Wednesday, December 24, 2014

...taking the third oath of Dagon: Bretus - 'The Shadow over Innsmouth'

Perhaps not as moody, trippy, or inclined to phantasmagoria as many of their fellow countrymen, Italy’s Bretus do not fail to deliver a highly enjoyable, albeit relatively straight-forward doom release that is a worthy successor to the band’s stellar debut, 'In Onirica.' With H.P. Lovecraft serving as the band’s inspiration and patron saint of cosmicism and doom this time around, 'The Shadow over Innsmouth' has an overall darker vibe than 'In Onirica' and also reels in some of the hard rock influences that permeated the debut in favor of a gloomier, more traditional approach. The end result may seem deceptively less dynamic, but 'The Shadow over Innsmouth' is an overall more cohesive album from start to finish with enough subtlety to keep the listener coming back for more.

If anything, 'The Shadow over Innsmouth' proves that Bretus have mastered the art of mid-paced doom. A fair share of inspired and inventive riffs, numerous tempo changes, and the vocals of Marko Veraldi (credited as Zagarus) give Bretus a unique edge that helps to separate them from the horde of like-minded acolytes of traditional doom. These elements couldn’t be any clearer than on the completely gratifying track “Captain Obed Marsh.” Bretus are far from being a “retro” band, but the slightly sinister main riff of “Captain Obed Marsh” is a fist-pumping, adrenalized rocker straight from the early days of heavy metal. Pair this with Veraldi’s deep, slightly gritty croon and a perfectly placed wailing lead guitar, and “Captain Obed Marsh” shines as one of the album’s most infectious tunes.

Though Bretus play it a bit straighter than many of their Italian contemporaries, 'The Shadow over Innsmouth' is embellished with brief atmospheric passages and samples that, to a degree, aid in tying the album’s tracks to the literary themes of Lovecraft, particularly to the tales revolving around Innsmouth and Dagon. “Intro” opens the album and establishes an ominous mood with field recordings of falling rain and crashing thunder, as well as the rise and ebb of distorted notes before “The Curse of Innsmouth” roars from the deep. Likewise, crashing waves and distant chants introduce the tale of the ill-fated patriarch of the Marsh family and founder of the Esoteric Order of Dagon in “Captain Obed Marsh.” A somber, extended acoustic passage effectively introduces “The Oath of Dagon”–a tune that heaves and lurches forward under its own weight before almost coming to complete halt that is bathed in feedback and lumbering drums. The track momentarily regains a semblance of life and the all too brief introduction of synthesizer adds an otherworldly dimension during the last remaining moments of the tune.

Really, the only criticism that could be leveled against Bretus’ 'The Shadow over Innsmouth' is that perhaps the music is not quite creepy or surreal enough in comparison to the subject matter. While that was my initial impression, subsequent spins of the album seem to reveal more layers and the atmospheric touches, though sparse, expose a subtle yet threatening atmosphere lurking just beneath surface. I’ve been anticipating this album since the beginning of the year when the band and other devout followers began to circulate the single “The Haunter of the Dark,” which seemed to indicate that a darker path was underway for the band. 'The Shadow over Innsmouth' does indeed pick up where they left off and the result is one fine doom album.

(Originally published at Heathen Harvest Periodical, Edited by Sage Weatherford)



Saturday, November 1, 2014

…there is no damnation: Atriarch – ‘An Unending Pathway’

‘An Unending Pathway’, the third full-length from Portland, Oregon’s Atriarch, is in strong contention for dreariest album of the year—a dismal, slow-burn exploration of the cyclical elements of life and death and associated themes of decay, loss, the persistence of time, and eventual rebirth. There is an aura of emptiness embedded deep within each of the seven tracks of the album, a melancholic void that is occasionally torn asunder in acts of sonic catharsis.

The compositions of ‘An Unending Pathway’ often crawl along with a restrained intensity that occasionally boils over into blackened blasts of fury. “Revenant” and “Bereavement”, two of the most memorable tunes of the album, are examples of Atriarch at their most dynamic. “Revenant” is a dirge-like hymn celebrating the transcendence of flesh, and devolves from an atmospheric gothic crawl into a torturous death throe. Vocalist Lenny Smith shifts between blackened howls of despair to clean vocals to death growls within the span of a single tune convincingly and with relative ease. “Bereavement” is the most aggressive track of the album and begins with a blackened onslaught before settling into a doomed, lurching crawl.

At just over seven minutes in length “Rot” is probably the track most representative of the album as a whole in terms of overall theme, mood, and instrumentation. It is initially an empty, sparse composition with rhythmic drumming that acts as a backbone allowing the tune to unfold and breathe. The often desolate tune is accompanied by Smith’s whispered musings on the unavoidable decomposition of the living punctuated by louder, more dynamic vocals and heavy, yet sluggish riffs.

‘An Unending Pathway’ is by no means easy listening, but under the right conditions and in the right context it can be a compelling experience. Atriarch, since their inception, have seemed to draw from a variety of influences. ‘An Unending Pathway’, like its predecessors, effectively weaves elements from the darker side of the spectrum of rock and metal. The gothic and post-punk atmospheres of Bauhaus and The Birthday Party are effectively woven into the fibers of black metal and doom for a unique and dismally excellent listening experience. Fans of Neurosis, Minsk, Tombs, or Cardinal Wyrm—along with early eighties post-punk and gothic rock—should find quite a lot to admire in Atriarch’s entire discography.



Sunday, October 26, 2014

…your time has come: NIGHT GAUNT – ‘Night Gaunt’

For at least the past three decades Italy has been a wellspring for some of the finest doom that the genre has to offer. The music is often creative and progressive and can be, at times, even challenging for the uninitiated. Groups like Black Hole, Paul Chain, Requiem, The Black, Bretus, and Doomraiser, just to name a few, have explored the possibilities of doom while leaving an indelible mark on the form. Joining the ranks of this amazing roster is Rome’s Night Gaunt, a band who plays it a bit straighter than many of their contemporaries, but to no less effect.

Night Gaunt’s self-titled debut represents what is best in traditional doom. The somewhat lo-fi production found on ‘Night Gaunt’ does not interfere with the tunes and effectively contributes to the sepulchral atmosphere of the album. The main result is that the guitars come across as gritty and somewhat harsh compared to other traditionalists of the form, but this gives Night Gaunt a unique edge. Guitarist and vocalist Gc has an excellent voice that is slightly buried in the mix. Often sounding like a blend of Peter Murphy and Dawn of Winter’s Gerrit P. Mutz (particularly on album-opener “Persecution”), Gc occasionally adds sinister grunts and an infrequent growl to the proceedings.

A sinister, tomb-like dissonance seems to lurk about on many of the tracks. The intro to “Persecution” is rife with discordant strums before the tune settles into a mid-tempo stagger. Gc ‘s vocal delivery on this track really stands out as he often inflects his voice with a slightly theatrical, yet ominous quaver, a technique that is also effectively used on the closing track, “Acquiescent Grave”.

While lurching riffs and a dank, crypt-like atmosphere bleeds into a majority of the tracks of the album, Night Gaunt is capable of ripping-it-up with some blistering tunes. The one-two punch of the eponymous instrumental, “Night Gaunt”, coupled with the following track, “Black Velvet”, is capable of getting the adrenaline flowing. In addition to just flat-out rocking, “Black Velvet” has some of the album’s most memorable riffs accompanied by devilish vocals and some Sabbathesque swing.

Night Gaunt have unleashed a stellar debut that is dark, dingy, and exemplifies the epitome of doom. Ultimately this is a traditional doom album, but Night Gaunt have pushed their instruments into the red without sounding completely overblown or unlistenable. Fans of Funeral Circle, Dawn of Winter, The Wounded Kings, or even The Grave will find a lot to dig on ‘Night Gaunt’. Hopefully this album will see a physical release in the near future. Killer stuff…



Saturday, October 25, 2014

…fleeing a lifeless vessel: HORSEHUNTER – ‘Caged in Flesh’

A swirling maelstrom of feedback and distortion, monolithic drums, and a seismic low-end rumble is a righteous introduction to Melbourne, Australia’s four-piece doom machine, Horsehunter. The band’s debut, ‘Caged in Flesh’, weighs in heavily on the stoner side of the spectrum while effectively harnessing and reigning in the acerbic savagery of sludge and the rhythmic, hypnotizing behemoth riffs of doom. With four tracks and a runtime that just tops forty minutes ‘Caged in Flesh’ is an epic undertaking, but Horsehunter succeeds by crafting songs that are varied in both structure and tempo.

