Oct 29, 2014

Doomology: Writing On The Wall ...

Please welcome Brian and a new feature for Doommantia called Doomology where we dig for those long-lost proto-doom gems. Hope you enjoy....

The story of this band begins in a town called Edinburgh, in a little country named Scotland, in the year of 1965. The band, going by the name The Jury at this time, consisted of Jake Scott on the bass guitar, Bill Scott playing the keyboards, Jimmy Hush on drums, and Willie Finlayson handling the lead guitar and vocal duties. Vocalist Linnie Patterson, a well connected musician in the underground music scene at the time, would also board the train and share vocal duties with Finlayson. In the beginning they focused more on soul music and did mainly covers. But this would soon change when the band's manager showed them the music of The Doors, Love, and other such west coast groups. The band soon began writing their own material and building up quite a reputation as an aggressive live act; complete with the wild 60's psychedelic light shows typical of the day. A name change for the band was also in order and they officially became The Writing On The Wall. The band had built up enough of a reputation by 1968 and decided to relocate to London, where the music business was centred and where all the recording contracts were. The venue known as Middle Earth was the band's main stomping grounds. In fact they even lived underneath the stage where they'd frequently play and often slept in their van. It was these hardships which fueled the energy and intensity that went into their stage shows. John Peel was impressed enough with their set one night and he managed to get them into the BBC's recording studio for a live session.

However the BBC audition panel were not as enthusiastic about the band and this unfortunately went nowhere. The band pressed on, continuing their impressive live performances and recording more live sessions and demos. In '69 original singer and guitarist, Willie Finlayson, had decided to call it quits and return to Scotland. Robert 'Smiggy' Smith was brought on as the new lead guitarist and Linnie would handle the vocals exclusively. With no recording contract still, the band's manager decided to form the Middle Earth record label and the Wall would be the first signing. With this the band was able to record their debut album and a single consisting of Child On A Crossing and Lucifer Corpus. The album, entitled The Power Of The Picts, was derived from the band being perceived as savage Celts (they were also frequently referred to as "the hicks from the sticks"). It managed to sell reasonably well in their native locale, but made little impact anywhere else. Although it received positive reviews and acclaim, it failed to capture the band's intensity and energy they brought with them on stage. However the underground press called them 'one really heavy very evil band' and Melody Maker commented that the band had "the reputation of being violent to frightening extremes." During one show they were billed to open for the band Wishbone Ash, but were reported to have bullied them out of a headlining slot and forced them to be the opener. This aggressive reputation seemed to have scared off many A&R men and did little to help the band progress further.

Brian Waldman, the band's manager, was eventually approached by an American promoter who wanted to take the band to the States, but would only agree to this if the other bands on the Middle Earth label would be invited as well. Naturally the promoter refused which signalled the end of that prospect. This led to the band ousting Waldman and Jake Scott, the bassist, would take over as manager. The Wall would continue their excellent live set over the next couple of years but thanks to the threat of legal action by their former manager, were unable to secure any more recording deals. Finally sometime around '71/'72 the band found themselves signed to the Chrysalis Agency. Unfortunately though due to a shift in personnel, the label soon lost interest. At this point vocalist Linnie Patterson and guitarist Robert 'Smiggy' Smith decided to leave the group. Following this original vocalist and guitarist Willie Finlayson returned and the very first incarnation of the band had been reunited. The excellent live shows continued and a new spark of creativity found the band as they began to write and rehearse new material. They caught a break in 1972 when they were invited to play a large rock festival in Brazil. The band was very well received with one newspaper headline proclaiming them as "heroes of the people!" However by 1973 the band had still not advanced beyond a popular live act and were beginning to tire of their situation. At this time original keyboardist Bill Scott had decided to part ways and move to Australia. But the Wall decided to tough it out a bit longer and were given a chance to record another single and possibly a second album with Seven Sun Records. Unfortunately the recordings were severely sodomized by poor production and these sessions did next to nothing to boost any interest in the band. The coffin's final nail had been hammered in with the theft of some recording equipment during a power outage. By this time pub rock and glam were dominating and people were no longer interested in complex arrangements and songs over three minutes in length. Jimmy Hush and Jake Scott had decided to return to Edinburgh, while Finlayson joined the band Bees Make Honey. Although The Writing On The Wall never achieved the success they deserved, The Power Of The Picts album, as well as the handful of singles and demos recorded by the group, shows the promise they had.

The Power Of The Picts is one of the darkest and heaviest pre Sabbath albums you're gonna find out there. I have a theory that any album cover with a human skull on it, is going to rock. And rock this one does. They waste no time in getting the ball rolling with the opener It Came On A Sunday. With it's dark and gloomy guitar and organ blaring they set the mood of things to come right away. You may love or hate the singing. For me it works and this band really benefits from the guy's voice. But I've heard others comment on it being too soulful for this type of music. It's perfectly fine for my ears so you be the judge. The organ also gives the album a very strong Doors flavor throughout, but not to the point of ripping them off. For me this is the what a love child between Black Sabbath and The Doors would sound like. The doomy and gloomy vibe continues as we progress onto Mrs. Cooper's Pie and Ladybird. The former transitions into the latter beautifully and this is for me where things really pick up. It only gets better from here though. The fourth track, Aries is straight out of a psych ward. Some may be turned off by the preachy, "I believe in God, do you believe in God!?!" lyrics in the song, but I see it more as a jittering psychopath sitting in his padded white cell trying to come to terms with a horrifying truth in the back of his mind, that we are all truly alone and no one is watching over us. Interpret it how you will though; it is still one of the heaviest songs on the album and one of the most demented things I've ever heard. This is an example of where the singer's voice really works in the album's favour. The band is kind enough to give us a short break from the darkness with the beginning of Bogeyman. It starts out as a weird upbeat, fun polka tune or something but this is only temporary. Soon the darkness has returned and we are being stalked by the Bogeyman to be taken away into the night. Pretty damn dark and doomy for 1969 if you ask me. And the foreboding terror only continues on. The sixth track signals the return of the same lunatic from Aries (he makes several appearances on this album) and the organ brings more full on gloom.

