Sunday, July 31, 2011

soon i will be forced to put out the sun with blowdarts.

A Death Cinematic -- YOUR FATE TWISTING, EPIC IN ITS CRUSHING MOMENTS [Simple Box Construction]

The one-man band with some of the best titles in the world returns with three more enigmatic slices of avant sound and epic drone clocking in at a little over thirty minutes, kicking things off in unsettling fashion with the title track, where shuddering loops of noise form a dark curtain of sound over which a lone twang-laden guitar plays a melancholy tune. Eventually the noise element dies away to be replaced by a slow piano dirge dominated by reverberating chords bathed in reverb as the guitar figure mutates at will, while the tone and dyamics settle into something akin to a funeral dirge. The changes continue over a span of approximately 22 minutes, leaving plenty of time and room for the gradual metamorphosis of sound to unfold at a stately pace. The short (just over two minutes) untitled second track acts as a bridge between the two lengthier pieces, and is a spaced-out, wavering fuzztone that speeds up, slows down, comes and goes... leading into "into the tumbling dawn light, their eyes fall frozen through the mist and rain," a nine and half minute exercise in creepy sounds and harrowing, hollowed-out drone that originally appeared on the Pest Productions compilation DER WANDERER UBER DEM NEBELMEER. The creepiness is softened somewhat by bell-like chimes and harmonic synth tones that would be almost soothing if it weren't for the rhythmic lines of static running through the piece. As always, the band's otherworldly sound is complemented by awesome handmade packaging; the cd is housed in a folding wood-cut frame that includes a poem on vellum paper pasted over a photo of an animal skull (echoing the cover art) and a die-cut sleeve that allows you to see the skull artwork on the enclosed disc. The package also includes a nifty set of water-slide decals of the same skull and bones. Limited to fifty copies. You can check out the sound (of this and earlier releases) at the Bandcamp link below.

A Death Cinematic
Simple Box Construction

All Pigs Must Die -- GOD IS WAR [Southern Lord]

The band with the charming name is from Massachusetts, but you could be forgiven for thinking they might be from, say, Sweden -- their hardcore roots are welded to the kind of melodic death metal chassis favored by Swedish metal acts, an influence that's especially apparent in the opening of the album's first track, "Death Dealer." Fueled by tumescent riffs, bursts of high-speed melodicism, and breakneck tempos offset by heavy half-speed breakdowns, the band combines the best elements of hardcore and death metal with a delivery that borders on the psychopathic. This is not pretty music for pretty people; no, this is a slashing collection of hate-filled rants suitable for staging a riot. There are some interesting flourishes from time to time -- for instance, the screeching noises used for emphasis in parts of the title track, and the pleasing harmonic squall of the guitars that introduce "Extinction Is Ours" -- but for the most part, this is simply a full-out assault on the senses with all the subtlety of a pack of hoodlums beating someone to death with a lead pipe. The moments I like best are the times when they slow everything down to a crawl and beat thick, droning riffs through your skull, as they do toward the end of "Third World Genocide." The final track, "Sadistic Vindicator," is another excellent example of how powerful they sound when they slow things down a bit and revel in a sound like razor blades straining to cut through thick slabs of tar. Their monolithic sound might be too monochromatic for some, but there's no denying that it's heavy, very heavy, and filled with an all-consuming anger that burns like a torch.

All Pigs Must Die
Southern Lord

Bloodbound -- UNHOLY CROSS [AFM Records]

It's amusing that their promo material mentions their stage mascot "The Nos" and links that to Iron Maiden's mascot "Eddie," because this Swedish band sounds very much like a power-metal version of Iron Maiden. At least they have the good sense to base their Maiden worship on the early (i.e., better) albums.... So, the lowdown: this is the band's fourth full-length release (not bad, considered they've only been in in existence since 2006) and the first with new vocalist Patrik Johansson (formerly of Dawn of Silence), and it's pretty much a case of Iron Maiden / Judas Priest worship with an operatic power-metal singer. Like most power metal, Swedish or otherwise, this is unapologetically commercial music with high production values, excellent musicianship, and vaguely proggy songs about big ideas and anthemic issues (titles include "Drop the Bomb," "Together We Fight," "The Dark Side of Life," and "Brothers of War," so just glancing at the song list gives you much insight as to where they're coming from). Given their nationality, it's hardly surprising that they're extremely melodic and possessed of a distinctly European sound that's at times neo-classical as well. It's not a genre that does a lot for me personally, but this is well done and draws heavily on a certain sound made popular in the late eighties when progressive metal was all the rage, so power metal fans -- especially those weaned on the power metal scene in flourish around the time of Iron Maiden's POWERSLAVE -- should find this engaging.

AFM Records

The Body -- S/T [Corleone]

Those just now tuning in to the epic visions of The Body, thanks to their recent head-turning release ALL THE WATERS OF THE EARTH TURN TO BLOOD, may be surprised to discover that the band has not only been around for fifteen years, but has a pretty hefty catalog of obscure releases to their name. For those curious to hear the documentation of the band's earlier years, Corleone has helpfully assembled an anthology that collects all this hard-to-find stuff on one cd. Here's what you get: the four-song 2003 cassette on Armageddon Records, the four-song self-released 2006 cdr, three songs from a 2004 split and 2005 single (both on Corleone), one previously unreleased track, and four tracks from another self-released 2008 cdr. That's sixteen tracks of howling vocals, shuddering bass hell, and slow-motion destruction that does an excellent job of showing just how the band developed the mighty muscles they flexed to such terrifying effect on BLOOD. It's obvious that even from the beginning, they had a talent for mixing horrific vocals with the blunt heaviness of early Swans on a doom bender while throwing in elements of pop, math-rock, and pure avant weirdness from time to time just to keep things interesting. What's surprising is how potent and chilling their sound was from the very beginning; given their obvious talents, the consistent quality level of the songs is perhaps not so surprising. The final tracks, from the 2008 cdr, are among the most interesting, as they are an eclectic series of covers -- "Do They Owe Us A Living" (Crass), "Tired of Being Alive" (Danzig), "Police Story" (Black Flag), and "Black Boys on Mopeds" (Sinead O'Connor) -- all transformed into gruesome displays of heaviness (especially the Crass cover, which sounds like they might have broken the recording machine). If you're not already familiar with the band, now is your chance to meet one of the most genuinely unnerving and misanthropic bands ever to crawl through the tar-laden wastelands of doom metal.