Perhaps putting their best foot forward with the opener “Stoned to Death”, Horsehunter wages war on the listener with sixteen-and-a-half minutes of amplifier worshipping doom in the vein of Sleep, Demonic Death Judge, Traitors Return to Earth, and, of course, the almighty Sabbath. The tune ebbs and flows between onslaughts of undulating, fuzzed-out riffs of sonic terrorism and psych inflected waves of relative calm. For the most part Horsehunter plays it pretty straight on this track vocally, but later adopts a harsher, sludgier approach on subsequent tracks.

The title track, “Caged in Flesh”, dials in the sludge for a tune that is deceptively less dynamic than the album opener, but no less effective at laying waste through pure, unadulterated aural attrition complete with elephant-killing doses of feedback, wailing invocations of transcendence, cymbal washes, and wounded passages of crawling distortion. But just when the listener is worn down to a nub the bottom falls out and the song shifts gears and kicks into overdrive with a hypnotic groove.

The brief three minute instrumental “Nightfall” acts as an interlude of sorts before the album culminates with “Witchery”, easily the moodiest track of the album. “Witchery” is heavy, ethereal, and at times even caustic—three qualities that bring to mind the cosmic doom practiced by Yob. “Witchery” is an excellent closer as it has an intensity unmatched by any other tune on the album.

As far as debuts go, it doesn’t get much better than what Horsehunter has achieved with ‘Caged in Flesh’. Despite only four tracks the album never grows wearisome or begins to feel like a challenge. The band definitely has a deft hand at knowing when to change things up in order to keep the listener engaged. It will be interesting to see how Horsehunter develops in the future, especially with such an accomplished debut under their belt. A killer album that only gets better through repeated listens.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

…ascending flesh and bone: SERPENT VENOM – ‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’

Serpent Venom’s excellent debut, ‘Carnal Altar’, was a thing of beauty. It was impossibly heavy without completely sacrificing melody. It was often oppressively dark, though given to occasional glimpses of light and, for the most part, it effectively balanced a sluggish crawl with mid-tempo groove. Fast forward three years and not only has Serpent Venom released an admirable follow-up to ‘Carnal Altar’, but they have released one of the finest albums of the year.

‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’ has been highly anticipated here at V.C.A., but this anticipation was also coupled with trepidation due to the departure of guitarist/Hammond organ player Pete Fox. Though the brief atmospheric use of organ is sorely missed on ‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’, the greater worry revolved around the riffs. What would Serpent Venom sound like with soaring heartfelt vocals and a tight, heavy-as-Hell rhythm section…but no riffs? Well, fortunately, that question is a moot point. Roland Scriver does a more than capable job of filling the void. ‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’ is almost a continuation of where the band left off with ‘Carnal Altar’ and is, in many respects, an overall heavier album.

‘Carnal Altar’ beget a handful of stone cold classic tunes with the self-titled lead-off track—the slow build of organ coupled with Sutherland’s intensifying drums and the main riff crashing in kills me every time—“For Walls of Solitude”, a tune that epitomizes doom metal, and the groovy up-tempo swing of “Devilshire”. ‘Carnal Altar’ captured a unique, crypt-like atmosphere that was imprinted on every single tune, a feat that has somewhat eluded ‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’. Despite a shift in atmospheric balance the band’s sophomore effort compensates with a combination of heft and traces of psychedelia that were only hinted at on the debut.

‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’ is a fantastic follow-up to one of Vertical Chamber Apparatus’s favorite albums. Fans of traditional doom, particularly the heavier side of the spectrum, should have no problems gravitating toward ‘Of Thing Seen & Unseen’. Serpent Venom is the total package—great vocals and vocal melodies, weighty bass lines, a drummer who adds depth and propulsion to the tunes and last, but not least, heavy-as-fuck riffs that become embedded in your skull.


Monday, October 13, 2014

…Reino Ermitaño – ‘Conjuros de Poder’

Peruvian witch doom masters Reino Ermitaño have finally released the follow up to 2012’s excellent ‘Veneración del Fuego’ with their fifth album overall, ‘Conjuros de Poder’. Those unfamiliar with the band’s inimitable take on doom-laden heavy music laced with a dose of psychedelia have truly been missing out. Thick creative riffs, uncharacteristic instrumentation, and enchanting vocal melodies are at the forefront and help elevate the band’s entire discography to an entirely different plane.

‘Conjuros de Poder’ is another worthy addition to the band’s catalogue and while it may not be quite as immediate or as instantaneously gratifying as their previous efforts, particularly ‘Veneración del Fuego’, it is an album of subtle complexities and nuances. ‘Conjuros de Poder’ is a darker, more somber album than what the band has previously recorded.

Despite the overall gloominess of Reino Ermitaño’s latest the album still retains the magic found on earlier releases. “Ancestral” puts the spotlight squarely on bassist Marcos Coifman and drummer Julio "Ñaca" Almeida. Coifman unleashes some of his catchiest basslines to date and Almeida’s busy drum work help to both anchor and propel the song onward. Coifman really lets loose toward the end of the song to stellar effect. ‘Conjuros de Poder’ marks the second album recorded with guitarist Eloy Arturo and his presence has been a welcome addition. The band’s music has never sounded heavier, but Arturo is also able to accent his guitar work with subtle hooks and trippy atmospherics.

Rivalling the band’s unique instrumental style is the bewitching vocals of Tania Duarte who, on this recording, generally sounds angrier and even maniacal at times. The layered vocals found on “Calendula” for example are both sinister and transcendent. Not only is Duarte’s voice perfect for the band’s music, but she also adds an infections element to the songs by creating memorable vocal melodies that also act as hooks.

‘Conjuros de Poder’ finds Reino Ermitaño continuing down a spiraling path of doom that is well worth the journey due to the band’s creative and complex compositions. “Kali”, a tune that would have fit in well amongst the tracks of ‘Veneración del Fuego’, finds the band incorporating sitar for what is one of the standout tracks of the album. “Kali” has the feel of an extended epic jam, but at three-and-a-half minutes it ends way too soon. Despite the brevity “Kali” brings some of the album’s heaviest riffs and features some of Arturo’s best leads.

Reino Ermitaño have created another sonic masterpiece in ‘Conjuros de Poder’. Each track is imbibed with a mystical energy that few other bands are able to match. Though ‘Conjuros de Poder’ is generally a gloomier album than what the band has released in the past it still manages to enrapture the listener, particularly on the straight-forward rocker “Abraxas” or the emotional slow-burner “En mi Mente” which, in an odd way, brings to mind echoes of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”. Another excellent release from Lima, Peru’s Reino Ermitaño. The band has yet to take a misstep. Highly recommended…


Friday, October 10, 2014

…say you love Satan: ELECTRIC WIZARD – ‘Time to Die’

Before getting started we need to establish a precedent. Up to this point I think Electric Wizard’s ‘Black Masses’ is easily the best thing the band has released. It’s dark, murky, and completely and totally acid-damaged beyond repair. The album has maintained a replay value around these parts that is only rivalled by their more traditional sounding debut. Not to diminish or detract from the band’s previous accomplishments, but this is simply where my head’s at.

The release of ‘Black Masses’ saw the band garnering their most mixed reviews for an album since the nail-in-the-coffin ‘Let Us Prey’, the release that ushered in the demise of the “classic” lineup. So where would they go next? Bringing Mark Greening back (briefly) into the fold was a brilliant move considering the exalted place that ‘Come My Fanatics’ and ‘Dopethrone’ holds for many Electric Wizard and doom fans. But if it has not been painfully obvious from the band’s early days, Jus Oborn seems too have no intention of releasing the same album twice. This has become even more apparent since teaming up with Liz Buckingham and their ever-revolving cast of drummers and bassists. After the release of ‘We Live’ the band has made some sharp adjustments to their sound, particularly in the production department—a trend that continues with ‘Time to Die’. The album takes the boggy, lo-fi garage rock sound of ‘Black Masses’ and pulls it deeper into the mud.

