UFOMAMMUT Finally Tours North America

Italian stoner/doom/sludge/psych pioneers UFOMAMMUT celebrated their 15th anniversary as a band last year by releasing a retrospective XV DVD and Magickal Mastery live album. Incredibly, they have never before toured North America. They played a couple dates in L.A. and San Francisco back in 2009, and that’s it. With a string of incredible albums, each topping the last — Idolum (2008), Eve (2010), and the double album Oro (2012), the band clearly has a substantial audience patiently waiting for them to tour the states. Labelmates Neurosis and YOB receive rapturous responses and acclaim with each tour and album, and I keep thinking, but what about Ufomammut? Before the final headliners were announced for Psycho California fest, I was positive Ufomammut would be announced. It makes zero sense to me that they would play Maryland Death Fest rather than that. But all is forgiven, with new album Ecate set for a March 31 release, and a real honest to goodness tour, kicking off at my favorite metal club, Reggie’s on May 13 and ending at the Metal Grill in Milwaukee, site of last year’s final Days of the Doomed Fest. Continue reading

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Psycho California Announces Headliners: Sleep, Pentagram and Cult Of Luna

For a number of years, it’s been frustrating for us North American stoner/doom/psych fans to see our favorite bands almost exclusively play festivals in Europe, but rarely cross the pond. The best lineups over the past several years were consistently found at festivals like Roadburn in the Netherlands, Desertfest in Germany, England and Belgium, Freak Valley Festival and Stoned From the Underground in Germany, and Up in Smoke in Switzerland. While the U.S. sporadically had some festivals, the Stoner Hands of Doom Festivals ended after the one in Richmond in 2013. Scion Rock Fest has been evolving and changing locations over the year, and their installment in Pomona, CA last year on May 17 was promising, with High On Fire, Jex Thoth, Windhand, All Them Witches, Aqua Nebula Oscillator, Hot Lunch, Pins Of Light, Big Business, Red Fang, Orchid and Moab. However they have yet to announce anything for 2015. And that’s about it, other than a few token heavy bands at the quickly growing Austin Psych Fest. Continue reading

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Psychedelic Holiday: Late Additions

2014-late-additions-psych

Those who follow my year-end summaries closely enough know that it’s never completely set in stone. With all the other year-end lists trickling in after I publish mine, it’s inevitable that I continue to discover more music (and update my sections on Movies, Television, Books & Comics). While I do sit back and relax and listen to some of my favorites from the year, I can’t help but perk up when I get locked onto the trail of some enticing albums I might have missed earlier in the year. This time I spent my holidaze listening to largely psych rock and pop, chasing down some leads lead to a whole heap of new albums that I had not heard before. After focusing on stoner/doom/metal much of the year, there was just something about some of the more mellow psych pop and folk that appealed to me as I relaxed over the holidays. Continue reading

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Fester’s Lucky 13: 2014 Year-End Summary

Fast 'n' Bulbous Best Of 2014

Top 100 Albums of 2014 | 2014 Breakdown: Genre Lists | Shows, Videos | Movies, Television, Books & Comics Continue reading

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TV On The Radio – Seeds (Harvest)

TV On The Radio - Seeds (Harvest, 2014)I still haven’t recovered from 2011. One of my favorite bands had released their fourth album, Nine Types Of Light, which should have launched a triumphant victory lap around the globe after releasing two essentially perfect albums with Return To Cookie Mountain (2006) and Dear Science (2008). They had gotten the critical acclaim, topping the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll in 2008, and now they were due to sell some damn albums and tour in front of shit-tons of people. But they were shot in the knee when bassist Gerard Smith died of cancer. They canceled some club dates afterwards, and soldiered on for a few more. During times like these for popular bands or even smaller cult ones, you generally see massive outpourings of love and support from fans, and craploads of media coverage. Tastefully, the band retreated from all that to recoup and heal. But here’s the fucked up part. There was a bunch of startlingly mean-spirited, sniping feedback on the new album in forums and in reviews. Then there was…nothing. A virtual media blackout (despite the amazing full-length video they created to accompany the album). It sank without a trace, and while it certainly had taken a more pop direction, this was not a surprise. But the lukewarm response was shocking, as Nine Types of Light was freaking awesome, just only barely off the peak performance of the previous album. “Will Do” should have been a huge hit. They should have been up there getting Grammys, not Arcade Fire. I still seethe with outrage when I think about it.