The Body

Brainoil -- DEATH OF THIS DRY SEASON [20 Buck Spin]

It's taken them a while to get around to it, but Oakland's sludgy Brainoil have finally coughed up a second album (their first came out on Life Is Abuse in 2003, and I defy you to find a copy of it now, doom childe). Their brand of sludge owes a lot to tarpit trailblazers like Buzzoven, Eyehategod, and Sourvein, and I have no idea what they've been doing all these years (time, maybe?), but the lengthy gap between releases hasn't diminished their soul-crushing heaviness one iota. Their crusty riffs are leavened with heavy, stunted-tempo breakdowns that come across like slow, wasting doom. Track after track, the classic signs of sludge are all there: punked-out crust riffs that dissolve into droning waves of doom, bass so heavy and hairy it might as well sport a beard, gnarled guitar tones wrestled away from the first Black Sabbath album and made even more menacing, and a vocalist who sounds like a man being forced to swallow hot coals. This is the sound of amps being beaten into submission; this is the promise of violent confrontations in a back alley after midnight. This is exactly the kind of oppressive heaviness you have come to expect from classic sludge bands in general and 20 Buck Spin in particular, and it will make an excellent panacea to the sludge-deprived soul waiting (and waiting!) for the new Eyehategod album to eventually appear.

20 Buck Spin

Chimerical Sound Engine -- LEARNING CURVE [self-released]

Fair warning up front: the mysterious agent behind the melodious tones and skeletal beats on this album is my brother, so I am naturally biased. But it would be a shame to skip reviewing it for that reason, because it's an excellent debut with plenty to offer. From the minimalist opener "sleeping on the floodplain" -- where a haunting bell-like piano figure repeats endlessly amid tidal sounds and other noises that come and go -- to the symphonic movements and processed keyboards of "trileptal," the instrumental pieces on this album straddle the line between ambient music and the more experimental end of techno. One of the more interesting things that separates this release from most modern techno or ambient music is the strong influence of classical music, an influence that is evident in both the string sounds and the arrangements on songs like "space bass go" and "hum of the big wheel." There's also a strong space-rock element to the extensive sound processing, in which nearly everything is made to sound like something else, with sounds like bleeping satellites and background sound effects one might expect to find on a science fiction film soundtrack. Then there's the beats -- quiet and minimal on "in the underspace," fat and insistent on "logic of the median" (which comes closest, of all the tracks, to sounding like traditional techno). Throughout the album, elements of drone, experimental sounds, techno, and a minimalist sensibility come together to form tracks that unfold organically in serene and ghostly fashion. But you don't have to take my word for it; you can listen for yourself by hitting the link below.

Chimerical Sound Engine

Debauchery -- GERMANY'S NEXT DEATH METAL [AFM Records]

They live up to their name with an appropriately debauched (and, honestly, kind of juvenile) album cover featuring a pneumatic bikini-clad bimbo holding a chainsaw even bigger than she is. I'm not sure this has anything to do with the actual album, but it certainly gets your attention, doesn't it? The album itself sounds like a strange variant of death metal that includes spoken-word segments in "The Unbroken" (and lots of wheedly-wheedly guitar spoo in the solo), a variety of vocal styles, and other jarring elements that often do nothing more than distract from what would otherwise be a highly competent death metal sound. They certainly understand death metal -- witness the great riffing and bursts of insane double-drumming on "Zombie Blitzkrieg," for instance, or the insistent pulse of "Warmachines at War," another song with plenty of swell riffs; hell, intense riffology abounds all over the album. But the bizarre and often off-putting switches in vocal style frequently detract from the songs, acting as an unwelcome distraction. Still, the primal attraction of the grinding riffs of the title track, the Slayer-styled riffing in "Death Will Entertain," and the gruesome death-chug of "Armed For Apocalypse," just to name a few examples, do a lot to make up for the peculiar vocal missteps. Still, they made some weird decisions on this album, and the less adventurous out there will probably want to hear tracks from it first before buying.

AFM Records

Einvera -- IN YOUR IMAGE [self-released]

The three members of this Los Angeles band met in music school, and it shows. The eight songs on this 33-minute album are rooted in technical metal, but that is merely the framework on which they hang complex musical lattices composed of just about every other genre imaginable (but mostly a mind-blowing cross-pollination of death, black, and progressive metal). The metallic core of the songs are leavened with touches of decidedly non-metal instruments like banjo, vibraphone, accordion, pedal steel, and glockenspiel, among others, but these unusual elements merely add color and texture to a series of spiraling technical epics Coroner would have been pleased to create. Plenty of bands have tried their hands at mixing wildly divergent styles into one cohesive whole, usually with mixed results, but Einvera are much more successful in their attempts at the same. Which is not to say there aren't some genuinely surreal moments on the album -- I never thought I'd ever hear a technical-metal polka, which is essentially what "Send Me Home" is -- but even at their most surreal, their chops are so fantastically tight and their imagination so willfully unbound that it all works much better than you would have any right to expect. It's a challenging album, to be sure, but the challenge of digesting this eye-opening hurricane of sound is worth the effort; it's not often you hear such a perversely diverse-sounding album whose songs actually work without collapsing under the weight of their ambition. I'd wonder why these guys are still unsigned, but of course, we live in the musical equivalent of the end times, so you'll have to stop by their site (or visit them on Soundcloud) to hear them until somebody has the good taste to sign them (which probably won't take long).


Goreaphobia -- APOCALYPTIC NECROMANCY [Dark Descent Records]

This Philadelphia death metal band has an interesting backstory: they formed in 1988, but they broke up in the early 90s after releasing only a demo and a couple of singles, and didn't actually get around to a full-length release until reforming a few years ago to put out their 2006 compilation VILE BEAST OF ABOMINATION. This is their third full-length release -- the first on Dark Descent -- and it's essentially twelve tracks of hard-hitting old-school death metal. I don't know if it's old material that they're finally getting around to recording or if they decided upon resuming activity to pretend the last decade-plus never existed, but either way, it sounds like an album that could have been made in the late 80s to early 90s. There are no frills or cute references to the currently fragmented state of metal here, just four guys with an extensive death metal pedigree (having played in key bands like Absu, Incantation, and Demoncy) pounding out straightforward epics of brutality with titles like "Void of the Larva Queen" and "Footpaths in the Vortex of Doom." This is sick-sounding stuff, too, comparable to not only the bands they've been in before but classic bands like Death, Obituary, and Deicide. (It's interesting to me that they're from Philadelphia, since their sound is highly reminiscent of the early Florida death metal scene.) Standout tracks include the mid-paced death crusher "Shroud of Hyena," "Darkstar Dementia" (propelled by a gruesomely sinister riff), and "White Wind Spectre," which welds an intriguing beat and ominous bass sound to unusual guitar figures that alternate between murky chiming and startling bursts of melodic guitar. There's a reason this band is considered legendary in death metal circles, and it's good to see that the years between their dissolution and reformation have done nothing to erode the quality of their songs and sound.