‘Time to Die’ may fail to match ‘Dopethrone’ in terms of overall heaviness or anger, but it easily eclipses their earlier accomplishments with pure unadulterated hate and pharmacological excess. With inspiration drawn from Ricky Kasso’s murder of Gary Lauwers, among other influences, ‘Time to Die’ empathetically construes psychosis and drug addled rage. For the first time Electric Wizard has truly succeeded in concocting a soundtrack that matches the seedy, exploitative underbelly of society that is embraced and championed by the band.

Without a doubt the album is front loaded. “Incense for the Damned” begins with the sound of rushing water, ominous organ, and Greening fading in from behind the kit overlaid with sound bites related to the Kasso murder case. Distortion begins to roar, Jus bellows, and the song falls into a head-nodding sinister groove. Despite being slightly buried in the mix, Greening’s busy drumming is a propulsive driving force for the tune, particularly when the song implodes and ultimately loses its form in a disjointed crawl before ultimately reincorporating.

“I Am Nothing” easily stands as a crowning achievement amidst the band’s vast collection of tunes and even rivals the sheer heaviness of anything on “Come My Fanatics” or “Dopethrone”. The tune is centered on a simple, yet menacingly simple cluster of notes that seem to sickeningly lurch and reel. When not invoking madness the tune exemplifies the epitome of heavy with a pummeling main riff and plenty of feedback and swirling noise. Again, Greening is in top form as his drumming seems to ebb and flow from within the whirlwind of howling distortion.

Despite presenting some of the band’s most unique and menacing tunes haphazardly enveloped in a psychotropic induced psychosis, ‘Time to Die’ is a bit long in the tooth. “SadioWitch” is a killer tune, but pretty much is a reworked version of “Black Mass”. “Funeral of Your Mind” is somewhat of a sonic mess that sounds more like a long lost Comets on Fire tune than what Electric Wizard is traditionally known for which could good or bad depending on your mood or state. Regardless of the album’s runtime and the presence of a few revisited riffs ‘Time to Die’ is worth the admission for the first four tracks alone.

To be honest I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by this album like I have been. Following the release of ‘Black Masses’ I imagined that the band would shift their sound in a completely different direction. Instead, they seem to be continuing a trajectory that is taking them further into a hate filled, murky abyss that embraces the darkest side of psychedelia and human nature. Tastefully placed organ and mellotron scattered throughout the album are excellent atmospherics touches. The band lays it on a bit thick with the sound bites, but this does not prevent the album from standing out as one of the year’s best. But, if you’ve written off the Wizard following the release of ‘Witchcult Today’ and especially ‘Black Masses’, then there might not be a whole lot here for you.



Thursday, October 9, 2014

…the Morning Star descending: Lucifer’s Fall – ‘S/T'

Potentially the most “traditional” sounding doom album to be released this year belongs to Lucifer’s Fall—an offshoot of Adelaide, Australia’s amazing doom outfit, Rote Mare. The band’s self-titled debut is not a complete stylistic shift from what Phil Howlett has produced in the past with Rote Mare, either in the band’s earliest incarnation as a solo project or as a fully realized metal band. Howlett’s vocals and distinctive riffs betray a complete departure. Despite the stylistic similarities Lucifer’s Fall finds Howlett delivering an overall cleaner vocal delivery and, occasionally, even belting out some over-the-top banshee wails to maximum effect.

The seven tracks of ‘Lucifer’s Fall’ have an authentic, old school feel that draws equally from the conventions of both doom metal and traditional heavy metal. Howlett, credited as Deceiver, and Rote Mare drummer Ben Dodunski, known on this recording as Unknown Unnamed, prove that in addition to perfecting a dreary snail-paced crawl, that they are also masters of mid-tempo metal. The end result is a selection of tunes that remain unmistakably doom while eliciting a fist-pumping, head-banging response—an approach to doom metal, in spirit, that they share with Maryland’s mighty Iron Man.

What really stands out on this album is the lead guitar playing of Howlett. While it may not be a virtuoso performance of technical shredding it never fails to remain creative and melodic. Howlett manages to hit the right note at the right time and with the right tone. The opening notes of album standout “The Suffering Wizard” are nothing short of sublime. It is a lazy, melodic intro that is—at the same time—razor sharp, not too dissimilar from many of Jerry Fogle’s standout leads on Cirith Ungol’s first three albums.

While the bulk of the album resides comfortably in the mid-tempo range, there are a couple of faster paced tunes to get the blood pumping. The near-instrumental “The Summoning” is a scorcher with propulsive drumming, galloping riffs, and occasional interjections of the song’s title as the tune’s only lyrics. “Unknown Unnamed”, despite the drawn out, languid intro is also imbibed with a fair share of adrenaline.

Executed without pretense, ‘Lucifer’s Fall’ is a terrific album that should appease fans of doom metal and old school metal alike. While comparisons to Rote Mare are inevitable and not completely unfounded Lucifer’s Fall is irrevocably its own beast. Hopefully Howlett will return to his work with Rote Mare and continue to further develop Lucifer’s Fall. Both bands are highly recommended.



Sunday, August 10, 2014

…travelling new dimensions: FELLWOODS – ‘Gyromancer’ EP

Straight from the year 2037 via interdimensional portal comes Fellwoods’ mini space opera, ‘Gyromancer’—a blistering four track EP that finds the Portland, Oregon foursome at the top of their game. The band’s full-length debut, ‘Wulfram’, has been a favorite of mine for quite a while, especially on long summer road trips into the mountains, but ‘Gyromancer’ finds the quartet meddling in quantum mechanics and channeling frequencies from a whole other universe. The progression is nothing short amazing. The ‘Gyromancer’ EP is loaded with wailing dual guitars and killer riffs that are catapulted beyond the stratosphere with drumming that packs the kick and momentum of a rocket’s engine. Complement these elements with tales that reach beyond the known universe with Adam Burke’s distinctive nasally delivery and a progressive hard rock groove that gets seared into your brain and we have one of the year’s most smokin’ releases.

Opening the EP is ‘Interdimensional Grid’, a slab of evil sounding proto-metal that smolders red hot from start to finish. The mood is set with groovy drums, rumba shakers and even some cow bell for good measure before the bass swells and choppy, dueling guitars settle in for one of the coolest album-openers of the year. Everything about this tune is perfect, but the propulsive drumming and screeching guitar leads really kick this track up to the next level. The title track, “Gyromancer”, is another up-tempo scorcher that includes one of the coolest and catchiest choruses of the EP.

“Dark Horn”, the longest track at almost 7 minutes, is a journey in and of itself that tells the tale of humanity’s darkest hour. A beautiful, yet haunting guitar harmony kicks off the track before the song settles into a slow groove that is occasionally accented with what sounds like mellotron. Tempo changes, dreamy soundscapes, and an emotive denouement makes “Dark Horn” one of the most fascinating songs of the EP. Closing out ‘Gyromancer’ is “Destroyer”, a tune which boasts an intro that sounds as if the band recruited Joey Santiago to play the opening guitar. “Destroyer” is probably the most menacing of the lot, particularly due to the sporadic use of organ in unison to the closest thing that the band plays to doom. The latter half of the tune simply shreds and squealing guitar noise ultimately peals out into outer space.

Fellwoods’ ‘Gyromancer’ EP is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders. It’s adventurous, textured, and reverential without sounding stale or insincere. Every moment of the mini album is sonically engaging and is a step up from what the band had crafted on their mind-blowingly stellar debut. ‘Gyromancer’ is, up to this point, the finest EP of the year even though technically it was briefly available to stream last year. The band wanted to master it and tighten up the mix and there was also talk of a vinyl release through Svart Records. Hopefully that will still come to fruition. Fans of guitar driven hard rock that is both exploratory and progressive will be blown away by ‘Gyromancer’. Looking forward to where this band goes next…



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Live Report: SUBROSA w/ DREADNOUGHT and WAYFARER, Denver, Co

Regrettably we were late getting to the Marquis Theater for a variety of reasons, but hordes of people milling about LoDo on a Saturday evening combined with the wave of masses spilling forth from Coors Field post-Rockies game didn’t really help matters much. Despite being late we were able to catch a couple of tunes from Denver’s own Wayfarer, a band that I’ve been meaning to catch live and the first of two bands with a connection to the excellent blackened doom quintet Stoic Dissention. Their self-proclaimed “Music for Mountains” is an apt description for their atmospheric brand of blackened post-metal. Hoping to catch a full set from these guys in the future as I was really digging what I heard. A great way to lead things off for SubRosa.

