Monday, July 30, 2012

Ice Dragon/Kroh Split 7"

The ever prolific psyche/doom outfit, Ice Dragon, has teamed up with industrial influenced miscreants, Kroh, for a split 7” that is a diametrically opposed study in the dark arts separated by both essence and execution. Musically, both bands unleash up-tempo rockers that are thoroughly distinct within their catalogues while managing to maintain a semblance of familiarity to each band’s chosen path. Birmingham, England’s Kroh infuse a dose of early 90’s, Wax Trax! era industrial rock that is equal parts 1000 Homo DJs, ‘Psalm 69’ era Ministry, and the Butthole Surfers at their most mainstream, without sounding as abrasive or experimental as any of the above bands. Ice Dragon, on the other hand, embrace their familiar lo-fi production to beckon forth a galloping, sword-and-sorcery fueled anthem straight from the Enchanted World.

Kroh’s offering, “White Lies”, is an anomalous union of tribal drumming, charged industrial guitar riffs, and melodious vocals. The vocals of Francis Anthony are a distinguishing characteristic of Kroh’s sound and a key element that really separates the band from many of their influences. Kroh ignores the dominance of heavily distorted vox celebrated and selectively employed by many of the late 80’s/early 90’s era industrial acts in favor of a style that is more tuneful and saccharine. While initially cloy, the vocals offer an interesting juxtaposition to the dark lyrical content and instrumentation that dominates the band’s songs. “White Lies” easily stands out as one of Kroh’s strongest tunes to date and, despite its divergent approach, complements Ice Dragon’s contribution to the split.

“The Hooves of My Lord” gallops up and tramples the listener from the onset with a mesmerizing, infectious riff suitable as a soundtrack for strutting your stuff at the renaissance faire in a homemade tunic.  The track marches along triumphantly—slowing down to allow for some psychedelic lead guitar—only to bridle up and dash into the nether at a breakneck pace. Hail to thee, Oh Minotaur. This may be one of Ice Dragon’s catchiest endeavors and, yet again, illustrates that their creative depths are seemingly boundless.

The Ice Dragon/Kroh split is essential listening for fans of either band as both bands have contributed memorable, catchy tunes that make this split 7” a worthwhile purchase. The 7” is limited to 80 orange and 120 green discs of standard weight vinyl, so pick this up before it’s gone for good. Track it down through either band’s Facebook or Bandcamp page.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)

Ice Dragon:


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Moon Curse - 'S/T'

Being just another drop in the bucket isn’t necessarily a bad thing and Milwaukee’s riff-rocking trio, Moon Curse, contribute their straight forward brand of doom-tinged, stoner rock to an already overflowing pail with mixed results. Falling somewhere between the beer soaked grooves of Red Fang, the classic rock inspired stoner riffs of Egypt, or Dead Meadow’s homage to 60’s and 70’s psychedelia, Moon Curse treads a well worn path with little innovation or individuality to truly carve out their own niche. This lack of innovation or individuality hasn’t stopped a multitude of bands from finding success either through the sheer determination of a road-warrior work ethic, word-of mouth praise, or simply satisfying the need for more of a good thing. Enter Moon Curse. While the band probably won’t baptize new initiates in the murky waters of stoner or doom metal, it does have the potential to satiate the need for more of a good thing.

Barely creeping beyond EP status, Moon Curse’s self-titled debut opens strong with the album’s doomiest riff and some impressive, eruptive drumming. The initial promise of “Medicinecoma” quickly erodes, though, as the song launches into bouncy, hard-rock/stoner-rock territory. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it certainly is unremarkable. The song finds life again in the chorus which utilize the song’s excellent, doomy intro, and amid the beautiful, acid-toned guitar solo in the song’s latter half. The second track, “Brontis”, is not too far removed from the album opener, save it relies more heavily on lead guitar soloing. It’s another capable, up-beat, hard rock number that establishes a groove early on and it doesn’t let up. “Northern High” is easily the standout track of the album and it’s the band’s most moody and interesting composition. It’s hard to dismiss the vocals of this track as they employ a similar, if not identical, vocal effect to Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan”, and guess what? It works. The song is carried along by a catchy bassline and atmospheric riffing until it propels into a whirring, stoned-out instrumental passage that is mesmerizing. “Chandra” is an odd-ball tune that can only be designated as filler. While it serves as an introduction to the organ that is used on the last song, it’s a two-minute long instrumental that is both mediocre and misplaced. The longest track and album closer, “Black Elk”, is easily the second strongest tune on the album and it contains the most impassioned vocal delivery of the lot. It’s the most complex composition and fluctuates between classic rock inspired stoner metal and doom.

