Friday, August 31, 2012

Black Magician – ‘Nature is the Devil’s Church’

The United Kingdom is arguably the birth place of doom metal and the sovereign state has not failed to produce quality bands and musicians. Though one group in particular has cast quite a large shadow over the entire doom scene, particularly in the UK, it is almost impossible not to have high expectations for doom traffickers hailing from that side of the Atlantic, especially considering their lineage. Black Magician’s first release, ‘Nature is the Devil’s Church’, is a welcome addition to the canon of dark, atmospheric doom. Musically the band shares much in common with Dartmoor’s The Wounded Kings in that each band is capable of producing some of the slowest, most somber, affective tunes of the past few years without testing the patience of the listener.

‘Nature is the Devil’s Church’ innocuously opens with a brief, delicate piano passage. While “The Foolish Fire” doesn’t even surpass the one minute mark, it does succeed in suggesting that there is something sinister lurking just beyond the intro in pure Hammer horror fashion. “Full Plain I See, the Devil Knows How to Row” slowly builds from a wash of feedback, organ and drums, before reaching a hypnotic doom metal plod. Organ has been used successfully by many doom bands, but Black Magician has wholly incorporated the instrument tastefully into their sound. “Full Plain I see, the Devil Knows How to Row” could be the soundtrack for the damned souls of the Demeter. Birds chirping, a crow cawing, and a lone bell ringing signal the beginning of “Four Thieves Vinegar”, another brooding excursion into the dark chasm of doom. At this point in the album two things become apparent: the band is adept at concocting lengthy, engrossing tunes that are not strictly relegated to a crawl, and singer Liam Yates has a distinct, yet singular approach to his vocal delivery. The vocals are raspy and the delivery is unwavering, but it seems to work. For now. It will be interesting to see if Liam can imbue more dynamics into his delivery on future releases. The folk inflected, “Ghost Worship” is another instrumental that is upbeat and pastoral. Finger-picked guitar and organ are central to the song’s composition. “Ghost Worship” may be divergent, but it serves to showcase the band’s influences and act as a foil to the darker songs of the album. The fifteen minute epic, “Chattox”—a reference to Anne Whittle and the Pendle witch trials—appropriately closes out the album. “Chattox” unfolds slowly at first, but is spurred on with driving percussion and atmospheric organ. It’s an effective album closer that solidifies Black Magician’s grim vision.

It would be easy, albeit lazy, to pass Black Magician off as just another occult doom band. While the occult is certainly an aspect of their music, it has more to do with the band’s fascination with England’s rich, yet dark, historical eras. References to the epidemic destruction of the bubonic plague, flagellants and their mortification of the flesh, and the forced confession of witches are all fair game for Black Magician. ‘Nature is the Devil’s Church’ is a solid debut that incorporates a variety of influences. The band has surely put themselves on the map with this release and it has managed to stand out among some of the other great albums already released this year.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Temple of Perdition)

Friday, August 24, 2012

To Hold You Over: Iron Man - 'Att hålla dig over' EP

Maintaining consistency over the span of four full-lengths and almost as many EP’s is a task that most bands can’t even dream of achieving. Iron Man is not only one of the select few who have managed this feat, but they have arguably done so while improving with age. Over the years, Iron Man linchpin Al Morris III and his revolving cast of supporters have continued to release some of the heaviest, up-tempo, doom metal around. The release of the band’s third EP, ‘Att hålla dig over’, has proven two things: Al Morris III is a never-ending chasm of massive, doomed-out riffage, and the band’s seemingly current stable lineup is capable of surpassing the heft and groove of previous releases.

The one-two punch combination of “Quicksand” and “Crucified”—two of the strongest tracks ever recorded by the band—are propelled by a group in unison. Not to take away from Al, but the band is now a culmination of all the players and not simply based around gargantuan riffs. Of note is the bass playing of Louis Strachan who helped bring the ‘I Have Returned’ album to the next level, but who is now further brought to prominence by the production of “Att hålla dig over”. The songs simply have a depth that was unattainable with former incarnations of the band. If you’re ever in need for a soundtrack for vengeance you could do much worse than the EP’s first single, “Quicksand”, a tune that vocalist “Screaming Mad” Dee has explained, “If you’re mortally wounded, you have two choices: you can either die quietly and alone, or you can reach out and grab the people who did it to you and make damn sure you drag them down with you. This song is about the second choice in that analogy.” Dee Calhoun is without a doubt Iron Man’s most powerful and versatile vocalist and it’s both humbling and near quake-inducing when he belts out, “Are you scared of what has come for you/To call to task atrocities come true/At the end—each take my hand/And come with me down to the sand”. 

