Psychedelic Psummer Rundown + Extra Blues, Prog & Metal

Mastodon - Once More 'Round The Sun (Relapse, 2014)Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun (Reprise)
After the first week, Mastodon entered the Billboard Album Chart at #6. That’s a pretty great placing for a metal album, even though some think it somehow means metal is in decline since one of its best bands can’t sell as much as Metallica. Durrr, no. That makes no sense. With metal fests flourishing around the world and tons of sold out tours, metal is doing just fine. But there are so many genres now, no one is going to agree on one singular band to represent metal. Though if you go strictly by sales the past few years, then I guess it’s a close race between Avenged Sevenfold, Linkin Park and Five Finger Death Punch. While it is true that fewer metal albums take the top positions in the charts, look at who we had in the top 100 in 2002 — Creed, Linkin Park, Nickelback, Puddle Of Mudd, P.O.D., Kid Rock, System Of A Down, Incubus, Korn and Staind. So yeah, who gives a flying rat’s ass?

I’m just amazed that Black Sabbath’s 13, which debuted at #1, actually sold enough to be ranked #86 in sales for 2013. Perhaps there is hope.  But we don’t need Mastodon to save metal. They’re doing just fine, doing what they do, selling out venues that are larger than I prefer to see them in. That’s no problem, I saw them plenty of times in small clubs from 2003 to 2012, and they’ve gradually grown their audience despite all the bitching that they “lost their way” after Leviathan (2004) or even Remission (2002), ha! Their prog metal odyssey Crack The Skye (2009) was one of my favorites, and The Hunter (2011) scaled back the ambition for simplicity, it was still a good album. I was definitely anticipating the new one, particularly when they revealed the stunning artwork by Oakland artist Skinner. And it’s just about as great as I imagined, aside from the fact that based on the artwork I thought they might go in a more psychedelic direction. That didn’t really happen, though it is a great summary of their strengths, improving on the melodicism of The Hunter, some complex prog metal and occasional glimpses of their sludgier past.

Mastodon balance elements that keep fans of several different sub-genres interested, which is why critics probably use them to project all sorts of baggage, good and bad. They’re certainly not meant to be all things to all fans of, say, Triptykon, Agalloch, Tombs and Behemoth.  So while it’s ridiculous to say they’re hand down the best metal band of the past decade, they are certainly one of the great ones, and deserve any of the mainstream love they may or may not get. There’s no need to go into song-by-song detail, as pretty much every magazine and blog on the planet have already done so. Now to scratch my itch for some truly psychedelic albums…

Electric Citizen - Sateen (RidingEasy, 2014)Electric Citizen – Sateen (RidingEasy)
What a great surprise. I’d been paying attention to the Riding Easy label, which has  put out a handful of favorites this year in Monolord, Hornss and Salem’s Pot, but this July 1 release seemed to come out of nowhere. The Cincinnati band specializes in heavy psych and proto-metal with a female lead. But let’s make this clear right away. Having a woman as a lead singer is not a gimmick, and there is not a “glut” of such bands. While there have been a handful of new female-lead bands coming up since I first wrote my Metal Sirens piece a couple years ago, it’s merely a small contribution to balancing out a huge cosmic imbalance in the rock world. Of course women rock, and of course many of them can sing heavy music better than most men. It’s about time someone put a dent in the boring dominance of males, and their sorry-ass attempts to exaggerate their masculinity by attempting to sound like they’re gargling rusty nails, or having their nails slowly extracted from their fingers.

Despite having formed only a year ago, the band seems to have much more cumulative experience. I imagine they came together from different bands with creative juices overflowing, and had most of their songs written right away, having released an EP just six months later. Now they have already taken part in a successful tour with stoner rock legends Fu Manchu.  They also seem to have some nice record collections with hints of influences from all sorts of obscure heavy psych and proto-metal from 1968 through the early 70s. Their name comes from the song “Death of an Electric Citizen” by the Edgar Broughton Band, an anarchic bluesy psych group from the UK. Laura Dolan’s vocals sound like she isn’t naturally the strongest belter in the world, but multi-tracking solves that issue no problem. Works for Ozzy and a million other singers. There’s also some rollicking, harder rocking moments that cherry pick from the NWOBHM era. That’s my jams! The closest contemporary comparison might be Portland’s Satyress, who they actually shared a bill with on a Northwest date of their Fu Manchu tour. I’d have love to been there. This Saturday they’re opening for Budos Band at Metro, but I’ll be at a wedding, dangit! Highly recommended. | Buy

