Sunday, January 30, 2011

the sun, the sun, who turned down the sun?

Calm Hatchery -- SACRILEGE OF HUMANITY [Selfmadegod Records]

What the hell is a "calm hatchery" and why would a Polish technical death metal band want to name themselves after one? Is this something we can blame on drugs? Or were all the good names already taken? I dunno, man.... It's a good thing the album is better than the band's name. The poop sheet accompanying this release name-checks Decapitated, Immolation, Morbid Angel, and Nile as influences, which is pretty accurate, especially since the manic blast-beat drumming definitely owes a lot to early, pre-accident Decapitated. While the band is every bit as brutal and aggressive as the aforementioned influences would suggest, there are unexpected (and welcome) flashes of melodic guitar on tracks like "We Are The Universe" and "Lost In the Sands." Most of the time, though, the band's main forte is in constructing tortured, squiggly riffs around incredibly fast beats. At times the guitars slow down to a doom-style creep that's effectively eerie when pitted against the relentless turbo-drumming -- see "Hymn of the Forgotten" for compelling evidence -- but most of the time the guitars float around the beats in weird, cryptic patterns, employing a surprising amount of open space for a death metal band. (The abrupt stop and start action that crops up on a regular basis is a bit less surprising.) Sure, there's nothing particularly revelatory here -- the band themselves admit in the poop sheet that they're not exactly breaking new ground -- but there's no disputing their immense heaviness and considerable technical chops (especially in the truly demented guitar sound on "Shine For the Chosen Ones"). Recommended for those who like their metallic technicality on the brutal side.

Calm Hatchery
Selfmadegod Records

Daily Life -- NECESSARY AND PATHETIC [Load Records]

Now this is swank -- a synth-abusing duo from Providence who are essentially Suicide for the Zola Jesus generation. That's most evident on the opening track "Rogue Fate," where fat beats and an icy synth drone conjure up a sound that wouldn't be out of place on ZJ's current EP... but here the (male) vocals are more of a cocktail lounge croon. Like their forebears Suicide, the beats are simple but potent, and with both members parked behind synths, usually one is responsible for a minimalist rhythm while the other provides stunted melodies, washes of noise, and other sonic effluvia. On "My Time," the churning synth-drone is overlaid with waves of crashing noise where another band might place a solo; on "Hall of Mirrors," the looped mechanical beat and wavelike synth drone is complemented by another synth drone with a sawtooth edge that adds a menacing texture to the sound. Despite the adherence to a certain standard of minimalist song structures, there is indeed variety to the album: "Mindless Power" lives up to its name with an insistent beat like hammering nails in a coffin, but it's immediately followed by "Arousal and Dreams," a low-key electronic waltz anchored by a snare processed through ping-pong reverb and lush keyboard sounds reminiscent of a sixties love ballad. The instrumental closer, "There's No Solution Because There's No Problem," not only has one of the album's best titles, but some of the best sounds as well. Like the Clockcleaner album reviewed a while back, this will probably take some long-time Load enthusiasts by surprise, but definitely in a good way. Suicide by way of Zola Jesus is an aesthetic whose time has come, at least where this excellent album is concerned.

Daily Life
Load Records

Darkblack -- MIDNIGHT WRAITH ep [Stormspell Records]

This took me by surprise -- between the name and the monochromatic album cover, I was expecting raw black metal, but instead it turns out that the band (from Portland, OR, if you care about these things) is a throwback to old-school traditional metal in the vein of Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, and UFO. Think big, hook-heavy riffs, the kind of guitar tone you get from Marshalls turned up real loud rather than fizzy efx pedals, European-style solos (remember those?), and a singer who actually sings instead of grunting, barking, or growling. Seriously, this sounds like a lost album from the late seventies or early eighties. On "Power Monger" they even manage to sound like early Black Sabbath (I'm betting the guitarist is a real big fan of "The Wizard") without stealing any of Sabbath's riffs. I normally view albums this retro with deep suspicion, but this band is so genuinely good that it's impossible not to be impressed. It helps that they have excellent songs and impeccable execution. With only five songs in under 25 minutes, it's also obvious they know how to get to the point and stay focused; they don't wear out their welcome with extraneous playing. If you're old enough to remember when metal bands prided themselves on being catchy and melodic rather than brutal and ugly (or young enough to be curious about such an exotic notion), then you definitely need to hear this.

