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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Happy Record Store Day

PrintToday is the 7th annual Record Store Day, celebrated now worldwide. It’s overall a good thing, a little financial boost for a declining market, and I have been an enthusiastic supporter. However, a couple aspects have become a focus that will hurt it in the long run. Let the rant commence.

It goes without saying that for me, at least a couple days a week for much of my life have been record store day. But it’s pointless to address that, as things are what they are. Record Store Day is meant to draw in customers who don’t come so regularly. So the growing list of limited special edition vinyl releases that people line up to buy and mostly flip on eBay hours later may be a necessary evil. I can’t really fault the stores and labels for selling that stuff. Or maybe I can, but that was addressed better by Quietus. Continue reading

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Winter Album Rundown

The first few months of the year are usually fairly slow for new releases, as people recover from year-end music binges and catch up on what was missed, or just relax and enjoy favorites from the past. I often dig into rediscovering old albums. Last year it was post-punk, and this year it’s psych prog, which I’m still working on. Mostly I wallowed in the misery of the worst winter in recorded history, probably since the ice age, and listened to an unusually large batch of new heavy music. Despite the Spring Equinox having passed, we’re still getting repeatedly kicked in the head with sub-20 degree temperatures and frequent snow. Here’s a rundown of albums that made it somewhat bearable.

So far there are at least two year-end top ten contenders that were released this year, Truckfighters’ Universe (Fuzzomania) and Slough Feg’s Digital Resistance (Metal Blade), both of which I gave full reviews of. Here’s some others.

The Oath - The Oath (Rise Above, 2014)The Oath – The Oath (Rise Above)
Rise Above is on a tear, having released the best batch of albums this past year of any label large or small. Their winning streak continues with a band that snakes around the edges of genres, citing a diverse range of influences, from Sabbath, Trouble, Angel Witch, the Stooges, Poison Idea, to Mercyful Fate and Danzig. Mixing doom, occult, psych and traditional metal is nothing new, especially on the Rise Above roster, but there’s always room for new good bands with great songwriting equally inspired by Heart and Fleetwood Mac. From the press coverage so far, you’d think The Oath were a duo, consisting of guitarist Linnéa Olsson, who moved from Stockholm to Berlin for fresh inspiration, and met vocalist Johanna Sardonis. Their are certainly striking on the album cover and promo shots, looking like witchy blonde sisters clad head to toe in skintight leather. Lurking in the background are Simon Bouteloup (bass, Kadavar/ex-Aqua Nebula Oscillator) and Andrew Prestidge (Angel Witch/Winters) . Whether they’re just hired hands or gel into a true band remains to be seen, but the debut album is extremely promising. More than promising, I’m lovin the shit out of it.

Motorpsych - Behind The Sun (Rune Grammofon, 2014)Motorpsycho – Behind The Sun (Rune Grammafon)
Norway’s venerable psych-prog institution Motorpsycho are just getting better with age, and more prolific than ever. When it’s become common for many bands to take 2-5 years between albums, Motorpsycho has been cranking them out, with 7 albums in the past 9 years, with remarkably consistent quality and ambition. The double The Death Defying Unicorn (2012) was one of their best, and while last year’s Still Life With Eggplant was less cohesive than usual, it still offered many highlights, featuring Reine Fiske of Swedish psych prog legends Dungen as practically a full-time member (check out the riffs on “Hell, Parts 1-3″). Great news for Dungen fans, Fiske’s guitar playing is featured on the majority of the new one too, and it’s a great one, emphasizing all of the band’s recent strengths, from pastoral prog to hard rocking stoner psych. Bent Sæther’s vocals are featured higher in the mix than usual, bringing to mind at times both Mercury Rev and Yes. “Cloudwalker (A Darker Blue),” “Ghost” and “The Promise” are some of the best songs they’ve done, with the rest of the album holding up with such strength many will find their own favorite highlights. A perfect introduction to this band’s huge catalog.