Dark Descent Records

Hallowed Circuit -- DEAD PLANET TRANSMISSION [Inam Records]

This is the debut by the latest purveyor of drone on Inam Records, with six tracks of dark ambient drone mixed with noise built on layers of sound and guitar loops. The nature of construction via loops is not quite so obvious on the opening track "Pillow Dust," which sounds like ambient sound overlaid with tainted noise, but the nature of the beast becomes clearer on "Romans," where a loop circles over and over in cyclotron fashion, growing darker and more overmodulated as the piece progresses, until it resembles an overloaded machine tearing itself apart before it comes to rest. "HC1" is far more drone-oriented, with pealing feedback that rises and falls over looped waves of sound, resulting in a suitably cosmic sound akin to transmissions from a dead star. This hardly prepares you for the avalanche of noise-laden sound that comes next on "Sister Signal," where crashing waves of sonic violence bathed in ring modulation rattle and reverberate in yet another emulation of disintegrating machinery. The drone returns, this time augmented by bleeps and bloops, on "HC2," which segues into the (final) title track, in which the hum of the void is represented by ambient sound, crusty drone, loops of feedback, and static-laden noise that does a fine job of conjuring up the nameless dread of unmanned space probes disappearing into the far reaches of an empty cosmos. This epic slice of swankness comes in a stiff-paper sleeve and is limited to 30 copies.

Inam Records -- email:

Low -- C'MON [Sub Pop]

I've been listening to Low since their first album appeared in 1994, and one thing I've come to appreciate about the band is their resistance to being pigeonholed. Like the Melvins and Swans, the startling and original sound of their early albums, which were defined by stark songs and slow tempos, has caused a lot of lazy music journalists to define them in a manner that hasn't been terribly relevant for close to a decade, despite clear evidence that the band has evolved in both sound and songwriting every few albums. While they are still not exactly a speed metal band by any stretch of the imagination, their songs have grown in variety and texture over time, even to include electronica and unusual mixes on their previous album, DRUMS AND GUNS. So it's interesting that their latest album is being called a throwback of sorts, because while the songs on this album are far more accessible than the ones on their last album, this is hardly a return to the stark minimalism of their early releases. That many consider this a return an earlier sound is understandable, considering their decision to record it at Sacred Heart Studio, the same location for the recording of TRUST, but this sounds nothing like that album, possibly the darkest and most apocalyptic-sounding work of their entire career. Then, too, they have made the unusual move of inviting a number of outsiders to appear -- Nels Cline (lap steel, guitar), Caitlin Moe of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on violin, and Dave Carroll of Trampled by Turtles on banjo. They have also made the bold (some might say heretical) move of assigning the production duties to Matt Beckley (son of America songwriter Gerry Beckley), a mainstream producer known for his work with the likes of Katy Perry and Avril Lavigne.

The curve balls don't end there, though. One of the biggest differences between this album and nearly everything before it is the directness of the lyrics; for the first time in the band's history, Alan Sparhawk's lyrics are far more concrete and far less abstract than on previous albums. It's also interesting to note that drummer / vocalist Mimi Parker, still the band's secret weapon, is featured far more prominently than she has been in some time. One of her contributions, the languid "Especially Me," is not only one of the highlights, but (according to Sparhawk) arguably the linchpin of the album. The band unquestionably plays to their strengths on tracks like "Try To Sleep" and "Nightingale," where their incomparable harmonies are backed by gorgeous backing tracks, and the country-folk sound of "Something's Turning Over" is probably the closest they've ever come to approaching a genuinely mainstream sound, but tracks like "$20" and the slow-building "Nothing But Heart" are striking masterpieces of lyrical repetition, and "Witches" -- a song about dealing with nightmares in an extremely unorthodox manner -- is one of the most bizarre songs in the band's entire catalog. So believe what you want about how this is supposedly a return to their classic sound, but just note that, as usual, there's more to the picture than meets the eye.

Sub Pop

Olekranon -- LISTERGA 3" cdr [Inam Records]

The always-swank Olekranon are back with an ep of four tracks recorded around the same time as the sessions for BILAL, and as usual, it's stupendous stuff. The title track kicks things off with paralyzing electrobeats and a gauzy shoegaze guitar attack that grows intense and noisy, backing off now and then to return even heavier than before, until it winds down in a wail of feedback that dies away, seguing into "Biclave," where skeletal beats are buried under hovering clouds of dark, ominous drone that morph into excoriating waves of white noise as the beats grow fuzzier and more machine-like, at which point the track turns into something far heavier and denser, slouching into the neighborhood of industrial music. That sound dies out amid a high-pitched whine and a distorted vocal sample until the guitars build to a crescendo of white noise and die away. On "Tarize," spring-loaded riffs unfold over blunt techno beats, then those riffs are joined by a massed army of guitars droning in thick waves of distortion. The final track, "Deadlights," is built on wavering dynamics, trippy breakbeats, and more howling drone guitar. Techno's answer to My Bloody Valentine succeeds in dropping drone science one more time.... The cdr comes packaged in a brown stiff-board sleeve and an insert featuring more of Megan Abajian's mysterious artwork, and is limited to 45 copies.