Les Big Byrd - They Worshipped Cats (Höga Nord/A Recordings, 2014)Les Big Byrd – They Worshipped Cats (Höga Nord/A Records)
This psych band is probably not what you’d imagine coming from Sweden. While there may be a tiny element of smoky 70s heavy psych that’s primarily popular in their country, they are primarily influenced by kosmische/Krautrock, with more in common with early Stereolab singles, Spiritualized, Moon Duo and Föllakzoid, but with even better honed melodic instincts. They retain just the right amount of garage fuzz to avoid too polished a sound, but the infectious pop qualities, danceable beats and ridiculously awesome album art put this band in serious danger of becoming equally loved by critics, hipsters and pretty girls. I could see a Tame Impala-sized audience catching on, and it would be well deserved. If I end up tolerating a huge, sweaty, annoyingly young and probably drug-addled crowd waving day-glo sticks in 2015, it’ll likely be for Les Big Byrd.

Holy Mountain - Ancient Astronauts (Chemikal Underground, 2014)Holy Mountain – Ancient Astronauts (Chemikal Underground)
On to the foggy bogs of Scotland, we return to some heavy fuzz. The relatively young band had put their influences on their sleeves, and their name, taken from an album by stoner doom pioneers Sleep, (or the film by Alejandro Jodorowsky, but they totally listened to Sleep) especially on their first EP, Earth Measures (Chemikal Underground, 2012). On their full-length debut, they live up to the title’s statement of intent, drifting outwards into space steering slighting towards the meditative orbits of Om and the psychedelic space sludge of the massive black star that is Ufomammut. Not that you could mistake them for those bands, as they also retain their distinctly loose-limbed style with high energy riffing. Oh yes do they have riffs, fat, bluesy and feisty, along the lines of a sped-up Elder or Wo Fat. Their sound, however, is less dense and monolithic than those bands, leaving more space for the addictive guitar solos.  This band made sure their spaceship was equipped with a basement practice space with wood panels and deep shag carpet. | Buy

Messenger - Illusory Blues (Svart, 2014)Messenger – Illusory Blues (Svart)
There’s always a fine line in prog rock between complex music that can be fully captivating, and completely boring. London’s Messenger occasionally teeter, but successfully stay on the good side, referencing everything from 60s psych, space-rockin’ era Pink Floyd, and folk spanning from traditional to Angels of Light and gorgeous violin-assisted Americana. No wonder Finnish avant psych label Svart snapped them up as they expand their reach to include them and American pastoral psych rockers The Golden Grass. Compared to my usual fare, Messenger are rarely heavy. But their graceful, ornate music draws me in.

The Vintage Caravan – Voyage (Nuclear Blast)
When Iceland’s The Vintage Caravan formed in 2006, the hard rock power trio were just barely teenagers. Like Free and Stray, growing up in a band was key to developing a mature voice very early on. After a self-titled debut in 2011, they enjoyed a big growth spurt for their follow-up Voyage, which they self-released a couple years ago. Check out the world-weary ballad “Do You Remember,” where they sound like battleworn old souls. That vocal hook is amazing, and would have been a huge hit 30 years ago. With similarities to a precocious young Paul Rodgers, Óskar Logi’s voice does not sound like that of a teen. The whole album exudes massive talent and confidence, hence Nuclear Blast signing them. “Let Me Be” features great, thick and fuzzy guitars, while the arrangements and extended solo on heavy psych rocker “Expand Your Mind” matches the instrumental prowess of older bands like Radio Moscow and Rival Sons. They get even more ambitious on “Winterland” and “The King’s Voyage” by incorporating some prog circa King Crimson. I can’t wait to hear how another two years of growth sounds on their next one.