Stormspell Records

The Devil Bat -- FABULOUS SOUL [Sister Skull Rekkids]

This five-track EP by Austin's swell purveyors of acid-drenched psychedelic country blues isn't anywhere near long enough, but given the way things are going with the music business, it's amazing this exists at all. The band's current state of existence is hazy at best, and the path to the creation of this EP was fraught with potholes and detours, so we should probably be grateful they managed to get this done, even if they were forced to put it out themselves (which means you'll probably have to contact the band directly to snag a copy). As usual, the band's sound is a complex mixture of coffeehouse folk blues, freakout psych along the lines of Sun City Girls, and fuzzed-out rock whose anti-authoritarian roots can be traced back to the Velvet Underground, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, and other heavyweights of the sixties. On songs like "Fabulous Soul," "Love Addict," and "Face the Dawn," LeeAnn Cameron's lovely and full-bodied vocals are complemented by the fizzy, psychedelic lead guitar lines of Lisa Cameron and Laura Creedle. "Nothing Left To Say," with its irregular rhythmic feel that eventually shifts into a higher gear as the guitars get even fuzzier and denser, isn't far removed in feel from some of the more recent tunes from Lisa's other band ST-37. There's more a country swing feel to the closing instrumental "Green Bean Snowday," with twangy guitars bathed in spring-reverb; as the song progresses, the sound evolves into swirling psychedelia, with strange noises skating in and out of the mix as the country rhythm continues unabated. This may well be the band's last gasp, but if that turns out to be true, at least they went out on a high note.

The Devil Bat

Drugs of Faith -- CORRODED [Selfmadegod Records]

It took them four years to get around to it, but their first full-length album is finally here. Part grind, part rock, all blunt, they blaze through fourteen songs in 27 minutes. Given their tendency toward political lyrics and music rooted in sheer dense heaviness, I have to wonder how much Killing Joke they have in their DNA; they're certainly caustic enough for that to be a real possibility. Their sound is a crushing wall of heaviness swaddled in distortion and driven by a powerful drummer who sounds like he's wielding a pneumatic drill; despite the chaotic wall of sound, though, the singer (who's actually more of a shouter) has no trouble making himself heard. The songs themselves are short -- "Grayed Out" is just over three minutes and the rest are shorter, sometimes much shorter -- and potent. The album's one main drawback is that there isn't a tremendous amount of variety to the songs, but given that this is essentially a grind record, that's not as problematic as it might be for an album of another genre. What really counts here is the unabashed intensity they bring to their performance on song after song; they are less a musical unit than they are a sonic battering ram. I've forgotten now how the first EP sounded, but the sound here is considerably better than what you usually hear on most grind records (mostly thanks to Pig Destroyer / Agoraphobic Nosebleed mastermind Scott Hull, who mastered the album; on a related note, Pig Destroyer's J. R. Hayes makes a guest appearance on their cover of His Hero Is Gone's "Anthem.") Fans of the band's earlier material should find this worth the wait.

Drugs of Faith
Selfmadegod Records


In a recent interview, guitarist Dylan Carson described the sound of his band's new album as being closer to Debussy than Wagner -- meaning fewer chords, less clutter, and a diminished sense of bombast -- and this is true. Listeners weaned on the band's early, considerably more metallic albums, will find this nearly unrecognizable; the only connection between the band's two distinct phases is the devotion to lugubrious tempos. Of course, those who have kept up with the band are already aware that since the band's return from a lengthy hiatus in 2005 with their first release on Southern Lord, HEX: OR PRINTING IN THE INFERNAL METHOD, the new lineup has abandoned the metal and noise of the early releases in favor of a sound more in line with the soundtrack to a spaghetti western. Their latest release stretches that open, desert-air sound even further with nods to British folk-rock bands like Fairport Convention (the original home of guitarist Richard Thompson).

