A lot has happened in this year’s second quarter. An avalanche of good albums were released and I was suddenly buried in great music. With a demanding deadline at my job, I was barely able to keep up, let alone write about them. In the meantime, an interesting trend has developed with bands not normally overly mainstream reaching the top of the Billboard charts. After the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ warm-up at #5 after it’s April 16 release, Vampire Weekend, Queens of the Stone Age and Black Sabbath all hit #1. What does it mean? Probably not much, as Kanye took over this past week. Just a mini blip of good taste between the likes of Paramore, Michael Bublé, Kenny Chesney and Lady Antebellum. I’ve enjoyed some Kanye West in the past, but just can’t get into Yeezus, too ridiculous and tiresome. There’s way too many amazing albums to catch up on to worry about it.
Spirits Of The Dead – Rumours Of A Presence (The End)
This is a late entry because while the album was supposedly released on June 25, it’s still not available beyond downloads on Amazon and iTunes and an expensive limited edition vinyl/cd bundle. And to be honest I’d never heard them before now, despite having released two other albums in 2008 and 2011. Which is really freakin’ crazy, as they’re right up my alley of psych prog mixed with folk and stoner/doom that I’ve been obsessed with for the past few years. If there are more bands like Spirits Of The Dead, Fellwoods, Dead Man and Elope that I don’t know about, somebody better tell me now before some blood and tears are shed. | Full Review
Savages – Silence Yourself (Matador)
With the promising single “Husbands” generating anticipation since last year, Savages don’t disappoint. The muscular, hard-driving post-punk hit the spot. There’s been no shortage of whingeing from the originality police, and they’re completely ridiculous, especially since they go on about Joy Division and Siouxsie & the Banshees, when they really have more in common with disparate sounding bands like Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and Diamanda Galas (vocals), The Stranglers and Scratch Acid (bass), Birthday Party and Dead Kennedys (guitar), Fugazi and Coliseum (production).
Jex Thoth – Blood Moon Rise (I Hate Records)
Before there was The Devil’s Blood, Blood Ceremony, Witch Mountain (Mk II), Castle, Alunah, Witchburn, Demon Lung, Windhand, Wooden Stake, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Jess and the Ancient Ones and Purson, there was Jex Thoth. Hails! Quiz question – where are Jex Thoth from? Answer in full review. | Full Review | Super Doom Chart | Buy
Purson – The Circle And The Blue Door (Rise Above)
Between Lee Dorrian’s background with Cathedral, his tastes in psych prog and the flawless roster on his label Rise Above (Electric Wizard, Witchcraft, Blood Ceremony, Ghost, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats), there was no doubt Purson were going to be something special when it was announced they signed to the label last year. With occult (through personal experiences) themes and a heavy psych/proto-metal sound enough like The Devil’s Blood and Blood Ceremony to suggest a movement, but a fully developed identity to stand on their own, they measured up to the anticipation.
Blood Ceremony – The Eldritch Dark (Rise Above/Metal Blade)
Their third album has improved on Living With The Ancients (2011) in pretty much every way — songwriting, riffs, tight performance and the expansion of their repertoire from doom and flute-driven prog to include folk.
Uncle Acid & The Dead Beats – Mind Control (Rise Above)
It’s weird to realize this is the band’s third album, and just two years ago they were unknown, but on the verge of setting vintage metal hearts aflame with their low-fi proto-doom with eerie, Lennonesque harmonies on Blood Lust (2011). Mind Control is just about as great as we could hope for. While there’s not as many incredibly catchy songs, the sound is way better and brings out the details that were missing previously while rocking harder. An album made for driving, and for being heard live on the road, it’s ironic that they’re playing with Black Sabbath on the European leg, but left behind for the U.S. tour.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City (XL)
As a big fan of their self-titled debut, I was disappointed by Vampire Weekend’s third album. They’ve largely abandoned their exuberant neo-afro pop hooks for a more subtle, “mature” sound. Apparently critics think maturity is a good thing, and call this their best album yet. The public agrees, buying piles of copies to put them on top of the Billboard chart. I’ve found maturity overrated, and would rather be inspired to jump around like an idiot or indulge in a series of mostly illegal activities. While I have no idea why these guys are in such a hurry to grow up, I have to admit they do it very, very well. I’ll keep it on hand for when I want to learn how to act my age someday.