There's also some nice bluesy, but still dark guitar to entertain our ears on this track. The next song is another highlight and one of my favourites. The dark vibe is again full force (it never seems to leave during the course of  listening to this). And the lyrics wring true; you will never see white horses again. Things definitely slow down a bit for song number 7, but they keep up the momentum. It's still got plenty of heavy guitar and depressing organ, plus some totally off the wall circus music in certain parts. And now we reach the grand finale, Virginia Waters. Our lunatic returns once more and rambles on about his lovely Virginia while evil guitar and organ notes blare in the background. This track really brings things to a close and finishes up a fantastic listening experience. The underground press called this band really heavy and very evil and after listening to their album you'll see why. The release that I have also features the single recorded with the album, as well as a second disc full of demos and unreleased tracks; mostly recorded 1972-1973. Now the second disc has a few good tunes on it, but there are also quite a few clunkers; as is to be expected on bonus tracks. Buffalo, Diane's Big Daddy, and a few others are pretty decent, but watch out for the bland pub rock tunes like Bellyful Of Rock and Man Of Renown, along with the annoying, overly Christian song Fishers Of Men. Now on the other hand though, the two songs from the single the band recorded with the album are fantastic and would be right at home with the other songs from the LP. They have the same dark, heavy feel and are exactly what bonus tracks should be. Bonus fun. Lucifer Corpus is especially good with the vocalist screaming at you that you're gonna die, along with everyone around you. If that's not doom I don't know what is.

All in all this is fantastic find if you're looking for dark, heavy, proto-doom from this period of time. There are countless forgotten bands from the era to choose from, but these guys are one of the very best and certainly among the darkest and gloomiest. What's even more amazing is the fact that they came before the mighty Black Sabbath. Few bands from the 60's can contend with the heaviness these guys had. Download or YouTube the music if you have to, but if you dig what you hear then buy the album!

Recommended tracks:

-Tasker's Successor
-Child On A Crossing (from their single)
-Lucifer Corpus (from their single)

Words: Brian

Writing On The Wall Official Website

Oct 28, 2014

HEADS UP: Mother Corona - Downtuned Sludgey Stoner Rock From London ...

Straight of London comes Mother Corona to make you bob your head in time with some sludge filled stoner jams. I came across this band out of the blue and knew within the first few seconds I was going to have to share it. They rock and as luck would have it they have a new album, Reburn, out that was only released earlier this month on October 6th via their label When Planets Collide. I haven’t even finished listening to the full album yet but it will rock and rip you to shreds until it ends so that you can start it all over again from what I can tell so far.

A quick listen to their earlier work shows that any dabbling they had into psychedelia have been dropped as Reburn seems to be filled to the brim with downtuned sludgey stoner jams. They are well worth spending some time with and the full album is available via their bandcamp page.

Here’s a sample of the awesome it contains with a studio video for Black Acid Morning. Don’t be fooled by the title this is one rockin’ stoner jam.

Be sure to keep up with this London trio I’d say they’re going to be one to watch hopefully for a long time to come.

Words: Feind Gottes (editor, Thy Demons Be Scribblin)


A Sad Bada - White Rivers and Coldest Chains ...

If the funereal raw sounds heard in Sangria (here) exceed your limits, but you are one of those doom lovers who enjoy heaviness coupled with some atmospheres and you are also driven by curiosity about “exotic” scenes, like, for example, South American underground panorama, well, A Sad Bada is for you!

Band A Sad Bada is part of the outstanding underground doom scene in Chile. Differently from Sangria, Bicefalo, Abismo (HERE), Infame, and the latest releases by Electrozombies, A Sad Bada succeed very well in conjugating the slow paced rhythms of doom and funeral doom with the dilated, ethereal and eerie atmospheres of post-metal with a smart touch of progressive metal technique.

A Sad Bada band has been forging their style since 2008. After several changes, the present-day line-up of the band includes founders Gastón Cariola on guitars and Fernando Figueroa (from Ocultum) on guitars/vocals plus Roberto Toledo on bass and Alejandro Ossandon (previously in Abismo) very recently involved for the drums for replacing Raul Valenzuela. The present and past musicians are all experienced in consequence of their long militancy in various doom, black and avantgarde/post-black metal bands in the Chile underground scene. Experience in crafting heavy downtuned music and some fine taste may well explain the majesty and the elegance of the tracks making up the debut full-length album by A Sad Bada. The album and was released as cool digipack version during early 2014 via the Chilean label Australis Records and carries the pictorial title of White Rivers and Coldest Chains.

But instead of showing pictures of imposing landscapes (like those gracing that amazing part of the southern hemisphere), the front cover of the album consists of a crude image of a (young) person on the verge of injecting a dose of heroine in his/her arm wrapped in chains. The tragic message of the photocopes well with the intensity and the despair seeping through the music contained in this powerful, beautiful album: five mournful heavy ballads (Rocio de Mayo, Hide and Grieve, The March of the Saddest Martyr, Quiet Rain and Silence Segregation, and Frustration in the Grey Streets of Resentment) which will make your mind plunge into a suffering darkness for over 48 minutes.