Demon Eye - Leave The Light (Soulseller/Megaforce, 2014)Demon Eye – Leave The Light (Soulseller)
Lately I can’t get enough of bands mixing early 70s proto-metal with doom and NWOBHM, especially when done right by the likes of Brimstone Coven and Avatarium. The latest contender grew out of the classic rock tribute band Corvette Summer. While that is not such unusual, lead singer Erik Sugg’s dayjobs are. He’s a reference librarian who hosts a storytime for young kids. Mixing stories with his take on traditional children’s songs and his own music, Mr. Erik’s Rockin’ Storytime has expanded to kids’ parties, and he’ll even release a children’s record later in the year. Let’s hope some of the less cool parents don’t discover his adult nighttime job with Demon Eye, as the North Carolina folk may fear he’s indoctrinating their children with Satanic themes. I don’t think discovering this music at a tender age would be a bad thing for anyone. Maybe in a different world if more bands followed the Sabbath, Deep Purple, Pentagram and Maiden templates instead of Cream, Hendrix and Zep, I’d take bands like Demon Eye more for granted. In reality it’s hardly a path towards financial success and stardom. It’s a style inhabited by lifers who are compelled to take this path, we’re lucky to have ‘em.  Out already on Soulseller, it’ll be out in the U.S. on Megaforce/RED on April 15.

Papir - IIII (El Paraiso, 2014)Papir – Papir IIII (El Paraiso)
This Danish instrumental psychedelic project snuck in a fabulous third album just last year, III (El Paraiso) that hardly anyone noticed. They’ve quickly followed with a fourth, and sound better than ever. With extended guitar-oriented jams that incorporate jazzy improvisation along with rocked out crescendos inspired by Colour Haze, My Sleeping Karma, Electric Moon and especially labelmates Causa Sui, it’s a must have for fans of this particular approach to stoner/psych. Produced by Causa Sui’s Jonas Munk, it sounds incredible.

Gallon Drunk - The Soul Of The Hour (Clouds Hill, 2014)Gallon Drunk – The Soul Of The Hour (Clouds Hill)
Gallon Drunk have been perfecting their brand of garage noir, mixing Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (so impressively that Cave hired James Johnston as a Bad seed in 2004) with The Cramps and the Gun Club since 1988. And with The Flaming Stars being quiet of late, no one does it better. Quickly following up their last album, The Road Gets Darker From Here (2012), they pursue a more cinematic approach. They have dabbled in soundtrack work previously with Black Milk (1999), but the extended, hypnotic songs on this album feel far more substantial than most soundtracks. This is midnight music to get lost to.

Wedge - Wedge (Wedge, 2014)Wedge – Wedge (Wedge)
With cover art remarkably similar to Kadavar with the band sporting elaborate facial hair and groovy outfits, German psychedelic hard rockers Wedge do share similarities with Kadavar, but emphasize more 60s psych than 70s proto-metal.  I really don’t know much about the band, as their name is not exactly search-engine friendly. Time to just let the music speak!

The Socks - The Socks (Small Stone, 2014)The Socks – The Socks (Small Stone)
The latest from Small Stone is the debut from French dual-guitar rockers The Socks. At first I assumed they were the kind of generic stoner/psych that’s starting to become dime a dozen these days. However after a week’s rotation in my playlist, their songs stood out, ranging from dark and moody to some memorable hooky riffery. Yes, there’s some similarities with Swedish bands like Graveyard and Troubled Horse, but The Socks hold their own.

Helms Alee - Sleepwalking Sailors (Sargent House, 2014)Helms Alee – Sleepwalking Sailors (Sargent House)
This Seattle band’s second album Weatherhead (Hydra Head, 2011) was pretty interesting as a self-described sludge metal band that sounded like they had more than a little interest in noisy indie rock and post-hardcore.  Moving from the defunct Hydra Head to Sargent House, the new one is even better, triggering a jumble of impressions, from Rodan and Lungfish to Floor and the early Baroness EPs, it all comes together in a powerful, cohesive statement.

Bong - Stoner Rock (Ritual Productions, 2014)Bong – Stoner Rock (Ritual Productions)
Despite the somewhat generic name, UK’s Bong are pretty special, with a unique style of droning space rock that has more in common with some of the more experimental works by Boris, Melvins and Earth’s Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version (1993). The somewhat tongue-in-cheek titled fourth album is again a departure of the kind of retro rock one might associate with the name. On the other hand, certain heads would feel right at home listening to this in between hits from their 3-foot tall bongs.

