Friday, September 28, 2012

Ice Dragon – ‘greyblackfalconhawk’

Ice Dragon is here to ruin your day. The Boston, Massachusetts trio has spawned no less than three full-length albums—four if you include the release of their previously recorded self-titled debut—and a couple of split 7”s within the short span of seven months. Beginning with the self-titled debut and continuing with both ‘Dream Dragon’ and ‘greyblackfalconhawk’, Ice Dragon has evolved from their psych-heavy doom sound into a band willing to indulge their whims without sacrificing their identity or overall essence. There is no mistaking an Ice Dragon release for anything other than an Ice Dragon release.

Referring to the band’s albums by year is almost an exercise in futility at this point. So, if July’s ‘Dream Dragon’ was the feel good, blissed-out summer album of the year, then September’s ‘greyblackfalconhawk’ is the grim, rainy-day flipside to that coin. Long gone are the Summer of Love influences that graced tunes like “Dreamliner” or “Stumble Onto Magic” and absent is the baroque-pop homage of “Every Little Star” and “A Dragon’s Dream, Part I” in favor of a darker hypnotic approach that is wrought with an air of discontented introspection.

‘greyblackfalconhawk’ isn’t the band’s most immediate or accessible release, but it is probably their most singular and consistent full-length in regards to overall atmosphere. This is meditative doom for the downtrodden, a sentiment best exemplified by the album’s second track “takeitallaway”, a claustrophobic anthem of suffering and release. Down-tuned, electric bass drone, occasional acoustic guitar strums, and wailing vocals march this melancholy dirge toward its conclusion. The second half of the track is accented by a shift in drumming dynamics and the chorus lamentation of “takeitallaway”. The end result is a trance-inducing tune of subtle dynamics.

Even though the album induces an overall mood of paranoia and desperation through its combination of ambient textures, droning guitars, and discordant tones, there are still moments of poignant tenderness. “everythingisawaste”, one of the shortest tracks on the album, stands out as a sliver of light amidst the shadows for its delicate, heartrending instrumentation and vocal delivery. Despite its subdued simplicity “everythingisawaste” stands as one of Ice Dragon’s most memorable tunes and shines as an album highlight.

While the band has slightly strayed from the sound of their first three proper releases, they have not completely abandoned the world of doom, but rather have found new ways to channel and express their shadowy arts. ‘greyblackfalconhawk’ may take some time to fully appreciate, but the elements that make every other Ice Dragon release so memorable are still present, it’s just that these alchemists have adjusted the potency and balance of their ingredients. The album is currently available for purchase on the band’s Bandcamp page. Do yourself a favor: download a copy and listen to it while dwelling on missed opportunities and the wrongs that you have committed…

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)


Friday, September 21, 2012

These are the blackest of times: Apostle of Solitude – ‘Demo 2012’

Few bands can effectively mine misery and heartache with such woeful proficiency as Indianapolis, Indiana’s Apostle of Solitude. In preparation for the band’s third full-length, the revised lineup—now including Steve Janiak of Devil to Pay on guitar and multi-band alumnus Bob Fouts on bass—has recorded a three song demo conspicuously titled ‘Demo 2012’. Despite the lineup changes the overall mission and approach has remained the same. Chuck Brown’s unique, emotive vocals are still at the forefront as the band doles out a potentially lethal cocktail of crushing traditional doom, hard rock, and metal. If anything, the lineup change has focused and fine-tuned the band’s sound.

‘Demo 2012’ opens with “Blackest of Times”, one of the strongest tracks ever penned by the band. The song’s slow build can be attributed to a lone, lumbering doom riff that is eventually joined in unison by a second, overlapping riff, and Corey Webb’s hard-hitting percussion. The song’s intro isn’t overly long before it storms into a mid-paced groove that is highlighted by some heavy-as-Sabbath doom riffs, catchy lead guitar, and propulsive drumming. “Blackest of Times” doesn’t merely march to its end, but rather it launches into an up-tempo, head-banging metallic gallop before its conclusion. The second track, “Die Vicar Die”, comes crashing in, but eventually puts on the brakes. The majority of the track is slower than the demo opener and Chuck’s vocals really carry the weight of the tune. It’s not all snail-paced doom and gloom as the song builds in intensity and similar to “Blackest of Times” the song breaks into an up-tempo burner before returning to the chorus and ultimate conclusion. “Good Riddance” closes out the demo and returns to the doom metal chug intimated by “Blackest of Times”. “Good Riddance”, like the rest of the demo, really stands up to anything in Apostle of Solitude’s catalogue.

‘Demo 2012’ is a powerful statement from one of doom metal’s most unique bands. The addition of new members has not drastically changed Apostle of Solitude’s overall sound, but has seemed to result in heavier songs with more complexity. The band continues its cathartic examination of human existence by plumbing the depths of despair and uncertainty while crafting memorable tunes. The production of ‘Demo 2012’ is excellent and the release could easily be marketed and sold as an EP. Based on the strength of this demo Apostle of Solitude’s impending third release could result in the band’s heaviest and memorable album to date. As a teaser ‘Demo 2012’ has effectively built suspense and their newest release is highly anticipated. The limited run of CDs has sold out some time ago, but the demo is streaming on the band’s Bandcamp page and Sarlacc Productions is planning a limited run cassette release with download code. Highly recommended.