In general A Sad Bada shape their dark ballads over a backbone made of solid, raw, slow and sludgy funeral doom riffage where Fernando’s harsh, hissing growls act either as scary death rattles or else as the sick whispers of a drug-addict lost into his poisonous chemical vortex. Fernando’s singing style may sometimes remind of bands like Weedeater, but the music behind has no trace of swampy groove. Yet A Sad Bada’s music is intensely melodic especially thanks to the highly atmospheric insertions alternating with the slow, painful funeral doomy base and imparting an overall doleful, desperate aura as well as a touch of epic feeling to the whole album. This is ideal for narrating something like a grievous story of struggle against depression, dependence and various sorrows of life, like those suggested by cover art and track titles.
In spite of the rather consistent style characterizing the album, the ballads are not redundantly repetitive and exhibit a variable dynamics. These tracks are long, always exceeding 8 minutes and even over 10 minutes, but the leading melodies are smartly constructed by mixing styles and calibrating tempo changes, and never diluted into excessive drony feedback.

Tracks may sometimes briefly start with the intense swish of falling rain (e.g. Quiet Rain and Silence Segregation) or the noises of a busy city (e.g. in the closing suite Frustration in the Grey Streets of Resentment) but soon guitars, bass, harsh vocals (sometimes doubled) and booming drums will take over for flooring the listener with loads of crushing, strongly downtuned doom tempered by the lamented chant of the lead guitar. The atmospheric, melodic addition in A Sad Bada’s style is sometimes typical post-metal, especially when the band adopts dissonance. However often the combination of styles and the technical ability of the musicians create a charming sound entering proggy territories. Slow, and occasionally ultra-slow, pace dominates but the band knows how to calibrate moderate accelerations thereby adding further hammering power to their sound. The third, central suite, The March of the Saddest Martyr, is slightly different from the rest. It is lead by a dynamic melody developing in a spiraled progression like an ouroboros and turning into a surge of slow, obsessive heaviness.

The band’s sources of inspiration are clearly declared: Neurosis, Agalloch, Anathema, Mar de Grises and Dan Swäno. In general the rumbling sounds, the atmospheres and the solemnity of the composition often make A Sad Bada’s  music sound “oceanic”. So, beside the undoubtful funeral doom-death imprint reminding me of bands like Esoteric, Evoken or Mournful Congregation, I also hear some “echoes” of Ahab HERE.)........Well, you may try the experience A Sad Bada and make your own comparisons!

Album White Rivers and Coldest Chains is available by the label Australis Records or else by contacting the friendly guys of the band directly via Facebook or the official webpage. There (as well as on youtube) you can also find links for listening to some of the tracks of the album in both studio and live versions. For the moment there is no Bandcamp page available. Keep the band’s FB page checked out for updates.
Hopefully the band will also find soon a hook for further distributing the album more easily across Europe, North America and elsewhere. The band is currently doing much live activity in Chile as well as quite busy working on new music for upcoming releases, including a split. To be out soon for prolonging your pain ...

Words: Marilena Moroni

Video: A Sad Bada – Rocío de Mayo

Official Website
Australis Records

White Rivers and Coldest Chains - Track list:

1. Rocio de Mayo (8:56)       
2. Hide and Grieve  (11:13)       
3. The March of the Saddest Martyr  (9:40)       
4. Quiet Rain and Silence Segregation     (10:05)   
5.  Frustration in the Grey Streets of Resentment (8:52)

News: Italian doomsters Bretus about to release their new, second full-length album …

Doomsters! Watch out because Bretus, the Italian sabbathian doom quartet from the deep south of Italy (Catanzaro), are about to release their new second, full-length album, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth".

Back in 2013 their superb debut full-length album, In Onirica(HERE) consecrated Bretus among the best doom bands around.

If you, doom fanatics, listen to the youtube teaser posted by the band on their page, you’ll realize that the Bretus lads are true sadists! Those shards of pure distilled creepy and pummeling doom are just mouthwatering ...

BRETUS: "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (trailer)

As clearly stated by the title, the new album is a concept album based on H.P. Lovecraft. The album will be out in both vinyl and CD formats via BloodRock Records (Black Widow exclusive distributor). Check the band’s and the label’s pages for updates. The fine artwork adorning Bretus’ new album is by Iceland-based Irish artist in Sgraffito Art Illustrations (Ocean Chief, Procession, Lord Vicar and many more).

Video: Bretus – The Curse of Innsmouth

Article By Marilena Moroni

Bretus @ Facebook
Bloodrock Records Facebook
Bloodrock Records | Official Website

Oct 23, 2014

HEADS UP: DEMONAUTA – Chilean Sabbath! ...

Well I’ve put this one off for a little bit but I will do what I can to do this band justice. When I received the press release for Chilean band Demonauta as with any press release you never know if you’re about to hear something great or a real stinker so I was cautiously optimistic as I try to be. Then I hit play on the first tune that accompanied the release. Demonauta play fuzzed out stoner doom rock reminiscent of early Sabbath. This really isn’t a surprise as we all love innumerable bands doing the same thing no different than legendary Sleep.

Then the vocals kick in. Lead vocalist/guitarist David Veliz Molina has an excellent voice complimenting the excellent fuzzy doom wonderfully. But I had to threaten to smack someone since as much as I really enjoyed Demonauta, David Veliz Molina is singing in Chilean Spanish, his native tongue but a language of which I don’t speak fluently only knowing a little Spanish which isn’t the quite the same. I kid but as someone who loves vocals & lyrics this is a big drawback for me.

However, this doesn’t deter from the fact that Demonauta most definitely sound awesome like a Chilean Sleep or Sabbath and by the second or third track I didn’t even care that I had no idea what the songs were about because yes, they sound that good.

The band’s newest release, their 2nd album, Caminado en la Luna (Walk on the Moon) along with their first, the aptly titled Vol 1, are available now on Demonauta’s bandcamp page HERE. The music is so good it will get you through even if you don’t speak Chilean Spanish like myself. Take a look at a performance/interview on Chilean television from earlier this year, the music should win you over as it did me.

