Saturday, June 16, 2012

TENTACLE - 'Void Abyss'

When the Ice Dragon sleeps, the Tentacle will writhe…

Tentacle, the alter-ego of Boston psychedelic doom outfit, Ice Dragon, play an ominous, dirge-like variation of doom that is as hypnotic as it is malevolent. While the tunes on ‘Void Abyss’ are not too far removed from what Ice Dragon would create production-wise, thematically the songs are darker, doomier, and barren exemplified by song titles such as “Ram-Headed Serpent”, “Talking, Bending, Dripping, Breaking”, or “The Ruler of All Space and Time” which could have easily of sprung from the imagination of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Each of the four tunes of this e.p. (five, including a hidden track) could easily slither, burrow, and intermingle amongst the tracks of any of the Ice Dragon releases, but collectively they form an entirely different philosophy altogether.

‘Void Abyss’ is a self-released compact disc limited to one hundred copies or available as a download via Bandcamp. The c.d. sleeve is beautifully illustrated by Adam Burke with an image that accurately captures the essence of the songs it contains: a lone, tentacle-enveloped spire of rock emerging from the sea under a moonlit sky. Like any of the Ice Dragon releases, Tentacle is not afraid to experiment or push its brand of noisy, lo-fi doom to the extreme. ‘Void Abyss’ is not easy or casual listening, but for those with an ear for sparse, murky, minimalist psychedelia with drone-like inclinations they will be well rewarded. In many ways the production utilized by both Ice Dragon and Tentacle is better suited for the latter incarnation due to its harsh, bitter approach. Listeners are urged to wait patiently for the hidden track to kick in long after album closer “The Ruler of All Space and Time” has ended. The bonus track, an album highlight, startles the listener with its initial roar, but ultimately it soothes due to the odd emotional quality that seems to separate it from the previous four tracks.

Hopefully, Tentacle is not just an indulgence or whim of a band experimenting with its core sound. This offshoot band offers enough of a departure to necessitate its existence and ‘Void Abyss’ does not come across as a collection of Ice Dragon outtakes. Those already familiar with Ice Dragon will undoubtedly be able to hear some similarities but those with a discerning ear will be able to truly appreciate this release…9/10.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)



Spelljammer - 'Vol. II'

On their second EP, ‘Vol II’, Sweden’s Spelljammer have slightly reeled in the desert influenced stoner-groove approach that defined ‘Inches From the Sun’ in favor of a more doom oriented sound. The band hasn’t completely retooled their songwriting, but they have merely made an incremental shift in approach and the effects couldn’t be more stellar. All three tracks that make up ‘Vol II’ are immense, both in length and heft.

“Aun’s Mountain” begins solemnly enough with a sample from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 film ‘The Holy Mountain’: “Nine immortal men live on top of the mountain. They hold the secret to the conquest of death.” Delicate, slightly jazzy drumming and a gentle bass line serenely trail the quote providing a misleading sense of calm. After nearly a minute and a half into the track the bottom finally falls out. The listener is left at the mercy of the weight of the riffs and eventually a feedback strewn breakdown. The heaviness of “Aun’s Mountain” is indicative of what’s to be found on the remainder of the EP and the band is able to create enough variation within each of the lengthy songs so they never seem to overstay their welcome. With a running time of just over eight minutes, “Electric Ground” is the shortest track on ‘Vol II’. A simple, lone guitar riff is joined by a wave of seemingly never-ending feedback before the tune gains its lumbering momentum. It’s another excellent track that eventually regresses into a contemplative passage of bass and drums that is reminiscent of the quiet, meditative passages performed by Om. The ill-titled “Space Reefer” closes out the e.p. and it embraces the stoner-doom end of the spectrum that was mined so successfully on ‘Inches From the Sun’. It is perhaps the weakest of the three tracks, not because there is a steep decline in quality, but because it begins to reveal the formula of Spelljammer’s compositions.