The progressive-minded Dreadnought, a band also connected to Stoic Dissention, gave a killer performance that was both eclectic and intriguing. Occasional use of flute and mandolin tastefully embellished their set with folky atmospherics that were often counterbalanced with crashing waves of distortion and blackened vocals. Aside from the unconventional instrumentation the band also heavily relies on keyboards and clean vocal harmonies to further their sonic explorations. Definitely a band to check out, particularly if you are interested in creative, yet challenging tunes.

Let me just start of by saying that SubRosa did not disappoint—they were heavier than on any of their albums and Rebecca Vernon’s guitar tone was simply killer and her voice sounded amazing. With that said, it was initially disappointing that Sarah Pendleton was absent from the show. The disappointment quickly faded because the band delivered on all fronts and I can only surmise that the absence of Pendleton’s violin and vocals simply dialed back the atmospherics a degree. While the band mostly played songs from ‘More Constant Than the Gods’ (Review HERE) they really killed it with “Beneath the Crown” from 2011’s ‘No Help for the Mighty Ones’.

Other set highlights included “Fat of the Ram” and “Affliction” which sounded particularly surreal and warped courtesy of Kim Pack’s violin picking. “Ghosts of a Dead Empire” was particularly moving—mostly due Vernon’s voice and vocal melodies toward the end of the song. SubRosa ended the night with “The Usher” which found Kim providing the counterpoint to Rebecca’s mournful vocals. Based on their performance I can’t wait to catch them again in October with In the Company of Serpents and Neurosis.

SubRosa Homepage

SubRosa Facebook

SubRosa Bandcamp

Dreadnought Facebook

Dreadnought Bandcamp

Wayfarer Facebook

Wayfarer Bandcamp

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

…appearing to the frightened as an angel of death: CARDINAL WYRM – ‘Black Hole Gods’

One of the most unique albums to be released this year that is rooted in the traditional doom mold belongs to Bay Area end-of-day seers Cardinal Wyrm. ‘Black Hole Gods’, the band’s second full-length, is an oppressive and oftentimes dissonant affair that finds the trio not only dabbling in the hallowed rites of doom metal, but also plaiting a majority of the tracks with elements of sludge and occasional gothic textures.

Perhaps the most divisive factor in regards to the music of Cardinal Wyrm revolves around the vocals of singer/drummer Pranjal Tiwari whose deep, authoritative bellows are reminiscent of the vocals found in Reverend Bizarre, The Wandering Midget, or even Atomic Cries. Though there are similarities in vocal tone Tiwari’s delivery has an ominous, almost blindly fanatical resonance appropriate for prophesying cataclysmic events or keeping one’s sheep-like followers enthralled. When the occasion arises Tiwari can be quite expressive, accenting his delivery with rasps and death-growls, and his vocal melodies are often responsible for many of the songs hooks. Album standout “Born in a Barren Land”, despite the groove, blistering leads and overall catchiness, is driven primarily by Tiwari’s vocal melodies and emphasis on sibilants midway through the track. The four-minute long wind-down—where groove turns to wounded crawl—is nothing short of brilliant.

The brief “Warden of the Swans” is probably the most distinctive tune amongst the collection and breaks the album up nicely. The simple repetitive use of organ adds an ominous overtone to the song that is accented by Tiwari’s surreal, mystical musings. “I am the Doorway”, another album highlight, builds slowly with a dissonant beauty that is suggestive, in tone, of Joy Division. Accompanied by a rising tide of tribal drums “I am the Doorway” eventually erupts into a heaving monster of track. Periodic sound bites, killer riffs, and some of the album’s most memorable basslines make this track truly standout.

‘Black Hole Gods’, at its heart, is essentially a doom album that is filtered through various influences. Minimal and tasteful use of synth and organ adds a depth and ambience that sets the album apart from their debut, ‘Another Holy Trinity’. Moments of goth-rock, sludge, punk, and death-doom are perceptible to different degrees, yet are always fleeting. The chant-like primitivism of opener “Deep Within”, the melancholy organ driven hymnal “Warden of the Swans”, and the synth accented repetitive rocker “Cult of the Coiled Spine” sees Cardinal Wyrm pushing their creativity into new and interesting directions. Those who have checked out the band’s debut and have liked what they’ve heard will totally dig ‘Black Hole Gods’—kickass doom that walks a precarious tightrope while balancing melodicism and dissonance.



Sunday, July 20, 2014

…the end of days is nigh: MONOLORD – ‘Empress Rising’

Sweden’s Monolord have the distinction of releasing one of the year’s heaviest albums to date, a feat rivalled only by Conan’s sophomore full-length ‘Blood Eagle’ and a select handful of others. While heavy is often a subjective term Monolord’s heft is a tangible phenomenon derived from a subterranean bass rumble capable of producing seismic waves even when bass EQ levels are negative. Not only are the basslines heavy as a trudging mammoth, but they are mesmerizingly catchy. With immeasurable amounts of fuzz in tow ‘Empress Rising’ revels in its stoner-doom groove where the slightest alterations and disturbances to the patterns can be perceived as minor, mind-expanding tumults.

Probably the most dynamic track of the lot is the eponymous album-opener “Empress Rising”, a tune that made quite an impression as it made the rounds through all the appropriate channels prior to the album’s release. Like a rising tide the spacey guitar intro and distant feedback builds to a crescendo that is eventually engulfed by a distorted wave of riffs. It’s the perfect way to kick-off the jam. While they are extremely different in execution good points of reference for Monolord’s modus operandi would be Electric Wizard in any of its incarnations or even Monster Magnet from their Glitterhouse Records or ‘Spine of God’ days.

Though “Empress Rising” may be the album’s strongest track, the four tunes that follow are far from disappointing. The instrumental “Audhumbla” may just have the catchiest main riff of any track on the album while displaying great rhythm section swing. Album closer “Watchers of the Waste” is easily the most downtrodden track of the album but also boasts some fantastic drumming and a memorable feedback drenched breakdown. The remainder of the album plays out with subtle variations on a theme—a theme rife with dopesmoke and despair—without veering very far from a well-tread, yet highly effective, formula.

‘Empress Rising’ is a beautifully produced album that effectively balances heft and clarity to maximum effect. The spacey vocals are perfectly mixed into the background while still remaining clear and audible. Though the vocals sound slightly distant it leaves the listener’s focus on the riffs. As with all of their releases RidingEasy Records has done a stellar putting together a fantastic product with excellent sound and equally impressive packaging. Monolord’s impressive debut is no exception. Vinyl is still available from the RidingEasy Records webstore…

Monolord Facebook

Monolord Bandcamp

RidingEasy Records

Saturday, July 19, 2014

...ICE DRAGON/SPACE MUSHROOM FUZZ – ‘Crystal Future’ Split

With a continual gain in altitude Boston’s Ice Dragon have been ascending along a creative trajectory that has miraculously shown no signs of losing momentum. Not only has the band produced a vast amount of material in the past few years, but they have done so with nary a misstep. For their latest release Ice Dragon have teamed-up with like-minded freak-out psychedelic cosmic rockers Space Mushroom Fuzz for the ‘Crystal Future’ split. Their collective DIY work ethic, geographical proximity, and penchant for crafting mind-bending sonic tapestries makes for one hell of a complementary split release.

Ice Dragon kicks things off with “New Blue Horizon”, a reverb-and-delay-drenched bliss-out that is poised to burn through the exosphere and into the cold void of space. Pedal-abused interstellar noise and undulating bass-lines are accented by Ron’s vocals and some great spaced-out leads. After hearing this tune and their last single, “Demons From Hell”, it’ll be interesting to see where their heads are at on the next album. Following “New Blue Horizon” is the brief atmospheric instrumental “Slowly We All (Into the Bottle) Fall”, though reportedly recorded around the time of the ‘Tome of the Future Ancients’ sessions the track fits perfectly with “New Blue Horizon” by acting as a melancholic come-down.