Inam Records -- email:


This limited-edition cd compiles the first two vinyl albums by this German hardcore band whose heavy but melodic sound is tinged with the dissonance of black metal, and as you would expect of a Southern Lord release, it's not for the meek. At sixteen tracks, there's also a lot of it; spinning the entire disc in one sitting is likely to leave you exhausted, but that's what music of this nature is for, right? Besides, it's not all endless torment; there are surprising moments of respite from the willfull tooth-gnashing in the form of quieter, slower, and more intensely melodic songs like "We Are Translucent" and the short "Fantasmes," featuring a female spoken-word passage over faint ambience in the background. Then there's "A Casket City," an instrumental piano passage of considerable melodicism accompanied by more vaguely ambient washes in the background. Tracks like these, though, are merely chances to rest your ears between the vicious assault of the other songs, all of which are steeped in heaviness and violence. Their hardcore roots are also frequently obscured by their other influences and the inventive use of both dissonance and an atypical clanging, metallic bass sound, which gives them a more varied and interesting sound than most hardcore bands. Strong stuff from an obscure band that should be of considerable interest to those seeking new avenues of heaviness, and with two hard-to-find albums on one convenient and affordable disc, a bargain as well.

Southern Lord

Rick Reed -- THE WAY THINGS GO (2 x lp) [Elevator Bath]

The man's name is probably unfamiliar to you unless you run in experimental music circles, partly because he joined the music revolution relatively late in lfe after deciding he wanted to make the kind of music he was listening to while painting (his original vocation, and one he still pursues; he painted the work that adorns the cover of the double-album), and partly because his commitment to quality over quantity has made his release schedule extremely limited and sporadic. (Not to mention that like most of the fringe artists in Austin's underground music scene, he is far less interested in promotion than performance.) Nevertheless, his name is highly respected in experimental music circles (he's performed with the legendary Austin sound painters The Abrasion Ensemble and members of AMM, among others, and was in fact once referenced in the title of an AMM record) and he plays a regular and vibrant part of Austin's experimental music scene. Elevator Bath has been documenting his work (or part of it, anyway) for a while now, and with this double album, they have generously presented us with what may be his best work yet.

The six tracks on this double-album flow together so seamlessly and organically that it's hard to believe they were recorded individually over the span of a decade. The first side alone -- featuring "mesmerism" and "capitalism: child labor" (from the soundtrack of the 2005 Ken Jacobs film of the same name) -- is absolutely amazing; using sine wave generators, old-school analog synths, shortwave radio, and found sounds, Reed sculpts two monumental tracks of shimmering drone and harmonic noise that take their time building in ominous fashion, stretching out the tension before culminating in thick waves of sound that are both beautiful and otherworldly. His allegiance to late 60s / early 70s Krautrock and spaced-out psychedelia is at its most obvious here, and he has assimilated all the right things from his listening habits. The album would be worth it for just these two pieces alone.

The rest of the tracks are worth plenty of attention in their own right, though. The flip side of the first record is taken up entirely by "celestial mudpie," where extended periods of silence segue into bursts of static and clouds of sound like electronic thunderstorms and thick slices of machine-like drone. Strange noises and textures weave in and out of the drone action as the piece rolls on, and the ultimate effect is the audio equivalent of an abstract expressionist painting. The two tracks on the first side of the second album, "hidden voices pt. 1" and "in a hazy field of gray and green," continue to bring the drone in a big way, especially on the first track, which is dominated by rippling sheets of drone, high-pitched sine-wave feedback, and ghostly electronic tones. The latter is an audio homage to textured sounds, opening with a crackling noise much like a dusty record revolving on a turntable and gradually expanding its sonic palette to include a wide variety of tones and noises, from shrill feedback to oceanic drones and more. The climax of the album is the side-long title track, an extended exercise in creeping drone mixed with high-frequency noise; over 22 minutes, waves of harmonically rich sound ebb and flow like the tides, washing over the listener with a serene and unexpected grace.

A word or two about the packaging: this is what people mean by quality presentation. Two LPs pressed on 180-gram virgin vinyl, housed in poly-lined sleeves inside a heavy matte-finish gatefold jacket featuring Reed's own exquisite artwork. The release also comes with a beautiful plastic download card (seriously, I put the card up on my desk just because it's a nifty piece of art in its own right) giving the listener access to the entire album in high-quality MP3 format. This is limited to 515 copies, and given the album's phenomenal quality and the fact that all but one of his earlier releases on the label are sold out, I'm guessing it won't be available for long. You need this. This is already a contender for my top ten favorite albums of the year.

Rick Reed
Elevator Bath

Totimoshi -- AVENGER [At A Loss Recordings]

Totimoshi are one of those bands who are okay with doing things the hard way. They have so far survived stolen gear, self-destructing vans, disappearing drummers, impatient labels, and a touring schedule that would make the average musician weep with outright fear. Their persistence owes a lot to the sheer iron will of guitarist / singer / main songwriter / tyrant for life Antonio Aguilar, who's ready and willing to walk through brick walls if it's necessary to keep his band going. (It helps that bassist / occasional singer Meg Castellanos, who co-founded the band lo these many years ago, is every bit as tough-minded as he is.) Their uphill climb to success has been hindered by constantly being pigeonholed as stoner rock (despite the fact that the only thing they have in common with most stoner bands is Tony's collection of fuzz pedals) and lazy comparisons to a really amazing range of bands (which should tell you something about the eclectic nature of their sound). The only regular comparison that holds any water for me is the Melvins, and then only because, like that band, they have managed to cough up a steady series of albums that are radically different while retaining a certain highly identifiable core sound. It hasn't helped, either, that they have bounced from one label to another for various reasons and endured an endless procession of drummers who weren't able to get with the program (at least until now; their current drummer, Chris Fugitt, has been with them for a while, and given the caliber of his playing, hopefully that will continue to be the case).

Which brings us to their sixth album, which is simultaneously their boldest and most accessible release yet. They've never been lacking in the confidence department, but for the first time, having a drummer around for two albums in a row has enabled them to focus more on songwriting and playing than training new skin-beaters. A large part of their sound has always been rooted in Meg and Tony's Cuban and Hispanic heritage, which has generally translated into complex rhythms not usually found in American hard rock, and there's plenty of that here, couched in tricky time signatures and shifting dynamics that give the songs a certain swing one would normally associate more with Latin music. There are times, particularly on tracks like "Mainline," where their complicated instrumental interplay borders on jazz, and on "The Fool," Tony's guitar playing is so fluid and inventive that he effectively blurs the line between rhythm and solo parts. Don't think this means they've suddenly started playing prog-rock, though; this is intense stuff. They rock like they're on fire, and Tony's incredible guitar sound -- roughly akin to a horde of angry wasps trying furiously to sting their way through the speakers -- is very much upfront through the entire album. They've also returned to a rawer, edgier sound after a couple of relatively clean-sounding albums, giving their sound an extra urgency that's equally matched by Tony's all-or-nothing vocal delivery. They also have a few surprises up their collective sleeve in the form of guest appearances from Dale Crover (Melvins), Brett Hinds (Mastodon), and Scott Kelly (Neurosis), which just adds an extra layer of interest to an already excellent album. I just hope this is the album that finally brings them the level of success they've deserved for long time now.