Feedback drenched tunes with heavily distorted guitars, stoned-out riffs, and an excellent rhythm section are Spelljammer’s stock-in-trade. The band is creating and releasing some of the finest stoner metal today and ‘Vol II’ is one of this year’s highlights. Hopefully their EPs will see a physical release in the near future. Fans of Stonehelm, Kyuss, Elder and even Electric Wizard should take note.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)



Friday, June 15, 2012

Internal Void - 'Voyage'

The demonstration. That initial collection of tunes designed to circulate at shows in an attempt to garner fans, handed out for the enjoyment of friends or distributed to labels in hopes of landing a record deal is something of an anomaly in the metal world. Metal, unlike any other music genre, reveres that initial release commonly referred to as a demo. In this age of the internet bands have instantaneous wide distribution for their demos, but it’s up to the fans to pass the final judgment and bands carry the burden of proving themselves with their first proper release. Both Windhand’s ‘Practice Space Demo’ and Pallbearer’s ‘2010 Demo’ are recent examples of bands living up to expectations and bestowing upon their fans excellent first albums. It is also not uncommon for a band’s demo to be released or reissued following their studio output as was the case with Blood Farmers’ ‘Permanent Brain Damage’. Without this phenomenon Internal Void’s ‘Voyage’ demo would sadly go unnoticed and unheard by doom-heads across the globe save perhaps for that small contingency of fans lucky enough to live in or around Maryland in the early 90s.

Internal Void’s ‘Voyage’ demo is a vinyl only re-release of the cassette and is a beautiful limited edition of 300 copies with white splatter on translucent blue vinyl. The band’s distinctive blend of rock, psychedelia, and doom are clearly manifested on this demo and, had this been widely circulated prior to the ‘Standing on the Sun’ album, it would have heralded great things to come.

Despite the song title, opening track “Nothing But Misery” gallops at a rock n’ roll clip occasionally downshifting gears into a more doomed-out pace showcasing the band’s mastery of playing rock tinged doom metal. Even on this early demo vocalist J.D. Williams exhibits his range as a vocalist. His voice effortlessly switches between singing in raspy lower ranges or the nasally tones often associated with Ozzy which dominates the first song on ‘Voyage’. It’s a solid album opener that hints at some of the great compositions that the band would later produce on ‘Standing on the Sun’ or the excellent ‘Unearthed’.

Album highlight “The Entrance” makes this demo well worth the purchase and is one of the best tunes ever penned by the band. It’s surprising that it was never rerecorded for any of their future releases. Unlike the opening track, “The Entrance” brings the doom in the form of a bass-heavy psychedelic groover accompanied by sections of flanged guitar. Like many of Internal Void’s songs this track shifts in tempo allowing the song to uncoil and breathe.

Side A concludes with a return to straight-up rock with “A Thousand Souls” which pushes J.D.’s vocals to their raspy limits. It’s a song that stands out as an oddball track not because it sounds different from the band’s other material, but because it sounds as if it would be much more at home on their last studio album ‘Matricide’—an album released thirteen years after the recording of ‘Voyage’.

“Chasing the Dragon” kicks off side B with a galloping bassline and a riff that could have come straight from “Fast” Eddie Clarke’s songbook. Initially it’s a Motorhead/punk infused track that slows down to a crawl for the chorus where J.D. proclaims: “I’m wasted every day/And I’m burning a good mind away/But I’m living for what I enjoy/As I slip into this evil void.” Not the most profound sentiment, but still words to live by.

The self-titled album closer “Internal Void” follows a brief and forgettable acoustic track entitled “Morning”. Like “The Entrance” this tune is firmly rooted in the doom metal tradition and is accented sporadically by acoustic guitar flourishes. It wouldn’t be an Internal Void track if it didn’t unravel and naturally explore different tempos, a quality that adds to the durability of their discography. 

Internal Void doesn’t play brooding, melancholic doom. Their sound is complex and is representative of the Maryland scene while still sounding like no other. The ‘Voyage’ demo is essential for long time fans or it would be an excellent starting place for the uninitiated. ‘Voyage’ is the perfect way to kickoff the vinyl reissues of Internal Void’s discography. With any luck ‘Standing on the Sun’ will be pressed and released by year’s end.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ice Dragon - 'S/T'

No band working today has been able to quite capture the ethos of Black Sabbath without resorting to mere idol worship with the exception of Boston’s Ice Dragon. They play contemporary psyche-doom filtered through a lo-fi, do-it-yourself ethic. Sure, the band doesn’t boast the creative jazzy drumming of a Bill Ward or the anchoring mass of a Geezer Butler, but Ice Dragon does lay down experimental and atmospheric doom metal of catastrophic proportions. This three-piece has produced three quality albums in as many years, so this collection of songs released as their 2007 debut is approached with much anticipation.

