Post-Punk Rundown

It’s been such a great year for stoner/psych/doom that I’ve just been soaking in it like a hot spring, and neglecting other genres. I’ll always have room for post-punk, and have been following the releases pretty closely. It just hasn’t been as busy a year for high profile releases as 2012-13 (Savages, Beastmilk, PINS, Weekend, Holograms, Palma Violets, Merchandise, Deep Time, Makthaverskan, etc.). Still, there’s some albums worth noting. Not anything (yet) that’s going to haunt my top 40, but hovering just under, with the exception of some albums where post-punk is an element, but not the primary one, like the latest from Wovenhand, The Sea KingsThe New Christs, Swans and Parquet Courts. Coming up on October 20, The Mark Lanegan Band’s Phantom Radio will have some post-punk influences. “…although the Trees drew on Nuggets psychedelia, 13th Floor Elevators and Love, we were actually listening to Echo And The Bunnymen, Rain Parade, the Gun Club. A lot of British post-punk. We loved that stuff. I just waited until I was in my late forties before I started ripping it off” Lanegan told Backseat Mafia.

There was a bit of anticipation for the recently released second album by Merchandise, which took an audacious new pop direction to mostly successful ends. Interpol’s first album in four years and first since a lineup change was both anticipated and dreaded by fans, often simultaneously, for good reasons. But the results are a pleasant surprise.

Interpol - El Pintor (Matador, 2014)Interpol – El Pintor (Matador)
Interpol have been my post-punk whipping boys for well over a decade. Despite the ridiculous lyrics, the music of their debut Turn On The Bright Lights (2002) has stood the test of time. But I guess part of me never forgave them for an interview where they claimed having never heard The Chameleons, Comsat Angels, and probably some other key post-punk pioneers. That was complete bullshit, as I heard their influences all over the record. They might as well have denied knowledge of Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Smiths. It’s one of the reasons I prefer metal bands, who would never be so disingenuous as to blatantly deny their obvious influences. Antics (2004) seemed a complete letdown at the time, but compared to the greatly diminished returns of the next two albums, it doesn’t seem so bad in retrospect. I admit I experienced some schadenfreude from their failure, but I still kind of hoped they could bounce back and make another great album. And so with these greatly diminished expectations, we are presented with El Pintor. It’s a promising title, a little bold and cocky sounding, though it simply translates to “The Painter.” They shed Carlos Dengler and his dark energy, and singer Paul Banks gamely took on bass duties. It’s early to say it’s a total triumph, but it’s definitely a comeback. I don’t know if they redeemed themselves by kissing Mark Burgess’ ring, or if they’re just refreshed after a long break and culling the herd. From the slow buildup to a pretty great, high energy single in “All the Rage Back Home” to “Anywhere,” “Ancient Ways,” “Breaker 1,” “Everything Is Wrong,” to even the somewhat odd pop of “My Blue Supreme,” they hit the target every time. They may never match their debut, but this is easily better than Antics, which is more than anyone ever expected.  I’m glad they stuck it out. Continue reading

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Doom Tectonics: Earth & YOB

Earth - Primitive And Deadly (Southern Lord, 2014)Earth – Primitive And Deadly (Southern Lord)
Earth and YOB are two bands that I’ve admired for years. Earth’s flawed but groundbreaking Extra-Capsular Extraction (Sub Pop, 1991) influenced drone-doom just as much as Slint and My Bloody Valentine influenced other genres that year. Like our planet’s drifting continental plates, they evolved just as gradually as the early instrumental tracks seemed to unfold, experimenting with many styles, ending up with a sort of world-weary, cactus-dry Americana on their past few albums. While requiring a bit of patience, most of their albums are pretty rewarding. But in their explorations, there was also an emotional distance that was such a given, I never even though to wonder, “what if…” Dylan Carlson did, however. After the extremely laid back acoustic based Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light Vols. 1 & 2 (2011-12), recorded while Carlson was dealing with some health issues, he’s ready to rock out with his cock out. Or at least write and record with more focus an energy than ever before. Continue reading

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New Albums of the Week

The dog days of summer are not usually the time of year I see a lot of high profile releases, which is why I was so surprised that over ten good to great albums came out around August 5th. The albums from Blues Pills, Brimstone Coven, The Sea Kings, Spoon, John Garcia, Saturn, Spiral Shades and John Gallow probably weren’t highly anticipated by a lot of people, but they were some of the best 2014 has had to offer so far. This week we’re really rolling with even more releases. With over 15,000 albums released a year, of course there’s always a lot of crap coming out, but a batch of thirteen albums worth hearing in August is certainly worth noting. My excitement isn’t quite the same as with the last batch, but they’re significant releases that all have their fans, many well worth checking out.