Follow the band on either of their Facebook pages, Demonauta Fuzz Rock HERE  or Demonauta - band HERE, to stay up to date with all their latest.

Words: Feind Gottes (editor, Thy Demons Be Scribblin)

Bandcamp: HERE
Demonauta Fuzz FB page: HERE
Demonauta FB page: HERE

NEWS: Acid Witch Are To Take Their Metal Movie Marijuana Massacre Meltdown To Roadburn In 2015 ...

Yes it is true. Detroit’s psychedelic doomsters Acid Witch will bring their metal movie marijuana massacre meltdown to the 20th edition of Roadburn Festival on Saturday, April 11 at Het Patronaat in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

Roadburn Festival 2015 will run for four days from Thursday, April 9 to Sunday, April 12 at the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands. Get your tickets HERE.

Oct 20, 2014

Doomdogs News – New Band Members, New Split 7” and more ...

Thanks to guitarist Christer Cuñat Candela from Swedish doom/stoner band Doomdogs, who have previously been reviewed here on Doommantia, we get some news and their latest tunes! According to Christer, Doomdogs “crashed” last summer leaving him as the sole remaining member needing to rebuild the band.

He has done so with a completely new outfit with the names of the new bassist, drummer and vocalist to be announced via the band’s website (HERE) in the next couple of weeks as Doomdogs are busy preparing a new full length as a reinvigorated doom crew.

In the meantime the band has stayed busy recording a cover of the Black Sabbath’s classic N.I.B. for No More Tears: A Millennium Tribute to Ozzy Osbourne released July ’12 via Versailles Records which you can listen to below. A fitting and well done tribute from Doomdogs to a more than obvious influence on the band’s sound.

Watch below:
N.I.B. by Doomdogs

Doomdogs also released Oceans of Despair for a split 7” with Maryland’s War Injun via Svart Records in 2013 and are now ready to wade further into the fuzzy world of doom and sludge with new members and a new album.

Oceans of Despair is a doomy Sabbath-esque track (complete with Children of the Sea like riffage) which is never really bad thing though personally I’m looking forward to Doomdogs with a new vocalist as now former vocalist, Tomas “GG” Eriksson’s vocals don’t really quite do it for me drifting from near death metal growls which he does well to attempts at Dio-esque falsetto which I don’t think he does very well.

With that said take a listen to Oceans of Despair below and click the bandcamp link to see the first two full lengths from Doomdogs as well.

Oceans of Despair

We should all look forward to new Doomdogs tracks in the coming days. I’m interested to see how they will sound in their new form but I think we can all rest assured it will be a doom, sludge and stoner rock fun filled experience. Thanks to Christer Cuñat Candela for sharing this with us and here are a couple of live performances of the above songs when Doomdogs opened for Candlemass in their bitter cold homeland of Sweden.

NIB Live

Oceans of Despair Live

As well as the band’s website you can also look for news via their Facebook page (LINK BELOW)

Words: Feind Gottes (editor - Thy Demons Be Scribblin)

Doomdogs Website: HERE
Doomdogs Facebook: Facebook
Doomdogs Bandcamp: HERE
Thy Demons Home: HERE

Oct 19, 2014

Sangria - Agnosis ...

Sangria: in many of you/us such a word may evoke some happy alcoholic fiestas during a sun-baked holiday roaming around in Spain ...All wrong!

Our Sangria speaks the language of the continental masses of Earth's crust clashing against one another. Such is the sonic power of Sangria's way of building up colossal doom-sludge metal since its inception back in 2003.
The Sangria trio hails from Santiago, from the great heavy and super-heavy underground scene of Chile. The trio involves Osvaldo Oss Frías on bass and vocals, Carlos Seitan Frías on guitar and vocals and Pablo Benavides on drums. Sangria is one of the great bands related to the cool underground production label Proyecto Sepulcro (Electrozombies, Hielo Negro, Bicefalo, Circulo de Barabbas, Budasses, etc.), which stands out for the care and the impressive quality of its limited-edition releases both for the sound and graphical aspects.  One of the earlier releases of Proyecto Sepulcro was the debut album by Sangria, Renaces de la Miseria (2009), which was rapidly sold out. The new album by Sangria, Agnosis, was finished already late last year. There were quite a few of us outside Chile who bombed band members and folks at Proyecto Sepulcro for being sure, this time, of grabbing a solid copy of the release. But some bad luck and mishappenings with labels for distribution hampered the release. Hopefully the band can finalize an agreement with labels soon for worldwide spreading, and get this new amazing album out as soon as possible.

Agnosis, or better “agnosia”, is indicated as a pathological state characterized by loss of the ability to recognize objects or interpret sensorial stimulation by sounds or images. But you will never find random clicks or casual minimalistic noise when Sangria are involved! The title of the album is obviously provocative. It is probably to relate to the highly critical attitude towards society and especially towards some disturbing aspects of politics and dominant religion(s) adopted by the band and revealed in Sangria’s lyrics. Like and probably even more than in Renaces de la Miseria, album Agnosis is a treatise on catastrophic and funereal sludge/doom-death built up via slow-paced, crushingly downtuned and distorted riffs, bleak atmospheres and abyssal vocals. Something appealing for those who are into bands like Corrupted, Thou, Moloch, Yob, Conan, Fuoco Fatuo, Disembowelment, Shadow of the Torturer, Whitehorse or Funeral Moth. Differently from what often seen/heard in doom-sludge bands, the tracks in Agnosis are rather short, with lengths almost never exceeding 6 minutes. There is no over repetition of refrains in these tracks even if I personally would love to be overwhelmed by these sounds even more. However the relative brevity of the tracks have the effect of turning them into a relentless charge of blows in your gutter. 