Similar in tone yet different in execution is Space Mushroom Fuzz’s “A Peak Into the Future”. Rather than depending on otherworldly distorted noise, Space Mushroom Fuzz produces narcotizing effects with enveloping synth waves, acoustic guitar, and ethereal vocals. The cold, isolating currents that carry the listener downstream are occasionally accented with emotive electric guitar leads and swirling eddies of synth noise. The delightfully weird “A Timely Idea” closes out the split release and functions similarly to Ice Dragon’s brief, atmospheric track, though “A Timely Idea” is accompanied by an indiscernible vocal rhythm. The most immediate point of reference for Space Mushroom Fuzz’s contributions would be, among others, Granddady—particularly the detached psychedelia of ‘The Sophtware Slump’.

The ‘Crystal Future’ split is a tremendous pairing of two seemingly likeminded bands. Ice Dragon and Space Mushroom Fuzz, though on different pages sonically, heave each crafted laidback, heavy-psych tunes perfect for altered states of consciousness or floating aimlessly through space. One of the year’s finest split releases.

Ice Dragon Facebook

Ice Dragon Bandcamp

Space Mushroom Fuzz Facebook

Space Mushroom Fuzz Bandcamp

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

…soaring high for all time: EGYPT – ‘Egypt’ EP

Egypt’s stellar self-titled demo-turned-EP has had a long and varied history since its inception and subsequent limited release in 2008. With the latest incarnation of the EP impressively packaged and released courtesy of Doomentia Records there is no better time to revisit what can only be hailed as a near perfect debut. With only four tracks and a runtime at just over the thirty minute mark ‘Egypt’ is the end result of band that, whether they felt it at the time or not, matched a focused, singular vision with creativity and a fine-tuned compositional craftsmanship. Throughout the four tracks the trio skillfully balances their collective stylistic influences resulting in a seamless marriage of heavy blues, stoner, doom, and hard rock.

“Valley of the Kings” opens the EP and still, to this day, remains one of the finest tracks that the band has penned. Lackadaisical lead guitar and cymbal washes get things moving before Aaron Esterby’s pulsating basslines uncoil and intertwine in serpentine fashion amongst the drums and bluesy guitar licks and heavy riffs. Similar to other tracks of the EP “Valley of the Kings” incrementally builds in intensity and effortlessly covers wide expanses of stylistic ground eventually burning out as an up-tempo rocker—seven-and-a-half minutes of pure bliss. The second track, “Queen of All Time (Red Giant)”, begins inconspicuously enough with a prolonged, mesmerizing passage of bass and drums accented with a rising tide of feedback. Esterby’s vocals, initially soulful, match the cascading riffs with a commanding presence. The latter half of the track is reminiscent of much of the material found on Sleep’s ‘Holy Mountain’ including Esterby’s vocal cadence, though his delivery is more powerful than anything Cisneros has ever laid to tape.

The latter half of the EP finds Egypt shifting gears with “Dirty Witch”, a driving, sun-scorched hard rocker that, based on the first half of the tune, wouldn’t sound out of place on R.L. Burnside’s ‘Mr. Wizard’. Like every track of the EP “Dirty Witch” is subject to stylistic changes and things briefly get spaced-out and doomy before settling into a blues-based crawl. Beautifully closing out the EP is “Touch Ground”, a track that initially alternates serene, blissed-out passages with weightier riffs that tumble into a hefty groove accented with Sabbath-inspired diversions. The perfect way to bring things to an end.

Egypt’s self-titled debut is a high water mark for heavy blues inspired stoner metal. Not only are the stylistic changes effortless, but the band keeps things interesting by including elements of doom and psychedelia played out at a variety of tempos. There is a reason that the EP has been kept in print in one form or another. While the band currently is out of stock ‘Egypt’—available in four different colorways—can be ordered directly from Doomentia Records.

Egypt Facebook

Egypt Bandcamp

Doomentia Records Facebook

Doomentia Records Home

Sunday, July 13, 2014

…beyond the walls of doom: JOHN GALLOW – ‘Violet Dreams’

Surreal, cinematic atmospherics coupled with traditional doom riff wizardry and meandering leads are at the forefront of John Gallo’s (Blizaro, Orodruin) deceptively schizophrenic and reverentially titled solo debut ‘Violet Dreams’. As with the career spanning release of Blizaro’s excellent ‘Strange Doorways’ (review HERE), Italy’s I, Voidhanger Records are once again unleashing the digital and physical release. With a slight twist on his own name John Gallow’s ‘Violet Dreams’ sonically has more in common with ‘Strange Doorways’ opposed to ‘City of the Living Nightmare’ and stands even further from his seminal work with Orodruin.

While Gallo proudly wears his influences on his sleeve and would probably be the first person to volunteer his inspirations and influences those facts do not overshadow or diminish the overall effect of ‘Violet Dreams’ or his work with Blizaro. Even though there are a few contemporary bands such as Northwinds or Crowned in Earth who truly stand apart from the herd by incorporating progressive elements into their sound none of them are able to quite evoke the claustrophobic madness, unearthly soundscapes, and old-school doom atmospherics that Gallo manages to capture—a feat that he accomplishes without coming across as hackneyed or insincere. ‘Violet Dreams’ is nothing short of mesmerizing from start to finish.

Production-wise the album has an almost distant, monochromatic feel that is not too dissimilar from Candlemass’s ‘Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’, an album that also stands as a good point of reference (among many) for unravelling the mysteries of ‘Violet Dreams’, though ‘From the 13th Sun’ would not be too far from the mark either. ‘Violet Dreams’ opens with two of the heaviest tracks to be found on the album, “Entrance to the Unknown” and “Dark Traveller”. “Entrance to the Unknown” flat out smokes with a chunky groove, blistering leads, and ghostly moans before things start to get weird. Gallo effectively and tastefully matches riffs with well-placed keyboard flourishes for an overall disorienting vibe. Where “Entrance to the Unknown” ultimately takes the listener on a journey through surreal soundscapes the much shorter “Dark Traveller” goes almost exclusively for the jugular with its head-banging groove.

‘Violet Dreams’ is a twisted, spiraling trip through realms both familiar and obscure and “Purple Room” effortlessly delves into both. Not only does it stand as one of the most warped tracks of the album, but it also features some of the album’s catchiest basslines and spectral wails from the beyond. The emotive and unique “Turn Sides”, another album highlight, is punctuated by some truly excellent riffs that really shine on the latter half of the track before keyboards eventually rise and wash over the remainder of the tune bringing it to its conclusion. Despite all of the album’s inherent weirdness “Beam of Light”, the album closer, is stylistically the most anomalous of the entire collection. Doom, for the most part, takes a backseat in favor of simple, heart-rending guitar strums as Gallo assumes the role of a demented crooner for possibly the most interesting tune of the lot.

Fans of Blizaro, particularly of the ‘Strange Doorways’ collection, will find that ‘Violet Dreams’ offers the same unique re-envisioning of a multitude of influences filtered through what can only be called Gallo’s genius. While there are scores of bands mining the past for inspiration there are few who plumb the depths or farthest reaches as thoroughly and genuinely as Gallo seems to do. ‘Violet Dreams’ is not the heaviest album of the year, nor is it trying to be, but it will by year’s end undoubtedly stand as one of the most unique and labyrinthine albums to be released. Highly recommended for fans of doom, old school horror, and for those who like it when shit gets weird…

John Gallow Facebook

I, Voidhanger Records

I, Voidhanger Records Bandcamp

Saturday, July 12, 2014

…from void to void: THE SCIMITAR – ‘Doomsayer’

Whether it is a reincarnation, a reimagining, or simply an off-shoot project only time will tell, but The Scimitar’s aptly titled debut, ‘Doomsayer’, picks up where the Darryl Shepard incarnation of Black Pyramid left off. With low-end destroying Black Pyramid bandmate Dave Gein in tow and Brian Banfield on drums the trio have crafted a collection of tunes that, intentional or not, revolves around themes of detachment, false beliefs, and paranoia. Back this up with Shepard’s killer guitar tone and a tight, pummeling rhythm section and you end up with one of the best surprises of the year.