Moon Curse have unleashed a competent, if not average, debut that is slightly marred by its lack of consistency and originality, but based on the strength of tunes like “Northern High” and “Black Elk” the band displays promise. They may not be innovators, but they certainly are adept students and most fans of the genre should be able to appreciate Moon Curse due to the familiar territory they choose to occupy. Though the band’s Bandcamp page doesn’t identify this release as a demo, it surely sounds like one and it could be an indicator of greater things to come.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)

Moon Curse Bandcamp

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Balam - 'S/T' Demo

2012 has already witnessed the release of several excellent albums and EPs from both high-profile artists and relative unknowns with many more releases lingering on the horizon.  Five-piece Rhode Island doom upstarts Balam (bay.lum.) have not only recorded and released via their Bandcamp page a demo of high-quality material not witnessed since Pallbearer’s excellent ‘2010 demo’, but they have unleashed a collection of three tracks that can easily hold their own amongst the year’s very best. Balam play a hybrid of progressive and traditional doom metal with a psychedelic sheen. The songs gracefully ebb and flow between hulking doom-metal plod, or blissful stoned-out grooves somewhere between Revelation and The Wandering Midget. Production-wise the demo is extremely well produced and these three tracks sound as if they could have come straight from the final mix of a studio album.

“Soul Scour” opens the demo in Yob-like fashion with a lone strummed guitar which is innocuously reduced to a whisper before catapulting into one of the catchiest grooves played this year. The bass really stands out on this tune and effortlessly carries the rest of the instrumentation. “Dark Door” is a slow-burner that is anchored by patient, yet weary drumming layered with acid-tinged lead guitar and emotive vocals. At just over twelve minutes “Dark Door” is the longest track on the demo, but it is a complex composition of lumbering doom that evolves into a jam that closes out like some of Dead Meadow’s trippier tunes. “The Followed” tops off the demo in brilliant fashion. What begins with another exercise in patience evolves into some of the demo’s most memorable riffing and up-beat tempos.

Balam are clearly well versed in the dark arts of doom metal. Upon close inspection many of their influences are easily discernible, but the band has studied wisely and forged their own unique sonic identity. This is an excellent demo and it should create quite a buzz in the metal underground. Doom aficionados should hear this release and eagerly anticipate further output from this band. Download the demo from the band’s Bandcamp page.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Naam - 'The Ballad of the Starchild' EP

New York’s Naam occupy an odd space influenced by spaced-out, seventies kraut-rock, classic rock, and a minute suggestion of doom metal. Their latest, ‘The Ballad of the Starchild’ EP, follows their 2009 self-titled debut and an unexpected two-song covers EP that put a psychedelic twist on Nirvana’s “Drain You” and “Pennyroyal Tea”. The band’s debut was at times a nose-dive plummet into unhinged space-rock territory. ‘The Ballad of the Starchild’ EP partially reels in the kraut-rock and doom influences and largely avoids the raucous bombast of the debut in favor of a more subdued approach. It’s more of a chill-out album opposed to a blotter freak-out.

Somber acoustic fingerpicking followed by gentle lap steel guitar open the EP’s initial track, “Sentry of Skies”. The song slowly builds and the lap steel guitar is instrumental to achieving a cathartic release during the song’s crescendo. “Sentry of Skies” has a subtle beauty that is unmatched by the remainder of the songs of the EP. “Lands Unknown” is a dark meditation that relies heavily on moody repetition while introducing keyboards and synths into the mix for texture. The heavily Eastern influenced “History’s Son” is an unnecessary instrumental interlude probably intended to add depth and atmosphere to the EP. Eastern influences such as sitar and tambura have been overused in psychedelic music to the point of being wearisome and it is no different here. At almost half the length of the EP, the eleven minute long “The Starchild” is intended to be the focal point and it works. The song floats aloft a wave of organ and catchy guitar riffs. “The Starchild” could easily have fit in with the tracks of Naam’s debut, and on this EP it is a welcome return to form. The appropriately titled “Exit Theme” closes out the album and is comprised exclusively of synthesizer and keyboard. “Exit Theme” may have possibly succeeded as an effective way to end a longer work, but with an EP barely exceeding the twenty-five minute mark it comes across as unessential filler.

Many bands use the EP format as an avenue to release material that may be a departure from their established sound and Naam should be applauded for trying something different even if it doesn’t completely work. At five songs deep with only two standout tracks it’s difficult to see how this EP could really help the band garner new fans. Their excellent, self-titled debut is probably a better leaping off point for those unfamiliar with the band’s brand of psychedelic rock. Fans looking for anything influenced by seventies kraut-rock bands like Ash Ra Tempel or Amon Düül II or bands similar to contemporary acts like Black Mountain, Kadavar, or The Black Angels could do worse.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ice Dragon - 'Dream Dragon'

After an initial spin of Ice Dragon’s fifth full-length, ‘Dream Dragon’, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that the band has upped their daily allowance of hallucinogenics, flipped their collective lids, blacked out the windows of Ron’s Wrecker Service with tin foil, and recorded their latest moody, blissed-out opus with ‘Easy Rider’ playing in the background on a continuous loop. While ‘Dream Dragon’ is a departure for the prolific psychedelic doom outfit it isn’t a complete one-eighty, but rather a shift in focus. All of the elements of earlier releases are still present; it’s just that the prescribed dosages have been changed. Acoustic passages, ambient noisescapes, 60’s inspired jangle-pop, and straight-up rock ‘n’ roll are effortlessly interwoven to create one hell of an enjoyable album.

