The Devil’s Blood – The Time of No Time Evermore

Posted in Album, Reviews, Watchlist on September 30th, 2009 by Alex

The classic rock revival, for the most part, has left me cold. Bands like The Answer and Stone Gods indulging in big riffs and big balls show such a lack of imagination. Dutch classic rockers The Devil’s Blood have snuck into the metal arena on the back of Doom Metal’s recent surge in popularity. Their occult leanings and intermittent Sabbath referencing appears to have endeared them to the Doom community perhaps on the lookout for some light relief, particularly with their feelgood hit of the late summer I’ll Be Your Ghost. But what a welcome interloper this is!

Delivering classic rock in the vain of Blue Oyster Cult and Coven with Sabbath and Thin Lizzy flourishes, The Devil’s Blood are retro, but have their own distinctive identity. The singer’s quivering vibrato may polarise listeners as it can get pretty grating, but is largely smoothed out by the silky multi-part vocal harmonies of which this album is awash. Their sound is darkly atmospheric and truly epic. Huge riffs and harmonised dual guitars cut through the dreamy sheen giving this album some real punch and there are some razor sharp and perfectly timed guitar solos displaying prodigious fret board agility without being too showy.

Final track The Ant-Kosmik Magick is surely one of the standout tracks of any band this year. This sublime psychedelic rocker concludes the album with the best Floydesque guitar duel since Opeth’s Burden or Coheed and Cambria’s The Final Cut (indeed this is one of many parallels with C&C’s retro prog).

This album is perfectly executed and immaculately timed. There there’s no fat here at all – every track is a stormer. Despite the dark lyrical themes of witchery and black magick, this album is ultimately uplifting. Backward leaning without every being a parody, showing contemporary flourishes and some exemplary pop songwriting smarts.

German label Ván appear to have hit paydirt having also signed superb Swedish doomsters Griftegård. This will be in my albums of the year. Go buy it, because these guys deserve to be very popular indeed.

Listen on Myspace

Buy on Amazon

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The Pax Cecilia – Blessed are the Bonds

Posted in Album, Reviews, Unsigned on September 15th, 2009 by Alex

It’s perhaps suprising given my constantly developing taste for ever more complex and ponderous music that this album arrived into my life several weeks ago and was filed in the “too damn daunting for where my head is at currently” pile after a single listen. After a several week long odyssey into drone (Earth, Sunn O))), Boris) this suddenly didn’t seem so intimidating any more, so I gave it another whirl.

Apparently lumped into the post-hardcore bucket with the likes of *shels (who also don’t belong there) The Pax Cecilia wafts evanescent over the sorry arse of any dreary musical subgenre they damn well please. Labelling them anything containing the epithet ‘core’ seems painfully beside the point. These slow building arrangements melt effortlessly from from folk to caustic hardcore to sparse drone to proggish melodic interludes. Anyone sampling opening track The Tragedy would be forgiven for thinking that this isn’t even rock music. These lengthy tracks are peppered with baroque strings, soaring guitars and subtle melodic vocals which occasionally erupt into a harrowing scream.

The sheer array of ideas and undisguised talent on display here is astonishing. That this band have done little to bother the popular consciousness is both a testament to the bravery of this album and a self fulfilling prophecy – The Pax Cecilia may well have “too damn difficult for their own good” chiselled on their tombstone, something that wouldn’t be said for the aforementioned Enio Morriconeists *shels who have the potential to really break through.

This album is made to be loved and cherished and played alone on rainy days (perhaps on long train journeys like the one from which this article is being written). This is not a happy album, and not one that you will truly grok in few listens, but like all truly exceptional albums it’s worth the effort. What’s more astonishing is that an album of this quality is being given away free. Yes, you heard me right, if you want to grace your world with this work of loveliness then it can be downloaded in its entirety for free here. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

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Necro Deathmort – This Beat Is Necrotronic

Posted in Album, Reviews, Watchlist on September 10th, 2009 by Alex

Necro Deathmort’s name suggests “death death death” and their Myspace classification is set to “grunge/grunge/grunge”, however their music is not even remotely either. In fact, if you dig deeper, the London duo consider themselves more drone doom than anything else quoting a major influence from early Earth. However, Necro’s eclectic pseudo-style is closer in spirit to the creepy electronica of Aphex Twin or cut and paste trip-hop of Coldcut although the predominant influence here would seem to be that of breakbeat alchemist DJ Shadow (from the Endtroducing era). The album’s title – This Beat is Necrotronic – clearly nods towards the retro-beat-electronica that saturates this collection.