Radio Moscow - Magical Dirt (Alive Naturalsound, 2014)Radio Moscow – Magical Dirt (Alive Naturalsound)
Radio Moscow is also a power trio based on the Cream/Hendrix/Mountain template, heavy on the blues with some psych. They sound like they could be Swedish, but actually started in Story City, Iowa. Main man Parker Griggs had gone through a few rounds of musicians, but with the sound and vision in his control, their four albums have continuity, despite losing some talented members who went on to form Blues Pills, who comes out with their debut full-length in a couple weeks. Now based in L.A. the band hasn’t veered away from their riff-heavy blues psych since the last album, The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz (2011). What we get are just a great new batch of songs that may lack the hooks of the occasional single from The Black Keys, but make up for it in tight musicianship and a perfect, heavy sound.

Rival Sons - Great Western Valkyrie (Earache, 2014)Rival Sons – Great Western Valkyrie (Earache)
With their fourth album, Rival Sons are at the peak of their powers, and seem poised for world domination. Which is why I was shocked to see it reach only 104 in the Billboard charts after its release last month, with only 3,150 copies sold. What?! This band had been building a huge buzz since their second album, Pressure And Time (2011), winning over audiences with a fiery live show. Their not-so secret weapon is singer Jay Buchanon, who’s vocal work has reached a new level with this album. He has a deep toolkit that includes soulful wails rivaling Steve Marriott (Small Faces/Humble Pie), husky croons (Paul Rodgers of Free/Bad Company), vibrato (Roger Chapman of Family) and of course Robert Plant’s screams. I’m not saying he’s totally derivative, just that he’s one of the best rock singers around who can only be compared with the best of the best. The band brings it all together with musicianship that surpasses most of their peers. While I have a preference for more psychedelic leaning sounds, their bluesy ballads and rockers are top notch. Great Western Valkyrie is a better album than Black Keys’ El Camino, the 10th best selling album of 2012 and even 79th of 2013. Not to keep picking on the Keys, whose recent Turn Blue is quite good. Just not as good as Rival Sons. I’m certain that within the year, another million people or so will have figured that out. I just caught their show the other night near the end of their tour, and they were amazing. Some younger guys were losing their minds because they probably had never seen a truly great rock show before. I’m sure I’ll never get to see them in a club that small again, as they take their rightful place near the top of festival lineups before long.

Three Seasons - Grow (Transubstans, 2014)Three Seasons – Grow (Transubastans)
Back in 2011 I binged on nearly everything on Transubstans roster which was probably a bit too much at once. I was on the fence on their debut Life’s Road. Though singer Sartez Faraj was in Siena Root who I like, Three Seasons seemed to abandon heavy psych for a bit too Ten Years After/hippie jam band. On their third album, these Swedes have focused their sound, with Faraj kicking off the album with some wailing worthy of Humble Pie or Rod Stewart’s work with Jeff Beck. Some prog elements help keep the blues rock fresh. They’ve reached a level of musicianship on par with the likes of Radio Moscow, The Golden Grass and Blues Pills, and occasionally hints of Graveyard influence. I went back and listened to Understand The World (2012) and it’s nearly as great. My only reservation is that the recording seems to completely lack bottom end, and is very trebly compared to records from the other bands. It must be a conscious choice to stand apart from the others for a more twee pre-1968 production style, but I don’t think it works. I’m sure hearing them live would put the difference between the albums and their show in stark contrast.

Liquido Di Morte – Liquido Di Morte (SSTARS)
While their Bandcamp page mentions post-meal and post-rock, this sounds like pure psychedelic space metal with just a touch of prog and sludge, possibly inspired by fellow Italians Ufomammut. On “Ozric Pentacles,” over a great circular riff, what sounds liek a clip from a sci-fi movie recites some great lines that concludes with, “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” The credits only say this of the lyrics: “Stolen.” Ha ha ha.

Judas Priest - Redeemer Of Souls (Sony, 2014)Judas Priest – Redeemer Of Souls (Sony)
It’s hard to believe that Judas Priest first formed way back in 1969 as Freight. Within a year they had changed their name to Judas Priest, not long after another Birmingham band called Earth became Black Sabbath. They took a bit longer (nearly 6 years) to evolve their sound from hippie psych into the definitive modern metal band. But for a band that probably inspired a number of scenes in Spinal Tap, they sound remarkably spry. It’s amazing to think that the last time they made a comeback of sorts after their first lull in quality output with Painkiller (1990), the band seemed like ancient masters. Yet they’d only been around for 20 years by then. It’s now been another 24 years since that album, and they sound as if their wilderness years with the wrong lead singer and valient comeback efforts like Angel Of Retribution (2005), where they slowly slide further down the rabbit hole of irrelevance, never happened. Redeemer Of Souls revisits some of the successes of the past that made them great, while still sounding like it was recorded this year. And it smokes.