As usual, they take their time in letting the songs unfurl; "Descent to the Zenith" is the album's shortest track at 7:30, while the title track is over twenty minutes long, and two others hover around the twelve-minute mark. Listeners not down with the slow, deliberate pace of these songs might find them sleep-inducing, but if you can hang with the stately pace, the sound is both beautiful and haunting. These are songs so emotionally rich that lyrics are unnecessary; the baritone guitar, backed by solemn bass lines and spare drumming, says everything that needs to be said. One big difference this time around is the increasingly open sound and the extensive use of single-note guitar lines rather than chords, and while there has been plenty of melodicism on the last few albums, that tendency reaches its zenith here. This is not a riff-driven album by any means -- these songs are built around guitar lines that sound deceptively simple but are far more complex than they first appear. This move toward simplicity in sound also improves the clarity of the mix; everything here resonates in a tonally rich manner, to the point where the actual tone of the instruments is every bit as important as the arrangements or the notes being played. The inclusion of cello and other sounds on some of the songs only adds more complex textures to the growing refinement of their sound.

The sound of this album is a steady progression in the evolution of sound that began with the band's new direction on HEX. Anyone who has heard that album (or the ones after it) will recognize this sound, this mellow and reverb-heavy invocation of Americana; the band's direction now is focused mainly on honing and refining this countrified sound. Don't let all the references to Americana and folk music throw you, however; this music is every bit as heavy as anything they've done in the past, but it's heavy in a manner that's more subtle and nuanced, and while the structures and twangy guitar may have its roots in Americana and folk, the tone and feel are pure jazz. The world's slowest jazz, true, but still... jazz. And since this is (as the title implies) the first of at least two related albums, it will be extremely interesting to see how that sound develops even more on the next album.

Southern Lord

Earthride -- SOMETHING WICKED [Earth Brain]

Like Electric Wizard, Maryland's Earthride pretty much owe their entire existence to Black Sabbath. Led by former Spirit Caravan bassist Dave Sherman -- acting solely as the vocalist here, with the wooly-bully bass shudder provided by Rob Hampshire -- the band's third full-length album (which they have released themselves, for various reasons not terribly germane here) is a diabolical mix of straight-up doom and old-school Southern boogie. They may worship at the feet of Tony Iommi and his fuzz-loving pals, but they're equally enamored of bands like (early) ZZ Top, Motorhead, and Blue Cheer, not to mention the entire biker-rock aesthetic. This is no-frills, all-meat heaviness dominated by ass-quaking bass, frozen metal guitar, thunderous drumming, and Sherman's awesomely clotted vocal delivery, a sound that combines the throat stylings of early Ozzy, Lemmy, Buzz'oven's Kirk Fisher, and Eyehategod's Mike Williams into one paint-peeling howl. The songs are seriously groove-laden, and like their British forebears, possess a guitar sound seriously steeped in the blues. The only misstep here is Sherman's questionable decision to attempt actual singing over the acoustic intro to "Zodiac" -- some voices were simply not built for this sort of thing, and Sherman's is one of them. The rest of the album, though, is a brilliant return to the early days of doom, with plenty of downtuned chug-riffing and mystic, efx-addled solo action. As an added bonus, Sherman's former bandmate Wino (Saint Vitus, The Obsessed, blah blah blah) appears on "Supernatural Illusion" as a second vocalist. Bonus points for a bass sound so hairy and distorted it's guaranteed to eat holes in your speakers.


Robert Horton / Lisa Cameron / Douglas Ferguson -- HORIZONTAL NEAR OAKLAND [Sister Skull Rekkids]

Weird and cryptic perversions of sound are afoot on this disc, a live collaboration between Lisa Cameron (Venison Whirled, ST-37, The Devil Bat), Douglas Ferguson (solo artist, sometime sideman for Book of Shadows, owner of The Still studio and Distillery Records), and Robert Horton (a man of mystery to moi, but obviously in good company). On the three tracks here, Lisa plays cut snares, vibrator, bowl, finger cymbals, and various efx gadgets; Douglas torments strange sounds from slide guitar, efx, and Ebow; while Horton coaxes weird noises from a boot, vibrator, gong, water bottle, harmonium, and just about everything but the kitchen sink (that will probably be on their next recording). The opening track "parakeets of doom" gets things rolling with a lot of strange clanking and other weird sounds, but it's on the lengthy centerpiece "this transmission is fucked" where they start to seriously get their groove on, adding some intense power-drone to the mix of bizarre sounds. The resulting sound is something akin to silverware in the kitchen rattling while powerful outside generators cause the house to shake. The final track, "somewhere in oakland (horizontal mix)," shifts the drone into a higher register and includes some exquisite slide-guitar skronk along with Horton's ever-evolving collection of twisted sounds. This is what underground Austin sounds like, even if it was recorded in Oakland. Lke most things worthwhile in underground Austin, you'll have to put some effort into tracking it down, since Sister Skull's catalog is not exactly available at your local Wal-Mart; I suggest contacting Lisa (since it is her label, after all) via the Venison Whirled link below.