Words: Steve Miller
(Originally published at Doommantia)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Figures in black will reign supreme: Bedemon’s ‘Symphony of Shadows’

Disappointment is nothing more than dashed expectations. While 2012 has been a killer year for doom releases, there have still been a handful of high profile albums that have not lived up to expectations primarily due to sharp shifts in songwriting, production, or overall modus operandi. Enter Bedemon, a recording project that has existed primarily as a curiosity due to its affiliation and shared personnel with Bobby Leibling’s doom revanent, Pentagram. To be honest, when I heard that Bedemon’s ‘Symphony of Shadows’—an album at least ten years in the making—was finally going to see the light of day my anticipation level was less than zero. The ‘Child of Darkness’ recordings were an oddity of excellent, albeit incomplete ideas that were hopelessly marred, as many basement recording projects are, by terribly thin production. Another factor complicating the completion and ultimate release of ‘Symphony of Shadows’ was the untimely death of Bedemon’s doom visionary and head guru, Randy Palmer. Surviving members Geof O’Keefe, Mike Matthews, and new vocalist Craig Junghandel were left to pick up the pieces, build on Randy’s ideas, and finish the album while trying to remain true to the spirit of Bedemon and their deceased friend. What could have easily of ended up as a disaster has in fact turned into one of the best surprises of the year. Regardless of Pentagram/Bedemon history, ‘Symphony of Shadows’ stands on its own as one of the strongest releases of the year primarily due to its seamless mix of old school doom, hard rock, and punk.

Album opener “Saviour” is a dark meditation on the abuse of power, the spoiling of innocence, and the ultimate aberrance associated with modern day religion, particularly the Catholic Church. What could have merely been a straight-forward rocker is accented and darkened with chorus chants, superb lead playing courtesy of O’Keefe, and a diabolical vocal delivery of Junghandel. Musically the following track “Lord of Desolation” is doomier than the album opener and the track is really carried along by Matthews’ bass playing and the occasional gong crash while providing the album’s most memorable mantra “Figures in black will reign supreme/No one wakes from this infernal dream” delivered by Junghandel in a sinister whisper. “Son of Darkness”, arguably the strongest track on the album, is an up-tempo doom masterpiece that channels the best of ‘Master of Reality’ era Sabbath without resorting to mere emulation. In the album’s liner notes O’Keefe claims that “Son of Darkness” is the ultimate collaborative effort of the band members and it shows by highlighting the individual talents of every member.

“The Plague” slows things down a bit compared to the energy of “Son of Darkness”, but the song is no less effective in grabbing the listener’s attention. Again, Matthews’ bass playing really carriers the tune along with some atmospheric guitar strums and blistering guitar leads to close out the tune. “D.E.D” falls on the hard rock end of the spectrum compared to a majority of the tracks on ‘Symphony of Shadows”. While it wouldn’t be fair to call “D.E.D.” filler material, it simply doesn’t have the impact as the rest of the tracks on the album. If “D.E.D.” is the album’s weak spot, “Kill You Now” is the ill-fitting bastard child that somehow manages to work. While the tune isn’t nearly as hard-hitting or raw as “Search and Destroy”, it does seem to channel the best of Iggy and the Stooges with its lyrics, punk-inspired riffing, and handclaps.  After the detour of “D.E.D.” and “Kill You Now” the album returns to the realm of doom with “Godless”, another solid slab of doom-tinged hard rock as is the following track, “Hopeless”. Album closer “Eternally Unhuman” aptly closes out the album for its last two minutes alone. The repetitive recitation of “Nothing will ever be the same” accompanied by screams as the music fades out is nothing short of chilling.

It’s difficult to say how ‘Symphony of Shadows’ would have sounded with the continual involvement of Randy Palmer to its ultimate conclusion, but it would be hard to imagine that he could possibly be disappointed with the finished product as completed under the supervision and care of his bandmates and friends. ‘Symphony of Shadows’ is a welcome surprise with its grim lyrical content, chants, doom riffs, and tremendous bass playing. Despite the mix of doom, rock, and punk, each one of these tracks are stamped with a distinct, infectious, unifying sound. It’s sad to know that Randy’s genius is lost to the music world, but this collection of songs—finished posthumously—is an admirable legacy. Based on the strength of all of the players it is hoped that these musicians will continue on, in some form, to bestow their brand of doom metal on their fans.