The band however took it better than me, because, well, they’re TVOTR, and they’re cool like that. They just stepped back for a while and got back to it when they were ready to enjoy making new music again. Seeds applies just a touch more current pop production than the last one, but it’s hardly a departure. The band were never strangers to pop melodies, going back to “Staring At The Sun” 11 years ago. It starts out strong with some subtly experimental recording techniques on “Quartz,” with gamelon-like percussion and a nice reference to their early excursions in post-structuralist doo-wop. “Careful You” percolates with bubbling synths, strong hooks and double meanings.” “Could You” kicks off with a tasty 60s psych guitar riff, a simple, circular melody and celebratory horn bridge. “Happy Idiot” is the first single, which sounds deceptively simple, but  is quite brilliant in its tension between avant rock elements with funky electronics. A pure pop song that rides a wave of tension between fun and menace. Paul Reubons is excellent in the video, and lead singer Tunde Adebimpe is rocking the bald head and beard look like a boss.

“Test Pilot” takes a turn from innovation into more purely emotional territory. It’s the sort of pop ballad that could have come from Taylor Swift, and it’s just as good or better than any of her mega hits, with a catchier chorus. “Love Stained” also shamelessly draws from MOR sounds, but sells it based on the strength of its soulful euphoria. It’s only the seventh track “Ride” that I first find any fault with the album. The ambient Eno-like piano, synth and strings stretches the intro into two minutes, and it’s just too damn long. The motorik melody that kicks in is not bad, but also not a good enough payoff for such an uneventful first third. “Winter” also doesn’t do it for me. The guitars sound like an awkward afterthought, much like R.E.M. on one of their weaker albums, Monster, and the tune is just too slight. The punky “Lazerray” is much more satisfying. “Trouble” is the third track that I’m less than happy with. It’s one of the band’s rare boring moments. It pains me to admit it, but three misses out of a dozen is hardly a disaster. And it’s certainly not enough to justify this dismissive review that it’s “just dreary.” WTF! Yes, TVOTR can get grim and droney with the best of them, as anyone familiar with “Blind” and “Young Liars” from their 2003 EP can confirm. But they still deserve the status as one of the best bands around.

They more than redeem themselves with “Right Now,” where Kyp Malone deftly balances a jaunty playfulness with thoughtful, sensual melancholy. And then there’s album closer “Seeds,” which is just massively gorgeous, challenging the transcendent “Wash The Day” and triumphant “Lover’s Day.” So in the end I suppose this could be their least great album, though it’s still more consistent than their debut from a decade ago, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes. It may be their first not to make my top 10 at the end of the year (we’ll see), but it’s hard to be disappointed when I’ve got nine thoroughly enjoyable new songs that have been dominating my playlists.

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Doom Clap: Apostle of Solitude & The Skull

No, this isn’t a about a new strain of venereal disease, nor a showdown of doom covers of “Boom Clap” (Charlie XCX would do well to cover a classic doom song though). It is, however, at least the fifth time this year that two notable doom metal albums were released on the same day. I’m pretty stoked to see this, as it means that the increasing stream of new doom releases that have been ramping up the past several years hasn’t slowed down. Plenty of classic doom practitioners have re-emerged and reunited, pretty much revitalized across the board, including Pagan Altar, Revelation, Count Raven, Iron Man, Las Cruces, Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Blood Farmers and of course, Black Sabbath. Doom is in the air, and the disciples have not been lazy, as the overall quality of these albums seems to get better every year.

