Mar 31, 2012

HEADS UP: Mollusk - Mollusk ...

Pact Ink Records have released the début from a new Cincinnati band called Mollusk. The band features two former members of Sabre.  The album will be a limited cassette only release and will be co-released in a joint effort with Bastard Sloth Records.  The album was released digitally in November 2011 and is now available on cassette. When listening to these nine tracks; the first thing that hit me was the amount of different musical textures and layers. This album is diverse in as much as it doesn't stick to any one formula although it is truly a doomed-out sludge metal album but I am hard pressed to find any other band that really sounds like this exactly.

What is unique is the guitar attacks while keeping a kind of appalling beauty within its sound; it bludgeon's the listener with its attack and power but it also has subtle methods of persuasion. Changes occur while you are not really aware of it and if you can make odd time/tempo switches and still be very catchy and assessable, you have something happening and Mollusk have it.

Out of the nine tracks, there are no weak moments and certainly nothing that comes close to a serious misstep. From the opening intro passage 'Mirrored Sphere' to the closing 'The Apathetic' this mini- album/EP is very captivating for all of its 23 plus minutes. Yes, it is short, too short really but that makes it impossible to get bored by any of this. Personal highlights are 'Endless Mountains,' 'Tides,' and 'Monuments' but I could easily call the entire release a "highlight."

The sludge-metal presented here is mostly slow with the odd exception being bursts of head-banging intensity that have a habit of coming on when least expected. The sludge is psychedelic in parts while pure unadulterated bleak doom in others and the bass and guitar sounds are beautiful yet nasty. The guitar for the most part is distorted with various levels of abrasive-ness and it complimented by a gorgeous bass sound that combined makes a wonderfully organic live feel.

The vocals are the weak link for me personally; they are insane, angry yells/screams and largely incomprehensible so they don't add a hell of a lot to the songs. Musically, however this is great and almost flawless. This self-titled release is a bit too short to give any futuristic prediction about where the band might go next but this is worth getting your hands on. Engaging stuff from Mollusk.....8.5/10

Pact Ink Records

Mar 30, 2012

Trouble: The Skull versus 1990's Self-Titled Album ...

The history of doom band Trouble has been explained and discussed perhaps a little bit too much by now but there is two albums by them that always come up in conversation - 'The Skull' and the 1990 self-titled Trouble album. Even though the albums release dates are only five or so years apart, the two albums are very different and this has created many a heated argument on what is the better album. When Trouble first started out, they were an oddball metal band with their tye-dye shirts, denim, Christian lyrics and slow sabbathy music. After all it was the thrash-metal boom and slow wasn't in at all at the time. They were tagged as "white-metal" by their record label; something that might have haunted them slightly since and certainly it is a tag that turned many people away from listening to the band.

The real truth is Trouble were a breath of fresh air in metal at a time when the trend was fast, fast, fast and satanic. The début Trouble album is now seen as a life-changing, genre-defining album even though it is basically in the Black Sabbath mold but I and many others feel, the real defining album for the band and doom metal in general was the follow-up album, 'The Skull.' This album is still seen by many fans as being their best ever work with only the 1990 self-titled album coming close to its status of total classic Trouble. So, let's have a look at these two albums.

'The Skull' was full of songs already perfected by live performances many months before they ever step into the studio to record the album. "Gideon", "Wickedness of Man" and "The Wish" (previously titled "Death Wish I/II") were already live staples and tracks were already well-known by the fans. At the time a live tape surfaced of the band playing in a deaf-club of all places. That live tape featured nearly two-thirds of 'The Skull' album and got circulated so much in the underground that most fans knew the songs backwards months before the album was ever released. Because the songs were already perfected, that might have something to do with why this album is so concise.

The début album is a masterpiece in its own right but on 'The Skull' the songwriting quality took a leap forward. The songs were in the same mold as the début but the vibe, atmosphere and the sound of 'The Skull' is a one-off as they have never been able to reproduce it since. The opening trio of songs that make up side one; Pray for the Dead", "Fear No Evil" and especially "The Wish" are monumental moments in heavy metal history. Three songs that are filled with commanding riffs, emotionally charged vocals and a sound which for its time was incredibly heavy. The weak track of the three and the weakest track on the album was "Fear No Evil" which is a mid-tempo stomper to rival the début albums track 'Assassin.' The other two tracks however are pulsating doom metal and are mesmerizing.

"The Wish" was the bands tour-de-force; a 11 minute monster track filled with some of the most emotive vocals that vocalist Eric Wagner has ever recorded. He himself has said that he was in such emotional turmoil in his own life at the time that it fueled the vibe of the album and there is no way he could ever hope to capture the same feeling again. "The Wish" took on a life of its own in the months after the release of the album. It allegedly helped to stop a young Swedish kid from committing suicide and many people went on to say that lyrically, the song changed their life. Not many bands can write songs that have that sort of impact. "The Wish" remains one of Trouble's masterpieces and yet they always seem to avoid playing it during live shows which is a real pity.

Turn "The Skull" over to side two and the album becomes a little uneven but still very good. “Truth is – What Is” has a pretty generic kind of riff but it saved by a very memorable chorus while “Gideon” is not much more than pure filler really. The highlight of the album for me has to go to "Wickedness Of Man" which is a 'Trouble' masterstroke if there ever was one. The other track on side two, the title track is of course another gem of a song for the band. People tend to compare the first two albums a lot and put them under the one banner. I hear them as two vastly different recordings. The first is the sound of a band, immature and still finding their songwriting craft while 'The Skull' is the band discovering their talents and exploiting them as much as possible and it worked. After the release of the album, the band would struggle for years. The next album 'Run to the Light' was seen as a let-down by fans at the time but most critics loved it. Oddly enough, since then, most review sites rate 'Run To The Light' higher than 'The Skull' which I don't agree with at all.

The Skull gets a 8/10 from me.

A few years past and then the band got a call from Rick Rubin stating he was interested in the band. At the time they were working on getting out of their deal with Metal Blade Records and working to move up to the "next-level" - whatever that means? Personally I think they sounded just fine the way they were. Nevertheless Rubin did in-fact pick them up and started tweaking their sound and songwriting style. He chopped some songs up, removed some passages from songs completely and did some serious fine-tuning on the production side of things. Before even listening to the 1990 album, you get the feeling this is something different from the band. The album cover was this time a band photo, classy and hippiefied and not the usual cheesy metal art you see on almost every Metal Blade release from the 80's. They truly look like a bunch of 70's rock drop-outs on the album cover and not a typical bunch of 80's metal musicians.

Put the album on and the change in sound is clear from the very start of the record. The band tried to reinvent themselves in many respects and in some ways it worked. The track-listing is flawless, unlike 'The Skull' there are no real filler tracks this time but there is nothing to match the grandness of "The Wish" either - perhaps "The Misery Shows" comes but still it doesn't match the emotional intensity. However; overall the songwriting improved, songs are more concise and flow better and the vocals of Wagner had reached their peak. People say the production is much better than the first 3 albums but personally, I don't hear it. I still love the sound of the early Trouble albums.

"At the End of My Daze," "Psychotic Reaction," "Black Shapes of Doom" and the surprisingly fast "R.I.P" are insanely infectious songs while "All Is Forgiven," "A Sinner's Fame" and "The Misery Shows" are Trouble at their emotionally charged best. The rest of the album is weaker but not by much. "Heaven On My Mind" is catchy while "The Wolf" and especially "E.N.D" seem to be there to fill up the numbers but again are not weak tracks by any means. Now some people see this album as a step into the stoner-rock direction and a move away from the doom and gloom of their earlier releases. That is true in many respects, there is not much in the way of doom metal on this album which is my main gripe with the album but there is no denying that the songs are great. Catchy is catchy so it is hard to complain about the direction they decided to take. I rate this album higher than 'The Skull' but I don't think it has any songs of the same calibre of "The Wish" or "Wickedness Of Man" but overall I have to give it one point more so 9/10 for this one.

Conclusion: While I can understand the bands urge to polish their sound and seek a bigger audience for their music, I think the directional change backfired in the long-run. After all, after the release of the 1990 album, they were never the same again and album by album sunk into the depths of blandness. The 1990 album was the bands peak in many ways but most people I have spoken to prefer the sound that is on 'The Skull' over the 1990 reinvented Trouble sound. In a quick poll on the Doommantia Forum, The Skull won the vote by 14 votes to 6 and people outside of the forum I have talked to all say, they prefer 'The Skull.' Maybe it is nostalgia talking but I am guessing most fans would do anything to hear the band return to their original sound and style. Can't see it ever happening though.

Words: Sally Bethhall, Ed Barnard.

Earth – The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull ...