Necro’s drone nestles quietly beneath the loops and breakbeats creating ambient tones reminiscent of a hip-hop inflected take Sunn O)))’s spookyscapes. Technicolour Minstrel Show is pure ambient, minimalist drone, while Hurt Me I’m Bored is a much more traditional doom affair with guitars and real drums dominating the lightly electronic undertones. On the brief Origami Werewolf the styles seem to mesh more cleanly and this is perhaps the coherent edge that this album needs to really shine. Final track The Ultimate Testament takes Boris style drone to its logical conclusion and is perhaps an allusion of the entropic nature of the universe in which we live.

It’s clear that Necro take their art with a pinch of salt. The Beat is Necrotronic is certainly creative, and its originality comes from the mix of styles, rather than the music itself. It is a playful work of ADHD genre noodling that will no doubt irritate the hell out of the genre purists (of all the various genre’s this record references) which is always a good thing. But if you alienate everyone, then what are you left with? Is this album just too damn erratic to be anything other than very niche? Or could this genre hopping opus please the wider audience?

All this aside, this motley assemblage of loops and doom really put a smile on my face, and it’ll certainly get heavy rotation on my iPod. Given I’m a fan of pretty much all the genres and artists mentioned here, this was guaranteed to entertain me. There’s a legion of folks out there with similar tastes out there, but we’re hard to pin down. If you stumble across this expecting drone, then keep an open mind. If you’re merely looking for something really fresh and thoroughly entertaining then look no further.

Listen to Necro Deathmort on Myspace

Buy the album here

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Municipal Waste – Massive Aggressive

Posted in Album, Reviews on September 2nd, 2009 by Alex

Fun, comfortable, unchallenging. Should these words be applied to something calling itself Thrash Metal? It’s not easy to say this, but that’s how I perceive Municipal Waste.

Harking back to the early days of Thrash, when it was as much a product of Punk than Metal, Municipal Waste make a heady, energetic noise that does exactly what the likes of DRI and Exodus did nearly 25 years ago. This is all nice and lovely, but certainly not essential.

The Waste spearheaded the recent thrash revival, which I greeted with utter enthusiasm at first, followed by nervous anticipation ending with mild disappointment. This style of thrash is fun and really gets your head nodding, but it’s so lacking in substance. While Exodus were making Bonded in Blood, Slayer were churning out the seminal Reign in Blood, Metallica Master of Puppets, Megadeth Peace Sells. These albums tore up the rulebook and pushed boundaries. That the recent Thrash revival seems to stop dead at this paradigm-shift is typical of flagrant lack of adventurousness displayed by Municipal Waste and others. If the bands that MW reference so heavily didn’t already have their tongue’s lurking in cheek territory, then we’d be talking about them is the same context as The Darkness and Steel Panther.

Massive Aggressive sounds like their previous album and has some utterly superb old-school riffage. The lyrical themes are stoopid and overall this is totally unchallenging, but that’s OK, you weren’t intending to listen to this sober anyway were you?

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Virus – The Black Flux

Posted in Album, New, Reviews on September 1st, 2009 by Alex

Norway’s Virus are described on their Wikipedia entry as “avant-garde jazz rock”, a lofty description, and I will say this, they don’t sound much like the British thrash band of the same name.

On the surface, Virus’ guitars sound like Mastodon’s: heavy but not overly distorted, doom laden, frequent use of resonating open strings, obscure scales, but here comparisons end. Virus tread a more gothic path, and tend towards slower tempos and more subtle song structures. Virus are progressive in the true sense of the term rather than the generic.