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

(the) Melvins – ‘the bulls & the bees’ EP

Workhorse, freak-metal traffickers (the) Melvins can be depended on for two things. First off, they reliably churn out new full lengths and EPs annually or, at the very least, on a biennial basis. Secondly, they bring the weird—seemingly never satisfied to repeat themselves and fiercely opposed to indulging expectations. Well, at least up to the release of 2006’s excellent ‘(A) Senile Animal’. It’s not that ‘Nude with Boots’ and ‘The Bride Screamed Murder’ were necessarily bad albums, but not since the Melvins/Big Business amalgamation has the band retained such a familiar sound over the span of multiple releases.

Approaching ‘the bulls & the bees’ EP I would have been surprised if I wasn’t surprised. The first two tracks “The War on Wisdom” and “We are Doomed” certainly didn’t startle. I’ll be clear: these definitely aren’t bad tunes. In fact, they are probably the two greatest tracks that weren’t on ‘(A) Senile Animal’—which is a welcome return to sound after the classic rock indulgent ‘Nude with Boots’ and slightly uneven ‘The Bride Screamed Murder’. Dale Crover and Coady Willis don’t fail to pummel the listener with their twin drum attack—one of the highlights of latter day Melvins. Probably the biggest contributing factor to the Melvins’ current sound is the dual shared vocals of Buzz Osborne and bassist Jared Warren which is all over these first tracks.

“Friends Before Larry” brings some of the weird that made ‘Hostile Ambient Takeover’ such a rewarding trip. The wind wails, a muffled buzzsaw rips, and a tortured soul bellows before the drums kick in and the feedback squalls. The song is drenched in sinister synths that wash out and bury the vocals in the mix. It’s a noisy affair that marches too soon to its conclusion. Three songs deep and my mind is finally blown.

The synths die down and the wind continues to blow segueing into the film score appropriate “A Really Long Wait”. Tortured strings begin to cry out. For thirty seconds the song emanates the cinematic flair of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but instead of a spoken word diatribe against the evils of capitalism and the post-industrial world hymnal vocals mournfully wail. The solemnity of “A Really Long Wait” is impressive as it may be the most emotionally wrought tune ever composed by the band.

The EP closer, “National Hamster”, rivals “Friends Before Larry” as the standout track due to some hook heavy lead guitar and Beatles-esque backing vocals which may sound out of place on a Melvins track, but they fit just right. It just goes to show that the band seemingly never fails to have a trick or two stuffed up their collective sleeves.

‘the bulls & the bees’ EP may not be the freak-out departure that a segment of fans have been wishing for, but it’s a solid effort and is a testament to the creativity and staying power of a band that is pushing 30 years of existence. Few acts, past or present, can make such a claim. Oh, did I mention this EP is free? Download it free from Scion Audio Visual.

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

Melvins Website

Melvins Facebook

Melvins Scion Audio Visual

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reino Ermitaño – ‘Veneración del Fuego’

Consistencey is one thing, but it’s a rarity when a band is able to continuously top itself over the span of multiple releases. Peru’s Reino Ermitaño are one such beast and have released not only their finest album to date, ‘Veneración del Fuego’, but they have released an album that should—provided that it’s not criminally overlooked—trudge its way to the top of many year end lists.

For the uninitiated, Reino Ermitaño practice a heavy, raw, groove-laden form of psychedelic doom that is as unique as it is infectious. Much of the album’s catchiness can be attributed to not only solid songwriting, but to the killer riffing and guitar tone courtesy of newcomer, Eloy Arturo, and the engaging vocal melodies of Tania Duarte who is somehow able to elevate her vocal performances with each successive release. For non-Spanish speakers the fact that Duarte sings in her native Spanish is not problematic and serves to accentuate her voice, the vocal melodies, and contributes deeper to the mystical aura of the album as a whole.

Production-wise the album is near flawless and each instrument is clear, distinct, and mixed perfectly. The guitars roar with a gritty tone while riding atop the thunderous heft of Marcos Coifman’s basslines. While Reino Ermitaño has always been experimental, the band has further broadened their musical palette by incorporating even more instruments into their repertoire such as Andean harp—an essential element for the quieter moments of album standout “Sangre India”—Moog synthesizer, flute, and violin, among others. The band’s masterful inclusion of atypical instrumentation not only separates the band from the herd, but it also serves to firmly establish their identity as a uniquely Peruvian doom band.

‘Veneración del Fuego’ is a solid album from beginning to end and each track is a beguiling, atmospheric journey. Despite the consistent, high quality songwriting, “Sangre India” stands out above the rest of the tracks as an album highlight by containing not only the album’s heaviest and catchiest moments, but also some of the most serene moments as well. When the song is in full swing the bass pulses and the drums really drive the song forward under the spell of Tania’s bewitching vocals.

2012 has stood witness to essential releases from two unique, female-fronted doom bands, first with Uzala’s excellent self-titled debut and subsequent ‘Cataract/Death Masque’ single, and now Reino Ermitaño’s ‘Veneración del Fuego’. All of Reino Ermitaño’s releases are highly recommended, but the band has surpassed all of their previous efforts with ‘Veneración del Fuego’. Highly recommended and essential listening…

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