Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Mind Control: Doing the Devil’s Work

Posted in Reviews on April 8th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

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 BeatlesRevolver 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 Control as 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.

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Moss, Horrible Night: The Bleeding Years and Other Tales of Terror

Posted in Reviews on April 4th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

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 Templum was comprised of four tracks totaling nearly 74 minutes, Horrible Night is 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 Night has 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 slowMoss take ultra-thick plod and let it ride for however long they feel it needs to, and while one could easily consider Horrible Night an 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 Night covers 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.

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Cathedral Post Horrific Video for “Tower of Silence” from The Last Spire

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 28th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Lee Dorrian ain’t no dummy. He knows what time it is. And if their new video for the track “Tower of Silence” from their forthcoming final album, The Last Spire, is anything to go by, it’s about doom o’clock. The UK legends seem to be enjoying their farewell, and why not? Dorrian, guitarist Garry “Gaz” Jennings and bassist Scott Carlson already have a new project in the works called Septic Tank, and they’ll make their live debut in May, so what the hell? Live it up a little in the meantime. Certainly a victory lap well earned over the last 24 years.

Assuming the tracklisting stays as it was in the release announcement late last year, “Tower of Silence” is the centerpiece of The Last Spire, surrounded by three tracks on either side. I don’t want to make predictions about the rest of the record having only heard this one track, but at very least it bodes well.


Cathedral, “Tower of Silence” Official Video

The final promo video from the final album by UK Doom Legends Cathedral. Thanks to all our friends, followers and supporters over the year. This is for you!

Inspired by classic cult British Film Institutions such as Amicus and Hammer House of Horror, “Tower of Silence” was shot on location during the British Winter of 2012 at Gunnersbury Park Tower, London. It features a guest appearance from Purson’s Rosalie Cunningham, who places a symbolic black orchid on the tombstone of each member in the clips closing scenes.

Directed by UK based Paraffin City Productions, Tower of Silence will be the last full production promo video ever made by this British Doom Metal institution and is taken from their final album, The Last Spire, out April 29th on RISE ABOVE Records.

The Last Spire is released in the following territories;

UK via Rise Above Records on April 29th 2013. www.riseaboverecords.com
USA via Metal Blade Records on April 30th. www.metalblade.com
Japan via Trooper Entertainment on May 1st. www.trooper.co.jp
Pre-order at iTunes from March 29th.
Die-hard vinyl editions will be available from the Rise Above webstore soon.

Lee Dorrian – Vocals
Garry Jennings – Guitar
Brian Dixon – Drums
Scott Carlson – Bass Guitar

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UK Special — The Debate Rages: Conan vs. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats

Posted in The Debate Rages on September 27th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

It’s the battle for next-gen British doom supremacy!

In a way, the question of Conan vs. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats all comes down to how you like your doom. If you want it with some of the world’s heaviest tones bashing you over the head alternately with ferocious hooks and unmatched lumber, you’re going to go with Conan. If you want it rife with slicing malevolence, lurking murderously in classic buzzsaw fuzz, as demented and mysterious in its slasher ambience as it is catchy and memorable, then Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are the clear choice.

Yes, I know these bands are about as different as you can get and still call it doom. The way I figure it, that’s half the fun.

Conan released one of 2012’s best albums with Monnos (review here) and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ 2011 outing Blood Lust received such a massive response (not that I knew it at the time) that Rise Above couldn’t help but sign the band. Both acts have new material in the works — Conan are writing and Uncle Acid will enter the studio, of course, on Halloween — but as they have both have crazy momentum going into their next releases, it seemed like a good time to see where people stood.

There are a lot of bands coming out of the UK, but I’m hard pressed to think of two acts who so clearly highlight the diversity in the country’s current scene and the quality of material put forth by British artists. So what’s your pick for the forerunner of the next generation of British doom?

If you need a refresher, have at it:

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, “I’ll Cut You Down” from Blood Lust

Conan, “Grim Tormentor” from Monnos

As always, take your pick and leave a comment. Any other contenders are awesome too. Basically I just figured it would be fun to see how the support stacked up, so whatever you’ve got to say, it’s definitely welcome.