Earth is on everyone’s list ever since “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I” surfaced and exploded, but before that, I knew them because of their quirky album title of “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull.” I had run away before upon seeing that they were an instrumental band, as I don’t like instrumentals one bit.  However, I find myself drawn to their blend of music lately (which I’ve named chillout-metal), so here it is.

To start off with and for those who are just tuning in, Earth play a peculiar brand of drone.  It’s all about the bright and open atmosphere, the chilled-out and easy mood, and slow, near-meandering passages angled towards some sort of strange focus.  The sound incorporates a lot different influences (psychedelic, progressive rock, etc.) but blends with the overall tone of the album.  Pianos, keyboards, guitars, drum and bass are the main instruments thrown into the mix, but beyond any of this, “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull” is all about cohesive, coherent songs so well-structured that they might as well be testaments to composition.

Just look at the album (limited edition) cover, and you’ll get it.  The music has all the colors on there, it has the slickness and sweet taste of honey, it has the roughly-textured lion’s skull, it has the sharp edges of the lion’s teeth, the chill-out of grass and the sun.  It has melody, and swarms of small details to keep things fresh even at repeated listens (more below.)

The songs on the album are structured, to the point where there is no feeling of spontaneity whatsoever.  That is actually a good thing, because the end result is a level of cohesion I have scarcely seen on most other bands.  This comes from both the band’s ability to write and repeat passages, and their ability to wander away from them.  Every song centers around a main passage, be that a piano melody or a riff.  This passage is repeated ad infinitum until the song reaches some sort of conclusion, and delivers a hypnotic, and relaxing effect.  The keyboards contribute to this effect greatly by painting bright soundscapes (“Miami Morning Coming Down II: Shine”) throughout.

It is, on the other hand, during this baseline’s repetition that the band starts to add little touches (“Omens and Portends I: The Driver” is a good example).  A small lead lick here, a piece of psyched-out keyboard added to the mix there on out… these blink-and-you’ll-miss it moments add flavor while not taking away from the songs themselves.  A basic amount of repeated listens can give you the main part(s) but not these details, and that’s the charm of the album, really – every time you listen to a song (say, “Rise to Glory” with its slight Spaghetti Western Saloon atmosphere) you notice something different, and it doesn’t keep you from enjoying the parts you already recall.

Sometimes, and again I will posit “Rise to Glory” as an example, Earth introduces a second “main” partition into a song.  The song then becomes an alternating game between these two partitions, each ones with their own lead-ups and minute details surrounding them.  The interplay between these partitions, their all-too-often transitioning into one another is amazing and amazingly smooth – there are times when these two partitions are stacked up against each other and complete one another a singular passage, and to listen to it is like… well… listening to alchemy.  Which is another, interesting, high point of “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull” – you can see all the parts that make a given song come together, like if you had advanced vision and could see the elements move in a particle collision experiment, and you se how everything comes together and comes apart, and this feeling of omniscience granted by the music is mind-blowing. 

IN THE END, WE HAVE AN INSTANT CLASSIC HERE.  Forget everything else, just its massive appeal in replay value is worth keeping this one around.  Of course, the musicianship is stellar, the atmosphere invaluable, the songs themselves incredible and the album, as a whole, coherent.  What more can you ask for, really? Breeze-through 10/10, this is incredible stuff.

Words: Sarp Esin.

Earth @ Myspace

Mar 29, 2012

Graveyard Delving”…A Look Back At DREAM DEATH ...

“Look through the mystic door at the hidden depths which all men share. Long and hard was the war when man usurped the Earth.” – The Elder Race.

There are a lot of differing types of metal. Most come heavy and fast, but a great deal are heavy and slow. All of the early blues music from which rock and roll is derived is in fact much slower in tempo than most rock music itself. Like other more “extreme” forms of metal, doom has traditionally thrived on the fringes of mainstream hard rock culture while simultaneously existing as an integral facet of it. An earnest desire to uphold the values of the blues is what lies at the very core of the doom sub-genre and keeps it alive with each successive generation, be it in the spotlight or more often than not, in the shadows.

Littered throughout the weird annals of American heavy metal there are a great many bands that’ve unfortunately been obscured by time. Too many in fact. Yet very few of those bands ever crafted music that is as enduring as Pittsburgh’s own Dream Death. Founded not only during the ever-burgeoning American thrash movement and at the tail end of the first generation of American hardcore punk, but also in the midst of a dying steel industry in a town that depended on it in a very substantial way. The tensions of 1985, and the later half of that decade in general permeate all throughout the art which it spawned, art such as Watchmen and They Live. Add the height of the Cold War into the equation and what you get is one of the finest and most sorely unsung bands in heavy metal history. It goes without saying that the cross-pollinating of genres was already in full swing with staple bands like The Accüsed, D.R.I., Gang Green and others gaining popularity at that time. Beneath that surface, just as skateboarding was starting to be co-opted for marketing purposes, the doom scene had been thriving strong since the 1970?s. Bands like Saint Vitus and Trouble had been holding up the old guard of American blues in the underground long since before Dream Death appeared on the scene. Dream Death‘s unique sound places them not only as a hybrid of both speed and sludge metal but also as being prototypical of the American death metal movement, which would come to fruition in the ensuing years. Their brazen and wholly effective hybrid of genres and styles of playing was considered like a missing link for both fans and critics alike at the time simply because there was nothing else like their signature sound and it had a unique appeal that most bands at that time couldn’t wield.

Dream Death originally began as a power trio in 1985 with Brian Lawrence on vocals and guitar, Ted Williams on bass, and the famous Mike Smail on drums. It was with this line up that they began to write, record and play out around the Pittsburgh area. They released their self-titled, first demo cassette during the summer of 1986, which featured six tracks in just under thirty-five minutes culminating in their epic eponymous theme song “Dream Death”. They then decided on bringing in another guitarist and former Doomwatch bassist Terry Weston was added to the lineup. Shortly after, during November ’86 the band cut another self-released cassette tape entitled More Graveyard Delving.

This was their first release to feature “Back From The Dead” and “The Elder Race” which were staples in Dream Death‘s live shows, shows for which they were mainly known back in those days.

With many memorable performances under their belt and a heavy tape trading circuit to boot, word of mouth spread slowly and quietly across the Rust Belt about Dream Death. This attention, little though it was, was enough to attract further attention from Hellion lead singer Ann Boleyn’s then blossoming metal label, New Renaissance Records. Dream Death were asked to contribute to New Renaissance‘s Speed Metal Hell, vol. 3 compilation in 1987, which also features an early track called “Disbelief” by the then unknown New York band Prong. Dream Death answered New Renaissance back with “Method To Madness” which is an earlier and much faster version of a track that would later appear on their only studio album. The revised version of the song would later be called “Hear My Screams”.

New Renaissance soon gave Dream Death a full ride which resulted in their debut album Journey Into Mystery. Released around the Halloween of ’87, Journey Into Mystery displays a plethora of nuance and sophistication in comparison to any of their other recordings. The album starts off with “Back From The Dead” and sets up this record and band perfectly by its doomed out chugging parts that become crunchy stop starts and then display some extra jagged solo riffs later on in the track. Some of the solos on this album raise goosebumps and sound as if you’re being whisked through a tunnel of horrific sensory madness. The grim lyrics concerning death and “in your face” vocal approach borrowed heavily especially from the New York hardcore scene that preceded them. “The Elder Race” is a great example of lyrics based on the work of Robert E. Howard. In particular, a yarn entitled The Shadow Kingdom, about a hidden race of serpent men who secretly plot to usurp the usurper king Kull of Valusia.

Lyrics aside, “The Elder Race” is personally one of my favorite heavy metal songs ever. The riff that opens it is sharp as Kull’s axe but Dream Death choose to play that riff slowly, where a lesser band- and there were plenty- would’ve taken that same riff and played it with far more speed making it go blunt after only a few swings. The choice to play slower than the typical and much more popular metal bands at the time while retaining the cutting bite of thrash metal and punk energy is what translates so well through Dream Death and is probably the reason why they were known more as a live act, as so many other great bands of that ere. Even the legendary Pentagram were known mostly from their various live performances in and around the DMV for well over fifteen years before they ever cut their very first official album… “The Elder Race” is followed by “Bitterness and Hatred” which is an outspoken denouncement of bigotry in all forms. One must appreciate how effortlessly Dream Death transition their lyrical themes between these two tracks, which are two of their very best. “Black Edifice” drives the nail deep into the proverbial coffin, as far as sealing the creepy and cultish vibes which permeate throughout Journey Into Mystery. The perfect doomed out intro to this track is where Mike Smail’s drumming really shines, in particular because it’s so youthful at this point before he would later go on to handle drum duties not only with Cathedral on their debut classic Forest Of Equilibrium (Earache; 1991), but then following that with a lengthy career in another great Pittsburgh band known as Penance and later joined up with Pentagram in 2003 for the recording of their 2004 album Show ‘em How.