Douglas Ferguson
Venison Whirled

Neurosis -- SOULS AT ZERO (reissue) [Neurot Recordings]

Oakland, CA's leading post-metal visionaries are celebrating their 25th anniversary, and what better way to commemorate the occasion than by reissuing (for the second time, actually; the album was originally released on Alternative Tentacles, then reissued by the band on Neurot in 1999 with three bonus tracks) their game-changing third album? This, after all, is one of the most influential metal albums of the past two decades, the album that essentially kick-started the post-metal genre. Given how heavily it's been ripped off since, it's a testament to the band's brilliance that it not only still sounds astounding nearly twenty years later, but it still outclasses most of the similar-sounding albums spawned in its wake.

The opening track, "To Crawl Under One's Own Skin," lays the foundation for everything that follows: strange electronic noises and overlapping samples of conversation lead into a melodic and decidely un-metal passage that seamlessly turns into an avalanche of droning sound and tribal drumming dominated by screeching, wounded-rhino guitars, and over nearly eight minutes, the flow of sound surges and recedes in unpredictable fashion. This one song, swaddled in ambient drone and structured like the soundtrack to an epic western, contains enough riffs, textures, and changes in both tempo and tone as an entire album by a more conventional band. The soundtrack aesthetic and a tendency toward a constantly-evolving sound are the two major elements connecting this and the remaining nine songs from the original album. Their aspirations toward King Crimson-style art rock don't keep them from being supremely heavy when the mood strikes them, however, as the title track demonstrates -- buried in all the shoegazing ambience are some seriously heavy riffs and plenty of hair-raising guitar howl. "The Web" is every bit as heavy and menacing, with crushing rhythms and shrieking tornado guitar. By contrast, there are delicate piano sounds and some of the album's most melodic guitar playing in "Sterile Vision," and strings appear midway through "A Chronology For Survival." Synths play an integral role to the album's sound as well, mainly as a textural element adding more depth to the oceanic sound. Some parts of the album remind me of the first Godspeed You Black Emperor album, which is kind of interesting; I'm having a hard time imagining those dour, politically-inclined Canadians as Neurosis fans, but you never know, do you?

As mentioned earlier, the first reissue appended three bonus tracks to the ten songs from the original release: demo versions of "Souls at Zero" and "Zero," plus a live track, "Cleanse III," recorded live in London in 1996. The demo tracks are well-produced, fully-formed tracks that sound less like traditional (read: primitive-sounding) demos and more like alternate studio versions stripped down to the basic tracks; with all the samples, ambient sound, and textural treatments removed, the songs are a bit more straightforward while still retaining much of the cinematic scope evident in the finished versions. The live track is considerably rawer in sound, and demonstrates the band's capacity for translating their heavily-layered studio sound to the live setting. It's all definitely essential listening for anybody entranced by the whole post-metal sound, especially if you want to hear where all the latecomers stole their moves.

Neurot Recordings

Nidingr -- WOLF FATHER ep [Vendlus Records]