Bongripper – Miserable (Burning World)
Chicago’s Bongripper has been laying low in recent years. It’s been four years since their last full-length, Satan Worshipping Doom (2010). They did do a couple split EPs last year to remind the world of their existence and forthcoming impending instrumental stoner doom, including a split with Conan. They haven’t changed that much, but for some slow-moving entities, evolution is overrated.

Ocean Chief – Universums härd (I Hate)
A few years back I was turned on to Ocean Chief after buying an EP from up and coming Swedish stoner doom band Spelljammer (who hopefully have a full length on it’s way soon). Fellow Swedes Ocean Chief have been putting out heavy slabs of psychedelic space doom/sludge since 2004. On their fourth and latest full-length, vocals are kept to a minimum, reserved only to embellish peak moments of existential fury, somewhat like Ufomammut. There’s not a lot of obvious hooks to draw you in. Rather, you just have to let it envelop you, and revel in the oppressive textures.

Blues Pills – Blues Pills (Nuclear Blast) July 28/Aug 5

Blues Pills - Blues Pills (Nuclear Blast, 2014)

There’s a lot of excited anticipation for this one. I first wrote about Blues Pills back in April 2012 (Metal Sirens) when they emerged fully formed on the Bliss EP (Crusher). It’s truly an international mix of highly accomplished musicians from Iowa (Cory Berry and Zach Anderson formerly of Radio Moscow), bluesy powerhouse vocalist Elin Larsson and drummer Jonas Askerlund (Dead Man) from Sweden, and budding superstar guitarist Dorian Sorriaux from France. From their tip-top songwriting, musicianship and performances from previous recordings on the aforementioned EP, Devil Man EP (Crusher/Nuclear Blast, 2013) and Live At Rockpalast EP (2014), this band could become pretty popular to a cross section of people who like not only heavy psych and blues, but just great rock ‘n’ roll. Reviews are trickling out, but Nuclear Blast USA doesn’t seem to deem Fast ‘n’ Bulbous significant enough to merit a review copy. Fortunately, you can get a cool track-by-track preview with commentary by Elin below. It comes out in Europe July 28 and U.S. August 5, with some cool packages available for pre-order. | Preorder

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Doom Goes Boom in June

I would normally associate doom metal with later in the year, like November, when everything is dying. But with summer festivals and early summer release schedules, the time to doom out really gets going in June. Last year, of course, Black Sabbath made history when their Rick Rubin-produced reunion album 13 made history by souring to #1 on both the British and U.S. Billboard album charts, a first for doom. This got me cautiously excited about the prospect that mainstream would go crazy for doom (see Doom Goes Pop), or at least recognize it as a thing. You know, a genre of music worth noting and seeking out as the logical conclusion of the blues. But no. Most see Black Sabbath as just plain metal, or worse, Ozzy’s backing band. Saint Vitus or Trouble won’t be haunting the Billboard charts anytime soon.

But on a smaller scale, doom does seem healthier than ever. Doom bands are getting top billing in at least a dozen festivals in Europe between April and October. Tours in the U.S. are still sporadic, and sadly the great Days Of The Doomed IV was the last one, but the Scion Fest in Pomona, CA shows there’s still a growing audience. Bands like 40 Watt Sun and Pallbearer have gotten a good amount of attention in the music press beyond the usual doom and metal blogs. Wo Fat - The Conjuring (Small Stone, 2014)And bigger names like Down and Corrosion Of Conformity continue to pay homage to doom. And there’s a killer batch of doom albums that were released in June. Probably the most impressive release of the month was Wo Fat, The Conjuring (Small Stone) on June 17. The Dallas, TX band’s fifth album is the best example of their unique voodoo blues-doom-boogie fusion. Read the full review here.