At A Loss Recordings

The Winchester Club -- NEGATIVE LIBERTY [Exile On Mainstream]

Man, these are some long-ass tunes; of the five tracks on this album, three are between thirteen and fifteen minutes long. With a lineup containing members of End of Level Boss, Hangnail, and Chineseburn, this -- loosely a concept album about freedom (or the lack of it) in modern society -- is the latest addition to prog-metal's ongoing love affair with post-rock. The opening track, the wonderfully-named "Fuck You Buddy," sets the album's tone with a slow unfolding of guitars and drums that build from repetitive, minimalist figures to a wide-open vista of layered sound that owes as much to psych as to post-rock. The songs that follow unfold in a similar vein, often in surprisingly gentle fashion; for an album being nominally flogged as metal, this has a lot more in common with early Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine than anything passing for metal these days (except possibly Neurosis, the godfathers of the whole metal / post-rock crossover in the first place). Like most current post-rock albums, the extended jams here are instrumental; the only vocals on the album, in fact, come from the looped sample that opens "R.D. Laing (Little Chemical Straitjackets)" and the sample that opens "The End of History." There's a spaced-out, almost jazzy feel to some of the passages, especially at the beginning of the title track, a muted feel that only adds to the cosmic jam vibe. This is good stuff, as long as you don't mind songs that take a long time to get where they're going; of course, since your average post-rock hesher will probably wash this down with bong hits, that might well be the entire point.

The Winchester Club
Exile on Mainstream

Xibalba -- MADRE MIA GRACIAS POR LOS DIAS [Southern Lord]

These guys are awfully dark and heavy for a band from sunny southern Cali. This is serious, punishing death metal that welds early Sepultura's diabolical riff-hate with early Obituary's oppressive atmosphere, with fearsome results. Their worship of all that is heavy takes some interesting turns: the tail end of "Madre Mia," for instance, features dark-ambient guitar tones howling like a sandstorm over martial beats, and the downbeat sample that opens "Time's Up" might well be an olique reference to the sample-happy likes of Eyehategod and Buzzoven, only more judicious in their use of this particular device. Most of their time on this disc, though, is taken up by the systematic dispensation of monumental heaviness. No filler, no happiness, no in-jokes, just giants walking the earth and crushing everything in their path. This is a throwback to the early days of death metal, to a sound that -- in its infancy -- was sufficiently heavy and oppressive enough to genuinely scare people. This is the sound of the dispossessed with guitars and drums, fronted by a vocalist bent on self-immolation. This is the sound of bulldozers digging trenches to be used as mass graves. If this music were made manifest in human form, it would be a psychotic with his hands around your throat. This album -- which includes their debut and a compilation track tacked on -- might be the heaviest album Southern Lord has released so far, which is saying something. Besides, it's hard to argue with the unbridled misanthropy of songs like "We Deserve To Die," isn't it?

Southern Lord

Monday, July 4, 2011

"my my, hey hey / it's a national holiday."

NOTE: I have begun epic recording sessions for the follow-up album to Korperschwache's EVIL WALKS, and I expect those sessions to continue through the summer, so keep that in mind if the schedule gets erratic or the reviews skimpy.

A Fucking Elephant / El Drugstore -- split cd [Nefarious Industries]

This split cd contains five tracks by A Fucking Elephant and four by El Drugstore, both bands from New Jersey, both heavy on the technical prog-metal tip. First up is the band with the rude name, and they come out swinging on "Blue Crab Fantastic," in which ominous hypno-guitars and an increasingly complex battery of percussion settles into a weird, loping groove and plenty of complicated drumming that becomes increasingly ornate as the track evolves. The remaining four tracks are very much in the same mold -- twisted guitar figures, absurdly complicated drum patterns, esoteric time signatures, and the occasional burst of agitated vocals. Their sound is considerably more hairy and fuzzy than that of the average prog-fixated metal band, which keeps their King Crimson-style action from turning sterile and lifeless; it's unusual to hear a band this obsessed with technical proficiency and baroque compositions sounding this heavy, which is a major point in their favor. The guitar sound in particular is dense and thick, most often swaddled in distortion, lending an extra layer of texture to the progged-out vibe.

The remaining four tracks are by El Drugstore, and while that band shares much of AFE's affinity for proggy metal, their method of attack is considerably more linear. Not necessarily any less complex, mind you, but definitely more linear -- they don't fly off in as many directions, and they favor song structures that are a bit closer to conventional metal, if filled with lots of really technical riffing and complex drumming. Unlike the other band, they are also completely instrumental; there are no vocals here to get in the way from the impressive musical gymnastics. Like King Crimson (an obvious influence on both bands), they manage to sound impressively gifted in the technical chops department without turning into a boring shred-fest -- there's plenty of instrumental wizardry going on, no question, but it's all in service of engaging, ornate, and considerably original songs. This album is definitely recommended to prog-heads who like their complicated jams rendered with some serious physical weight.