The opener Ritualista is lead by a majestic, plodding rhythm of authentic funeral doom in the vein of Tyranny where Osvaldo’s raw and torn vocals roar their occult chant and fight to emerge over the slow, colossal riffs.  Funeral doom features also dominate long tracks like Agnosis and, where, however, the band employs some minor but effective tempo changes for pumping further energy to the war-like march. In various tracks, like for example Cegados, Catarsis, Pestilencia, Culto Al Odio etc., the band often speeds up and destroys everything with the pulverizing effects of the rolling mammoth riffs.  Catarsis and Pestilencia in particular are small jewels where the band is able to merge funeral doom, filthy sludge groove as well as death metal aggression  in barely 3 minutes. These killer tracks occupy the central part of the album, together with the super-tight aggression of Culto Al Odio and Seminal Inhumacion, where the minor tempo changes do not enlighten the relentless pressure induced by extremely heavy, magmatic riffs. This is pure South American version of Conan’s “caveman battle doom”! But in this “fast” and overly aggressive core of the album there are also “pills” of funeral doom (like Averno) of crushing impact but able to restore the somehow dark ethereal atmospheres of the occult, ritualistic onset of the album.

In tracks Agnosis and Pestilencia the double vocals create a confused echo that makes the chanting even more painful and suffocating, but in Pestilencia the second singer, Carlos, is overlapping some extremely low growling thereby turning the chanting into frankly sepulchral.  Trance Mortuorio, the longest track of the album (6:29), cannot but close album Agnosis by means of a reprise of the funereal lithany that started the rituals. This dark ballad is majestic and highly atmospheric not only for the slowness of the reverbered riffs but also for the echoing double vocals which vary from Yob-like to ultra-funeral until everything dies out into pure silence.
Stunning …

Track list:
2. Cegados
3. Agnosis
4. Catarsis
5. Pestilencia
6. Averno
7. Culto al Odio
8. Seminal Inhumación
9. Trance Mortuorio

You can listen to a track from Agnosis on the Bandcamp page devoted to the album HERE.
Track Culto Al Odio and a raw live version of Ritualista can be appreciated on Youtube.

Keep the Facebook page of the band and of Proyecto Sepulcro checked for updates.
While waiting for getting hold of the new album via a solid agreement with a label, you can get hold of the previous, crushing album by Sangria, Renaces de la Miseria, which has been generously shared by the band for free download on Bandcamp HERE.

Words: Marilena Moroni

Sangria @ Facebook
Proyecto Sepulcro @ Facebook
Proyecto Sepulcro @ Official Website

Oct 18, 2014

Iron Void - "Iron Void" ...

Having influences, these days, is a decidedly mixed bag. Writing unique new music within the well-established confines of the metal genre is difficult and becoming harder by the year. Popularization of anything helps entrench formula.

For a young band like Iron Void, their music proudly influenced by pioneers like Black Sabbath and Pentagram, formula is not a dirty word. Slavish imitation will stunt any band's artistic potential and, even if they are powerful in a live setting, bands like this rarely inspire the sort of commercial devotion from fans that build long-lasting careers.

They dodge the pitfalls of such influence by virtue of talent, conscientious songwriting while, nevertheless, benefiting from the association and gratified by playing in a style they love.

Low-fi or not, I loved the album's sound from the first few notes of "Tyrant's Crown" on. The thick, even slightly muffled, production fills the music with added density. Iron Void builds the song around a guttural, galloping riff that rides the back of nimble percussion. Naturally, this guitar part is key to the song's appeal, but the song exhibits a number of underrated strengths enriching the overall whole. The vocals are very solid and, despite having learned long ago that looking for literary merit in metal lyrics is usually a fool's errand, Iron Void's lyrical strength surprised me here.

Iron Void proves their skill for creating sturdy, interesting arrangements with "I Am War". An appealing inevitability heard in the best metal defines the music; seamless transitions assure the various riffs never sound shoehorned together and each section resolves itself in a satisfying way. The drummer peppers the song with subtle rhythmic touches highlighting the band's penchant for leaving understated, distinctive signatures in each song. "The Mad Monk" opens as a mid-tempo drag, but the band explores a handful of tempos throughout the song. This is the album's first "look" at Iron Void in full power mode and the riff largely abandons the melodic flair heard in earlier songs. This isn't a weakness. The grinding crunch works well with the song's restless movement between tempos and, in tandem with the strong lyrics, creates a gray, claustrophobic atmosphere.

"Those Who Went Before" is plodding, minor key joy from the start. There is an obvious debt to Black Sabbath here, but again, Iron Void distinguishes themselves from their influences. The lyrics are tighter than a clinched fist - not a single word is wasted. Their clarity and poetic suggestiveness are, likewise, key elements in why this relatively short song plays, nevertheless, like a quasi-epic. "Own Worst Enemy" has a sleek musical attack that wastes no time getting its point across. We've certainly heard songs with similar sentiments since the era of the Delta bluesman, but Iron Void work within this well-established tradition with fresh energy and a refreshing lack of irony.

The muscular and melodic riff opening the apocalyptic "Black Mirror" promises a lot and the band delivers. It's one of the album's high points and I found myself fascinated by how such a young, guitar driven band plays with such calm confidence. The lyrics are never overwrought, avoid cliché, and benefit from a cool, dispassionate vocal. The guitar break blazing in a little after the halfway point is worth the price of admission alone. The bass riff bubbling from the black in the first seconds of "Outlaw" gives way to a massive guitar riff flattening everything in its path. I hear this song as an uniquely Iron Void "blues", rugged and street tough. The band specializes in a relatively straightforward sort of music but demonstrates their chops in other ways - for example, the abrupt turns and stops in tempo. "Necropolis (C.O.T.D.)" superbly marries two familiar elements, metal and horror, into a strongly cinematic song. While some might complain a zombie song is, perhaps, a little trendy at this cultural moment, Iron Void is dealing out some musical rehash of a Waking Dead episode and their smart songwriting gives this the quality of an individual take on the subject matter. Another well-constructed melodic guitar solo is the song's highlight.