You may not have ever heard of this cult Norwegian black metal band, but you've almost certainly heard other recordings by its various members, including bassist / guitarist Teloch (1349, Gorgorth, Ov Hell), bassist / guitarist Blargh (Dodheimsgard), drummer Hellhammer (Mayhem, Emperor, Thorns), and vocalist Cpt. Estrella Grasa (Kort Prosess). The album even features a guest turn from Garm, of the eternally inscrutable Ulver. For such an impressive lineup, though, the album itself is kind of disappointing. The album is hardly bad by any stretch of the imagination, but given the lineup involved, I was expecting something more innovative; instead, what this short album offers is a six songs of mostly high-speed chaotic black metal that's well-executed, but not particularly different (or better) than anything by the bands of the individual members. It's also kind of strange that for an album focused mainly on aggression and intense speed, the best moments are when they slow down and hammer doom-laden riffs into your skull (as they do in the middle of "Fafnismol" and "Baldrs Draumar"). But that raises another problem, since the songs are structured in such similar fashion that they end up doing this in almost every song. On the positive side, they get plenty of good sounds -- especially in the grim guitar tone -- and there are some interesting moments, like the mournful vocals toward the end of "Baldrs Draumar." Still, it's hard to escape the thought that a lineup this good should have come up with something better, or at least with more variety to the songs. The album is hardly an embarrassment, but it's also something that will probably be of interest mainly to fans of the individuals involved.

Vendlus Records

Plastic Boner Band -- THE WAY OF ALL FLESH [Power Silence]

Don't be distracted by the bizarre name; this is soul-crushing sonic violence at its most punishing. What you get here are four untitled tracks, ranging from nine to fifteen minutes each, of intense power electronics unhindered by vocals or melody or any of that sissy-man stuff. This is harsh sound designed to scour your inner ear with steel wool and leave you with a headache and a bad case of tinnitus. Like the best recordings in this genre, it's also quite loud, just the way a good noise album should be, although the third track scales back on the volume and brazen earhate in favor of weird cyclotron noises that fade in and out as throbbing noises drone off and on, adding an extra dimension to the album's otherwise grotesque intensity. Nevertheless, the three remaining tracks are a combined orgy of white noise, grating machine rhythms, efx abuse, and a generally hostile reaction to a decaying, uncaring world. This is what misanthropy sounds like; ignore it at your own peril.

Plastic Boner Band
Power Silence

Random Touch -- REVERBERATING APPARATUS [Token Boy Records]

The band's fourteenth album finds them in an enigmatic mood, playing free-association with their instruments over twelve tracks that frequently sound like jazz being deconstructed. There's certainly a strong element of randomness to much of the music on this album; many of the tracks, especially the ones dominated by samples of conversation and found sound, sound like incidental music attached to some mysterious documentary whose subject matter remains mysterious. The quote inside the cd case (actually a pressboard digipak), "To know the mechanics of the wave is to know the entire secret of nature," hints at a possible theme, given the number of nature-oriented sounds -- bird sounds, especially -- that creep into the mix from time to time; it's hard to tell if these are sampled sounds or the work of processed guitar or keyboard. Certainly, for a trio rooted in drums, keyboards, and guitar, there are plenty of sounds that don't appear to naturally emanate from any of these instruments. The playing itself is generally loose and spacious, unpredictable without dissolving into pure cacaphony; there's a strong free-jazz feel at work here. The band's sound is difficult to describe and even harder to quantify, but they're definitely interested in exploring the boundaries of unfettered sound. While the keyboard and guitar sounds are frequently off the wall, spiraling in unexpected directions that add a surreal element to the band's sound, the drumming is largely restrained and minimal, and even on the most freeform tracks the band retains a laid-back, almost languid, vibe that belies the more aggressive possibilities of the skronk factor. It's inscrutable, sure, maybe even puzzling, but adventurous, singular in sound, and every bit as listenable as any of their previous releases.

Random Touch
Token Boy Records

Sky Burial -- KIEHTAN [Lens Records]