A Fucking Elephant
El Drugstore
Nefarious Industries

Aurvandil -- YEARNING [Eisenwald]

You know what's beginning to really annoy the hell out of me? Bands who insist on using Roman numerals to denote their recording and release dates. Mind you, this doesn't aggravate me nearly as much as bands who don't bother to put the proper playback speeds on LP labels, but it's still irritating. Which brings us to the first full-length release (after an avalanche of demos, splits, and one EP) by Aurvandil, apparently a one-man band from France (joined here by mysterious session dude Wiederganger on drums, whoever that is), a solemn purveyor of grandiose depressive black metal in the footsteps of Burzum and Bethlehem. He's also down with the pagan folk-metal scene as well, although that influence makes itself known mainly as flourishes and additions to the basic sound. The album opens with "Yearning -- Prelude," a melancholy acoustic dirge that's somber without being strident, but the songs that follow are squarely in the mold of minimalist, lo-fi black metal pioneered by Burzum and slavishly duplicated by about a billion others. Most of the material is mid-tempo with occasional bursts of speed, and while it's competent enough -- the wailing keyboards in "End of an Age" are a nice touch -- it's also nothing you haven't already heard, and many times at that. It is extremely well-done, however, and the acoustic interludes that crop up from time to time are genuinely beautiful, a nice contrast to the blackened necro tooth-gnashing that forms the basic bedrock of the band's sound. This is especially true of "Walking -- Interlude," a spooky acoustic passage that's the most haunting thing on the album. In fact, the acoustic guitar work is the one thing that elevates this into something more than a mere Burzum clone, and the single biggest reason to hear it. As for the overweening Burzum worship, at least they steal from the right albums.


Black Pus -- PRIMORDIAL PUS [Load Records]

Have a burning need to annoy your neighbors / roommate / people in hearing distance of your MP3 player of choice? Look no further! My, but this is obnoxious (and I mean that in the nicest way). You would expect nothing less from a member of Lightning Bolt, right? This is the fifth release from Black Pus -- the first available on vinyl -- and its piercing noise-rock aesthetic is similar to that of Brian Chippendale's better-known band, only applied in a different manner. Here he uses layers of exquisitely devolved drum loops, some stringed intstrument (or possibly a keyboard; given the level of sound processing involved, it's hard to tell) and lots of crunchy noise to create a series of highly rhythmic sonic irritants. Some of the tracks like "Cave of Butterfly" and "Favorite Blanket, Favorite Curse" approximate the demented rhythmic approach of late-period Arab on Radar, but here there always several levels of sonic chaos happening at once, resulting in a headache-inducing sensory overload. Squashed robot vocals churn away in the mix from time to time, not that you'll ever guess what he's saying (that must be why he helpfully provided lyrics for a couple of the songs in the liner notes), and there's plenty of squealy, squidgy sounds that are probably the result of a guitar being severely tortured, but the beauty of this album is that it's impossible to tell how he's getting such supremely hideous sounds. This is the deeply perverse sound of hallucinating robots disassembling themselves. It frequently sounds like he's channeling the spirits of several No Wave bands all at once, in a tidal wave of sonic ugliness so gruesome that it's beautiful in a deformed sort of way. Fans of Lightning Bolt will rejoice; those not down with the noise crown will hide under their desks and pee in their pants. I dare you to play this for your mother. Seriously, I dare you.

Black Pus
Load Records

Blackwolfgoat -- DRONOLITH [The Maple Forum]

This is bizarre shit, doom childe. The unique vision of Darryl Shepard of Milligram fame, the six tracks on this super-limited release (limited to 100 hand-numbered digi-sleeve copies with art by Alexander von Wieding) are an unusual combination of minimalist, machine-like percussion and strange sounds that might be processed guitar. On "Building Buildings," a persistent, monochromatic beat hammers relentlessly as squiggles of melodic sound chime and churn over it; on "Ruane," one chugging rhythm and another consisting of exactly one perfectly-timed note interlock in a hypnotic motif that is eventually joined by dancing melodic lines. Repetition and minimalism are the big keywords here; Shepard may be from stoner / metal bands, but this has far more in common with Philip Glass than it does with anything derived from Black Sabbath's sonic footprint. "Tyche" creeps into territory that's a tad more familiar with a big, fuzzy guitar sound, but it's every bit as minimalist as the other tracks. "Fear of Stars" features a funky robot bass loop that's gradually overlaid by brief bursts of melodic bleating and supremely sparse electronic percussion, while the buzzing drone guitar returns on "Event Radius" in the form of droning waves of wavering feedback. The title track is fifteen minutes of ping-pong repetition and growing layers of melodic guitar snippets for the first half, followed by loud, hairy drone guitar that grows louder and denser as the piece goes on before eventually trailing off into silence. This is certainly one of the more original-sounding albums I've heard in a while.

Maple Forum

Fungus Brains -- RON PISTOS REAL WORLD 12" [Load Records]

For our next amazing feat of musical science, we'll hop into our favorite time machine and head back to 1983, landing in Melbourne, Australia -- home of the Fungus Brains, a band featuring current Dirty Three guitarist Mick Turner that was active from 1982 to 1987, as part of the same scene that spawned the Birthday Party (a band whose existence was coming to a close just as the Fungus Brains were getting started). Prior to his involvement with Fungus Brains, Turner played in Sick Things, who were actual contemporaries of the Birthday Party, so if some of that band's sound seems to have seeped into the musicial consciousness of Fungus Brains, that should hardly be surprising. (The Stooges circa FUNHOUSE would probably be an equally appropriate reference point.) Why Load decided to resurrect this lost treasure is anyone's guess, but it's a good thing they did, because this is too good to remain hoplelessly obscure. Similar in nature to the Birthday Party and other Melbourne bands of the time, they nevertheless distinguish themselves with swell songs and make a credible stake for their own identity with a wailing horn player and a truly eccentric (some might say obnoxious) vocalist who sounds like a bird trapped in a man's body.

Things open with a heavy bang on "Hairbrush," featuring some seriously hairy bass and pounding drums behind bleating horns and psychotronic guitar; by the time the aforementioned birdman starts his bizarre cheeping, you know you're in for a wild ride. On song after song, the band fashions tunes out of a ramshackle sound heavy on the bass and murky guitar, often sounding like they just made the song up on the spot and were taped running through it for the first time -- yet, despite this decidedly loose approach, they swing with a vengeance, and those arrangements are a lot tighter than they initially appear. This is garage rock driven by jungle rhythms and demented horns; it's hard to imagine any of them sitting still to play this stuff, that's for sure. That tribal feel is especially obvious on "Death Dance," where loping drums and a squiggly, snake-like guitar sound keep things hopping; hooting and hollering in the background just adds to the song's twisted charm. Things get even noisier on "Goin' Down," almost to the point of white noise over a demanding beat, and on "Car Accident" -- the final track of the original album -- the band descends into near-total cacaphony punctuated by the vocalist's frantic yelping and held together only by the drummer's simple but insistent beat. As an added bonus, this reissue tacks on two songs from the same era -- the slower, destroyed-by-blues "St. Kilda" and "Where teh Fuck is Wal," a song that's every bit as cryptic and inscrutable as its title suggests. This is swell stuff, and anybody down with the Birthday Party and the Australian post-punk bands of that period should definitely grab this while it's available (which may not be long, given the original's rarity and the fact that this run is limited to 650 copies).