The Joy Division/Interpol inflected vocals cut through any metallic tendencies, giving the music an alternative feel. The melodies and musical structure are where they really shine though. Wilfully obscure, this is definitely rock music, and you can hear the jazz influence, but these intricate musical threads weave a much more complex and indistinct tapestry than many of their peers. So dense are these tracks that it’s easy to get lost in them, and sometimes hard to find your way out again – this combined with a sustained oppressive tone sometimes makes it a uncomfortable listen.

It’s difficult to know where Virus fits in the grand music scheme, but their place at the bleeding edge of heavy music is assured.

Listen to Virus on Myspace

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Joby Talbot – The Path of Miracles

Posted in Album, Stumbled upon on August 26th, 2009 by Alex

While on my recent excursion into the murky world of Drone (more on this to come, in about 3 years time, which is how long it’s going to take me to plough through Earth and Sunn O)))’s back catalogue) I briefly segued into classical choral music. It happened while I was watching BBC’s Classic Goldie, on which the Drum and Bass pioneer was saddled with the task of writing a piece of classical music to be preformed at that most British of institutions – The Proms. Part time graffiti artist Goldie, who cannot read or write music, is more accustomed to stringing together audio files in interesting configurations and certainly isn’t your obvious classical composer material. He makes a pretty decent job of it.

Anyway, somewhere along the lines he’s introduced to various, more experimental classical techniques by his mentor. One of these was an unearthly low pitch droning, oscillating hum made by a bunch of blokes with deep voices. Thought I “now this reminds me of early Earth sung by a bunch of blokes with deep voices” and trotted off gleefully to find out more.

It turns out to be the intro to a piece called Roncesvalles from Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles. Mr. Talbot was once a member of British, tongue-in-cheek Brit-pop band The Divine Comedy. He now composes classical music in multiple styles with various degrees of populist slant, and is perhaps best known for his work on movie soundtracks like Son of Rambow and (festering bucket of badger entrails mixed with camel saliva) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Path of Miracles is choral from beginning to end, with few other instruments other than the human voice. I know nothing at all about choral music, so I can’t tell you if this is a good or bad example of it, but it totally bowled me over. The intro to Roncesvalles alone is like nothing I’ve ever heard. This ethereal rising drone sends shivers up my spine. Path of Miracles is comprised of 4 pieces at around 15 minutes in length. It’s sung, at least in part, in English, although it appears to be centred around a trip through various French villages.

Atmospheric and brooding, this is dark stuff. At times spooky or down right scary (along the lines of Jerry Goldsmith’s Omen theme), at others majestic and exulting. There are a fair few parallels in these histrionic overtures with metal – doom, black, drone and even European power metal. However, there’s no sense of quasi-intellectual posturing or irony here, this is the genuine article. It’s complex and difficult, and will  no doubt take countless more listens before it really divulges its secrets.

There’s not much I can say that will do this justice. This is fascinating and powerful music. If you like your music dark and complex, then you should check it out.

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Cave In – Planets of Old EP

Posted in Album, New, Reviews on July 22nd, 2009 by Alex

You have to wonder whether the title of this much anticipated comeback EP is a reference to the backwards leaning tendencies contained herein. Like a little smorgasbord, these 4 tasty tid-bits are both familiar but also fresh.

Cayman’s Tongue lurches into the post-hardcore territory of Perfect Pitch Black while also referencing the space rock majesty of Jupiter. We then take a complete left turn into the pounding Retina See Rewind – a forceful yet melodic punk frenzy.

The Red Trail is pure ferocious hardcore of a kind becoming less common if these days of monotonous Deathcore and pretentious crabcore. This is new ground for the ephemeral Cave In, and is a style that suits them well, but we’re used to them pushing boundaries, which aren’t being pressured much here.

Finally Air Escapes is has a robotic pummel reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age and provides the most melodic moment of the quartet.