Death Penalty - Death Penalty (Rise Above, 2014)Death Penalty – Death Penalty (Rise Above)
This is released only in Europe so far, which I don’t understand. Staggering release dates by country is a completely antiquated practice. It’s 2014, when an album is out, it’s out. Labels and bands would be better off making sure everyone can buy it at the same time. Despite being a debut album, this has a pretty high anticipation factor, considering it’s leader is Gaz Jennings, who played guitar in Cathedral for 25 years. He recruited a couple members of the excellent Belgian doom/sludge band SerpentCult, including vocalist Michelle Nocon, and a member of Belgian death metallers Tortureama. Given how great the results were when Leif Edling of Candlemass recruited Jennie-Ann Smith for Avatarium last year, I felt there might be some friendly competition from Death Penalty. For the most part, it delivers, but leaning more towards traditional metal than doom. The performances have a nicely loose and gritty feel, kind of like a slightly slower Christian Mistress or Castle. However after over a dozen listens, I can’t quite rave about it like I expected, as a few of the songs just don’t quite do it for me feeling a bit flat. There’s great standouts like  ”Eyes of the Heretic” and “She is a Witch,” but overall it’s not consistent enough to quite measure up to the aforementioned bands, recent albums by The Oath or Satyress, or even SerpentCult’s Raised By Wolves (2011). Nevertheless, fans of Jennings’ career and his love for classic metal will find much to dig into. Continue reading

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Double Dose of Doom: Pallbearer & Cardinals Folly

Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore, 2014)Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore, 2014)
When I saw Pallbearer live after releasing their debut album Sorrow and Extinction (2012), it was clear that they take their doom seriously. With such somber subject matter, some might wonder how else one would expect them to be. But there are plenty of doom bands that emphasize other aspects, such as campy love of horror kitsch loaded with obscure, nerdy humor. Doom might not be the first metal genre to bring to mind “party music,” but it exists! Pallbearer aren’t out to ruin your party, but they’ll be there for you after, at 3 a.m. when your girlfriend has dumped you. Not that they’re exactly about romantic breakups, but rather more colossal calamities like bloodlust, crippling regret and the end of time. They’ll make your problems seem not so big a deal. Continue reading

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The New Christs – Incantations (Impedance) & Hits – Hikikomori (Conquest Of Noise)

New Christs - Incantations (Impedance, 2014)The New Christs – Incantations (Impedance) 
Someone coming across The New Christs’ latest album Incantations in the top ten for the year in the post-punk and garage rock charts at Rate Your Music could easily believe they’re a relatively new band. The sound isn’t exactly brand new, but the menacing edge and vital songwriting suggests an energy not normally associated with ones pushing 60. But they’re not so new, having been a band in varying forms since 1981, lead by the not so young Rob Younger, best known as the lead singer for the legendary Aussie sons-of-the Stooges Radio Birdman from 1974-78. Along with The Saints and The Birthday Party, they established templates in punk and post-punk that would be followed by bands in Australia and throughout the world. Continue reading

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New Albums of the Week

Summer is usually a slow time for new releases, but the first week of August has turned out to be full of great ones. Blues Pills’ debut of course is already strong contender for my year-end top 13.  Read full review here. There’s more than a half dozen other new albums totally deserving of attention too.

Brimstone Coven (Metal Blade, 2013)Brimstone Coven – Brimstone Coven (Metal Blade)
This is actually a reissue of last year’s self-released II, with their 2012 debut as bonus tracks, remastered.  Formed in Wheeling, WV in 2011, Brimstone Coven specialize in heavy psych, doom and proto-metal with occult themes. With high profile releases in recent years by The Devil’s Blood, Ghost and Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, some might question what this band has to offer that’s special. The answer is some freaking brilliant songwriting and harmonies.  Metal Blade certainly recognized this and signed the band. I don’t normally focus on reissues, but clearly not enough people heard this band previously, and they need to.  It can be fun to dig in and identify possible influences, such as perhaps Jack Bruce in the Big John Williams’ vocals, and plenty of obscure proto-metal influences. But it all comes down to their craft, mastery, musicianship and range. Think in terms of the level of Witchcraft (either the band or the magic, you pick). The arrangements, flow and mood of this album perfectly match the songwriting. Fans of the aforementioned bands and Purson and Blood Ceremony won’t be disappointed.

Continue reading

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Blues Pills – Blues Pills (Nuclear Blast)

Blues Pills - Blues Pills (Nuclear Blast, 2014)While Blues Pills is a brand new name for many, their debut full-length has felt like a long time coming, given that they turned some heads just six months after forming by releasing the Bliss EP (2012). They sounded fully formed and experienced despite the fact that their guitarist was just 16 years old. Rhythm section Cory Berry (drums) and Zach Anderson (bass) were playing a 2011 gig in France with their previous band Radio Moscow, and they were hugely impressed by the opening band, featuring guitar prodigy Dorian Sorriaux. Sorriaux lived and breathed music at an early age, with ZZ Top being his first favorite band at the age of 4. He began playing guitar at 9, with Rory Gallagher, Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) and Paul Kossof (Free) as additional influences. Later that year Cory and Zach met Swedish singer Elin Larsson in California. They started writing music together and sent Dorian demos. By December, they became the Blues Pills, with the two Americans, who were originally from Iowa, moving to Sweden to establish a home base in Örebro. Let’s hope their experience assimilating into a new culture is going more smoothly than Greg Poehler is portraying in his comedy Welcome To Sweden! Continue reading

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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? Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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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