Apostle Of Solitude - Of Woe And Wounds (Cruz del Sur, 2014)Apostle Of Solitude – Of Woe And Wounds (Cruz Del Sur)
It’s fitting that one of the best of the newer American doom bands come from a city that rivals Birmingham for being grim and depressing — Indianapolis, Indiana. Apostle of Solitude emerged fully formed with the excellent Sincerest Misery (Eyes Like Snow, 2008). Four and a half years after their second album, Last Sunrise (2010), their long-awaited third is finally here. Their sound continues down the same path of traditional rockin’ doom rooted in classic Pentagram, Trouble and Saint Vitus, with touches of psychedelia, such as on the trippy solos on “Die Vicar Die.” Chuck Brown’s vocals are a strong point. Rather than trying too hard to sound like a badass bridge troll or a meth head who accidentally gargled on toilet cleaner, his are clean and melodic with mostly well-placed harmonies. The lyrics and verses are controlled and concise, but convey enough emotion to put him up there with any of the strongest vocalists of the genre, not to mention a couple well-placed screams like on “This Mania.” “Push Mortal Coil” is another highlight that should become another live favorite with some of the best riffs and melodies. Album-closer “Luna” is their most epicly expansive, and appropriately the longest at 8:18.

Don’t be fooled by their seemingly simple style. It might seem familiar at first, but the songs are structured like moebius strips that could suck you into an infinite loop without minding at all. This is a band that’s been around the block, becoming masters of subtlety as well as heavy. While bands like Tombs, Triptykon and YOB have gotten more attention by mixing up elements of different metal sub-genres, it would be a mistake to ignore a great band like Apostle of Solitude.

The Skull - For Those Which Are Asleep (Tee Pee, 2014)The Skull – For Those Which Are Asleep (Tee Pee)
Chicago based The Skull are basically Trouble, minus original founding guitarist Rick Wartell, who continues to lead his own incarnation of Trouble. This is not uncommon in long-running metal bands, and I say the more the merrier, although Trouble’s album this year, The Distortion Field, was pretty disappointing. The Skull, however, lead by Eric Wagner, sounds revitalized, surpassing anything Trouble has done the past 20 years, including Plastic Green Head (1995). Part of this is due to Wagner, Ron Holzer, Jeff Olson and guitarists Lothar Keller and Matt Goldsborough (who they plucked from a recent incarnation of Pentagram) returning to the psychedelic roots of their creative peak in the early 90s with the two Rick Rubin-produced albums. “Sick Of It All” and “Down” ooze with foreboding atmosphere and shimmering production you don’t often find on doom albums lately. If there’s any question that they absorbed some influence from the garage-psych roots of 90s contemporaries like Soundgarden, The Screaming Trees and Alice In Chains, “Send Judas Down” should settle it. “Til The Sun Turns Black” should be familiar to those who heard it as the single released earlier in the year, a nicely swinging, bluesy chugger. The longer title track seems paced to be a kind of centerpiece, with a swirling acoustic intro that brings to mind Monster Magnet’s space rock, but soon gets much heavier. Definitely one of their best tunes. “The Last Judgement” revisits the first song Trouble ever recorded way back in 1983. When so many artists often ignore their humble beginnings, it’s refreshing to see The Skull pay homage to their roots even under a different name.

There wasn’t a lot of hype and fanfare, at least in the larger metal universe, about The Skull’s debut. So to me it kind of feels like a surprise gift of the best sort, an completely unexpectedly great album packed with memorable songs.

So who wins the showdown? That’s for you to figure out! It’s too close for me to decide right now, but I will by the end of year list. Buy ‘em both and tell me which you liked best!

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Spiders – Shake Electric (Spinefarm)

Spiders - Shake Electric (Spinefarm, 2014)There’s been yet another wave of high-profile quotes from celebrity musicians about how rock ‘n’ roll is dead and nothing rocks with passion anymore, blah blah, whine whine. All the while there’s amazing bands like Gothenburg’s Spiders rocking the fuck out right in front of their stupid faces. Rather than complain, maybe they ought to remove their ears from their assholes and spread the word about the great albums that do come out. Spiders’ 2012 full-length debut Flash Point (Crusher) was one of the best of that year along with the ones by fellow Swedes Graveyard, Witchcraft and Troubled Horse. The fact that they probably still aren’t known enough to tour North America without losing money is a freakin’ crime. Continue reading

