence/Is waiting for me/Looming before/An astral sea.”

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Cathedral, Anniversary: Once More into the Forest

Posted in Reviews on November 23rd, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Two full decades of doing anything is impressive, and what separates British doom mainstays Cathedral’s 20-year tenure from that of many others is that they never really stopped. Until now. The 2CD live album Anniversary – their first live record in all that time, released through frontman Lee Dorian’s own Rise Above Records (Metal Blade in North America) – captures a special show they did to mark 20 years on Dec. 3, 2010, at the 02 Academy Islington in London, and it’s part of the band tying up the loose ends of their existence, which they reportedly plan to end in 2012 with a final studio offering to be called The Last Spire and another London show Dec. 3, 2011. The Last Spire will be Cathedral’s 10th full-length, and though their catalog has had its ups and downs as far as fan reception, their stamp on the genre of doom is cast if only in the fact that when they started out, there was hardly a genre to speak of. As time passed and their catalog grew, landmark releases like 1993’s The Ethereal Mirror and 1995’s The Carnival Bizarre helped not only grow the band’s legacy, but that of doom at large, and through his work with Rise Above, Dorian in particular has been placed at the fore of tastemakers when it comes to what the term “doom” means and can be expanded to incorporate. That has little to do with the sound of Anniversary, but is relevant for context if nothing else.

The Anniversary show itself saw Cathedral basically play two concerts. The first, captured on the first disc here, brought back the original two-guitar lineup for a full front-to-back performance of their 1991 classic, Forest of Equilibrium. The second was Cathedral’s current incarnation – Dorian and guitarist Garry “Gaz” Jennings being the remaining founding members – doing a selection from the rest of the band’s discography. Disc one is an hour and disc two is just under 80 minutes, so the sheer amount of material on Anniversary is staggering, and for someone unfamiliar with the band, probably too intimidating to take on completely blind – but one doesn’t release something like Anniversary for the casual fan. Anniversary is for those who’ve stuck with the band through the highs and lows, or for the late comers whose appreciation for Cathedral is seen in the band’s influence on doom both British and worldwide. And as much as they’ve come to personify the band over the years, to hear Dorian and Jennings joined by guitarist Adam Lehan, bassist Mark Griffiths and drummer Mike Smail for a full run-through of Forest of Equilibrium is a fitting way to celebrate Cathedral’s time together, though the sound between the studio versions and their late-2010 live interpretations is more than a little different. Dorian’s vocals – though he’s obviously performed much of this material all along – have developed considerably since 1991, and though he’s always been more of a frontman than a technically-minded singer, his range and use of cleaner vocals can easily be heard progressing from album to album. Forest of Equilibrium was never going to be what it is on the record itself, but whether it’s “Commiserating the Celebration (of Life)” or the show highlights “Serpent Eve” and “Equilibrium,” Cathedral as They Were do the album justice and leave a high mark for Cathedral as They Are to live up to.

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