Naam – Vow (Tee Pee)
These hairy, heavy psych dudes look like they came from the dark forests of Finland, rather than New York. Their trippy self-titled debut in 2009 was apparently too unfashionable in their home city to get them noticed. Pulling influences from Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Nektar and likely a bunch of obscure German and Italian psych prog, they strike the perfect balance of thick guitars and swirly organs, sounding better than ever on Vow. With a ton of European bands like Ufomammut, Colour Haze and Motorpsycho either uninterested or financially unable to tour the U.S., it’s nice to have some stateside talent to make up for it. In fact, I get to see them in just over a week, just in time for my birthday. Yay! The video below is from last year’s The Ballad Of The Starchild EP.
Kadavar – Abra Kadavar (Nuclear Blast)
Kadavar just put out their debut last year, and quickly returned with their second album. The German band is closest in style to Swedish bands like Graveyard and Spiders, with their mix of garage psych and proto-metal. The video below is a great document of their trip from Austin’s South By Southwest fest to California in a classic 70s muscle car. Despite looking like true road warriors on sprawling desert roads and truckstop dive bars in the video below, they only played a couple U.S. shows before returning to Europe. Hopefully they’ll come back for a real tour.
Motorpsycho – Still Life With Eggplant (Rune Grammafon)
With Heavy Metal Fruit (2010) and The Death Defying Unicorn (2012) and now this, their 18th album, Norway’s psych prog titans are officially on a roll. While Still Life is much more low key than their ambitiously experimental double album from last year, it’s also one of their most enjoyable. Of course, low key is subjective, given their video is over seventeen minutes long!
Gaytheist – Hold Me…But Not So Tight (Good To Die)
The tags on their Bandcamp page put it succinctly: “rock atheist fast rock gay Portland.” They better be super duper gay, or that name would be just so wrong. While I can’t exactly confirm their sexuality or metaphysical beliefs, there’s no doubt that they’re fast, and they rock, and are probably from Portland. They’re hard too, kind of like a garagey, sloppy version of Torche, with witty lyrics that make up for the less frequent melodic hooks. This is their fourth album in three years, following Stealth Beats (2012), Rainbows Have Nothing To Hide (2011) and Pentagrams Are Super! (2011). All are available super cheap.
Gozu – The Fury Of A Patient Man (Small Stone)
When I first heard Gozu’s first album, Locust Season (2010), I loved how it sounded like a lost Queens of the Stone Age session from 1999. While QOTSA had long since abandoned their fuzzy desert rock sound, bands like Truckfighters and Gozu kept me from withdrawal. When the new one finally came out, it kind of languished at the bottom of my playlist, as it sounded on the surface like more of the same. However, a week after the new QOTSA album came out, I realized I liked the Gozu album just a little better. The songwriting is improved, and while they may not try to stretch their discomfort zone like Homme, I enjoy Gozu’s sound more, which in the end tips the scales in their favor.
Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (Matador)
As I just said above, I sorely miss the old Kyuss/early QOTSA sound. But there’s plenty of bands to scratch that itch. The fact is that the band remains awesome in pretty much every way, and I totally respect Josh Homme’s artistic decisions, even if not quite all of them work. With three nearly perfect albums and three very good to excellent albums, plus Them Crooked Vultures with John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl, this is a seriously classic body of music, rivaled in the mainstream rock universe only by The White Stripes. Mainstream! Who’d have imagined back in 1998 that Homme would be striding the earth with a bona fide rock god from Led Zeppelin, and then having a number one album?
Cauchemar – Tenebrario (Nuclear War Now!)
Three years after their debut La Vierge Noire EP, Montreal-based Cauchemar finally released their first full album on June 12. Anna Giroux, author of the Hellbent For Cooking heavy metal cookbook, sings in French, creating a slightly exotic, gothic feel that could be about medieval castles and mysticism. The music is old school doom along the lines of Pagan Altar, with occasional fast instrumental passages informed by NWOBHM.