The aptly titled “Dreamliner” opens the album and is the soundtrack for floating down the river of a gentle mountain stream in an inner tube on a lazy afternoon. It’s a delicate, beautiful, sway-inducing tune that really sets the tone for the rest of the album. The second track, “Maximum Trip”, increases the grit, revs the engine, and blasts off into road-trip territory. This is the track you want to be listening to while kicking up dust in a fear and loathing inspired cross-country, flesh suitcase drug delivery. “Stumble Onto Magic” is another album stand-out that shifts between psychedelic melancholia and up-tempo burner.  “I Know You’re in Here” is an atmospheric/noise freak-out straight from Pink Floyd’s ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ playbook. “Beard of Thieves” most closely resembles the Ice Dragon of yore and could have fit comfortably among the tunes on ‘The Sorrowful Sun’. “For Once in My Life” begins with one of the most emotional guitar leads that Ice Dragon has laid to tape accompanied by a vocal delivery suggestive of a man baring his soul. 

The remainder of the album is a meandering journey where every corner turned reveals new surprises. While this release may showcase a softer side of Ice Dragon, it illustrates that the band refuses to be constrained by any one particular style or genre. The recent release of the band’s self-titled album is good preparation for what is to be discovered on ‘Dream Dragon’. The real beauty here is that the band continues to experiment and is able to effectively push boundaries and experiment while maintaining a consistent overall sound. Sure, the band could have chosen a new moniker to release their latest release as they have done with the darker, doomier Tentacle, but ‘Dream Dragon’ still fits comfortably within the pantheon of Ice Dragon releases.

‘Dream Dragon’ is the sound of a band indulging their creativity and their influences while having a blast in the process. This is a significant progression for Ice Dragon in terms of songwriting, playing, and Ron’s vocals show their greatest range. Hopefully Ice Dragon will continue to grow and release material that challenges their listeners. While this lighter side is a fantastic change of pace, hopefully they won’t completely abandon their doom roots on future releases…9/10

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Northwinds - 'Winter'

‘Winter’, the fourth album by French doom band Northwinds is a peculiar collection of folk-inflected progressive doom that is indebted as much to the pantheon of traditional doom pioneers both old and new as they are to the hard rock and proto-metal bands of the seventies. A distinguishing feature of Northwinds is that they are able to use and reference their influences without coming across as a retro act.

Folk inspired metal of any ilk usually fails miserably or sounds too contrived. While Northwinds doesn’t always succeed with harnessing their disparate influences, the results always remain interesting. In addition to traditional doom metal instrumentation the band incorporates synthesizers, organ, chimes, flute, and samples. The synthesizers are at first off-putting, but ultimately provide the tunes with a unique atmosphere. The vocals may be an obstacle for some listeners which remotely sound like a cross between the vocals of Nicola “Cynar” Rossi from Doomraiser and Pagan Altar’s Terry Jones. They are affectional and nasally, yet they complement the music.

While there is no standout track, all of the tunes have unique moments. Album opener and instrumental intro “Turned to Stone” sounds as if it could have been lifted from one of many fantasy videogame cut-scenes or pause menus. It’s dramatic, grandiose, and a bit over-the-top, but it also introduces the listeners to some of the synth sounds that are recurrent throughout the recording. “Land of the Dead” begins with a killer doom riff and highlights some great bass playing accompanied with some atmospheric organ. The album-titled track, “Winter” clocks in at over twenty minutes and uses that time to effectively ebb-and-flow through all of their genre influences.

One of the best things going for Northwinds is superb, classic rock inspired bass playing that both anchors and carries each tune along. The songs teeter precariously over a precipice of ambient passages, progressive doom metal, folk, and classic rock. Despite the tug-of-war of all of these influences ‘Winter’ is not a disjointed mess, but rather a well thought-out, cohesive whole.

Adventurous listeners and fans of classic rock or progressive doom will probably get the most out of ‘Winter’. An initial listen may be off-putting, but with a little patience doom metal fans will be rewarded with the sounds offered by this unique band. Besides, if you make it to the last track you’ll hear an interesting, sped-up, slightly funky cover of Saint Vitus’ “Clear Windowpane”. This album is definitely a grower and worth checking out.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)