"The Burden of Regret" is another of the album's peaks. A song that, perhaps, that best illustrates how a listener cannot listen to the first fifteen to thirty seconds of an Iron Void song and make anything like an informed judgment about its quality. This is a band seemingly overflowing with ideas and their songs demand a complete hearing. The lyrics once again tread into some familiar territory for popular song but avoid the trite by containing a strong narrative thrust and control of the language verging on the poetic. However, the singing for this set of lyrics needed a stronger emotive edge than it gets here. If a band has a complete package of skills, like Iron Void does, it behooves them to explore each skill to its limits. The closer, "Xylanthia", is a beautifully evocative instrumental that suggested images of mist-bound rivers and oddly colored skies to me as I first listened. Any group capable of covering the long distance between this and the opener, "Tyrant's Crown", is a musical outfit with substantial depth.

The subtitle for this review should be "Or How Jason Learned To Stop Worrying And Listen To Iron Void". This outstanding debut will lead to more and better.

Words: J. Hillenburg


Oct 12, 2014

Ides of Gemini - "Old World New Wave" ...

Ides of Gemini's second album from the Neurot label, Old World New Wave, is an important release in recent metal history. No genre or sub-genre can evolve or keep even a tenuous grip on relevance if it exists largely as an extended tribute to its primary influence. Countless megabytes of press materials invoke Black Sabbath and throw their name around like a catch-all for metal excellence, but it isn't the Birmingham Four's fault that, nearly half a century later, record labels and public relations hacks indiscriminately promote new acts as Sabbath's second coming. It's understandable that young bands and their support team hope to glean at least a sliver of reflected glory.

Fortunately, Ides of Gemini makes no such attempt. The unfortunate fact, however, is many others bands often sound like they seized upon one aspect of the band they loved and stopped there. They share little of the same ambitions held by their heroes. A well-written and played homage or an entertaining, imaginative metal song about the supernatural will always have its place. I believe it scarcely touches doom metal's potential and have long believed that, as a style, doom metal must mature and evolve or else face irrelevance. We are entering uncharted waters where posterity will test the merits of pop culture's icons and many, including Black Sabbath, might be found wanting or buried and blurred by an avalanche of years.

Ides of Gemini serves notice, from the first song, that they will be among the vanguard in any effort to redefine the genre. What initially begins with a strutting, staccato metal riff quickly reveals a band subtly plundering a wider range of reference. "Black Door" certainly isn't the first metal song I've heard with a female vocalist, but the slightly sleepy drone of Sera Timms' voice maintains an impressive balance between power and delicacy. I hear notice of the band's talent in their astonishing and fluid synthesis of doom metal's bedrock elements and a condensed, melodic sensibility. "Black Door" doesn't carry the listener so much as sweep them along with satisfying focus that makes its brief length, a little over three minutes, seem half that.

"The Chalice & The Blade" crawls from the speakers, but the atmosphere is far from funereal. It plays like an anthemic march, but never feels celebratory. Instead, the song has a determined, dogged sort of spirit influenced in no small ways by another fine Sera Timms vocal. Her exultant power strikes a compelling contrast with the music and lyrics alike. One disappointment I will note is how the mix and quasi-ambient vocal production sometimes obscures too many of the band's fine lyrics. I admire any approach that utilizes the musical possibilities of the voice in the same way as a man-made instrument, including strengthening the theatrics of a piece like it does here for Ides of Gemini and other cutting edge doom bands like Pallbearer and Yob, but this particular habit comes with a trade-off.

A bit of catchy rock drumming opens "Seer of Circassia" before Jason Bennett's guitar crashes in with a strong riff. I found myself wanting to hear the interplay between the drumming and bass in a clearer way. Kelly Johnson-Gibson's fleet and steady timekeeping reminded me, in a small way, of Velvet Underground great Maureen Tucker's exuberant, but unobtrusive, pulse. It is no small feat of skill to provide such a superb rhythmic structure while providing sympatric accompaniment to the surrounding players. The layered drone kicking off "White Hart" is a master class in building tension. The processional drums give Bennett firm musical footing to orchestrate the intro with such exquisite timing that the seamless shift into the verses jolted me. One of the album's definite highlights.

The band's theatrical flair sparks again on "May 22, 1453", a reference to a lunar phenomena witnessed in the Constantinople area days before the city's fall. It represents a new development in metal music, particularly doom, that younger musicians have upturned the understanding of what constitutes "heavy" and the limitations of thinking only a distorted guitar ran through a hundred stacks can provide the needed crunch and authenticity. Other reviews have compared Timms' vocal talent to Stevie Nicks, among others, but if she has a clear antecedent in delivery and phrasing, poet and performer Patti Smith is probably closer. In the end, however, all comparisons should hang. Her voice conspires with the music to imbue this track with weighty poetic power and musical muscle.

"The Adversary" has the band again combining their doom grind with melodic vocals. There is a hoary line of thinking on power trios that the sound is too thin without a good bass player high in the mix capable of duping as a quasi-rhythm guitar. A song like this dispels the notion because of structure. I hear a tightly woven axis of "voices" here and the near-note perfect placement of sound and space coalesce into an authoritative whole. I never get the feeling of an undersized boxer punching above their weight. "Fememorde" moves with a confident stride and uses harmonies to strengthen refrains in tasteful ways. This is another gem shaped by the same deceptively minimalist pressure discussed earlier. Timms' is at her emotive best here while Bennett and Johnson-Gibson thrash out a tight, steady backing.