Previously unreleased material of artists usually has been unreleased for a reason. This material is often unfinished rough cuts, inferior material, or songs that are a steep departure from a band’s established discography. Sometimes, though, this unreleased material serves to illuminate another dimension of a band by revealing a few hidden gems. For the most part, like many other bands, Ice Dragon’s “S/T” falls into the former category.

A distinctive characteristic of Ice Dragon’s discography is the lo-fi production of their albums. While the band could benefit from a thicker production, especially with a boost to the low-end, it is indisputable that they have found their own sound. “S/T” is even further mired with a thin production compared to their other releases. The end result is a lighter, much more psychedelic inflected album by a band that comes across as if they are still searching for their niche.

Album opener ‘Wasted Nights’ is probably the best intimation of greater things to come from the band on future releases. The main riff isn’t quite as foreboding as typical Ice Dragon fare, but it is a doom-tinged head nodder accompanied by psychedelic washes of ethereal distortion. Definitely an album highlight.

Ice Dragon’s ability to effectively maneuver between softer, acoustic tunes or cataclysmic, mind-expanding doom is one of the bands strong suits and another feature that channels the essence of Black Sabbath. “S/T’s” third track, ‘So Far Away it Has No End’ falls into the hidden gem spectrum of previously unreleased material. It’s a simple acoustic number with distant vocals that exemplify longing and the desire to know the unknowable. It is easily the softest and perhaps the most uncharacteristic tune penned by the band, but that only serves to isolate its beauty.

The bulk of the album is a bit uneven and self-indulgent, but it is a worthwhile excursion for fans of the band’s later work, those interested in lo-fi, psychedelic tunes, or completists who need to own everything by a particular band. It certainly is a grower and listeners will be rewarded with multiple spins as any obstacles posed by the lo-fi production will begin to melt away. 

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Obsidian Sea - 'Between Two Deserts'

Amidst a vast ocean of lumbering, riff-worshipping beasts of traditional doom it can be difficult for the little fish to stand out amongst the leviathans of the genre. Bulgaria’s Obsidian Sea drops their line in the water in an attempt to cause some ripples with their first full-length release ‘Between Two Deserts’. How does it measure up? Quite well, actually. A good point of reference in both vocal delivery and execution would be Finland’s The Wandering Midget, except Obsidian Sea’s duo of Bozhidar (drums) and Anton (vocals, bass, guitars, drums) lack the level of proficiency in their rhythm section compared to the drum-driven, progressive minded Finns. Obsidian Sea relies more on lumber opposed to groove.

The majestic album opener “At the Temple Doors” firmly establishes Obsidian Sea’s modus operandi of crafting solid traditional doom. Nothing more. Nothing less. The first half of the album might not contain any surprises, but the riffs are memorable, slow, and heavy—a pattern which becomes all too transparent and may reveal the album’s greatest weakness: lack of surprises or originality. Balancing on a razor’s edge between convention and inventiveness is perhaps the most difficult task for any doom band, especially for initiates of traditional doom.

At the end of the first half of the album Obsidian Sea finally deviate from their established formula by shifting to a thrashier tempo towards the end of fourth track “Impure Days”. While the change is welcome, it is the album’s first true misstep and illustrates that the band are a much more effective unit playing slow to mid-paced doom. The track is also comically marred by a sample of howling wolves that serves to distract the listener rather than enhancing the mood of the song.

At the center of the album “Curse of the Watcher” reigns supreme as the standout track. The initial riff is slightly reminiscent of Triptykon or latter day Celtic Frost in both execution and tone. It is the most dynamic structurally and contains perhaps the most sinister riffing to be found on the album. It’s a shame that this is the second shortest song on the album as it could have been extended and used as the album’s closer.

Starting with “Absence of Faith”, which boasts the album’s catchiest vocal melody, the latter half of the album continues down its established path by churning out consistent if not-too-original doom metal.

Obsidian Sea have fashioned a solid debut album that is perhaps most spellbinding in its dim, consistent mood. For those disciples who wish to further pursue the arcana of traditional doom ‘Between Two Deserts’ is an album worth adding to one’s collection. This is geared for fans of Reverend Bizarre or the aforementioned The Wandering Midget. It’s a solid debut and could signal great things to come.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)

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