Crippled Black Phoenix - White Light Generator (Provogue, 2014)Crippled Black Phoenix – White Light Generator (Provogue)
A fascinating followup to their double album, (Mankind) The Crafty Ape (2012). With no sonic evidence of their past links to Electric Wizard (via Justin Greaves) it’s no surprise that their proggy post-rock is hardly in vogue right now. For those unconcerned about those matters, this is highly recommended, adventurous rock.

Also Recommended:

  • Seun Kuti + Egypt 80 – A Long Way To The Beginning (Knitting Factory) – The younger son of Fela keeps alive the energy and fury of Egypt 80.
  • Real Estate – Atlas (Domino) – Great moody jangle pop along the lines of The Feelies and early Clientelle.
  • Cult Of Dom Keller - The Second Bardo (Cardinal Fuzz) – A quick follow-up to last year’s self-titled debut of dense psychedelia.
  • Pontiak – Innocence (Thrill Jockey) – Eighth album of challenging, heavy psychedelic rock from Virginia.
  • Kamchatka – The Search Goes On (Despotz) – Swedish heavy stoner/blues band’s fifth album.
  • Kosmischer Läufer - The Secret Cosmic Music Of The East German Olympic Program: Volume Two – Great fake backstory, sounds convincingly like classic 70s German kosmische musik.
  • Maxïmo Park – Too Much Information (Domino) – Ridiculously underrated UK guitar rock, with a bit more electro this time around.
  • Morgue Of Saints – Monolith - Great instrumental stoner/doom from Canada.
  • Conan – Blood Eagle (Napalm) – Excellent heavy British doom.
  • Rainbows Are Free – Waves Ahead of the Ocean (Guestroom) – Accomplished stoner rock debut from Oklahoma band.
  • Wolfmother – New Crown – Surprise third album from Austrialian retro hard rockers released only on Bandcamp. Rawer, better than Cosmic Egg (2009).
  • Horseback - Piedmont Apocrypha (Three Lobed) – Arty heavy psych/doom/blues.

I could go on and on with releases from Lizardia, Eagulls, Child, Kult Of The Wizard, Major Kong, Wounded Kings, Mount Salem, Grand Magus, Slomatics, Temples, Wild Beasts, Carla Bozulich, Neneh Cherry, St. Vincent, Dark Forest, Sammal, Tinariwen, The Movements, Moon Coven, Mark McGuire, Dead Rider, Goya, Milagres, Woodsman, Morbus Chron, Gazpacho, Marissa Nadler, Radar Men From The Moon, Elbow and The Cosmic Dead. Not a band start to the year!

Coming up:

Monolord – Empress Rising (Easy Rider) Apr 1 (Awesome Swedish stoner doom building on legacy of Sleep and Electric Wizard!) http://monolord.bandcamp.com/
Pilgrim – II: Void Worship (Metal Blade) Apr 1 (Everyone knows this, highly anticipated doom)
Bigelf – Into The Maelstrom (InsideOut) Apr 1
With Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) on drums, older albums were a little cheesy arena progtastic for me at first, but they’ve grown on me, and this one is more pyschedelic, by far their best.
Agusa – Uti Vår Hage (Transubstans) Apr 2 (Seventies style Swedish prog via Kebnakajse, Amon Duul II and Colosseum.)
Satyress – Dark Fortunes Apr 8 (Satyress have that great mix of occult proto-metal, psych, doom and NWOBHM.) http://satyress.bandcamp.com/
Sir Admiral Cloudsley Shovell – Check ‘Em Before You Wreck ‘Em (Rise Above) Apr 14 (Influenced by Groundhogs, Stray, Sir Lord Baltimore, Buffalo, with some raucous sloppy energy)
Floor – Oblation (Season Of Mist) Apr 25 (Those who like the old albums and Torche know what to expect)
Abramis Brama – Enkel Biljett (Transubstans) May 2 (Solid Swedish hard rock)
The Golden Grass – The Golden Grass (Svart) May 9 (Jammy psychedelic proto-metal, sound European but actually from Brooklyn. Check out their album art)
Greenleaf – Trails & Passes (Small Stone) May 13 (Guys from Dozer with rotating vocalists from Lowrider and Truckfighters, handled now by Arvid Jonsson) http://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/trails-and-passes
Castle – Under Siege (Prosthetic) May 20 (Like Satyress, Castle reside in a sweet spot between Witch Mountain’s bluesy doom and rockin’ Christian Mistress. I can’t wait for this!)
Wo Fat – The Conjuring (Small Stone) Jun 17 (One of my all-time favorite psychedelic stoner-doom bands. I already pre-ordered via https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/the-conjuring)