"Valediction" is another of the album's finest moments. The poetry in its lyrics, Bennett's buzz saw guitar attack and gate-pounding fury propelling Johnson-Gibson's percussion are impressive enough, but the song's sturdy construction is another key to success. As in "The Adversary" and some earlier songs, one of this band's important achievements is subsuming strong melodic strains into doom metal's sonic identity. This sort of synthesis needs the sort of structure that metal music often lacks. The regimented structure of metal music doesn't readily support the sort of melodic turns liberally sprinkled through this music. Not every band need apply for this approach. It works for Ides of Gemini for a number of reasons, among them the range of singer Sera Timms. The finale song, "Scimitar", is an appropriately chaotic piece musically, given its subject matter, and the feel of clattering dissonance I feel off the track suggests a battle. It doesn't just stop here though. This feeling runs through me with every song, a sense that the fission produced by the band's performances pours out from the invigorating movement and tension between instruments and words.

It had to happen and I'm glad it did. All bands like Ides of Gemini owe a debt to the pioneers of doom metal, but the total is long since paid. Bands such as this and others mentioned previously are redefining the artistic limits of an important style. Doom metal deserves this constant redefinition and expansion while remaining true to its essential vision. This music resonates most deeply with its devotees when the songs are honest depictions of lives in distress. It speaks clearest to us when it pulls us face to face with our fears, dives headlong into mysteries of life and the heart, and never flinches. Old World New Wave is doom metal at its finest and much, much more.

Words: J.Hillenburg


Oct 9, 2014

Troglodyte Dawn - S/T ...

We're all in it for the inspiration. Writers, painters, musicians, songwriters, anyone working in an artistic medium lives for those moments when everything falls together in their work. The heart speeds up, sweat pops out of the forehead, and even the hands slightly jitter. In that moment, we feel connected to some reservoir deep within where we hide the truth about ourselves, experiences, and what we love. Even rarer still are those moments when we sustain that same flush of inspiration over the course of an entire work. Troglodyte Dawn's self-titled release from Stone Groove Records manages that impressive feat.

The band describes itself as "doom with ambient tendencies", an amusing way to phrase it, as if those ambient tendencies are bad habits needing curtailed. The album opens with an expression of those ambient tendencies, "667", an introductory instrumental establishing the general tone for what's to come. "Fallen World" is a model of tight songwriting. The crushing, uncluttered opening riff pile drives its way into memory like a piston, the percussion dodges self-indulgence, and the tempo shifts contrast with each other in a compelling way. The lyrical content never lapses into clichés or tropes. The lyrics are tailored to serve the musical content rather than standing on their own, but full of brief flashes of observant detail. 

"Redeemed" is imaginative, idiosyncratic, and yet wholly accessible. The song startled me on first listen. I've heard nothing in my thirty-nine years alive like its serious unblinking delivery of religious subject matter over an orchestrated march. Orchestrated, in this sense, means structured by melody and the stellar vocal pulls it off. This is someone testifying about the faith for redemption and the melodic sweetening surroundings the chorus with a grand air. The sparkling guitar work on "Longing" has, thanks to its "circular" feel, a romantic air, but is never maudlin. "Forever After" is a brilliant rewrite of Black Sabbath's classic "After Forever". The lyrics have a completely different slant - rather than succumbing to the cynicism and despair strewn through the Sabbath lyric, Troglodyte Dawn stresses the seriousness of its subject while offering hope for a better life. A loose, informal-sounding performance approximating the original benefits from raw and inspired guitar playing - it sounds full of joy, proud that it has successfully co-opted a resonant aspect of a great band's vision and turned it into something uniquely its own. Pouring old wine into new bottles doesn't always work, but it does here. The tacked on excepts including Tommy Chong emphasize another element of this performance - tribute, not just to the track and band, but to an earlier era in their personal lives.

Troglodyte Dawn shows their scope with "Flower", a tuneful track driven by an artfully expressed metaphor. The song's vocals and nylon-string acoustic guitar sound recall Jimmy Page's mid-80's collaboration with Roy Harper, Whatever Happened To Jugula? The clear, resonant timber of the singing cuts through the music in an authoritative way and impressively mines palpable emotive highlights from the lyrics. The blurred chanting and skeletal backbeat of the brief instrumental "Dood" is the album's oddest moment, perhaps, but its traditional strengths, like a beautifully simple hook, aren't easily forgotten.

We're dropped back in doom territory for "Lust", the album's longest piece thus far, and it's worth the wait. Troglodyte Dawn blast through a melting pot of tempos, but each section flows into the next and the band never fails to cover their tracks and hide any stitching. Another impressive aspect of the song is how the composition invokes its influences, predominantly Black Sabbath, without ever immersing itself in full-on imitation. "Look On The Cross" is another spiritually themed song and has a hazy, hallucinatory edge. The fuzzed out rhythm guitar and languid tempos work well with the theatrical vocal delivery. The effect is almost hymnal and contrasts sharply with the song's vague psychedelic stylings. The album concludes with another ambient piece, "Dawn", that is an evocative bookend to the first track.

Inspiration and structure. If you have one without the other, you've met half of the potential in anything. Troglodyte Dawn's songs are full of passion and skill, cross genres with admirable confidence, and never waste the listener's time. Highly recommended.

Words: J. Hillenburg


Oct 8, 2014

Past Lives: OM, Johnny Brendas, Philly 10/6/14 ...

Fresh off a Sleep show in the same town about 6 weeks prior, last night, half that crowd sold out Johnny Brenda's to show Om the love.  And they reciprocated in kind.

Hit the merch table early, not knowing what was available or if the line would be as nuts as at Sleep, and was so glad that I did.  Al was selling his 7", the first release for new label Samaritan press, that I desperately wanted.  Empty Tomb/Sepulchure Dub ( mine is # 966) is now in my hands, and it's a beautiful 45 that sounds really Al

One of Emil's "other" bands, Watter opened for Om and brought the instrumental space-love to us.  Three guys, the guitarist, Emil on drums and the key/sound effect wizard. 