What’s missing here are the yearning melodies of Cave In’s middle period. The is progression here but overall this seems like a band finding their feet again, and consequently doesn’t stand up against their best. Cave In need to decide who they’re going to be next; as a transition work this is an entertaining bask in former glories, but a glorious comeback it ain’t.

The EP is currently streaming in its entirety here.

★★★½☆ (3.5)

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Baroness – The Red Album

Posted in Album, Stumbled upon on July 9th, 2009 by Alex

Mastodon are a great band, so when folks started muttering about Baroness in the same context I should have taken notice. Generally I thought “here’s another stoner band with added Mastodon widdly bits” and filed on my stuff-to-listen-to-at-some-point list somewhere in the middle. This is why it has taken me so woefully long to get with the programme. To paraphrase in the vernacular – EPIC FAIL!

Yes, they do sound a bit like Mastodon – a driving flux of complex psychedelic guitar and complex arrangements. The bands also share a doom/prog lineage. But Baroness cast a mood that’s fundamentally different – although comparatively cerebral, Baroness effect a stoner slouch and southern groove which allows them a brightness that is nonexistent in their fellow Georgians’ music, and place them along side popier counterparts Torche.

The Red Album is bookended with 2 atmospheric instrumental sections. The opening ambient chimes of Rays on Pinion slow-builds into a glorious upbeat, up-tempo stomp before morphing into a part stoner, part punk bruiser. The sun sets on The Red Album with Grad, an azure and brooding post-rocker which recalls Earth, were they ever to have acquired delusions of grandeur.

What happens in between is a purposeful melange of vignettes and slabs of fully formed modern metal. Repeating motif’s subtly weave this ragtag mix into a primal tapestry.

The Birthing, with its southern stylings and dramatic midsection, is heavy and complex, while the stately Isak plods its chiming course through the stoner wasteland. The foreboding space rock of Wailing Wintery Wind is fancifully chased up by the storm-in-a-teacup fingerpicked acoustic Cockroach En Fleur – the first of a suite of elaborate but essential instrumental accessories completed by the post-rock doom of Aleph and Teeth of a Cogwheel, which is like a 70’s soundtrack for a movie about cowboys in space.

With Wunderlust, we’re are presented with the most Mastodon like moment, with guitars dual guitars picking through angular open stringed harmonies butted with shouted discordant vocals and a narrative instrumental mid section that Mastodon would surely have been proud of.

Baroness will need to step out from under Mastodon’s shadow to truly become a powerful musical force. It would be a travesty if they are relegated to a footnote in another bands musical history. The Red Album is as good as (and in many cases better than) anything that Mastodon have recorded.

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MC Rut – 25 Years

Posted in Album, Reviews on June 22nd, 2009 by Alex
Seeing double

Seeing double

Like the White Stripes, California’s MC Rut (aka Middle Class Rut) make their stripped down noise as a backward leaning guitar-drum duo. However, kitch-blues revivalism this isn’t. MC Rut make pop-rock that could fill stadiums, and they make it sound BIG. There’s such a glut of obvious influences here it’s impossible to cover them all. The sound, especially the vocals, owes an obvious debt to Jane’s Addiction, although they sometimes come off sounding more like Blink 182. The music lies somewhere between BRMC and Torche – there’s indie, punk, stoner/doom, there’s a nod to robot repetition of Queens of the Stone Age and perhaps even the space-age stylings of Cave in.

If you’re starting to get the sense of a band that’s trying to please everyone, then you’re probably about right – they quote Jonny Cash, Radiohead and Sepultura as influences on their MySpace site. This EP is aimed squarly at the popular market. Sure, the vocals are shouty at times, and there’s a distinct whiff of middle-american angst here, but isn’t that what Green Day are selling bucket loads doing at the moment?

That said, trying to be popular isn’t a sin per se, especially if you manage to hold on to your respecatbility while doing it, something that MC Rut seem capable of doing.  You’ll find yourself humming along after 1 listen, and punching the air after 2. This is well crafted pop-rock of an order well in advance of most of their peers, and well worth repeated listens.

★★★★☆(4)

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