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Witchsorrow, God Curse Us: The Horror of Hampshire

Posted in Reviews on August 14th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Some of the best moments on British trio Witchsorrow’s second album, God Curse Us, come when the band is lurking. As on the quiet stretches of “Megiddo,” the Saint Vitus-style string-benders from guitarist Nick “Necroskull” Ruskell (also vocals) have an appeal of their own, but that’s only bolstered by the creepy ambience and the prevailing cultish mood the three-piece creates on the album, which is released by Rise Above (in partnership with Metal Blade in the US). That mood could derive in part from Electric Wizard, as much doom seems to these days, but there’s an underpinning of early Cathedral-style traditionalism that makes God Curse Us (as opposed to blessing us, as we learn in the chorus of the title-track) a less stylized and more straightforward outing. That works to the advantage of the songs, since although they vary in pace enough that the nine-minute “Masters of Nothing” feels downright antithetical to the upbeat “Breaking the Lore” later in the album the mood that prevails is one of gray defeat. Together with bassist Emily Witch and David Wilbraham (who here goes by the clever “Wilbrahammer”), Ruskell crafts a doom that is obviously aware of its roots – he is a writer for Kerrang as well as guitarist/vocalist here and self-awareness goes with the territory – but nonetheless seems to be sincerely grasping to create something individual from them. For traditional doom, that’s about as much as you can ask and still hope to keep that “traditional” part intact. Still, as closer “Den of Serpents” enacts its psyche-devouring madness-swirl build to round out the album, Witchsorrow aren’t so out of league with some of what their countrymen in The Wounded Kings have been able to accomplish over the last several years, taking otherwise familiar elements and putting them to use in fascinating new ways. If not for the utter despair of the thing, you might even dare to call God Curse Us somewhat enlightened, at least in a conceptual sense.

Maybe that’s a little strong, but it’s not easy to make traditional doom sound fresh, and for the most part, Witchsorrow do that on God Curse Us, reveling in drear and overarching miseries with little to no letup sonically. Witch and Wilbraham prove immediately to be a formidable presence in the rhythm section, the crash of the latter serving as the anchor that seems to drag opener “Aurora Atra” infinitely downward. Much of God Curse Us keeps the ethic of the leadoff – lead with the riff, bury the throaty vocal, etc. – but what the 55-minute album does really well on its mostly extended tracks is create a sense of space. “God Curse Us,” which has the catchiest chorus of the seven songs, sounds fittingly like it was recorded in an open church in everything but the guitar solos, which sound punched in even if they weren’t. I guess modernity bleeds through no matter how hard you work to stop it, but Witchsorrow do pretty well in keeping a natural, grainy-horror-movie VHS vibe to the proceedings all the same, the unrelieved tension in “God Curse Us” carrying over to the even more plodding “Masters of Nothing.” Parts of “Megiddo” come close later, but “Masters of Nothing” is ultimately as slow as God Curse Us gets, and that’s plenty slow. Agonizingly slow, in fact. Ruskell has no trouble drawing out his vocals to suit the lurching riffs, as some might, and though the song picks up in its final third – Wilbraham’s crash a little low in the mix keeping time – it’s only to set up a deft return to the lumbering main riff that closes out the song, giving way to the interlude “Ab Antiquo,” on which ultra-quiet whispers accompany foreboding tom thuds and piano. It’s a quick mood piece to lead into “Megiddo,” but effective nonetheless in what it does. Like a lot of the record, it serves its purpose but isn’t really a landmark.

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Astra, The Black Chord: Return to Court

Posted in Reviews on April 23rd, 2012 by JJ Koczan

With critics and listeners seemingly already in their corner, San Diego classic space/prog five-piece Astra make a Moog-heavy sophomore outing in the form of The Black Chord. Astra won many ears to their side with 2009’s Rise Above debut, The Weirding (review here), on which they offset retro King Crimson-style melodies with a sense of modern urgency that indeed also shows up throughout the six tracks of the second album. It’s Astra’s balance of old and new that makes their recorded output so fascinating, and as the US has become even more enamored of all things taggable as progressive and/or psychedelic in the last three years – at least in an underground sense – The Black Chord arrives at just the right time and in just the right place for the band to be able to make the most of their songwriting. A returning lineup of Richard Vaughan (vocals/guitar/Moog/mellotron), Conor Riley (mellotron/Moog/organ/piano/vocals), David Hurley (drums/percussion/flute), Brian Ellis (Moog/lead guitar) and Stuart Sclater (bass) is tighter and shows significant growth from the first album, which is appropriate given that in progressive rock one expects a certain amount of progress. That comes in part in the confidence and clarity with which they now handle the melodies, and where The Weirding felt at times like it was trying to throw everything at you all at once, The Black Chord is more patient in its execution and all the more majestic-sounding for that.