Load Records

Harm's Way -- ISOLATION [Closed Casket Activities]

This opens up with one of the nastiest-sounding things I've heard in a while on a metal album, a track called "Scrambled" that's largely dominated by a bludgeoning, overmodulated sound filled gruesome crackling, like an unholy mating of industrial metal and noise; it eventually turns into an overdriven hardcore death march topped by truly psychotic-sounding vocals, which is not quite as soul-scraping, but still plenty intense. They do favor breakdowns, something that's normally the kiss of death for me, but their version of the almighty breakdown is really seismic in its heaviness, which certainly helps. Like many hardcore metal bands, they suffer a bit in the variety department; their complete and total commitment to unwavering heaviness means the tracks start to sound a like after a while, which is kind of a drag, but the tracks are all consistently good, and the bowel-scraping industrial metal approach makes tracks like "Becoming" sound like the studio is caving in around them. Relentlessly confrontational and noisy like the Unsane but considerably more metal than noise-rock, this is about as subtle as a gun in your face and as heavy as a battleship being dropped on your head. Crunchy, crunchy guitars and a vocalist with an attitude problem go a long way toward alleviating the variety issue, and this is definitely a pinnacle of soul-crushing brutality.

Harm's Way
Closed Casket Activities

Brett Hinds presents -- FIEND WITHOUT A FACE + WEST END MOTEL [Rocket Science]

I'm not a particularly huge fan of Mastodon and I'm ambivalent about Brett Hinds. Sure, he's a swell guitar player and everything, but his reputation as rock's current King of the Wild Men is something of a distraction, and I have to wonder how long he can keep that up before he ends up locked up or dead. Still, I guess that's his business.... I have to admit he sure must have a lot of energy, because in addition to his Mastodon duties, he's also found time to play in two other bands, Fiend Without A Face and West End Motel, and thanks to the swell people at Rocket Science, both of those bands are represented here in one place for your listening pleasure. And unlike a lot of side-projects, these are not bands in which he shuffles through cast-off material from his main gig; these two bands are not only totally different from what he does in Mastodon, but supremely differernt from each other. FWAF is essentially a rockabilly / surf band, while WEM is in more of an Americana vein, and I'm frankly surprised to discover that he not only has an interest in either genre in the first place, but that he plays equally well in both. In fact, I actually like what he's doing in FWAF more than anything I've heard him do in Mastodon. (Well, maybe with the exception of "Cut You Up With A Linoleum Knife.")

The first disc is the first album from FWAF (two more discs are already in the can, waiting to be released), with Hinds squiggling away surf-style in front of a rockabilly band, and I can see why this would hold much appeal for him -- in sharp contrast to Mastodon's heavily-produced epic, overblown prog-rock, this is essentially a bunch of guys whipping up tunes on the spot in the garage in between cases of beer. The songs are short and to the point (the longest three are just over three minutes, and several are under two), completely lacking in pretension, and bursting with energy in a style that's been out of style for at least forty or fifty years. Some of the tracks (like "New York") even feature a rollicking boogie-woogie piano, and the vocals (when Hinds bothers with them, which isn't often) are best described as a throwback to drunken garage rock. The album's entire vibe is one of an endless party, with a sound that's a neat combination of Dick Dale and the Stray Cats. The recording itself is as basic as you can get without descending into lo-fi, and surprisingly authentic in its recreation of surf-rock and rockabilly. They get bonus points for "Get Straight," an exquisitely devolved surf-rock cover of Devo's "Whip It."

The second disc, featuring the first WEM album (a follow-up is currently in the mixing stages), is another thing entirely -- seven tracks of Americana that references old-school country icons like Chet Atkins and more modern acts like Tom Waits and The Pogues. Opening with an amusing spoken-word bit called "The Confident Wino" that segues into "... And We Are Here To Entertain You," the rest of the album plays out in a moderately more serious vein. The Tom Waits influence really shows up on the slow and brooding "She's On Fire," and the twangy country-rock feel to the whole album is a marked contrast to the sound of the first disc. What's most impressive, though, is how Hinds fits into the sonic picture with considerable restraint and lots of tasty guitar playing. This is the work of an actual band, not just Hinds overplaying in front of some hired guns, and an entirely respectable entry in the Americana canon. For a guy who gets more attention for his drunken antics in public these days, Hinds sure turns out to be full of surprises, huh?

Fiend Without A Face
West End Motel
Rocket Science

Isolation -- CLOSING THE CIRCLE [Eisenwald]

Talk about taking your time to get things right -- this, the band's first album, comes five years after the release of their first demo (with two others and a split in between). Their first demo found them working in the area of depressive black metal; the second had more of a doom vibe, while the split material was more atmospheric, and here they bring all of these elements together in a highly original and sophisticated form. Structurally speaking, the songs on this album owe a lot to the depressive metal aesthetic popularized by Bethlehem, but they also have an almost symphonic grandeur without lapsing into the outright bombast of the average symphonic metal band, and they have extensive melodic chops that are emphasized on tracks like "This Moment." By drawing judiciously from several different genres and putting serious thought into integrating those different sounds in their compositions, they come up with highly sophisticated songs that often move in unexpected directions without sounding forced. The highlight of the album is the lengthy instrumental "Nomad," in which an exceptionally melodic movement alternates with much heavier passages without sacrificing any of the melody, building in intensity over time before pulling back again. One of the most compelling things about this album is the wide variety in the vocals; guitarist / vocalist Johannes Schmid speaks in places and sings in others, calling up different textures and emotions with his shifting vocal styles. Another important element at work here is the stellar bass playing of Andre Jonas, whose playing is distinct without being obtrusive, adding an extra layer of texture and melodicism to the tracks. The tracks themselves are also significantly different from one to the next, while still retaining a recognizable identity that gives the album a thematically consistent sound. The end result, while obviously influenced by the aforementioned genres, is something original and very much its own. Highly recommended.