Serpent Venom - Of Things Seen & Unseen (The Church Within, 2014)Serpent Venom – Of Things Seen & Unseen (The Church Within)
This band has been steadily growing on me since they released their debut Carnal Altar on the German label The Church Within in 2011. It’s an addictive mix of traditional Sabbath worship, blown-out Electric Wizard distortion, and lyrics that delve into occult pop culture and horror. The second album, produced by Chris Fielding, who produced fellow Brits Electric Wizard and Conan, refines the formula only slightly, holding on to that gloriously heavy, fuzzed out sound. While five of the seven songs on the debut stretch beyond 8 minutes, the new one is more concise with just two of eight going to epic length. The playing seems both looser and more fluid, reflecting the years spent gigging and rehearsing. Gary “Gaz” Ricketts’ vocals have become stronger and unique too.

There’s a nice balance of pacing and variety throughout the album, a tricky thing to navigate when also trying to maintain a consistently doomy essence. “Death Throes At Dawn” features some of their best writing. Never has despair seemed so tantalizing. “The Lords Of Life” eases in with a seductively liquid psychedelic bass line. It goes on to a crushing stomp, and then a beautifully jazzy guitar solo towards the end. “Pilgrims Of The Sun” is the longest dirge at 9:23, and the closest tie to their earlier stuff, but it ties things together nicely. The concluding “Burning Free” ends it on a highpoint of furious riffing with an overlaying, eerie synth melody that closes it out perfectly. Some compare Serpent Venom to Warning, the band 40 Watt Sun’s Patrick Walker released two albums with. I don’t particularly hear it, other than the fact that Walking From A Distance (Miskatonic, 2006) was an incredible album, and so is this. | Available from Swedish site Record Heaven, and soonish should be found at Shadow Kingdom.

Moab - Billow (Scion AV, 2014)Moab – Billow (Scion AV)
Man, I overlooked these guys when they first came up in ’09-’11 because Andrew Giacumakis’s sounded too Ozzy derivative. That’s been corrected big time, as now he stays mostly in an ethereal falsetto range that really works. Stoner/doom may be the closest descriptor, but they do some really unique stuff with textures, structures, rhythms. They don’t really sound like anyone else, maybe because Giacumakis, who produced and engineered and mixed Billow, Ab Ovo (Kemado, 2011) and Fu Manchu’s recent Gigantoid, spent years in indie rock bands. It took him a while to find his tribe, fellow travelers who shared his appreciation for the likes of Pentagram, Sleep, Dozer, Floor and Witchcraft.  Once he did, his diverse experiences contributed to a refreshingly unique twist on traditional doom. For example, “Nothing Escapes” starts with some delicate but slightly detuned guitar that has more in common with 90s indie band Polvo than Sabbath. A couple changes later and the song evolves into a psychedelic masterpiece that Josh Homme would envy. Every song is strong and worthy of its own description and story. But not by me, I gotta get some sleep! Those who like what Pallbearer and 40 Watt Sun have done with doom should appreciate, or even LURVE it. L.A., whoda thunk? Kudos to Scion AV (the company behind the Scion Rock Fests) for choosing this band for their first full-length release, and offering a free download! This is so good I’ll happily plunk down cash for the CD when it’s available. | Free!

Ogre – The Last Neanderthal (Minotauro)
Shit-tons of ugly fun to be had in Portland, Maine with these guys, 15 years worth of bluesy rock ‘n’ doom and proto-metal, all four albums, demo and singles worth having. Don’t confuse fun with dumb though, guitarist Ross Markonish is a Harvard grad who first started playing experimental rock with bassist Will Broadbent in Hello Monster in the 90s. Ed Cunningham’s vocals used to remind me a lot of Bon Scott’s, but he’s developed a more Ozzy-esque wail lately. Guitarist Some might appreciate the amazing single-track 37:15 Plague Of The Planet (2008) the most, but this is a great summary of strengths. | Bandcamp

Purple Hill Witch (The Church Within, 2014)Purple Hill Witch – Purple Hill Witch (The Church Within)
Purple Hill Witch are a young Norwegian band who released their first EP, Alchemy last year, and now have their debut come out on the same label and same day, June 27, as Serpent Venom.  The guys are clearly loving students of the old denim and leather days of British metal when Witchfinder General and Pagan Altar were cementing the blueprint that much doom would follow. Throw in some of Pentagram’s early proto-metal elements and Sleep’s stoned psychedelia into the formula, and you’ve got a great sound that doesn’t break any ground, but has enough of a voice so as to distinguish them from peers like Count Raven, Lord Vicar and Funeral Circle. Just counting such bands as peers first time out is a win, and fans of the genre won’t be disappointed.