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Slough Feg – Digital Resistance (Metal Blade, 2014)

Slough Feg - Digital Resistance (Metal Blade, 2014)It’s been nearly four years since Slough Feg’s last release, Animal Spirits (2010, Profound Lore), but the band’s status has continued to grow, thanks to their reputation as incredible live performers, and a back catalog of eight albums that’s the cream of the crop of traditional metal from the past 15 years. Early last year they signed to Metal Blade, joining the likes of In Solitude and his old band Hammers Of Misfortune, and re-releasing their classic 2nd-4th albums. While leader Mike Scalzi can come off as a curmudgeon in interviews and his blog pieces, trash-talking the current metal scene and even old heroes Iron Maiden, it’s what one should expect when you poke the bear and interrupt his listening session with old Yes and Pretty Things albums. Continue reading

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Truckfighters – Universe (Fuzzomania, 2014)

Truckfighters - Universe (Fuzzorama, 2014)TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS TRUCKFIGHTERS!!! Yeah, I’m a fan. It’s been a gradual process. When the band formed over 13 years ago, they were the newcomers to the vibrant stoner/fuzz/desert rock scene in Sweden, with bands like Dozer, Lowrider, Terra Firma, Mammoth Volume and Sgt. Sunshine. While Truckfighters shared a love of Kyuss with most of those bands, their sound also had hints of a variety of psych, prog and even alt rock influences like Soundgarden and Nirvana. By the time they released their third album Mania in 2009, they had perfected their signature sound, a perfect balance of primitive heavy riffing and ambitious, progressive song structures. It’s been a long time since that album, but they kept busy, filming a documentary and becoming one of the hardest working bands in Sweden, touring the U.S. three times since 2011, when few other bands have done so (only Graveyard has kept a similar pace). Last summer I got to see them twice in one day, playing to criminally small audiences. Those who have seen them are treated to one of the best, most energetic live shows in rock. Singer/bassist Ozo (Oskar Cedermalm), with his moppety blonde hair, stature and voice, reminded me a bit of Kurt Cobain when Nirvana were touring Bleach with TAD. Back then, it could have been conceivable had Nirvana continued to pursue their Melvins, TAD and Sabbath influences that they could have developed along the lines of Truckfighters. But none of those bands had a Dango. What’s a Dango? Dango (Niklas Källgren) is their secret weapon, an overly caffeinated Captain Caveman armed with a mind-blowing arsenal of fuzzy guitar tones and brilliant riffs. After seeing them the first time, I bought the tour t-shirt that proclaimed them “Probably the best band in the world.” It may be tongue in cheek, but as far as a band that you can still see in a small club, I wear it without irony. Continue reading

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Hidden Masters & Wolf People: Psychedelia and Prog Moving Forward in the UK

Hidden Masters - Of This & Other Worlds (Rise Above/Metal Blade, 2013)Hidden Master, Of This & Other Worlds (Rise Above/Metal Blade, 2013)

Nearly a half century after the first psychedelic singles appeared in 1965, pretty much everyone has figured out that you don’t need the assistance of drugs to appreciate the music. You also don’t need a rare case of synesthesia to hear the vivid colors of psychedelic rock. Life is often psychedelic naturally, but music can intensify the acid greens, electric oranges and shimmering purples. Psych rock is more popular today than ever, and manifests in many forms, like long extended drones that, no matter how much they’re dressed up in avant garb, can dissolve into washes of gray. This is not a problem for Scottish (via Glasgow) trio Hidden Masters, whose songs maintain tight pop structures, stuffed to the rim with harmonies, hooks, concise solos and proggy time changes. The band displays such talent and musicianship along the lines of the Yardbirds and Cream (with singer/guitarist David Addison’s smooth lead vocals recalling Jack Bruce), but resist the temptation of extended jams, much like when Chas Chandler reigned in Jimi Hendrix to keep his songs short on his first album. Continue reading

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