 Dream Death is where Smail cut his chops. It’s no wonder he was later invited to play with such prestigious acts after observing his skills displayed on Journey Into Mystery. “Divine In Agony” provides a great transition in the album as it kicks off very abrasively with the signature jarring stop-start guitar licks from Lawrence and Weston and the seriously invasive vocals that Dream Death pulled off so well. Brian Lawrence’s ferocious talent as a front man bleeds through on this track especially with one of the more memorable choruses on the record, excluding the band’s theme song of course. His vocal approach is not unlike Cal’s own approach on the early Discharge recordings, in that it’s quite experimental and very abrasive. The aforementioned “Hear My Screams” is another real ripper. Terry Weston’s relentlessly slashing guitar lines cut deep on this recording and it’s very reminiscent of the kind of playing which Tom Warrior had both originated and popularized with Hellhammer and Celtic Frost especially. In the years that followed Dream Death, death metal bands such as Obituary would come to adopt this same technique and approach to their song writing structure as well. “Sealed In Blood”, which first appears as the opening to their self-titled cassette, is a brilliant song that displays Williams’ prowess on bass with a fairly doped out groove that’s really hard to shake and is nicely juxtaposed by the considerably heavy hitting doom drums. Journey Into Mystery finally culminates in an eighth and final track, the aforementioned “Dream Death” is the band’s own addition to the long tradition of great theme songs from classic metal bands; Black Sabbath, Motorhead et al. The riff which drives the track is extremely infectious and the solo is as chaotic yet as precise as any of the solos one could hear on Show No Mercy. Blues sentiment is interjected back into the lyrics once more with the chorus, as always… “Never thought life would be so damn evil.”

 Shortly after the release of Journey Into Mystery, Ted Williams left Dream Death to join the steel city crossover outfit Eviction, who were soon picked up by Metal Blade for their debut release entitled The World Is Hours Away. Eviction then disbanded shortly after their debut as well. Williams and guitarist Rob Tabachka went on to form the garage punk band Pilsner which lasted well into the mid-90?s. Richard Freund was called in to take over the bass slinging in Dream Death and the band returned to the studio in July of 1988 to record what resulted in their final self-released demo tape entitled Ode To Sorrow. Freund would later go on to form the short live doom/thrash project Deathmass. Each of the three tracks on Ode To Sorrow average about seven minutes and see Dream Death maturing more into their own in terms of their writing and  song structures. The change in direction was as obvious to fans as it was to the individual members of the band who later regrouped under the name Penance. Despite the crushing force that is Journey Into Mystery, Dream Death seem more comfortable letting their songs play out to be far slower than the tracks on any of their few previous recordings. “The Unseen” and “A Wayfarer’s Tale” are especially brilliant compositions that were thankfully explored further by Penance on their first album The Road Less Traveled (Rise Above; 1992).

 Penance was essentially formed in the considerable wake left behind by Dream Death. Somehow Dream Death had failed to gain a solid footing in either the doom or death metal scenes at the time despite being at the very forefront of innovation for both. Their brief and seemingly incomplete career is arguably the strongest example of why many American death metal bands would later incorporate sludge elements into their song structures more frequently in the 90?s. Bands such as Autopsy and Cianide especially owe a great deal to Dream Death for  almost single-handedly pioneering the death doom genre in a very significant way many years prior. Dream Death are also very integral to the development of the American sludge scene of the 1990?s despite never having penetrated it. Burning Witch, Eyehategod, Winter, Greif and many others owe everything to Dream Death. Dream Death were poised to take metal by storm in the late 80?s and if they had been able to do so at the time following the release of Journey Into Mystery they would now be looked back on and considered as an obvious classic rather than a lost classic, or possibly both is what they truly are and always have been ever since calling it quits in the spring of 1989. Not until 2005 had interest in Dream Death resurfaced when the Austrian label PsycheDOOMelic Records re-released their first two cassettes on the CD compilation entitled Back From The Dead.  A few years later, in 2009, Hell’s Headbangers put out the live album Pittsburgh Sludge Metal, which on some versions claims to be a recording of the band’s very first show but actually isn’t. Regardless, it’s still a brilliant time capsule of the band in their prime just before the recording of Journey Into Mystery.

Dream Death have since reformed in 2011 and I had a chance to talk with vocalist Brian Lawrence about the band’s history…

Describe the Pittsburgh metal scene before and around the time when the members of Dream Death started to come together?

Brian Lawrence: Before there was a metal scene, there was a pretty significant punk scene going on. Mike [Smail] and I had become friends with and jammed with Dan Klasnick and Jeff Cherep (eventually of Doomwatch) and they introduced us to some of the punk stuff. One night we went to see a metal band play called Necropolis and I think we all thought “Hey, they’re doing it, we can too”. I think Jeff and Dan wanted us to start Doomwatch with them but Mike and I had been working on the music that would eventually be Dream Death. So we all branched off and started those two bands which really seemed to kick-start the metal scene in Pittsburgh. Soon there were tons of bands and shows happening all the time and metal fans were coming out of everywhere. I have some good memories from those days and met many of the friends in my life from that period.

How did you guys come up with the name Dream Death?

B.L.: It was the usual ‘everyone come up with a list of 10 names’ type of thing. Ted [Williams], our bass player at the time, accidentally wrote the name of a low budget horror film [Deathdream a.k.a. Dead Of Night] in the wrong order and we went with it. Having the word death in the title was probably a bit cliché but the decision was made in literally 10 seconds. We used to spend hours working out the details of the music but when it came time for things like band name and who’s going to sing, we just kind of said “ok” and moved on.

Who were some of the earliest influences on Dream Death’s sound?

B.L.: We were young metalheads and into metal no matter what the style. My personal tastes went from 70’s hard rock into the NWOBHM and then into thrash metal and Dream Death’s sound was just another progression into heavy music for me. I hear many things in the sound when I listen back. There’s Celtic Frost, to be sure, but I think people overplay that emphasis. It might be the sliding chords or something. There’s Sabbath, Candlemass, Trouble, Witchfinder General, Angel Witch and bands of that type that I hear an influence of. Those bands I probably listened to more than others.

You were one of the first bands to incorporate doom elements into thrash after bands like Trouble, who you mentioned, but Dream Death also played in a unique proto-death metal style at a time before that later became the standard. Were headbangers receptive to this style in the early days or did it take some warming up to?

B.L.: Overall, I’d say no. We had some people really into it in Pittsburgh and we’d get letters from around the world but I think that most people wanted to hear pure thrash at that time.

Dream Death have a lot of science fiction and pulp oriented themes running through the lyrics. Certain tracks bring to mind stories by old-timey authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft. Was that something that everyone brought to the table or was it just one or a few of you guys that brought that element into the band?

B.L.: Well, I wrote most of the lyrics and they started out as horror stories then developed into horror stories with some underlying theme then developed into things that were happening in my life. Mike wrote the lyrics to two songs, “The Elder Race” and “Rhaize’s Shadows”, and these were both based on Robert E. Howard stories as he’s a huge fan. I don’t know anything about those lyrics, I just sing ‘em.

Your 1987 debut album, Journey Into Mystery, is considered an underground classic in doom and thrash metal circles today. What do you remember about the recording process for it? How long did it take record?

B.L.: If I remember correctly, it was completed in two or three days. Maybe like two days to lay down the tracks and one day to mix. This was mostly due to money. We were supposed to be paid royalties by the record company to pay back the studio costs (which we borrowed from my mom, whom we’ve never paid back, sorry mom!) but I’ve personally never received one cent for Journey Into Mystery. The recording itself is ok, and just ok. We were studio rookies back then and left all of the processes to the studio personnel. The guitars just don’t have the powerful sound that we created live and Mike was dismayed to learn, when we were mixing, that a gating processor had been used during the recording of his bass drum and many of his nuances had been lost. We absolutely hated the sound of the thing when it came out but what can you expect for such a low budget? I’ve gotten used to the sound over time and I’m mostly proud of that release.

How was Journey Into Mystery received by fans and critics at the time of its release?

B.L.: Reviews in magazines were mostly very good but I’m not sure what metal fans in general thought of it. Like I said, we never received royalty statements. I don’t know if two people bought it or two thousand…

 Did you guys tour a lot outside of the Pittsburgh area? Where? Who were some of the other bands you played with?