Hornss – No Blood, No Sympathy (Riding Easy)
Another great entry from the label formerly known as Easy Rider ’til a magazine forced them to change the name (but they’re having a great year with Monolord, Salem’s Pot, Sons Of Huns and now San Francisco’s Hornss). Their style of punked up garage doom has some similarities with the early EP by Venomous Maximus and Funeral Horse, both from Houston, TX. I’ve been craving more of this, so kickass!

Druglord – Enter Venus (STB)
This came out earlier in the year, but I just heard it a few weeks ago. Fellow students of blown-out Electric Wizardry along with Monolord and recorded by Garrett Morris of Windhand, this Richmond, VA band is a no-brainer fuckyeah, especially for just a 5iver. | Bandcamp

Coming Soon
Novembers Doom – Bled White (The End, Jul 15)
Cardinals Folly – Our Cult Continues (Shadow Kingdom, Aug 19)
Pallbearer – Foundations Of Burden (Profound Lore, Aug 19)
YOB – Clearing The Path To Ascend (Neurot, Sep 2)

novembers-doom-bled cardinals-folly-our pallbearer-foundations yob-clearing

Chicago’s Novembers Doom has been together since 1992. I haven’t heard it yet, but there seems to be much better promotional muscle behind their ninth album. The band has specialized in a unique mix of doom and death metal for a while, and this could be a significant breakthrough. I have heard a promo of Cardinals Folly’s second album and it’s great. The Finnish band originally formed as The Coven in 2004, released a couple EPs, changed their name in 2007 and put out two more EPs (collected on Strange Conflicts of the Past in 2013) and came out with their debut full-length Such Power Is Dangerous! (Shadow Kingdom, 2011). Building upon the path set by great Finnish doom like Lord Vicar and Reverend Bizarre, they have crafted their own signature blurred heavy fuzz in a developmental arc and pace like Serpent Venom’s. Pallbearer, hoo boy, that’s likely to be the biggest doom release of the year. Folks went apeshit for Sorrow And Extinction (Profound Lore, 2012), and while I haven’t heard the new one yet, there’s plenty of buzz from those who did that it tops everything. I hope it does! Also coming on September 2nd is YOB’s seventh album, Clearing The Path To Ascend (Neurot). The Eugene, OR band has a loyal following, and could eclipse Pallbearer’s, but it’ll have to be really amazing.

Metal Blade signed the great harmonizing doom/proto-metal band Brimstone Coven of Wheeling WV. They will remaster and reissue last year’s self-released album that made my top 13, along with their debut from 2012 as bonus tracks on August 5th!

Oh, and something that was supposed to come out in June but was delayed. No date yet, but this is coming:

electricwizard-time

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Days of the Doomed Fest IV

Days Of The Doomed IV (2014)What better way to celebrate the summer solstice by ducking in from the 15.25 hours of daylight in a Wisconsin metal bar and doom out to up to a dozen bands (22 if you also went Friday).  I was unable to make it the first day, missing out on what were reportedly great sets from Bible Of The Devil (who I get to see every year at the Alehorn Of Power festivals), Apostle Of Solitude, Orodruin, Blackfinger (former Trouble singer Eric Wagner’s band) and Las Cruces.  I was most excited to see Brimstone Coven, who’s second album II (2013) made my year-end top Lucky 13 last year, and the mighty and mysterious Jex Thoth, who despite being from Madison, WI, rarely performs in the U.S. Continue reading

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Wo Fat – The Conjuring (Small Stone, 2014)