Tracking wise ‘Att hålla dig over’ is quite similar to 2011’s ‘Dominance’ EP. Both EP’s begin with two standout Iron Man tunes and are followed by acoustic numbers. Whereas the ‘Dominance’ EP showcases a haunting instrumental interlude in the form of “Eternal Sleep”, ‘Att hålla dig over’ utilizes acoustic guitar, harmonica, and vocals for “Suffer the Children”, a tune that really reveals another side of the band by showcasing a gentler vocal delivery of Dee and some really deft guitar playing on behalf of Al. The main divergence with ‘Att hålla dig over’ is that the band has used the opportunity to re-record an Iron Man classic, “On the Mountain”, for the fourth track. ‘The Passage’ and ‘Generation Void’ of the Michalak era are stone cold classics, so the re-recording of “On the Mountain” is a bit superfluous, though it is interesting to see how a current lineup can interpret material from the past. While the bassline stands out and the drums have a pop that is absent on the original courtesy of new drummer, Jason "Mot" Waldmann, the track from ‘Generation Void’ is still the definitive version.

While ‘Dominance’ may have a slight edge over ‘Att hålla dig over’, it is still as consistent and heavy as any other release in the band’s catalogue. Hopefully ‘Att hålla dig over’ can indeed hold fans over until the band can record their next full-length album. Based on the latest efforts and the strength of this current lineup expectations will be high. Order ‘Att hålla dig over’ straight from the band.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Temple of Perdition)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Uzala – ‘Cataract/Death Masque' 12” Single

The murk-dwelling, psych/doom band, Uzala, has finally issued the missing puzzle piece to their brilliant self-titled debut. Collectors of vinyl were rewarded with an amazing album, albeit lacking “Cataract”—one of the band’s strongest tracks—while downloaders and cassette collectors were graced with the full nine track album. At War With False Noise has remedied the situation by releasing the ‘Cataract/Death Masque 12” Single’. While many fans may be familiar with “Cataract”, it’s an opportunity for completists and vinyl fetishists to pad out their collections while gaining an added bonus…“Death Masque”.

The Eastern-tinged “Cataract” opens the single and showcases vocalist/guitarist Darcy Nutt’s soaring, emotional vocals that easily rise above the murky din created by both the band and the production. While there are those who feel that Uzala could benefit from a cleaner, clearer production, they are totally missing the mark and “Cataract” continually reveals its many layers as the listener wades through its turbid waters. “Cataract” easily flows between majestic, drowsy-paced doom and up-tempo groove while Chad Remains’ devilish, whispered vocals sporadically slither their way through the slurry. If any song is worthy of being released as a single from the debut it is “Cataract”. Following a few distorted notes “Death Masque” drops like a clap of thunder and peals off into the darkened aether with Darcy’s vocals remaining as the only finger of light amidst the gloom. The music twists and turns from head-nodding euphoria to plodding, feedback driven freak-out. Like most of Uzala’s compositions “Death Masque” has enough complexity, depth, and shifts in tempo to remain interesting and warrant repeated listens.

Uzala has, up to this point, released one of the most unique doom metal albums of the year with their self-titled debut and have now successfully followed it with the release of the ‘Cataract/Death Masque 12” Single’. Currently there are very few bands that are successfully pushing the boundaries of doom metal and Uzala is accomplishing this by effortlessly combining doom, noise, and psychedelia all while being able to retain a consistent, atmospheric vision. Act quickly to get this very limited vinyl or download from the band’s Bandcamp page. Highly recommended.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Temple of Perdition)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Destroyer of Light - 'S/T'

Over the last several decades Texas has produced some heavy-hitters in the music scene dating back to the saccharine, early pop-rock sounds of Buddy Holly or the freak-out psychedelic scene of the 60’s with the likes of The 13th Floor Elevators, The Golden Dawn, and Cold Sun. It seems as if The Lone Star State has never lifted its finger from the pulse of the purveyors of the outlandish as illustrated by such noise acts of the 80’s and 90’s like the Butthole Surfers or Cherubs to the current psychedelic resurgence concentrated around Austin, Texas. While the state has been called home by luminaries of the psychedelic and noise scenes, it has also birthed many notable doom acts such as Elliott’s Keep, Las Cruces, and the mighty Solitude Aeturnus.  What does all of this have to do with Destroyer of Light? Well, the band, for the most part, plays a gritty form of traditional doom metal, but it’s slightly colored with a wash of feedback driven noise—particularly during song intros—and unique, often over-the-top vocals.