B.L.: We just didn’t have enough of a following outside of Pittsburgh to maintain a tour. I guess people didn’t know what to make of us. We would do one-offs in different cities such as Cleveland, Baltimore, D.C., some college towns in New York and West Virginia. We did play with and open for a lot of bands, off the top of my head there is Revelation, Deceased, Zoetrope, Megadeth, Nuclear Assault, Executioner, too many!

Nice. Is there anything about the album in particular that has really stuck with you personally over the years?

B.L.: The songs still strike a note with me. They may be from my youth but I can still taste the venom.

Cool, since yinz reformed last year, are there any plans of maybe doing another album? Is there any new material in the works?

B.L.: We do have a new song that we’ll be playing at the reunion show. We’re working on the final details of that right now. Not sure if that will turn into a new album or not. Right now we’re just concentrating on this show.

I was born the same year Journey Into Mystery was released and so I’m really very curious as to what your thoughts are on the metal scene of today in comparison to the scene in the 80?s? Do you feel that your music gets attention from younger fans or is it mostly older folks that were around back in the day that still carry the torch for bands like Dream Death?

B.L.: My guess is that it’s a lot of old farts still carrying the torch but it’s cool to see someone like yourself getting into older bands. I don’t really have any comment on scene versus scene, times are always changing. You just gotta like what you like. Good music is good music no matter when it was made. Thanks for the interest in Dream Death. After the reunion show, we’ll see what the future may hold…

If you’re a lover of doom, thrash or just heavy metal in general you owe it to yourself to take a look back at Dream Death. If you can help it, you don’t want to miss their reunion show next month at the 31st Street Pub on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh’s strip district. April 21st, 2012 with Argus and Closer To Hell. Tickets are moving fast but are still available in limited quantities at Smail’s Custom Drum Shop and Slacker clothing shop in south side.

Words: Wes Cueto ( Graveyards )

 Dream Death official facebook

Mares Of Thrace - The Pilgrimage ...

The rise of high-quality female-fronted doom and sludge bands continue with this absolute mind-blowing album from the girls of Mares Of Thrace and their second release 'The Pilgrimage.' The first thing I should say here is; this sounds fresh; not that they are doing anything remarkably original but something about this sounds unique and vitally refreshing for the doom and sludge scenes. Mares Of Thrace are a duo, Thérèse Lanz and Stef MacKichan and these girls know their chops. Stef is a jazz-trained drummer so I guess that is part of the reason the drumming on this album is so dynamic while Lanz has a voice to scare the pants of the most extreme heavy music fan. Even though the only instruments here are drums and guitar; it is amazing how thick, full, warm and rich sounding this album is.

Musically this album is closer to experimental hardcore sludge-metal than it is anything traditional doom metal but the atmospheric quality dives to the darkest of doom depths in most of these 10 tracks. However, the band never gets stuck in the rut of plodding along or just simply hitting monolithic, crawling riffs. These songs have a wide array of variations, both in tempos and stylistic approaches and songs actually get very fast at times with blast-beat bursts of insane fury. I am not going to do my usual track-by-track review with this album. Each track is great but if I was going to describe each track in detail, it would end up a near-novel in itself. It is not that these songs are very complex, far from it but the depth to these pieces is staggering.

Mares Of Thrace have found a great niche for themselves within the doom-laden sludge genre. They have found an absorbing, interesting balance between the experimental factor, tight grooves and just out-and-out monolithic doom riffing. The vocals of Lanz has also come of age and can easily blow away most of her male counterparts for sheer intensity. The album kicks off with 'Act I: David Glimpses Bathsheba' and the evil foreboding intensity of this album is quickly established. From there; the dark and oppressive intensity doesn't let up. The only departure from this vibe is 'Triple B' which is an oddball electronic-noise track but apart from that, this album is solid compelling sludge. At times the songs will head into a more melancholic direction but it is usually short-lived and while 'The Pilgrimage' has a lot of ambient passages, overall it is still a menacing wall of sound.

'The Perpetrator' and 'The Gallwasp' stand-out as two of the most assessable tunes with insane amounts of grooves while 'The Three-Legged Courtesan... ' is an instrumental showcase for their incredible talents as musicians. The bulk of the charm associated with this album is it is constantly pulling in all directions but it keeps a great balance between being challenging and being very assessable. The hardcore sludge and doom metal fan should find most, if not all of this crushingly excellent while the more adventurous listener should find some of the passages very captivating. The mix of noise, experimental ambience, sludge metal, doom metal, and even some hardcore punk elements wont be for everyone but I feel this is one of the most important releases of recent years. Along with Undersmile (another female-fronted band), Mares Of Thrace are a game-changing band but I get the feeling like so many of these kind of albums, it will fly under the radar for most people. All I can say is wake up folks, bands like Mares of Thrace are giving doom and sludge metal a much-needed shot in the arm whether you get it or not. Another essential, formidable release for 2012 that knocks most other bands into the dirt.....9.5/10.


Mar 28, 2012

Ufomammut - Oro: Opus Primum ...

It seems like I am reviewing all the albums of the year all at once in the past week or so and here comes another; the new effort from Italian space-rock doomsters Ufomammut. Formed in Northern Italy in 1999, this is one band that has been remarkably consistent. They have yet to release an album that is anything less than mind-blowing and this album doesn't disappoint either. I am guessing what keeps Ufomammut delivering such high-quality releases is they are always pushing themselves into uncharted waters.

They are always coming up with fresh concepts and while musically, you can draw comparisons between all their albums, they all have a personality of their own. This new album titled 'Oro: Opus Primum' is far more cinematic that what they have done in the past. The entire album plays like a soundtrack with all the tracks bleeding together into the one concise stream of psychedelic doom enchantment. Their last album 'Eve' was a masterstroke in its own right so I for one didn't think they could follow it but they have.....and how!

Ufomammut have always been a challenging band for doom metal fans and at a guess, I would say their music is just TOO challenging for most doom-metal listeners. Whether it is the bleakness or the overwhelming ambitious nature of their recordings; some folks just don't get it. For those that do get it, this should be considered their best work yet.

The mood of the album is created very early on with 'Empireum' that gets this mind-expanding, multi-faceted release off and running. It begins with almost tribal-like drumming, spaced out electronics, vocals that weave in and out and it slowly comes to life building in tension. As the track grows in dramatics, so does the crushing heaviness and it ends up being one very oppressive doom piece. At 13:55 long, it won't be for everyone but you can also say that about every album that this band has ever done. One thing is certain, 'Empireum' is another classic piece of Ufomammut sonic, psychedelic dirge but the cinematic qualities are cranked up an extra-notch on this one.

'Aureum' that follows next is a bit more lumbering but dare I say, a more uplifting musical experience compared with the opening tune. The monster riff that is the basis to the track stumbles along like a woolly mammoth stomping and crushing everything in its path. The track is broken up at the halfway mark of the piece with a surprisingly catchy boost in tempo and it all builds to a exhilarating climax after 12 breath-taking minutes. The album then shifts gears ever so slightly, the songs become a lot shorter (but still over 7 minutes) and the album seems to become even more dense and clouded in atmospheric fog. The first track of the three that make up the second half of the album is titled 'Infearnatural' and it is a marvel at sustained minimalistic doomed psychedelia. The repetitive side of their songwriting is put to good use as they are one of the few bands that can play the same riff repeatedly and seem to be doing something else with it each and every-time they play it. 'Magickon' follows in similar fashion, only this time with an even bigger emphasis on atmospherics. 'Magickon' is multi-layered and rife with tension-filled elements that draw the listener into the track for all of its 7:57.

The album closing track is another great track and a mystical journey that is very hypnotic. Titled 'Midomine' it features vocal samples and unnerving sound effects that sound very disturbing through headphones. The riffs are ugly which only increases the chilling atmosphere that this track pushes out. Again it is all about tension and delivering moods and feels and it rounds out the album in a exhilarating way after 50-something minutes. The music on this release is mostly instrumental but Ufomammut are a band that don't really need vocals. The vocals that are present on 'Oro: Opus Primum' are low in the mix but that suits the chilling tension that the tracks on this album have. Ufommamut are a crushing doom band but in my mind, they are also taking psychedelic rock to places it has never been before. Full of emotional depth, atmospheric complexities and breath-taking melodies and riffing; 'Oro: Opus Primum' is the most detailed, ambitious piece of work that Ufomammut have ever recorded. Highly Recommended.....9.5/10.

Ufomammut – Official Website

GRAND MAGUS: 'The Hunt' Cover Artwork Unveiled ...

Swedish heavy rockers GRAND MAGUS will release their new album, "The Hunt", in Europe on May 25 via Nuclear Blast Records. The CD's cover artwork was created by Arik Roper (CATHEDRAL, HIGH ON FIRE, SLEEP), who also handled the art on GRAND MAGUS' "Iron Will" LP.