Wo Fat - The Conjuring (Small Stone, 2014)Since the enthusiastic reception at last year’s Roadburn festival in Tilburg, Netherlands and Desertfest, London, and their recent high profile slot at the Freak Valley festival in Netphen, Germany, one might assume Wo Fat is a European band. It’s understandable, as to my knowledge they have never extensively toured the United States much beyond their home base in Dallas, Texas. To be fair, their brand of heavy psychedelic stoner rock is most appreciated in Europe, where there is a series of a dozen festivals that specialize in their genres. Continue reading

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1988 – Buyer’s & Seller’s Remorse

When I started buying CDs in the summer of ’88, it brought a new consideration to my music buying decisions. At $10 to $16 a pop new, it was not a small investment, especially when I was making only $5 an hour at my two summer jobs. My plan was to continue buying used tapes and checking out stuff via my college radio station library, and only buy CDs of albums I’d want to keep for life. My first purchases of Joy Division’s Substance, the Dukes of Stratosphear Chips of the Chocolate Fireball collection (XTC’s psychedelic alter-ego) the 80+ minute Mission of Burma collection and PixiesCome On Pilgrim/Surfer Rosa combo set a high standard. The new releases that fall by Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Naked Raygun, Eleventh Dream Day and The Feelies seemed sufficiently epic to justify the cost too.

I got a little excited and optimistic based on those albums, and thought there was even more instant classics around the corner. I ended up with a small pile of slow growers that disappointed me so much at the time that I sold them within a couple months. I taped them before I did so, and  over the years ended up wearing out or losing the tapes, and spent the following decades hunting down the same albums all over again. Looking back they are all pretty much underrated now, and overdue for critical reassessment and in most cases, reissues.

Game Theory - Two Steps From The Middle Ages (Enigma, 1988)Game Theory – Two Steps From The Middle Ages (Enigma)
I’d heard cuts from early stuff like Blaze Of Glory (1981), Pointed Accounts of People You Know EP (1983), Distortion EP (1984) and Real Nighttime (1985) while listening to KUNI in high school. Their lightly psychedelic jangle pop was distinguished from others like Let’s Active and R.E.M. with Scott Miller’s unique vocal melodies and bookish lyrics that gave them a distinct sound, despite sharing producer Mitch Easter. Big Shot Chronicles (1986) remains my favorite, but Lolita Nation (1987) got a lot of attention for being an ambitious double album that measured up well against the ones that year from The Cure and Hüsker Dü. Their final album, Two Steps From the Middle Ages, disappointed some because it didn’t quite reach the heights of the double, or the consistency of Big Shot. But in retrospect, it was a great album that rewards deep listening. Miller went on to make several albums the following decades with Loud Family, and I’m guilty of neglecting those too. Sadly, he died last year, and never got to enjoy the fruits of a nicely curated reissue program. A label like Secretly Canadian, who reissued the full double album version of the Jacobites‘ Robespierre’s Velvet Basement (1985) or Captured Tracks (box sets of Cleaners From Venus and The Bats) would do the music world a great service in reissuing the long out of print Game Theory albums. YouTube sometimes has full versions of out of print albums. I can’t find Two Steps but here’s Lolita Nation.

Continue reading

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Castle – Under Siege (Prosthetic Records, 2014)

Castle - Under Siege (Prosthetic Records, 2014)Castle’s anticipated third album sounds deceptively simple at first listen. Some might embrace or dismiss it as old school/retro “vest metal,” but once you’re sucked in (and you will be if you have any taste in decent metal), you’ll hear plenty of complexity and evolution. The San Francisco based trio featuring married couple Mat Davis (guitar) and Elizabeth Blackwell (vocals) were identified primarily as doom metal, though they always incorporated more than that, giving themselves a somewhat tongue-in-cheek label, “witch thrash.”  Sabbath are always lurking in their music, particularly on the Ozzy-ish homage in the intro to “Pyramid Lake.” But  for the most part on Under Siege, they have more in common with local legends Slough Feg than tourmates Witch Mountain, sharing a love of Iron Maiden style gallops and some straight-up rifftastic American power metal along the lines of Cirith Ungol and Jag Panzer. Continue reading

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My Week in Rock: Live Shows Recap

Truckfighters, Reggie's Rock Club, May 12, 2014 (Photo Credit: John Mourlas Photography)