Primal Scream – More Light (1st International)
I never much liked Screamadelica era Primal Scream. I never liked them until Vanishing Point (1997) and its companion dub album, Echo Dek. XTRMNTR (2000) was like a post-apocalyptic blast of fresh radiation, and Evil Heat (2002) was a grossly underrated album, at least in the U.S. , despite the great homages to Can and The Stooges. Somehow, despite Bobby Gillespie, despite their dubious beginnings as a douchey baggy-ravey dance act, I found myself having a soft spot for the band, as Riot City Blues (2006) went back to the Stones retreads of Give Out But Don’t Give Up (1994), but better. Even Beautiful Future (2008) had plenty of nice moments. So I’d hardly consider More Light a comeback, though I do like its similarities with Evil Heat, the only real rival as their most consistently enjoyable album in my book.
The Best of the Rest
April, May and June was far better than the first quarter of the year, with many more than these lucky 13 worth hearing. Author & Punisher and Wardruna continued their very original visions, which I cover in my new feature, Rebuilding Sound From Scratch: Author & Punisher and Wardruna Invigorate their Genres from the Bottom Up. Ghost B.C. successfully followed up their much hyped original, though disappointing some with their more streamlined sound influenced by mid-period Blue Oyster Cult. It’s exactly what they said they were going to do, while somehow still maintaining their individual anonymity. After giving sonic prostrate massages to the audiences at Roadburn Festival in The Netherlands, Toner Low came out with their best album yet. Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their weakest, but still quite good, album overall, and they conducted TV and mega-festival appearances like true rock stars. Check out their new video, do yourself a favor and watch it full screen.
Sigur Rós released their 8th album with Kveikur. Casual fans don’t need more than Ágætis Byrjun (1999) and ( ) (2002), but their progress ebbs and flows like lava with sufficient heat and gravity for the rest of us. Sweden’s Brutus and Vidunder released very solid heavy rock albums that will keep genre fans happy for the summer until someone (calling Truckfighters, Blues Pills, Vista Chino, Dead Man?) unleashes a TKO.
And then there’s Black Fucking Sabbath! 13 may have not made my top 13, but I’m certainly not one of the anal, fussy, whiny bitchasses who complain that it’s worthless because of no Bill Ward, because of Rick Rubin, because they’re old. I’ve been playing it a lot, and think it’s really great, certainly better than friggin’ Technical Ecstasy (1976). Who would have expected it to have been better than Dehumanizer (1992), let alone The Devil You Know (2009)? This could be Iommi’s last stand, and Ozzy has probably already died several times. These mfers known how to DOOM OUT. With Mountain’s drummer Nate Carson had my back on ILM’s Rolling Metal thread while we argued with the poo-pooers, and he came out with the definitive review of the album, case closed.
The worthwhile releases don’t end there, with Nocturnal, Black Pyramid, Palms (Chino Moreno + Isis), Coliseum, Nails, The Body, Satan, Tricky, Witches Of God, Age of Taurus, Kylesa and Kvelertak.
There were fewer disappointments this time, the main one being The Stooges‘ Ready To Die. It certainly kicks the living shit out of The Weirdness (2007) and starts out strong with “Burn,” but it still has more clunkers than keepers, the nadir being “DD’s.” There’s a clear difference between his unselfconscious, unhinged brilliance of the original Stooges days, and his showing up at events with strippers and singing about tits. C’mon Iggy, you successfully reunited the best rock band in the world, and NOW you have to become a boring cliche? You’re better than that, man.
I also need to talk about a late discovery that I’m kicking myself for not hearing in time for my year-end lists. Stealth-released on Bandcamp on November 27, Crag Dweller’s debut, Magic Dust is a real corker. I found it via fellow Portlanders Fellwoods’ page, wondering when then heck they’re going to have something new. Hard rock and proto-metal with tons of crazy-eyed guitar shredding. I’ve been playing it constantly this month. If you’re left itching and craving more, try Owl’s debut, also from last year.
The release schedule tends to slow back down in July and August. This week there are two solid releases with Deap Vally and Goatess which I’ll try to cover. The Flying Eyes, Causa Sui, Pond, Juliana Barwick Franz Ferdinand, Disappears and Arabrot are all I know of right now. Announcements for Sep/Oct have been trickling out for Neko Case, Nine Inch Nails, Chelsea Wolfe, Pinkish Black, Chvrches, and Cave. No official date yet for M.I.A., but sometime in September supposedly. Let’s hope there’s some big surprises coming.