Few things are more welcome around here than new material from Sky Burial, the brooding dark-ambient counterpart to Michael Page's better-known industrial-noise outfit Fire in the Head. Now that FitH is apparently defunct, Sky Burial has become his main band, which is good news, because everything Sky Burial has released so far has been brilliant, and this is no exception. Recorded as always on four-track cassette using a wide variety of sources, this album consists of two tracks: the lengthy (41:32) title track and a much shorter (6:12) "reconstruction" by Mark Spybey (Dead Voices On Air). The title track -- inspired by the name of the "creator spirit" of the same name of the Wampanoag tribe, original inhabitants of the Cape Cod area Page calls home -- is a drifting, droning mix of eerie and unsettling sounds that draws as much upon early prog-rock instrumentalists like Tangerine Dream and Faust as it does from the lo-fi dark-ambient soundbook. Despite its daunting length, the title track flows like a dark river winding through a moonlit forest; waves of droning sound and ethereal wailing form the bedrock of the soundscape as different textures and bursts of processed sound weave in and out of the mix over time. The careful pacing of these additional sounds and attention to dynamics (in both volume and intensity) are what keep the track from ever becoming stale, and Page's mastery of these elements, along with his jucidious cultivation of source material, is the single biggest reason Sky Burial is one of the best dark-ambient acts in existence today. Atmospheric and dreamlike, the track moves inexorably toward a fade-out that suggests it could have gone on forever. The additional track, "Himmelblau-starren," gives Mark Spybey (another dark-ambient titan) the opportunity to reconstruct Page's source material into a shorter but equally potent work that could be considered a condensed version of the title track. This is not only another quality addition to an already impressive body of work, but it comes in a stunning eco-wallet with graphics by Howard Forbes and mastering by James Plotkin (Old, Khanate, Phantomsmasher). The press run is limited to 500 copies, so don't sleep on this.

Sky Burial
Lens Records

Tankard -- VOL(L)UME 14 [AFM Records]

For a bunch of guys whose lives supposedly revolve around consuming vast amounts of alcohol, Germany's Tankard have managed to keep going for a remarkably long time -- since 1982, in fact. They were originally at the forefront of the first wave of German thrash along with Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom (all of whom are still recording and touring, as it happens; German bands apparently have a serious work ethic), and while they've have endured a few lineup changes over the years, they've remained a functioning band for nearly three decades, no small feat for a cult band whose members still hold day jobs and tour in their spare time. Which brings us to this album, their fourteenth, a particularly strong offering for a release so far into their career. Unlike many thrash bands who have dallied with changes in their sound to mixed results (Kreator and Metallica come to mind here), Tankard's approach has remained pretty much the same from their first album to this one. This album, a no-frills collection of thrashing speed and catchy hooks, sounds like it could have been recorded back in the 80s -- in fact, some of the riffs sound tremendously inspired by the early work of Bay Area bands like Exodus and Metallica. Frankly, given the current retro-thrash movement currently in vogue, I'm surprised that Tankard aren't more popular; their brand of old-school thrash is considerably more authentic than the riff-rehashing of bands half their age, and they rock out with a surprising level of energy for guys who have to be at least in their forties. Even better, their songs are crammed full of lightning-bolt riffing and intense energy; this is definitely not the work of a band coasting on old glories, but instead a band making a manic racket every bit as good as their early work. The metal kids geeking out over bands like Municipal Waste and Evile should give this band a listen and hear how it's really done by people who were doing it from day one.

AFM Records

Weedeater -- JASON... THE DRAGON [Southern Lord]

Well, well, look what we have here... another album, another bad drug-related pun, another collection of resin-baked tunes. Pretty impressive for an accident-prone band who've endured shotgun mishaps, broken bones, and other mayhem over the past year. I guess if you have enough drugs in your system, you can forge onward through pretty much anything short of a nuclear blast, nu?

So, anyway. The album. Recorded at Electrical Audio by Steve Albini, mastered by John Golden at Golden Studios, supremely heavy and smothered in hairy bass fuzz. And while we're on that subject, I have to confess that this may be a problem -- I don't know if it's just the promo MP3 files or the album itself, but there are places where the sound starts breaking up, as if the album were mastered way too hot. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's supremely annoying. Outside of that, the album is mostly heaviness incarnate, filled with huge, lumbering bass riffs that pretty much bury everything else. What else would you expect with Dixie Dave at the helm? There are some surprises, sure -- a stripped-down acoustic sound and vocals even gnarlier than usual on "Palms of Opium," a short but intense drum solo called "March of the Bipolar Bear," and a little bit o' the banjo pickin' on "Whiskey River" -- but mostly what you get is lots of intense bass shudder and squealy feedback topped with Dixie Dave's pained shrieking. If you've ever heard Weedeater, then you know what to expect. Come to think of it, the name alone should tell you everything you need to know, right?