Commented GRAND MAGUS frontman Janne "J.B." Christoffersson: "Arik Roper is a super-talented artist and we've had the pleasure of working with him before when he did the cover art for our album 'Iron Will'. This time around with the overall feel and lyrical themes of our new album 'The Hunt', Arik was the perfect choice once again. We basicallly just gave him the title and he created one of the most haunting and suggestive images ever seen. He totally nailed what the album is all about. To say we are pleased is a gigantic understatement! This piece of art will stand the test of time and become classic."

Nuclear Blast label manager Andy Siry recently stated about GRAND MAGUS' addition to the label's roster: "We're delighted to welcome GRAND MAGUS to the Nuclear Blast family. These guys class among the best today's heavy metal scene has to offer, though GRAND MAGUS are much more than just that. Both live and on their albums, GRAND MAGUS are terrific, plus they indicate a continuous development. This is why we're happy to turn over a new leaf in the history of band and label."

GRAND MAGUS's last album, "Hammer Of The North", was released digitally in North America in January 2011 via Roadrunner Records. The CD was recorded at 301 studios outside of Stockholm and features artwork by Necrolord.

During the band's 10-year history, GRAND MAGUS released two demos, one split EP and five full-length albums, and has received overwhelmingly positive reviews throughout. Their fourth opus, "Iron Will", was voted "Album of The Month" in the German Metal Hammer and Rock Hard magazines.

Drawing hefty influences from the hand-on-heart grandeur of the NWOBHM and the inspirational mythology of their forbears, GRAND MAGUS is steeped in pre-Christian tales of triumph, vengeance, betrayal, wisdom and death. But GRAND MAGUS also stands for energetic live performances, as seen at European festivals such as Sweden Rock, Hellfest, Wacken, Summer Breeze and on tour in Europe with bands like AT THE GATES, CATHEDRAL, CANDLEMASS, TYRANT, SERPENTCULT and ELECTRIC WIZARD.

The World of Doom: Interview with SURTR ...

SURTR unleash a dark atmosphere of traditional doom metal on the France-based trio's debut World Of Doom. The band paints a gloomy picture of the world using the hallmarks of doom metal pioneers. They set up the basics of upcoming riots through a concept-album using an analogy between the giant SURTR's story and modern societies. Mahesh from Doommantia caught up with them to discuss on their last present and future plans.

Greetings to you from Doommantia and congrats on your first full length Album “World of Doom.”


For the readers of Doommantia. Give us a brief history on Surtr.

Surtr has been set up by Jeff and I in 2009. We recorded a short demo early 2010, which showed World of Doom's basis. We required Julien's help later in 2010 in order to record the bass on World of Doom. Since then Surtr became a trio. We are now working on the new album.

How was the response for your album “World of Doom”?

The album allowed us to play some interesting gigs. For instance we played at Hellfest last year and opened for The Wounded Kings earlier in March. And the album's sales are rather reasonable in fact. We got interesting “bites” we would like to develop in the future, so I think the feedbacks were not bad at all by now.

What is the concept behind the album “World of Doom”. The track list has “world of Doom” from part I to part V. What is thought behind that.?

At the beginning, Jeff and I got lots of riffs, and we decided to put riffs behind other riffs and so on. We structured them a bit and arranged the whole thing. That’s why we get these few long songs with a lot of riffs written during a short time. The lyrics are a mix between today’s society and Surtur’s mythology. But for the next release, we gain a little bit more songwriting skills and structures. So we can say that the upcoming stuff will really be more varied. Riffs are catchier, music is more reflected and Jeff improved his singing skills a lot. So we are all of us very impatient to release it and to go on tour.

The album artwork looks like a killer stuff. Whose idea was it behind that?

At the beginning we were looking for something that could represent the music of the album. Something in a doom/warrior style or something like that. And at this time we really liked the Count Raven's “Mammons War” artwork. So we asked the guy who made it. For the upcoming album I will do the artwork by myself and I think it will be something more personal for the band.

There are some mixed reviews for this album as some fans like it and some doesn’t. Have you heard or read any of those things.

Actually I think we read all the reviews we could. Of course reviewers are often mixed in their point of view. But I think that it is often the case for a lot of bands. Not all reviewers can like what a band do. And so am I too, and I’m sure so are you either… Well, I have to admit that sometimes a bad review can hurt a little bit, but we have to go through that. Releasing an album is like baring yourself. And I think that it is a really hard thing to do, but if you want to do something you also have to bear critics. And in a certain way, it will help you to grow up. We were inexperienced and we still learn, it’s a part of the deal. And we took most of the reviews into consideration in order to improve ourselves. I think you will notice that in the new material. But we got also some very encouraging reviews, and now very encouraging critics of people who already succeed in the way we are looking for.

How is doom metal scene in France and what all bands do you listen to?

For my part I don’t really listen to French stuff. We’ve got some good bands in France, but the local scene never interested me that much. I am rather enjoying the German, American, Scandinavian or Italian scene. The doom scene in France is very small in fact, although it tends to grow, but it still is very confidential by comparison with the German or American scene. You know, for two years, with Jeff, we tried to launch our small booking business. We were in touch with the booker of Ghost for instance and we tried to make them play in France. Nobody was giving a shit about them in France … People said things like: “well it is really too expensive for the shit they do and we would not take a risk for this” … Now Ghost’s rates increased and people are snapping …  trust me, France really sucks!

What are all the subjects that inspire you to make your music. IS there any specific subject you choose or it depends on the various aspects of life?

As I said  World of Doom concept was a lot about mixing Surtur’s mythology with actual society. In the new stuff we are currently working on, there still are some reminiscences of that, but I think we are naturally going a little bit out of that and talk about more personal stuff or more mixed subjects.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?

World of Doom was a 45 min of epic narcoleptic doom metal. The upcoming album will be much more traditional. We got 7 strong heavy/doom metal songs with catchy riffing. As we really play now as a trio, we try to develop this whole wall of sound and try to keep this roots oriented style of playing. I really think that doom metal is a synonym of integrity in the music world. And we have to keep it like that.

Who does  the song writing and what is the process you follow. Do you arrange all the bits before you hit the studio or you make some changes while you are recording.

The song writing process has strongly changed since we’ve got Julien involved with us. With World of Doom it was only Jeff and I. Now as a trio, we are really developing this team writing process. We jam a lot, build and rebuild the songs until we think they are good enough. And then we play them round and round until we got the real feeling inside them. Being a trio has really developed our songwriting skills I think. Julien brings another point of view to what we had when we wrote World of Doom. And he gets this perfectionism way of thinking about the music… that make us improve as musicians.

Do you like any particular track in the “World of Doom”? Any particular reason for that?

If you listen to the album for the first time you will certainly think that the tracks are a little bit the same, but if you really enter the album you will hear a lot of different things, different inspirations. I think that you have to take the album as a whole piece, this is a concept-album. But when we played this stuff live, we always played Part I, III, IV and V. But I particularly like the Black Sabbath influenced of Part II and the slow black metal inspiration in Part IV .

Is there any bands you would like to open for in the near future. I am sure there will be lot of gigs happening. Also what is your tour plans?

We’ve just opened for The Wounded Kings on one of their gig in France, and it was a great experience. We also get really good feedbacks from them and we can expect doing a few things with them in the future. We will also open for Wizard’s Beard, our label colleagues, in July. For my part, it would also be an honor if we could one day open for bands like Lord Vicar, Procession, Black Oath, Argus or Evangelist. Although our style is different of what they do, I nevertheless think that it could certainly fit a lot.  Our plan in the future is to record the new album in September and to release it early 2013. Then we will look to set up a tour in Europe and also in the UK and Eire. We've already got few contacts for that. We also hope to do few festivals. People interested in making us play can contact us by writing to

Any good bands you would like to recommend from France?

As always I would say The Bottle Doom Lazy Band, Children of Doom, Ataraxie or this band called Barrabas who still seems to have this very doom spirit influences and also the young Father Merrin who opened for us once. I really like their stuff.

What are some of your favorite albums in doom metal outfit. Do you listen to any of them often?

To me, the last revelations were Black Oath, Argus, Procession, the last Blood Ceremony or The Wounded Kings albums. I think I can listen to this stuff everyday without getting bored. And I look forward to hear the upcoming Saint Vitus album.

Is there anything else you want to say to your fans and to the readers of Doommantia?

I hope you will support our upcoming stuff and like it the way we do. And also that you will continue to support the whole doom metal scene everywhere. You have to keep in mind that “doom metal” means “true metal”.

Thanks for your time and all the very best for Surtr?