What I like most about Isounderscore albums is that they are, almost without exception, every bit as mysterious as they are excellent. Their latest release by Rale, aka Los Angeles sound artist William Hutson, is one of their most mysterious outings yet -- synth-driven minimalism that recalls the early days of Illusion of Safety, where volume and dynamics are of utmost importance. The LP consists of two side-long pieces that are as much about open space as they are about sound; there are lengthy passages of near silence interspersed with the electronics. The first side opens with a swell of electro-drone that quickly dissolves into an extended period of silence before the next movement of drone action floats upward, with a different tone, only to gradually lapse into silence again. This sound-to-silence motif recurs again and again, each time bringing forth a new set of sounds -- buzzing synth action, wailing feedback drones, crunchy (but not strident) noise, found sound -- with each new movement. The sounds used are simple (especially the synths, which are used to produce monotone drones), but the manner in which they are layered is fairly complex, and in conjunction with the rising and falling volume dynamics, creates the audio impression of a boat at sea passing through various zones of unidentifable activity. These themes and motifs are continued on the second side, with an opening sequence that marries rich and abundant synth tones with layers of noise and quickly fades into a muted, wavelike drone. Over time, crackling noises are introduced and the drone swells upward into something louder and denser. The drone eventually dissolves into a bed of crackling noise like static that continues for some time until the ominious, droning synth sound gradually returns. Noise textures emerge over time, appearing first as an undertone but eventually becoming every bit as prominent as the synth drone, and the fluctuating tension between these sounds continues, eventually dwindling into a short silence that is followed by a dark, droning coda. The journey from beginning to end is marked both by a judicious sense of composition and a stellar ear for sounds; despite the man's minimalist approach, there is very little sense of repetition thanks to the constantly evolving sounds and textures. In other words, another winning slice of audio enlightment from one of the country's most consistently interesting labels. Limited to 300 copies, and housed in a distinctive flourescent blue sleeve with a stamped geometric design by Brandon Nickell.



Rowland sure has some interesting obsessions: one of her earlier albums consisted of songs about vending machines, and now she's back with a concept album about architecture. Well, sort of. The first half of the album's title (and the title of the opening track) is a reference to the papal decree against 14th-century mystic Meister Eckhart, and the second half of the title (also a song on the album) is a reference to US spy satellites. The medieval painting by Simone Martini, "Miracle of the Child Falling from the Balcony," also serves as a source of inspiration (and as the cover art). So right off the bat there's some peculiar intersections of the old and the new, along with art and architecture. As far as the sound goes, Rowland provides piano, organ, guitar, bass, and vocals; Pete Stalsky and Andy Tester are the rhythm section, playing drums and electric bass, respectively. Despite the use of relatively standard instruments, weird sounds abound, although mainly as elements of incidental sound. Some of the songs -- the title track, "Ladybird," and "Mordecai," for instance -- are more traditional, built around piano, organ, and vocals, and these tracks are ethereal and beautiful, with or without Rowland's gentle vocals. Other tracks, like "Dreamcatcher," are considerably more odd, mixing the aforementioned instruments with bell-tones, strangely dissonant guitar figures, and growling bass lines."The City of the Unexpected Universe" incorporates all sorts of strange rhythmic sounds into the track, noises that compete with a droning pipe organ, while "Murky Millay" approaches the sound of glitch electronica through the unconventional use of their instruments. Rowland strikes a happy balance between the old and new sounds, and this bold approach to mixing traditional and far more experimental sounds makes for a listening experience full of unexpected surprises.

Jess Rowland

Unearth -- DARKNESS IN THE LIGHT [Metal Blade]

I'm afraid I showed up late for the Unearth party (like, real late), so I have absolutely no idea what their earlier albums sound like, but this one is certainly heavy. I do know about the one big difference between this one and the earlier ones: they switched drummers this time around -- apparently the original guy wasn't metal enough for them -- employing the services of Killswitch Engage drummer Justin Foley. (There's another connection to that band, too; the album was produced by KE guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz.) As drummers go, he's certainly punishing, and his pounding, straightforward drumming drives the material with ferocious enemy. I'm personally not so enthusiastic about the band's constant reliance on breakdowns, but they at least do that well, and Foley is totally in sync with the rest of the band regarding the stop 'n start rhythms. They also have the good sense and focus to keep the songs relatively short -- only one song is over four minutes, and then only by a few seconds -- and they have a great, harmonically rich guitar sound, but their insistence on one breakdown after another makes for a really choppy sound, and contributes to a creeping sense of sameness from one track to the next. The best thing about the album, to me, is their furious and overdriven guitar sound, one that manages to be brutally intense and surprisingly melodic at the same time. The times they do deviate from their standard attack, as on the proggy intro to "Equinox" and the hypnotically melodic guitar intro to "Shadows in the Light," are all too brief and make me wish they had more moments like that on the album. Still, if you're okay with breakdown-heavy metal, this is unquestionably heavy stuff, delivered with an unremitting level of ferocity.

Metal Blade

Voivod -- WARRIORS OF ICE [Sonic Unyon Metal]

I have to admit, I was really nervous about this release. While this is not the band's first live album (that would be VOIVOD LIVES, released on Metal Blade in 2000), this is the first one since guitarist Piggy's untimely death in 2005, recorded in December, 2009 at Club Soda in Montreal, featuring guitar from new guy Dan Mongrain; it's also the first live album to feature original bassist Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault and original singer Denis "Snake" Belanger. Turns out I had nothing to worry about -- while Piggy's astro-infinty guitar sound is pretty much impossible to replace or duplicate, Mongrain does a respectable job of fitting in with the rest of the band, and the entire band is in fine form (although Snake's delivery isn't quite as smooth as it was in the band's heyday, but age will do that to you). The 15-track set list is drawn mainly from their first six albums (plus two from their latest album INFINI) and includes some of their best-known (and just plain best) tracks like "Nothingface" and "Astronomy Domine"; it's a filler-free set, too, and the band's sound is closer to the raw, ripping sound of their early albums than to the more proggy feel they evolved into by the time of NOTHINGFACE and ANGEL RAT. It definitely sounds like a live album, too -- loud, intense, and chaotic -- but the sound is relatively clear and sharp, if overdriven, and the band's energy level remains consistent from start to finish. I haven't heard the other album and thus have no idea how it compares to this one, but the band has nothing to be embarrased about here, and the song selection makes it a pretty interesting peek at the band's early, classic albums.

Sonic Unyon