Southern Lord

Wino -- ADRIFT [Exile on Mainstream]

Wino's second solo album is heavy, but not in the sense you're probably thinking -- unlike his previous work in Saint Vitus, The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, and the like, this is a primarily acoustic album. There are bursts of electric guitar solos scattered through the tracks, and the final track, "Green Speed," includes a bass drum in the mix, but otherwise the focus is squarely on Wino's voice and intricate acoustic guitar playing. The other major departure from his previous work is a stylistic one; this is not stoner rock, but country / folk blues, with playing that conjures up the ghost of John Fahey more than anything else. The result may be the best thing he's ever done, no small feat given the high quality of his work to date.

Wino is an exceptional guitarist, even unplugged, and here he trades metal riffing for blues song structures and playing so complex it frequently borders on a jazzier version of traditional blues. On some songs the acoustic guitar is joined with blinding electric solos -- there's a particularly intense one on "Mala Suerte" -- and the sound he gets here is reminiscent of his track on the PROBOT record, one of the best tracks on that album. Always an interesting lyricist, he's sharpened his words to fine points to address everything from hypocrisy, aging, the rock and roll lifestyle, drugs, and love, with a vocal delivery that's hoarse but impassioned, filled with outrage and exasperation that makes a startling contrast against the frequently beautiful sounds he coaxes from his guitar. Two instrumentals appear, both different and interesting: "Suzane's Song" is a lovely piece of work on an otherwise angry and tormented album, while "O.B.E." mixes acoustic guitar and bizarre, acid-drenched guitar frippery to create an otherworldly atmosphere. And while the tempo and feel on most songs is fairly sedate, the closing track "Green Speed" isn't far removed from an actual rock song that could have written for one of his more rock-oriented bands. As an added bonus, he even turns the Motorhead biker anthem "Iron Horse / Born To Lose" into an amazing country blues tune. This album is certain to surprise a lot of people, as well it should. Excellent, and highly recommended.

Exile on Mainstream

Zu -- "Axion" (Phantomsmasher remix) / Chthonian (James Plotkin remix) 7" [Public Guilt]

You know the definition of diabolical? Taking two mutant-sounding tracks from the already bizarre jazz-metal band Zu and turning them over to James Plotkin (Old, Phantomsmasher, Khanate, Jodis, blah blah blah) to torture into new and exotic shapes. The tracks in question are "Axion" and "Chthonian," both from the CARBONIFEROUS album originally released in 2009 as a joint effort between Ipecac Records and Trips and Traume. Having not heard that album, I have no idea how weird the original tracks were (although given Zu's history of issuing forth deeply perverted sounds, I'm betting they were pretty strange), but in Plotkin's hands they have been twisted and distorted into exotic soundscapes. On the A-side, "Axion" (remixed by Plotkin under the Phantomsmasher guise) opens with what sounds like a glitch electronica symphony being sucked into a whirlpool only to spit out brief passages of throbbing hell bass and pounding drums; then everything but the drums are transformed into vile hissing noise as the drums clatter on, and before much longer the entire track sounds like it's being held over a ledge and shaken vigorously, then tossed into a mulching machine. Midway through, it dissolves into noise and high-pitched whining as the drums are chopped and subjected to radical processing treatment as the bass rumbles and groans until the whole thing turns into hissing white noise. On the B-side, "Chthonian" (remixed by Plotkin under his own name) is every bit as strange, with the drums EQed into tinny clanking over scratchy noises as the volume rises and falls; here the sax lines are turned into hellish screeching as the scratching devolves into full-on glitch electronica. Eventually the sound returns to something resembling normalcy, with the shuddering bass and heavy drums marching forward, but by the end the sound is nothing but a lot of anguished rhino-bleating from the treated sax. Weird, yes, but fantastic and otherworldly. Zu fans will definitely want to snag this one to tide them over until the band gets around to putting out a new full-length release. Limited to 500 copies and available in two flavors -- gray or clear with a gray haze -- and packaged in a black and white sleeve featuring artwork from the band's favored artist Scarful. Each single also comes with a download card for high-quality MP3s of both tracks.

Public Guilt

Saturday, January 15, 2011

totda lives.

Hello. As you may have guessed, TOTDA took a break for the holidays. Now that the holidays are over, I'm back at work slogging through the review pile. Expect a new post by the end of the month. Lots of interesting stuff coming up for review, so be sure to check back...!