This is heady music, very much accessible yet also completely psychedelic.  The guitarist for the most part was playing Hendrixian solo's mixed with the simplicity and pacing of drone, the key man underneath adding this Come My Fanatics interstellar bass that sounds like a black hole crushing a galaxy and weird trance stuff, and Emil kept it all together.  I really enjoyed their set and was glad I caught them and would definitely see them again.  Mellowed me right out and put in the perfect mood for Om.

Now, Om.  Well, I'll say that I've been a fan since before they were a band, let's put it that way.  One time I tried to see them and Emil broke his arm skateboarding, and the other was a venue change that brought the need for new tickets at the end of the month for me, and I couldn't swing it.  I've been wanting to see this band a long time, and I'm elated that either at or somewhere near my 50th gig, I finally heard Om do their thing. 

My lady friend went in hoping for anything Conference, and frankly so did I.  That album is a top 5 all time record as far as I'm concerned, and though we didn't get to hear those old songs, we were still moved.  Robert Lowe's tambourine and flourishes vocally added a beautiful accent to the core bass and drum sound, and during the parts where the cello plays you can tell Al is really into combining the tone of his Rickenbacker with classical instrumentation.  Mostly songs from the last two records.  Emil was awesome, the fills, speeding up slowing down, a very, very different style to Chris Haikus, whom I still hope to finally see live one day, but I know chances get slimmer as time marches on and it's probably a lost cause at this point, but that's the hope Om gives me.  This set was a great counterpoint to the Sleep show, and now with High On Fire last November, I've see Sleep, Om, and High On Fire in less than a year.  That's pretty snazzy.

At one point Al brushed against me to walk by, and I sensed a  centered, green positivity as he passed.

We'll catch you back at Johnny Brenda's a little later this month on All Hallow's Eve for Pentagram/Bang!  What a double bill, TWO proto-metal bands?Plus Radio Moscow AND Kings Destroy?  You bet your ass.  Warning, though I may be forced to dress up, the beard stays.  Deal with it. 

Thanks as always for reading, over and out from SabbathJeff.

Oct 7, 2014

White Manna - "Live Frequencies" ...

White Manna are an American outfit out of California and their latest offering from the label Cardinal Fuzz, Live Frequencies, is a far reaching imaginative work. Nods abound to Hawkwind and other psychedelic, proto-punk predecessors in this live setting, but the band's punk influences are a little more pronounced and they bring a tough-eyed, modern lyrical perspective to their songs that their models lacked.

"E Shra (Stangade)" opens the album in an ambient swirl with partial guitar arpeggios floating through the mix. This dreamy mood persists for the first two minutes before the rhythm section joins in. Steady drumming and bass playing anchors the disjointed wall of guitars engulfing the piece into some semblance of structure. "Acid Head (Le Kalif)" has a much clearer design than the previous song, but starts off with the same windswept ambience. It is intended to give the music a more cosmic effect and, indeed, succeeds on that count - the first two songs never play so much as they emerge, as if an assembly of pulse escaping from a celestial body. The singing is quite competent, but the muddy articulation practically renders the lyrics a moot point. The riff, refreshingly simple and memorable, never wears thin.

Another strong riff opens "Evil (Le Kalif)". The band, once again, lays a healthy dose of windswept ambient effects over the song, but the riff's electrifying energy leaves it sounding more like an affectation than a significant contribution to the song. It is the album's first unadulterated stab at punk rock and any attempt to cloak it with trippy, psychedelic trappings is doomed to failure. We return to familiar ground for "X Ray (Le Kalif)" and its loping, hallucinatory groove. The ambient keyboard swirls drop in and out of the mix rather than maintain a constant presence through, but the heart of this tune is the relaxed drumming that never rushes a tune clearly designed for an extended take. "I'm Comin' Home (Le Kalif)" might, initially, give hope to the novice listener that they're in for lighter than usual fare, but the primitive shuffle and gritty, skeletal rhythms form the backbone for one of the album's most impressive songs. The highlight comes with a blistering guitar solo near the song's halfway point.

"Sweet Jesus (Le Kalif)" is another oncoming tank of a tune with primal drumming and a relentless, simple riff thrashing over the top. It breaks down a little after four minutes into a slightly amorphous quasi-bridge crackling with fractured, fiery lead guitar. The tempo builds to a crescendo before the song races to its final jarring conclusion. The exotic opening to "G Shra (Le Kalif)" catches the listener's attention, but more impressive is how the band maintains such a strong, continuous pulse. The instrumental recalls the opener with a number of the passages sounding like variations on a theme.

The Stangade performance of "Evil" is more pure rock and roll rave up than psychedelic excursion. The energetic, uncoordinated dual vocals and flailing guitar chords make this an irrepressible romp. Likewise, the Stangade version of "X-Ray" takes a much cleaner, direct line of attack than its counterpart. It's always a marker of greatness to me when a band can take strong material and give distinctive, but different, performances each outing. It doesn't just prove the elasticity of the material, but willingness to risk in the performer. The album's final number, "Sweet Jesus", suggests that the Stangade show must have been an inspired evening. It takes the approach "Evil" did by clinging tighty to what constitutes great rock and roll. Without a doubt, White Manna subscribe to the theory that stripped down, muscular, and gets to the point. However, like before, the band does find opportunity to wander and jam some during an extended bridge.

If White Manna lacks finesse, who cares? This is a band that intuitively understands many will never get the music, but writes and pursues this genre despite grim financial realities. They are looking to engage the listener rather than losing them in their latest reverie and Live Frequencies shows a band in full command of their connection with their audience and music.

Words: J. Hillenburg

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