Thank you for your interest and wait the new stuff either !! You can stay updated on our website and access to our Facebook page. And thank you for your interest !

Interview by Mahesh.

Surtr @ Blogspot

Mar 27, 2012

Saint Vitus - Lillie: F-65 ...

One of the most anticipated doom metal albums is about to be released in a few weeks. Of course I am talking about 'Lillie: F-65' by doom legends Saint Vitus. A lot was riding on this album for me personally. I am a huge fan of the band and some of their albums rank as my favorite doom albums of all time so for this album to come close to those would always be a challenge. I will get my main gripe out-of-the-way first and I am sure you will read this from many other writers over the coming months as well. This album is way too short, the total playing time is a pathetic 34:29 and in this day and age, that is just not enough music. I am sure they are trying to keep this new album in line with the classic vinyl of the past in terms of its length but I find it very disappointing that after all these years; all they can muster up is 34 minutes of new music. Also take into account that one song, 'Blessed Night' has been a live staple already for a long time so take that out of the equation and you get less than 30 minutes worth of new tunes.

Now with that out-of-the-way, it has to be noted that 'Lillie: F-65' is a no-nonsense Saint Vitus album and they deliver exactly what the Vitus fan wants to hear from them. There is no bending of their sound, not much experimentation but fans wouldn't want it any other way. Dave Chandler's guitar sound is intact still after all these years; he still has that abrasive, nasty sound and Wino's vocals are as expressive and as down to earth as ever. Scott “Wino” Weinrich is one of the most charismatic artists to emerge from the doom scene and the vocals on this album drive that point home even further. As well as some of the best vocals that Wino has ever delivered, lyrically this has the best lyrics ever put down onto a Saint Vitus album. Songs like 'The Bleeding Ground' where Wino tells stories about secret Government drug testing is just one example of the totally captivating lyrical approach that album has to offer.

The album starts off in typical Saint Vitus doomed dirge style with 'Let Them Fall' Vocals follow the riffs or is it the other way around, either way it is simple, straight-forward stuff but that is what you want to hear, right? The riffing is depressing and kind of morose and the vocal style is one of pure pain but the song itself seems a bit underdone at just four minutes. It is hardly a dud track but it is still a rather under-whelming opening track. 'The Bleeding Ground' follows and there is a rise in songwriting quality. Musically, it is Vitus at their best and features easily the best lyrics on the album. It has a classic start-stop arrangement which is something they nailed so well back on the 'Born Too Late' album in 1986. The guitar work is also some of Chandler's finest; even finding time to add some rare melodic touches to the track. 'The Bleeding Ground' is a major highlight and will be for many people, the best track on 'Lillie: F-65.'

Just 10 minutes into the album and they go into a short instrumental titled 'Vertigo' and it is again surprisingly melodic but it acts as the perfect lead in to the next track 'Blessed Night.' Seeing as this track has been played live for at least a year already, the track already seems like an old friend. The track highlights how well drummer Henry Vasquez has fitted into the band. The Blood Of The Sun drummer is of course a very skilled drummer capable of dynamic drum rolls and classic 70's styled drumming perfection but he can also do the basic, stripped down doom approach with ease too and his drumming shines on 'Lillie F-65.' Now as much as this album is a morose dark affair, it is not till you get to 'The Waste of Time' that the album goes full-tilt doom. This track is about as 'bleak' as Saint Vitus gets and it signals a shift into darker, more depressing realms of doom metal for the rest of the album. The album's second half in my opinion is far stronger than the first and far more atmospheric and it also supplies the best two tracks of 'Lillie: F-65' starting with 'The Waste of Time.'

'The Waste Of Time' bleeds into 'Dependence' and it has taken a while but finally the band is running at the peak of its powers. 'Dependence' is a complete Vitus track with all the elements that make Saint Vitus such a much-loved band including a sabbathian passage towards the end of the track. It has the screeching guitar work of Chandler and the downtrodden but down to earth vibe and is classic Vitus material and a great way to end the album. I say end because there is one more track but I honestly find it close to un-listenable. It is basically Dave Chandler trying to destroy the eardrums of listeners and doing a pretty good job of it but it is also mundane to listen to. I dig Dave's guitar work as much as any dedicated Saint Vitus listener but this instrumental outro piece just seems pointless and self-indulgent; especially when the album is already too short as it is. Wasting  3 minutes of playing time on a track of a guitarist getting his rocks off might be interesting for one or two spins but after that, it becomes pure "skip" material.

The production on 'Lillie F-65' by T. Dallas Reed is great and while it lacks the charm of Born Too Late or Die Healing; it is technically the best mix the band has ever had on an album. The first half of the album is half great, half ordinary but even the ordinary passages are still better than most other bands. The second half of the album is where the release really shines apart from the time-wasting noise-fest that closes the album. 'Lillie F-65' is good but underdone, way too short and has a couple of less than spectacular tracks so it is far from perfect. For Saint Vitus fans like myself, it is still highly recommended but for other people not sold on Saint Vitus, this won't go changing your mind on the band. I rate the quality of this album in the middle of their catalog of recordings. It is far from the worse but not close to the best but it will end up near the top of 2012 album list regardless......8/10.

Saint Vitus @ Facebook
Season of Mist

Mar 26, 2012

High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis ...

Every really good band has an album that either automatically or sooner or later becomes their masterpiece or at least pushes them into the class of legends. 'De Vermis Mysteriis' is that album for High on Fire. Now I admit that I am speaking with a decent amount of bias as I am a big fan of the band but this album is just spectacular and if you don't agree, I am sorry for you - maybe check all your vital signs because I just don't understand how you can't be impressed by this release. Now interestingly enough from a personal point of view, I still rate their first three albums as the better albums but this album comes so close that I could just as easily call it their best yet but I just can't do that - not yet anyway.

Now, some bands have huge guitar sounds, maybe huge cannon like drums or monstrous vocals but that is album has huge everything. The sound on this beast is a masterstroke, the kind of album that the production alone is enough to leave you begging for more, regardless of how good the songs are. What makes this even better is; the songs are incredible. While I think my favorite songs of theirs are on albums like 'The Art of Self Defense,' 'Surrounded by Thieves,' and 'Blessed Black Wings,' this album is their most consistent collection of killer riffage yet.

The album title translated means something like 'Mysteries Of The Worm' and comes from author Robert Bloch (Psycho) and was used by HP Lovecraft into the lore of Cthulhu. Going back to my opening comments for a second now; some bands who have put in the road-work and the amount of recording that High on Fire have done (this is album number six) are usually close to burning out by now but HOF seem to have so much fire in their collective bellies that I see them pouring out solid albums for at least the next 15 years. Comparing this album with all their others now and it is easy to hear that this is a logical progression from past works. It has ALL the elements from past albums all rolled into the one concise package but it is also the sound of a band moving forward and not content at all at just recording for the sake of product. What is also very strong about 'De Vermis Mysteriis' is each track has a personality all of its own. While other metal bands are happy with putting out albums of basically the same thing, High on Fire stretch themselves in different directions on each and every track. The musicianship of Pike and Co has now reached a peak while the songwriting has never been so strong as it is now.

The album kicks off with the tidal wave of power 'Serums of Liao' and it is six minutes of pure intensity. It is like a battle cry which has the band raping your eardrums with incredible riffing and some of the most aggressive vocals that Matt Pike has ever delivered. As I already mentioned, the production on this album is perfection with the mix being the most clear and precise production job that they have ever got and these songs really seem to benefit from it. The current leader in the Doommantia drummers poll is Des Kensel and it is no wonder; the drumming on this makes Dave Lombardo sound like Ringo Starr. High On Fire have now got a formula of kicking off albums with a longish, high energy riff fest and 'Serums of Liao' is no different. The track that follows, 'Bloody Knuckles' is less riffing barrage and more classic High On Fire filthy groove. The hooks are among the most infectious the band has ever come up with. Something has to be said about Matt Pike's vocals too at this point. He has developed a nasty growling voice that sounds deathly and angry but at the same time, full of charm. The only other vocalist out there that comes close is perhaps Lemmy. The sound of a voice that is affected by too much smoking and heavy drinking, yet somehow compliments the guitar sound perfectly.

Now I have to mention Kensel once again, the third track 'Fertile Green' has the kind of drumming that makes other drummers just simply quit trying. If you a drummer just starting out, check this track out but beware this might make you want to give-up before you have even started. 'Fertile Green' is classic HOF: a powerhouse of thick stoner-metal cranked up to sheer frightening levels of ferocity. Of course the band has always been the kind of band that is borderline thrash-metal and this is one of their most thrashy attacks yet. 'Madness of an Architect' is different again but somehow is the perfect follower to 'Fertile Green.' This two beautifully bleed together and on this tune, they just constantly throw the listener variations that will make you drool. Just the last couple of minutes alone of this almost 7 minute masterpiece is enough to leave you floored with Pike ripping insane leads like a man possessed. With grooves, hooks, leads and more hooks than the biggest tackle-box, this is another defining moment in this bands career. Simply inspirational tune!