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Doom Colossi – Electric Wizard & Witch Mountain

It’s often assumed that doom metal is merely a retro genre that refers exclusively back to the 70s and 80s. But there’s another possible story. Doom didn’t even really exist in the 70s. Sure, Black Sabbath has a handful of proto-doom songs, particularly on Master Of Reality that are clearly the launchpad of the genre. Pentagram ran with it, but no one really noticed until the mid-80s. There are undeniably some classics in the 80s from Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Candlemass, Trouble, The Obsessed, Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General. But doom is a slow moving beast, and kept growing and expanding through the 00s, and arguably is enjoying its biggest audience ever right now. Black Sabbath may have never directly acknowledged being part of doom to my knowledge [update, in a recent interview Iommi did say they've used the term from day one], but something influenced them to revisit their early 70s sound, resulting in 13 being undeniably doomy. Pentagram was featured in a documentary and seem to be at peak popularity along with Saint Vitus, along with younger bands like Pallbearer and Witch Mountain. We’ve seen some big releases recently from Pallbearer, Earth and YOB (all of whom were featured on the covers of glossy magazines that don’t always focus on doom like Decibel and Rock-A-Rolla. Anticipation for Electric Wizard’s eighth album seems more feverish than even the tortured, extended wait between Come My Fanatics… (1997) and Dopethrone (2000).

Electric Wizard - Time To Die (Spinefarm, 2014)Electric Wizard – Time To Die (Spinefarm)
If there was ever case of my being a big fan of a band I wouldn’t necessarily want to know personally, it’s Electric Wizard. Jus Oborn by most accounts seems to be extremely difficult to work with. Alienating his biggest longtime supporter Lee Dorian and his Rise Above label was pretty pointless. They somehow figured they’d have more control over their destiny by starting their own label Witchfinder, and release the new album in May. That obviously didn’t work out, and they ended up with Finnish label Spinefarm, who has the distribution muscle of Universal Music Group. The label has developed a pretty large metal roster since 1999 and should be fine. Meanwhile, Oborn moved further out into the countryside to percolate in his misanthropic lair with wife and bandmate Liz Buckingham who joined in 2003. He lured original drummer Mark Greening back long enough to record the album before unceremoniously dumping him again, and hired bassist Clayton Burgess to replace Glenn Charman. Burgess also leads his own great band Satan’s Satyrs. Continue reading

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Goat – Commune (Rocket Recordings/Sub Pop)

Goat - Commune (Rocket Recordings/Sub Pop, 2014)Goat – Commune (Rocket Recordings/Sub Pop)
When Goat’s debut World Music came out in 2012 and immediately earned a pile of praise and attention, I had mixed feelings. On one hand I welcome a new Swedish psych band with interesting ideas of mixing Afrobeat and kosmische with voodoo-based costumes and stage show. On the other, the hype they received seemed disproportionate to the overall quality compared with some other bands in the scene. Despite a few attention-stretching lulls in the album, their whole concept was just too well executed to dismiss. They proved themselves with a captivating live show with the amazing costumes, dancing and musicianship. I don’t care whether their claims to freakish cult spiritualism is bullshit or not, they work their asses off  to create powerful experiences. Continue reading

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The Well – Samsara (RidingEasy)

The Well - Samsara (RidingEasy, 2014)The Well – Samsara (RidingEasy, 2014)
Small Stone isn’t the only indie heavy rock label that’s ablaze with a string of great releases. RidingEasy Records (they had to change their name from Easy Rider for legal reasons) looks at first like someone’s irreverent hobby label with Sabbath Worship patches, “Keep On Fuckin’” shirts and novelty cassette tape releases. But in just over a year they’ve built up an impressive roster of over a dozen bands covering stoner, doom, psych, garage, punk, hard rock in all kinds of hybrid variations. The latest this week is a stellar debut from Austin’s The Well. Since 2012 they’ve released well received records in a single and EP. Continue reading

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