With seven tracks and a runtime at just over the thirty-minute mark ‘Doomsayer’ is a compact and focused release that has a surprising amount of variation including three instrumentals and a cover of Motorhead’s “Metropolis” that actually makes the original sound laid-back or even lethargic. The band’s take of “Metropolis” is spot-on—it’s aggressive, heavy, and faithful while having enough personality to stand on its own. Shepard also nails the vocals which, over the span of the album, display an impressive amount of versatility and character that wavers from gritty snarl to defiant bellows to occasional straight-forward “clean” singing.

Though ‘Doomsayer’ is unrelenting from start-to-finish, that isn’t to say that there aren’t some stand-out moments. Album opener “The Taker” is a battle cry declaring The Scimitar’s ascension. Shepard’s snarl is at its most acerbic and Gein’s pulsating basslines are among his catchiest. “The Taker” is a belligerent beast that ultimately slows to a doomed crawl. “Void Traveller” finds the band really displaying their chops with some Sabbath-inspired swing and, midway through the tune, some spacy guitar explorations held aloft by Gein and Banfield. “Crucifer”, another album highlight, is the perfect closer. By far the longest, and arguably heaviest track, “Crucifer” is an unrelenting behemoth that nears the nine minute mark. Heft, moments of speed, and virtuosity collide with what sounds like the trio simply jamming out brings ‘Doomsayer’ to its conclusion.

Right or wrong, Black Pyramid often draw comparisons to High on Fire—a comparison that The Scimitar probably won’t completely shirk either. While ‘Doomsayer’ fires on all cylinders with aggression—save for the brief acoustic instrumental “Attrition”—much of the album is rooted in doom metal and includes trippy passages that bring to mind Curse the Son’s masterpiece ‘Psychache’. While ‘Doomsayer’ is currently available on The Scimitar’s Bandcamp page the album is getting the vinyl treatment through Hydro-Phonic Records. Don’t hesitate to pull the trigger as this is one of the year’s finest…



Hydro-Phonic Records Store

Saturday, June 21, 2014

…bring forth the hammers: CONAN – ‘Blood Eagle’

If felling giants is the name-of-the-game then there are worse soundtracks for the deed than Conan’s mighty third full-length, ‘Blood Eagle’. The UK doom brutes continue to wage war on the listener with a hypnotic low-end rumble capable of shaking even the most fortified battlements to their very foundation. Though the band has not veered too far from the formula established on their debut EP, ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’, with its seismic bass reverberations, equally down-tuned guitars, and dual barbaric battle cries—‘Blood Eagle’ still manages to up-the-ante by furthering Conan’s refinement of their self-proclaimed “Caveman Battle Doom”.

Initially, the most striking aspect of ‘Blood Eagle’ is that the album, overall, has a greater depth and degree of groove when compared to both ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’ and 2012’s excellent ‘Monnos’ an element which is brutally obvious on standout tracks like “Total Conquest” and “Horns for Teeth”. “Total Conquest” begins with a trippy, otherworldly flanged-out guitar before settling into a primitive head-nodding lurch with an occasional onslaught of riffs that seems to share a strand of DNA with moments of High on Fire’s rawest and most primeval effort ‘The Art of Self Defense”. “Horns for Teeth” is, from start to finish, a churning maelstrom of earth-rending distortion and apocalyptic admonitions suitable for crushing the weak and subjugating one’s enemies.

Those already familiar with Conan’s heavier-than-thou brand of doom metal should pretty much know what to expect with their third full-length, though that is not to say that the band has stalled, regressed, or have even repeated themselves. With ‘Blood Eagle’ Conan continues to hone the sound pioneered on ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’ and subsequently refined on ‘Monnos’ and their splits with Slomatics and Bongripper into a sonic instrument of doom to be both feared and respected. Prepare to vanquish your enemies…

Home Page



Big Cartel

Saturday, May 31, 2014

…dreaming of salvation: PILGRIM – ‘II: Void Worship’

Those lucky enough to catch the reunited Spirit Caravan on their recent trek through the states not only stood witness to an unbelievable show at the hands of Wino, Sherman, and replacement drummer Henry Vasquez, but those in attendance were also able to catch an impressive set from Rhode Island traditional doom practitioners Pilgrim. Despite initial complaints of blowing out his voice by the time they hit Denver, Jon “The Wizard” Rossi rendered a sublime and emotional performance that more than adequately captured the heavy, desolate atmosphere of the band’s sophomore album ‘II: Void Worship’. While the band’s debut, ‘Misery Wizard’, was a more-than-capable initial outing ‘II: Void Worship’ surpasses its predecessor in every conceivable way. Graced with amazing and complementary cover art courtesy of Adam Burke (Fellwoods, Pushy), ‘II: Void Worship’ is a twisted journey through uncharted realms fraught with madness and despair as recompense for the attainment of forbidden knowledge and mastery of the arcane tongue.

Pilgrim are fully entrenched in the traditional doom mold—lumbering riffs, plodding drums, and tales of woe are abundant, but the band has managed to carve out their own sound courtesy of excellent compositions, fantastical imagery, and The Wizard’s unmistakable croon. The eight tracks of ‘II: Void Worship’—four of which are instrumentals—do not fall prey to monotony. The instrumentals contribute to the album’s overall desolate feel and the remaining four tracks, despite an average runtime near the eight minute mark, never feel bloated or overlong. Album highlight “Master’s Chamber”, despite the initial belabored riffing, is a sprawling ten-minute masterpiece that incorporates numerous tempo changes and shifts in tone while featuring some of The Wizard’s most heart-rending vocals to date, particularly on the letter half of the track.

As if to answer the epic scope of “Master’s Chamber”, Pilgrim unleashes a heavy, up-tempo burner with “The Paladin”, a straight forward rocker that shows the band is equally adept at crafting heavy, downtrodden tunes as they are at rocking-the-fuck-out when the need arises. “The Paladin” definitely stands out amongst the band’s material, and it is a shame that they do not venture into this territory more often. The leads simply sizzle and Krolg Splinterfist’s drumming has never sounded so propulsive. The album’s title track, “Void Worship”, may stand as Pilgrim’s crowning achievement thus far. Combining the band’s mastery of plodding tempos with some truly inspired leads accompanied by the occasional discordant riff has yielded a nine minute beast of a tune. While “Void Worship” does not have the expansive feel of “Master’s Chamber” it manages to entrance the listener in its hypnotic spell.

It is always an impressive feat when a band can top a debut that is exceptional to begin with and Pilgrim have managed to do just that. ‘II: Void Worship’ is primarily a somber affair, but the band has definitely grown since their initial outing and have incorporated additional textures into their compositions which has resulted in one of the strongest doom albums of the year. Hail Astaroth...



Thursday, May 29, 2014

…finding the elder ghost: ANCIENT WARLOCKS – ‘Ancient Warlocks’

Thick impenetrable riffs, thunderous grooves, and trippy atmospheric leads are the key components to the type of euphoria-inducing black magic that Seattle, Washington’s Ancient Warlocks practice. First coming to notice with their ‘Superwizard’ 7” (review HERE) the band has re-recorded both “Superwizard” and “Into the Night”, along with a handful of other tunes, for their debut self-titled album. With a runtime of just over thirty minutes ‘Ancient Warlocks’ is a nonstop, fuzzed-out assault of heavy vibes and feel-good, bleary-eyed stoner rock.

Perhaps the most noticeable element to Ancient Warlocks’ music—as first evidenced on the ‘Superwizard’ 7” and perfected on their full-length debut—is an unmistakable, heavy-as-an-avalanche guitar tone capable of sweeping away both the unsuspecting and those bracing for impact. While it is hard to deny that “Super Wizard” and “Into the Night”, though previously released, are two of the album’s standout tracks the remaining six tunes are well-crafted, nod-inducing blasts of stoner rock goodness. The final track, “Sorcerer’s Magician”, is a particularly strong album closer that holds its weight among the other album highlights by combining the brief suggestion of doom with a bluesy swagger and classic rock jamming.

For the collectors out there who were not fortunate enough to land a copy of the first pressing of ‘Ancient Warlocks’ through Lay Bare Recordings good news is right around the corner. STB Records is about to offer up a domestic pressing of Ancient Warlocks’ self-titled LP and, as expected, Steve STB is looking to outdo himself with this release. Not only has STB Records put out consistently great tunes with equally great packaging, but the die-hard editions of the latest will include a warlock cloak featuring the art of W. Ralph Walters. That’s right…a motherfuckin’ warlock cloak. Prepare to don the cloak, crack open a cold one, and smoke yourself senseless amidst a torrential downpour of fuzzed-out riffs.