'Samsara' comes next and is the albums instrumental interlude for the want of a better description. This is a track that could either be a nice opening track for live performances as a way of breaking in an audience before bashing them around the head with so much potent riffage or it can be what it is here and that is a break from the intensity of it all. If this album has any misstep which it hasn't really but if it has, it might be this track. I personally love it but I wouldn't have minded the intensity continuing either. Of course it is no mellow, relaxing track and I don't think this band would have a clue how to do write such a tune anyway but it is a departure from the High On Fire norm and is further proof on how far this band has come as musicians and songwriters. The next track up is another masterpiece called 'Spiritual Rites' and it is another flawless barrage of riffing intensity. It actually has one of the albums most unleashed moments of energetic drumming/guitar interplay but it is yet again, catchy as hell.

'King of Days' comes up next in the running order and it is the albums only real "doom" track. It is not exactly slow and plodding or even chugging doom for that matter but if you want to hear thicker than wet-cement doomy guitar riffs, then this is a tune you must hear. This is also the albums longest track at 7:09 but with variation and variance plus the bands ability to throw out hooks like they are going out of fashion, this is one of the easiest 7 minutes of doom riffage you will ever hear. Fans of the early High On Fire tunes will gravitate towards this piece as it is a bit of a throwback to their early style and to Pike's earlier band Sleep. 'De Vermis Mysteriis,' the title track, and the albums shortest tune is up next and it is another showcase for the drumming of Kensel. I must say I can't think of another album released in the last couple of years where the drumming shares just as much of the limelight as the guitar work but this is truly a drummer's wet-dream come true. While this song doesn't supply any real surprises at this late stage of the album, it is still another irresistible track that will blow away what is left of your brain-cells at this 38 minute mark of the release.

'Romulus and Remus' showcases another side to the band and that is their black-metal side. Matt Pike has always been partial to the sounds of early black metal, especially bands like early Venom and this track seems to be pushing into that direction without getting there completely. What is amazing at this stage in the album is there is still not a trace of filler to be heard which is an achievement for even the best bands around these days. 'Romulus and Remus' also highlights the unsung hero in the band, bassist 'Jeff Matz.' The buzzing bass sound on this track is really pushed to the front of the band for this tune and it is lethal to the extreme. Then we get to the album last track called 'Warhorn' which is some interesting High On Fire but it is a more experimental approach and I think this is an ever so slight weak closer for the album. They seem to be going for a Melvins kind of weirdness and I am not totally convinced it has worked but I also feel it is still a more than decent track. I am guessing after the heavy-handed riffing assault that the rest of the album delivers, this one comes off at being just a little luke-warm but I still can't complain too much.

It has to be said that High On Fire are a band that people love to jump on the hate bandwagon for and that is something I have never understood. Out of all the bands to express your elitist attitude for; why pick on HOF? If you want to hate them, go ahead hate them, if you want to dig them, that is great too but if you are in the middle - get the fuck out, that is all I can say on that. 'De Vermis Mysteriis' will be an album that will get 10/10 ratings, it will end up at number one on 2012 best album lists but there will be some critics out there that will preach that it is weak without any constructive argument to back up the statement. I, for one think High On Fire are one of the "metal bands for the future." One band that does give metal some sense of credibility within the mainstream, god knows most other metal bands that have cracked the mainstream can't do that. 'De Vermis Mysteriis' is the album that will take the band to yet another level of appreciation and it is already obvious to me at least that High On Fire will be big news everywhere within a few months based on the greatness of this release. That appreciation and publicity will be well-deserved too. I stress once again that I am biased when it comes to HOF but all of us reviewers are biased about some bands but in my opinion, Pike, Kensel, and Matz can't do no wrong at the moment. I could give this a 10/10 just on the strength of nine of the ten songs but that wouldn't be fair on all the other bands I review so I am giving it a 9.5/10 but it is killing me!

Official Website
High on Fire @ Facebook

Mar 25, 2012

Fire Faithful – Please Accept This Invocation ...

Formerly known as Southern Vein - now known as Fire Faithful, this is a group of musicians that have delivered an album unlike anything that I was expecting, well almost anything. I must admit that I was expecting something far more sludgy, doomy and sabbathian that what I hear on 'Please Accept This Invocation.' It is not that this isn't a heavy album but it is far more traditional southern rock and metal than I thought it would be and that took some getting used to. But let's get back to the facts, Fire Faithful are now very much a whisky-soaked southern metal/rock band in the finest of southern traditions but this is no Black Oak Arkansas, this is more your Beaten Back To Pure having a run-in with Alabama Thunderpussy while Jim Dandy shouts obscenities from the sidelines. Looking at the artwork suggests an album with an emphasis on the occult and the heavy use of drugs but musically, it is a very different kettle of rock.

Some of this is very old-school dirty metal; the one-two punch of the album opening title track and 'Dollar Bottomed Out' kick things off with gutsy southern metal swagger and groove. What is vital to the sound of these two tracks and a few others is the mood they create. The vocals range from a grumpy croon to a Phil Anselmo kind of aggression while musically, they keep it flowing with a lot of loud/quiet/slow to mid-tempo changes. It is not till you get to the third track that you get what I was expecting to hear more of which is doomy, stoner-metal meets a southern bluesy hybrid. While it is not as heavy as the albums opening tunes, this is a killer tune and certainly one of the most memorable this album has to offer. The next track 'Disgust is a Must' signals a directional change for the album, even though it is a minor one. This track is a little ponderous and jammy with a catchy but generic chorus. While it is not a bad track at all, it does disrupt the flow of the album for yours truly.

'Enter the Monster' takes the album back to the vibe of the earlier tracks. There is great guitar work but still something seems to be a piece missing from the puzzle. I know the vocal arrangement isn't exactly riveting but I don't think that is essentially what is at fault here but there is something not grabbing me at this point in the album the way it should be. Thankfully after those 13 to 14 minutes of less than stimulating rock, the album bounces back in a big way with a track called 'Flamingo' and once again the band is firing on all cylinders. The songwriting is once again concise and musically, everything is dynamic and grooving once more. Then the album gets even better still with 'Wonton Lavey' (great title!) and the southern metal swagger is raging at full force. The album then ends on the very metallic 'Alone With a Stranger' which sounds different to anything else on the CD. It is a great way to finish off the release and it is a track that is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

While it has to be said that this album seems patchy, especially in the middle part of the disc; overall it is still more than pleasing enough. This is a band that seem to be always progressing and trying to find their sound and style but who knows if they have found it yet. They are just as likely to change once again for the next album but I guess will have to wait and see what happens when the time comes. This album produced by Vince Burke has got a great meaty sound but I would like to see them stick to the heavier, more aggressive side in the future as there is no doubt that when the band is really firing, they produced some kick-ass memorable music but that is my personal tastes talking again. Check out this album and see if my opinions make any sense; it is well worth the effort.....7.5/10.

Fire Faithful @ Facebook

Doom Frozen Over: Interview with Who Dies in Siberian Slush ...

Moscow funeral death doom formation Who Dies in Siberian Slush is well known to the connoisseurs. Yet another reminder of the band was the release of split album "Four Fragments of Fading Light" together with Canadian funeral project Ego Depths. Looking for truth and answers to a number of questions I addressed to the mastermind of the Moscow band, comrade E.S. Feel the bitter taste of Siberian Funeral Traditions!
And don’t forget to check new work of the band – their split-album with Ego Depths “Four Fragments of Fading Life” which was released by Moscow Funeral League a month ago.

Salut, comrade! My congratulations on the release of split album Who Dies In Siberian Slush/Ego Depths "Four Fragments of Fading Light", we shall talk about it later, however, let me in the beginning ask a number of general questions. Firstly, what was the momentum to create Who Dies in Siberian Slush?
-Hello. Thanks. Siberia is only one of the many places in Russia, where talented people pass away without an opportunity or time to fully express themselves. WDISS is somewhat homage to certain people. And not only for me.

The band’s name bounds to some “Russianness” in works. Where is it expressed, besides the shot of vodka on the cover of full-length album "Bitterness of the Years That Are Lost"?
-The table-glass covered with bread is a Russian symbol of a funeral feast. As far as “Russianness” is concerned, let us turn to the listeners. After "Funeral doom", the most popular tag for WDISS is "Russian".