Ghost, The Vic, April 19Man, talk about famine to feast. The magnificent Truckfighters just capped off a string of five shows in five nights, leaving me spent but aglow. After a long harsh winter where I hardly made it to any live shows at all from December through March, I started the spring starving for good rock shows. Despite continued frigid temps outside, things heated up quickly with Spirit Caravan at Reggie’s Rock Club on March 29. While Jug Fulla Sun (1999) is now an undisputed stoner doom classic, Wino’s first band since the breakup of The Obsessed was kind of under the radar at the time, and I’d never seen them live before. They didn’t disappoint, plowing through pretty much all their best songs, playing loose but loud. Let’s hope they decide to record together again, like Saint Vitus has done so successfully. On April 15 at Metro was another reunited favorite, Godflesh, who I had seen about 24 years ago. While I can tell when they play cuts from their classic Streetcleaner (1988), it had been a while since I listened to the rest of their catalog, and everything kind of blended together in a monolithic, monochromatic wash, like showering in a sandblaster. A few days later was costumed Swedish occult rockers Ghost (The Vic, April 19). I saw them a couple years before at a smaller venue, The Bottom Lounge, and their stage show has grown right along with their popularity. Papa Emeritus and his Nameless Ghouls put on a slick but thoroughly entertaining show with nods towards Blue Oyster Cult and KISS. Continue reading

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Take a Roll in The Golden Grass

The Golden Grass - The Golden Grass (Svart, 2014)Today is the release day of the debut by Brooklyn psych prog rockers The Golden Grass. Tuesday is normally new release day, but European releases sometimes like to shoot their loads before the weekend. While digital distribution has not made it to iTunes, Spotify or Amazon yet, you can order the CD domestically or buy a download at Bandcamp. I had to harrass Finnish label Svart Records on their FB page to find out that the U.S. distributor is The End Records, and you can buy the album for a much more reasonable $11.99 at related webstore The Omega Order. Continue reading

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2014 Albums So Far

2014-so-far

Wovenhand - Refractory Obdurate (Deathwish, Inc., 2014)April showers of hellfire did indeed bring May flowers of evil. There has been a ton of great new music this spring to document end times, more than I can cover in one place beyond the list. The Woodentops (80s UK indie band influenced by The Feelies and Lee Perry reunite), Triptykon (second album from Celtic Frost’s Tom G. Warrior hits all the right buttons of gothy doom), Bigelf (with Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy on drums, older albums were a little cheesy arena progtastic, but this is more pyschedelic, by far their best), Dopelord (super fun Polish stoner doom)  Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell (influenced by Groundhogs, Stray, Sir Lord Baltimore, Buffalo, with some raucous sloppy energy), Agusa (seventies style Swedish prog via Kebnakajse, Amon Duul II and Colosseum.), Pilgrim, Salem’s Pot, Mos Generator, The Graviators, Hjortene and Kyng. If you missed it the first time, read about the rest of the top albums of 2014 so far in the Winter Album Rundown. Continue reading

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Comics Rundown – Black Metal, Sex Criminals, Deadly Class, Moon Knight & The Wake

For a few months I was starting to get burned out on comics. I was still stopping by the shop on Wednesdays or Thursdays after work and picking up the new issues, but they would pile up on my bedside table unread for weeks. I was getting sick of the neverending series like The Unwritten, Morning Glories and Fables and it’s many offshoots. It was time to weed out some titles, and cut back on my comic reading (BTW, I’m trying to sell $1,300 worth of books for just $120 and not a single bite, WTF?). But then the conclusion of Rick Spears and Chuck BB’s Black Metal series came out and reminded me what I love about comics, which somehow lead me to starting a few new promising series.

Black Metal: Book Three – Rick Spears & Chuck BB (Oni Press)
black-metal-book-3This has been a long time coming. So long that in the years since book one came out in 2007, I’d given up that any more would follow. Back in more innocent times, teenage twins Sam and Shawn Stronghand started their journey at a suburban mall, where they found their true calling via a record by Frost Axe. But not as mere metalheads. They come into the possession of the legendary sword of Atoll and end up playing roles in an ancient prophecy that leads them to do battle with both angels and demons.  The story is really well done, often hilarious and oddly moving. This is highly recommended even for the sad sacks who do not like heavy metal. None more epic. None more kvlt. None more black. Continue reading

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