Ancient Warlocks Facebook

Ancient Warlocks Bandcamp

STB Records Facebook

STB Records Shop

Sunday, May 25, 2014

…THE SKULL – “Sometime Yesterday Mourning c/w The Last Judgment”

With a finger on the pulse of the days of yore and a gaze fixed toward the future The Skull have resurrected the unique, introspective doom-laden sound of classic era Trouble. After a string of pioneering releases between 1984 and 1990 Trouble, for better or worse, went off in a new direction. While the 90’s albums ‘Manic Frustration’ and ‘Plastic Green Head’ included some undeniably killer tracks, the magic of their first four releases seemed to be a thing of the past. Enter: The Skull.

Though Trouble’s ‘Run to the Light’ and their self-titled fourth album were masterpieces in their own right, The Skull have—based on their single “Sometime Yesterday Mourning c/w The Last Judgment”—picked up where Trouble’s sophomore outing, ‘The Skull’, left off. Original Trouble members (and arguably pivotal personnel) Eric Wagner and Jeff “Oly” Olson, along with alumnus Ron Holzner have managed to rekindle the magic and spirit of classic Trouble with the aid of Lothar Keller and Michael Carpenter.

Enlisting veteran engineer Billy Anderson for the recording of their first single has paid off in a major way. “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” is slightly muddy, surprisingly heavy, and definitely would not sound out of place on either ‘Psalm 9’ or ‘The Skull’. Perhaps the main difference in sound stems from Eric Wagner’s voice which has somewhat weathered and deepened. The band, in a nod to the past, has also re-recorded Trouble’s contribution to the 1983 ‘Metal Massacre IV’ compilation album. While it would have been great to get two new tracks, The Skull does not miss a beat with “The Last Judgment”.

If anything “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” proves that The Skull are the real deal and not just a nostalgia act. To top it off, they kill it live. Since the release of “Sometime Yesterday Mourning c/w The Last Judgment” guitarist (and former Trouble bassist) Chuck Robinson briefly replaced Michael Carpenter before amicably departing ways with The Skull. In his stead the band has, in a masterstroke of genius, recruited former Pentagram guitarist Matt Goldsborough. Goldsborough did a fantastic job filling in for Victor Griffin and he probably would have breathed new life into Pentagram following the capable, yet lackluster, ‘Last Rites’.

While Trouble’s ‘The Distortion Field’ was a fine album, it’s clear that Franklin and Wartell have little interest in revisiting the sound of days long past. Not only are The Skull willing to look to the past, but they are also interested in continuing and further developing a creative trajectory that has, in the minds of many fans, ended too soon. If “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” is an adequate representation of where the band’s collective heads are at both creatively and compositionally then their forthcoming album is going to be one to look out for. Get your copy of the single HERE.

The Skull Home


Saturday, May 24, 2014

…because I am twisted…because I am sick: BLOOD FARMERS – ‘Headless Eyes’

Blood Farmers are back! Despite almost a two decade long gap between releases New York’s peddlers of noisy, horror-themed doom have managed to top both their amazing self-titled debut and excellent 1991 demo, ‘Permanent Brain Damage’, with the long awaited ‘Headless Eyes’. Drawing influence from the cult 1971 film of the same name—particularly the album’s art direction and the title track—‘Headless Eyes’ is ultimately more subdued than their previous efforts and the album is all the stronger for it. The six tracks of their latest are more expansive than anything the band has previously released and the compositions, though still heavy and twisted, untangle and unfurl into new and horrific territories.

The opening track, “Gut Shot”, is about as strong of an album-opener as one could hope for complete with a memorably classic build-up. Swells of feedback are punctuated by sloth-like drums and heavy, lurching riffs. Tortured bellows are replaced by maniacal laughs before a razor sharp lead capable of cutting glass carves its way into the din. Initially a lurching beast “Gut Shot” eventually gains momentum resulting in a weighty, snail-like groove. A definite album highlight.

The title track, “Headless Eyes”, draws its inspiration directly from the cult film of the same name. Eli Brown’s vocals echo the depraved and psychotic musings of Arthur Malcolm, a perverse individual with a penchant for killing women and carving out their eyes with a spoon. The song ebbs and flows between softer psychedelic segments anchored by the rhythm section accompanied by wah pedal accented guitar and roaring passages of distortion. Despite the near eleven minute runtime “Headless Eyes” is neither bloated nor tedious. There are enough changes in tempo to keep things interesting and, as if in homage to the masters, the band injects the tune with an upbeat blast of shredding that is akin to the last couple of minutes of “War Pigs”.

Stellar drumming, great vocals, and inventive riffs and amazing leads with killer guitar tone are nothing new for Blood Farmers, but the band has clearly matured and the resulting six compositions are some of the best tunes released this year. ‘Headless Eyes’ is perhaps the band’s most “traditional” sounding doom album to date, but it manages to match hooks with heft while still opening the doors to other dimensions. The instrumental “Night of the Sorcerers” tastefully incorporates synths resulting in a slightly creepy, prog-rock influenced jam suitable for inclusion on a 70’s Italian horror film soundtrack. Fans of Goblin or Blizaro will find a lot to dig on this track. Not content to end the experimentation there, the band close out the album with “The Road Leads to Nowhere”, a poignant cover of David Hess’ “Wait for the Rain”.

Hopefully it will not be another decade before we hear from Blood Farmers again, let alone two, as the band have clearly crafted a contender for album-of-the-year. ‘Headless Eyes’ is as addictive as it is heavy. Hopefully there will be an upcoming vinyl release around the corner. In the meantime, order ‘Headless Eyes’ directly from the band HERE.

Blood Farmers Home

Monday, February 10, 2014

…death is not a fearful thing: HAAST’S EAGLED – ‘Haast’s Eagled’

Released toward the end of 2013, Haast’s Eagled’s self-titled debut is one of the most refreshing and somber albums in recent memory to come down the pike. Aided by an impenetrably thick, yet crystalline production job ‘Haast’s Eagled’ is a sweeping, atmospheric journey that is epic in scope due to the band’s success in combining loud and quiet dynamics to optimal effect. With only four tracks and a runtime reaching toward the forty minute mark the band has plenty of time, within each individual tune, to engage the listener by intertwining subtle instrumental nuances—most notably delicate, acoustic passages—amongst a barrage of heavy and hypnotic riffs. Add to this formula the occasional use of growled vocals, incidentally some of the most tasteful and successful to grace a doom album in the traditional vein, resulting in an extremely well-crafted and mature debut.

Opening strongly with “The Viking”, Haast’s Eagled immediately displays an aptitude for establishing a subdued, melancholy mood by utilizing a progressive, slow-build burn consisting of crackling needle on vinyl, distant rolls of thunder, and gentle piano and bass. Though the song’s intro is brief, it effectively sets the tone for the duration of the album. At the minute-and-a-half mark the bottom falls out and the guitars, drums, and bass come crashing in and immediately settle into a mid-paced groove. Both growled and clean vocals are used to establish a dichotomy within the song wavering between primitive barbarism and an emotive placidity.

The second track, “The Eye of God”, arises from the ashes of “The Viking’s” fading feedback. Beginning with Celtic influenced classical guitar, “The Eye God” eases into a brief, yet dreamy soundscape. Where “The Viking” hinted at loud and quiet dynamics, “The Eye of God” perfects it. Gentle, downhearted acoustic passages—held aloft with fluid basslines and prodding drums—are knotted with heavier, cavernous blasts of crushing distortion and, again, a mix of clean and growled vocals. “The Eye of God” is a killer track that invokes moments of The Flight of Sleipnir and even, at times, Pink Floyd.

The final tracks, “Tracking the Footsteps of Goliath” and “Cruithne Tide”, are instrumental tunes totaling seventeen minutes—half the album’s runtime. “Tracking the Footsteps of Goliath”, the shorter of the two, is an unsettling, lumbering tune punctuated by sound bites from the Jonestown “death tape”. “Cruithne Tide”, the twelve-and-a-half minute album-closer, fluctuates between sobering passages of soft instrumentation that eventually collapse beneath the weight of heavier riffs and, eventually, changes in tempo and trippy, psychedelic leads.