If WDISS were from England, the tag used would be "English", if from Colombia -- "Columbian". This national component most vividly shows in the only album of another origianl band Vo Skorbyah. How is it revealed in your songs?
-Music does not necessarily need folk instruments and tunes to have Russian spirit. I deeply respect the above mentioned band. However, I don’t think that the way the national component is expressed in their album is the only way. We consider our music Russian in spirit and intelligible exactly for the Slavs.
We are all Russian in WDISS, and we would like Russians to know Russian poetry, literature, music and Russian culture as a whole. We want Russians to appreciate and be proud of the legacy of our great people. One of our tracks is based upon “The Will” by Nikolay Gumilyov. Maybe, for some youth the lyrics will become the first conscious step towards the Russian classical culture.

Why as a means of expression of this concept funeral / death doom metal was chosen? According to the metal clichés black metal describes best the severe Siberian climate zone.
-Why do you think that the music of WDISS describes “the severe Siberian climate zone”? For us funeral/death doom is an up-to-date artistic means, most understandable and close to us as performers. Through this style the listener can resonate with our own vibrations… if you will…

In any event, this topic is touched upon in the name of the band. Moreover, in your section on the metal-archives the songs’ themes are listed as: “Siberian nature, alcohol, depression”. How full and just is this characteristic?
-I don’t know who gave such characteristic. As far as I know, there is no description of Siberian nature, alcohol or depression in WDISS’s lyrics.
In our band we think that the lyrics of Who Dies In Siberian Slush’s debut album are united by feelings of a man whose soul is frozen over with an endless severe winter. The man builds relations with the environment and with himself based upon this condition. 

Please, name your models in the world of funeral / death doom music.
-Mournful Congregation, Colosseum, Loss, Worship, Reclusiam, Profetus, My Shameful.

What is WDISS lacking to attain their level?
-It’s hard to answer definitely. Firstly, all these bands are different; each is special in a way. Secondly, every collective of any level has always something to work at. WDISS is no exception. Thirdly, it’s not our goal to fill a niche or attain some level.

What are your goals then? Gather together from time to time and make records or performances? How are the songs composed?
-What goals can there be… This music is something like breathing for us, so vital and so inevitable. As long as this feeling carries on, the band is like a living body. When it disappears we will be dead as a band. Albums and concerts are signs of life. It’s mainly me who writes the material, as ideas, and then each band member finishes his part as he sees it. The subjects of the songs are mine as well, my friends from Bulgaria, England, Canada and Russia help with adaptation. 

What are the milestones of Who Dies in Siberian Slush’s history? How did the line-up form?
-Nothing special: from 2004 to the middle of 2008 it was a one man band; in the autumn of 2008 the band acquired a full line-up that has been changing, like in many collectives.

Did things become easier with new people? Nowadays one man bands are popular, there are some good examples. 
-I agree, there were good omb examples, like Reclusiam or early Nortt, and still are, like The Howling Void or Dreams After Death. I think the obvious advantage of a omb is authenticity.
When WDISS acquired a full line-up, on the one hand, things became easier, as the responsibilities were shared; each one took up some work. On the other hand, a collective means people with their views and stances, which do not always coincide. There is a certain difficulty. 

"Bitterness of the Years That Are Lost" is an album with participation of expert vocalists from Abstract Spirit, Comatose Vigil, Elnordia, Yantarnye Slyosy, representing Russian doom-scene. What was the reason for their invitation?
-I just showed the material to the friends, they liked it. I don’t remember exactly, but one of them himself offered participation, that’s how the idea came up.

How did the guests share the responsibilities on the album?
-Screaming parts in "Leave Me" were performed by Stellarghost (Abstract Spirit, Twilight is Mine). The second verse of "The Woman We Are Looking For" was entirely sung by A.K.iezor (Comatose Vigil, Abstract Spirit). In the last verse of “Gumilyov’s Will” the second growl by Anton (Yantarnye Slyozy) makes accents magnificently. In the title track the second growl and epic recitative were performed by Spartak from Elnordia.

If I’m not mistaken, you were a constant member of one of Russian Internet doom communities. How can you describe the progress (or degradation) of this part of the doom universe? I think that forums, once active, have seized to be. Live shows are attended much less then sites where one can download music. 
-For the last 7 years I haven’t left a single Internet doom-community I’m in. However, somewhere my participation is more active, somewhere less. It has nothing to do with the quality of the users of these sites. 

What other features of "Bitterness of the Years That Are Lost" can you name? A certain degree of originality is evident; however, I wouldn’t call the material innovative.
-It was not our goal to astonish the listeners with wonders of performance or innovative compositions. We just expressed our thoughts by musical means.

All bands published at Solitude Productions, note the label’s professionalism and reverent attitude. Do you support this?
-I can’t say anything bad about Solitude Prod.

I was not expecting the contrary. But how could you assess the label’s work? Say, is it enough oriented to Russian listeners, or more to Western ones? And what is your attitude to the fact that Russian doom audience is few and passive? The listeners’ reaction usually motivates bands greatly.
-I think that Solitude Prod. has an international status, notwithstanding its indie stance. It is seen from the range of distribution, number of releases and amount of business connections. Doom metal audience is few in general; funeral & death doom -- still fewer. We, as well as the label, are aware of it. Hence, I think that for some time the label has been internationally oriented (apparently not at the expense of Russian listeners).
That is why we respect Solitude Prod. for publishing and promotion of something far from the mainstream.

Now let us speak about your joint effort with Ego Depths "Four Fragments of Fading Light". Comrade Stigmatheist has recently recorded material for another split album, based on a philosophical concept. How did the idea to record the album come to you?
-Here’s the concept: 4 fragments – 4 tracks, the snuffed-out candle on the cover is a symbol of a fading life. We planned a split with Ego Depths long ago. We started to discuss it in 2009 or 2010. It is a common idea.

 How has this concept been implemented in the songs? The material sounds too aggressive for a “fading life”.
-Our two texts are two stories of tragic life ends.
The first one, "The Spring" is based on a true story: a small geological party in Siberian taiga was taken aback by the flood. Everybody died at once, except for the main character, who in vain tried to reach people, making his way through the taiga.
The second track, "Refinement of the Mould" tells about a man who woke up one day to discover on his body a growing fast farinose spot covered with disgusting ooze. After spending the day in despair and nightmares between the reality and nihility, the man harnessed his willpower and decided to end all that by committing himself to fire.
As far as the two tracks by Ego Depths are concerned, in "My Hearse Immortal" the author noted that the essence is the concept of a fading character of our life, or more exactly its metaphysical background. “My hearse immortal” is only a pun.
"Unmasker of the Absurd" – the track was written under the impression from the work by a not very well-known, but extremely talented artist Seeming Watcher, which amazed Ego Depths’ Mastermind with its refinement and meaning. The track does not reflect in full the essence of the picture, it’s more the interpretation of the musician. However, the views of Stigmatheist and the artist correspond in some ways…

How different is this material from "Bitterness of the Years That Are Lost" from your point of view?
-Apparently, it became more difficult. We abandoned the keys. Primordial Studio made experimental, moderately gritty sound. In the two our tracks the listener will find melodies and changes of mood, unexpected within the style.

Is MFL Records an independent label, or was the disc released by means of the band’s members? How important for you today is publishing the material on solid media?
-Like in community MOSCOW FUNERAL LEAGUE, which part the label is, the key decisions for the label are taken by a number of Moscow musicians.
Yes, for me publishing on solid media is essential.

 Extreme music, like any other, is an integral part of modern art. If something is left from the humanity within next couple of centuries, the cultural legacy will apparently be analyzed and re-estimated. Do you think that together with Who Dies In Siberian Slush you do something more than mere playing doom-metal based on own feelings and works of predecessors? I’m talking about the musicians that worked on ground zero of death doom and funeral doom and established main principles of these sub-genres.
-I, for one, don’t like the phrase “modern culture”. I wouldn’t like that which is understood under this term nowadays be associated with the cultural legacy of the humanity.
As far as me and my band is concerned, we hardly have the right to be mentioned alongside with the musicians that established the principles of death doom and funeral doom. It was done not 10 or 20 years ago, but in the 19th century… That’s my opinion. Beethoven, Wagner, Grieg -- these personalities were the originators of heavy music, not Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, as it is considered in the last 10-15 years.

Did the Presidential elections of 4th March provoke any emotions?
-It was just another day-off, a reason for us to get together, rehearse and communicate. We are far from politics.

Thank you for your time. Anything to say to the readers?
-Stay true to yourselves.
Interview By Aleks Evdokimov
Russian text: Metal Library
Offical Website
Mfl Records  - link to splits download.

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