Destroyer of Light’s debut is a grim, dark journey into the depraved depths of the occult and the dark side of human nature. “Greet Death” sets the album in motion and takes the listener straight to the abyss with a plodding, Sabbathian riff to witness the fate and ultimate demise of a serial killer. The song also serves as an introduction to the varied vocal delivery of singer/guitarist Steve Colca. Sound-wise, Colca’s voice has a slight nasal quality akin to Hour of 13’s Phil Swanson, but Colca mixes things up for better or worse by switching between straight-forward singing, lackadaisical locution, and death growls.

Continuing with the album’s grisly subject matter, “The Virgin” tells the tale of summoning forth the dark lord through virgin sacrifice and boasts one of the album’s catchiest choruses. “So Divided”, the third track, possesses the most groove of all the songs and showcases Colca’s most soulful vocal delivery. Lyrically, the song sticks out like a sore thumb as it addresses socioeconomic issues of inequality opposed to dealings with the devil or the blood of virgins. A sample from Majestic Pictures’ ‘The Vampire Bat’ opens the fourth track, “Coffin Hunter”—a song about? You guessed it…hunting vampires. “Coffin Hunter” musically is the weakest track on the album. The riffs just aren’t as doomed-out or memorable as the other five outings. At six and a half minutes in length, “The Swamp” is the albums’ longest track and it feels it. Initially it competes with “Greet Death” as the album’s strongest track and includes some swirling, psychedelic noise, but suffers from overstaying its welcome by limping along for far too long. A bluesy guitar lick, tambourine, and feedback driven noise sets-up “Asteroid”, a strong, no frills, up-tempo album closer that has an odd, but welcome, sci-fi bent and a main guitar riff quite similar to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”.

From a musical standpoint the album works completely due to the strength of the players and the somewhat filthy production. The riffs are heavy, thick, and raw, and there are enough tempo changes to keep the music interesting. The band’s predilection for the occult may be a turnoff for many listeners, particularly for those who see occult themed doom as being overplayed. The vocals may also be a bit of an obstacle as well. Colca’s voice is unique, but his delivery is even more so, especially when he sings in a conversational style. The biggest misstep perpetrated by Destroyer of Light is the inclusion of death growls that frequent the latter half of the tracks. It simply just doesn’t work.  The growls sound out of place and they really detract from the strength of the tunes. Still, ‘Destroyer of Light’ is a worthwhile, if not flawed release, and worth investigating. The band is still quite young having only formed this year so it will be interesting to see how they develop on future releases.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bow down to the superwizard from outer space: Ancient Warlocks - 'Superwizard' 7"

“…The primary focus is the groove, more than anything, and all of the other ingredients are a response to that. The vocals, the guitar sounds, the whole band's sound, the riffing, all of it…” –Ancient Warlocks Facebook

Seattle, Washington four-piece, Ancient Warlocks, not only admirably live up to their self-professed dedication to the groove, but they do it with a fuzzed-out, sonorous perfection. The ‘Superwizard’ 7” single is an exercise in finding an ideal equilibrium somewhere between feel-good, blissed-out catchiness, and head-nodding, stoner-rock heaviness. Both tunes that comprise this 7” single are able to maintain a steady, mesmerizing groove until ultimately devolving into sluggish instrumental passages dominated by feedback-sopped, exploratory psych-guitar leads.

Side A blasts off with, “Into the Night”, a rollicking, up-tempo charmer so catchy it’s capable of animating a corpse. A mere handful of seconds into the first track and comparisons to Fu Manchu will inevitably come to mind due to both the vocals and the heavy fuzz-laden sound. But whereas Fu Manchu exudes a So-Cal, desert-rock swagger, the Ancient Warlocks inject a serum of 20-sided die stoner-metal of otherworldly proportions straight into the vein. The single’s namesake, “Superwizard”, opens side B with a brief drum intro followed by a catchy low-end rumble, reminiscent of Big Business, that is able to convert non-believers into humble supplicants. While “Superwizard” is arguably heavier than the side A opener, it doesn’t lack in catchiness or groove. It’s everything a song entitled “Superwizard” should be: heavy, hypnotic, and fun.

Make no mistakes about it—Ancient Warlocks have unleashed two tracks suitable to be the soundtrack for your party—no matter your vice. The ‘Superwizard’ 7” is an impressive first physical release and really sets the bar high in terms of expectations. According to the band’s Facebook page they have a full-length album recorded waiting for a release. Hopefully the band is able take their sound further into the stratosphere while continuing to craft memorable, heavy tunes. Check out the band’s website to stream a handful of demo tracks. Fans of Fu Manchu, Big Business, or even early Mudhoney should be able to appreciate Ancient Warlocks’ brand of fuzz-worshipping stomp. Order the second pressing of the 7” straight from the band.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)