In addition, The Black Chord clocks in at a vinyl-ready 47 minutes, where The Weirding topped more than a full hour, so that also lets the songs establish more of their own character without overwhelming a listener’s attention, however fickle it may or may not be. With heavy emphasis on their keys – the Moogs, mellotrons, organs and piano are as much if not more essential to Astra’s sound here as the two guitars – and a solid rhythm section in Sclater and Hurley, The Black Chord is overall striking in its cohesion and flow between songs. Side A is comprised of instrumental opener “Cocoon” (8:43) and the title-track (14:58), which between the two of them account for half the album’s runtime and much of its breadth. One expects from the grandeur with which “Cocoon” gradually unfolds that Astra’s self-indulgence is perhaps going to take over and rule the material, but though both the guitars and the keys enjoy movements of prominence, those come largely in service to the songs themselves rather than any show of technicality. The opener’s groove gradually speeds up, carried forward by the guitar and a synth line of building intensity, but Sclater’s bass maintains a casual feel even as a chase ensues. That’s the first of Astra’s several visits to the Court of the Crimson King on The Black Chord, but they’re likewise enamored of Floyd and that comes through in some of the quieter stretches of the title cut.

Relatively speaking, it’s not long before the vocals kick in on “The Black Chord,” topping piano and bass and establishing a verse progression that’s among the album’s best. At just under 15 minutes, “The Black Chord” is the record’s longest song by more than five, and has a scope to match, showing some eclecticism in its rhythmic bounce – the sounds and jazzy pops of Hurley’s drums account for a decent amount of King Crimson comparisons in themselves – but it’s still the melodies, sudden stops and semi-blown-out “21st Century Schizoid Man”-style vocals that drive the point home. As much as they’ve clearly taken influence from those first couple Crimson records, though, it’s important to note that Astra have worked those elements into something their own even more so on The Black Chord than on The Weirding, a guitar-led passage giving way to an organ solo backed by mellotron washes and a tradeoff between players that’s smooth and natural-sounding. A large instrumental “break” accounts for much of “The Black Chord”’s sprawl, but perhaps in a mode more conscious of their audience, Astra return to the verse and sweet key bounce before developing a kind of routed jam that carries through the last four minutes with a build and payoff worthy of closing out the first half that continues its momentum in the opening “Quake Meat,” which begins to set the tone of side B’s methodology of shorter tracks and a crisper approach of conveying musical ideas. At 6:40, it’s extended compared to some other bands, but in relation to what’s preceded on The Black Chord, it’s practically a radio single.

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Astra to Release The Black Chord on March 27; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 7th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Kudos to San Diego retro prog weirdos Astra for going with an orange color scheme. The Frippertastic mellotron-loving five-piece will release their new album, The Black Chord, on March 27 via Rise Above/Metal Blade, and have made available the new track “Quake Meat” for high-def YouTube streaming. Check it out, followed by a little hot PR wire lovin’:

The new track from The Black Chord, “Quake Meat,” can be heard now over at metalblade.com/astra. The Black Chord will be available in North America on March 27. Astra will be hosting an album release show in San Diego on March 16. The show will be at The Casbah with Dead Meadow, The Loons and Joy. The show will also feature visuals by Operation: Mindblown. For more info, check out astratheband.com.

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Blood Ceremony: Roadburn 2011 Audio Stream Available

Posted in audiObelisk on December 4th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

It’s been a while, but the latest in the series of 2011 Roadburn audio streams comes from Toronto retro occultists Blood Ceremony, the flute-ifiied proto-metal of whom came to fruition earlier this year on their second album, Living with the Ancients. This stream was recorded live at Roadburn at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands. Here’s the link to listen:

Blood Ceremony live at Roadburn 2011:

Thanks as always to Walter from Roadburn for letting me host the link. Blood Ceremony‘s Roadburn set was mixed by Danny Gras of Gomer Pyle and Space Jam Records.

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