Haast’s Eagled seemingly came out of nowhere with their excellent, self-titled debut. The four tracks of ‘Haast’s Eagled’ are undeniably rooted in traditional doom, but the band has also created a unique and cohesive atmosphere through their use of varied instrumentation and dynamic song structures. The band has also announced that ‘Haast’s Eagled’ will see a physical release through Senseless Life Records, as will their follow-up release. Based on the strength of their debut—here’s looking forward to the band’s continued evolution and next release…

Haast's Eagled Facebook

Haast's Eagled Bandcamp

Senseless Life Records Homepage

Senseless Life Records Facebook

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

…release your head from the world: SAINT VITUS – ‘Die Healing’

Arguably one of the greatest doom bands of all time, Saint Vitus have crafted an unsurpassable body of work that effortlessly combines themes of horror, madness, and ruination, with an added dose of grimy psychedelia resulting in a potent, singular style of doom that is both timeless and unique. And while there is no denying that a major component of Saint Vitus’ sound stems from the hypnotic riffs and demented, abusive leads of Dave Chandler, the contributions of the other members of the band cannot be minimized or overlooked. After all, Mark Adams is responsible for some of the most memorable, doomiest basslines ever laid to tape, and the languorous drumming of Armando Acosta helped many-a-tune lope towards its conclusion with a barbarian heft or, occasionally, with a sporadic blast of punkish fury. Following the untimely passing of Acosta, the addition of Henry Vasquez behind the kit brought a new element to the band on 2012’s excellent ‘Lillie: F-65’. Vasquez not only proved to be a worthy successor to the vacant throne previously occupied by Acosta in terms of bludgeoning heaviness, but he also brought a percussive groove that was only hinted at on previous albums.

Even though each and every member of the band is responsible—through the contributions of their constituent parts—for making Saint Vitus the reigning kings of downtrodden doom, the band has had no shortage of stellar vocal performances. Over the span of several releases Saint Vitus has seemingly done the impossible by enlisting and integrating three distinct vocal personalities into their sound with great success. Following a three album tenure from Scott “Wino” Weinrich, the band produced the often ignored, underrated classic ‘C.O.D.’ (review HERE) with Christian “Chritus” Linderson—also re-released through Season of Mist. While ‘C.O.D.’ was regarded as a failure by many, the departure of Linderson seemed to signal the end of the band. Chandler and co. rallied to create what was to be—at the time—the band’s swan song, ‘Die Healing’, which completed the circle by bringing original vocalist Scott Reagers back into the fold.

Originally released in 1995, ‘Die Healing’ stands as the band’s crowning achievement—an impressive accomplishment when compared to the strength of the band’s discography, where every release is a classic in its own right. Not only had the band crafted their doomiest, most expansive release to date, but they had also found the perfect sound engineer in Harris Johns. Though there is no denying that the band’s earlier sound, particularly on the initial Reagers-era releases, can be partially attributed to a primitive production job, ‘Die Healing’ is light years ahead in terms of clarity and heft while still retaining a richness and warmth that is characteristic of all Vitus releases. Finally, and with Reagers in tow, the band had crafted an undeniable masterpiece.

‘Die Healing’ opens strongly with the tracks “Dark World” and “One Mind”, each of which could have been handled gracefully and effectively with either Weinrich or Linderson behind the mic, but Reagers’ over-the-top intonation elevates the songs to a level of doom that had been missing from Vitus’ music for nearly a decade. “Dark World”, in particular, shines with its thick, Sabbathy riffs, Chandler’s maniacal lead guitar abuse, and the theatrical, often sinister vocals of Reagers. It is four-and-a-half minutes of doomed perfection. At the center of the album lurks the “Sloth”, one of the greatest doom anthems of all time next to “Burial at Sea” from the band’s 1984 self-titled debut. “Sloth” is a crawling, slow-motion apocalyptic descent into absurdity and madness. When Reagers sings, “Can you feel the evil / can you hear the wail / the sound of destiny / sharpening its nails” it’s difficult not to smirk and shudder at the same time. Perhaps due to the return of Reagers the band gives a reverential nod to the past with “Return of the Zombie”, another crawling masterpiece that finds Chandler in top form as he channels noise and distortion from another dimension. “Return of the Zombie” also finds the vocals of Reagers heavily laden with effects which also continues on the following track “In the Asylum” making each of these tunes distinct within the Vitus discography.

For the duration of the near fifty minute runtime of ‘Die Healing’ Saint Vitus pile classic riff upon classic riff accompanied with wailing protestations strangled from Chandler’s guitar. Acosta and Adams, one of the most distinctive rhythm units in doom, deliver a stand-out performance on each and every track. It is the contributions from every member of the band and the subsequent chilling, crypt-like atmosphere that has made ‘Die Healing’ an indelible classic. Saint Vitus are in a realm all their own, and the return of Scott Reagers coupled with an inspired production job courtesy of Harris Johns have yielded one of the greatest doom metal albums of all time—an album that has been out of print for too long. Thankfully Season of Mist has stepped up and re-released this out-of-print classic on CD and LP along with the underappreciated predecessor ‘C.O.D.’. Live to doom, doom to live…

Saint Vitus Homepage

Saint Vitus Facebook

Season of Mist

Thursday, January 30, 2014

…I hope you meet your end: ICE DRAGON - ‘Dead Friends and Angry Lovers’

Originally released under the moniker of Slow Heart, ‘Dead Friends and Angry Lovers’ has now been absorbed into the vast, ever-expansive catalogue of Ice Dragon—probably where it belonged in the first place. This review is being reposted to hopefully draw some well-deserved attention to a killer release that may have flown under the radar…

Boston’s genre-hopping three-piece, Ice Dragon, released one of the most compelling, tripped-out doom metal albums of 2012 with their excellent fourth full-length ‘Tome of the Future Ancients’. Seemingly not content to tread the same path twice, the band has pushed their collective sonic palettes into drone, 60’s psychedelia inspired dream-pop, and kraut-rock influenced freak-out territories among others. When not recording as Ice Dragon, the band has also assumed the identity of Tentacle—a dark, acerbic doom/drone/sludge abomination that worships at the altar of Cthulhu. Not to leave any stone unturned, the band—recording as Slow Heart—has bypassed the space-time continuum and released ‘Dead Friends and Angry Lovers’, a moody, reverential collection of tunes that would be right at home on an 80’s college rock radio station played amongst Bauhaus, The Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, or The Birthday Party. This may not be the doom metal or psychedelic rock that Ice Dragon has become synonymous with, but the five tracks that comprise ‘Dead Friends and Angry Lovers’ are a collection of atmospheric, sparse compositions that channel the best of 80’s post-punk and goth-rock.

“We Want the Night” opens the album with a gentle drumbeat alternating steadily between snare and bass before the heavily reverbed lead guitar protests dreamily in the background. Lead vocalist Ron Rochondo has further developed vocally by assuming a croon that falls somewhere between the sonorous, deep baritone singing voices of Nick Cave and Andrew Eldritch. “We Want the Night” establishes the mood for the rest of the album through its barren, minimalist composition that runs like a vein through three of the remaining four tracks. “Alone and Red” veers slightly from the minimalist goth-rock tendencies of “We Want the Night” in favor of an orchestral drone. This second track adds a meditative texture to ‘Dead Friends and Angry Lovers’ and serves as a foil to the remaining spectral compositions. “Never Trust a Woman (Dressed in Black)” is, musically, the best song that Echo and the Bunnymen never recorded provided said Bunnymen were on a steady diet of downers and didn’t give a fuck of whether they sold an album or not. “Die Tonight” is the soundtrack for a torturous descent into a personal abyss. The repetitive, haunting two notes played on the keyboard drives the anguish straight into the skull. ‘Dead Friends and Angry Lovers’ ends with the instrumental track “11:54pm (Waiting on Midnight)”. While this fifth track fits in well and remains consistent with the album as a whole, it could just as easily be a long lost Portishead demo minus the trip-hop tendencies.

In the absence of Ice Dragon or Tentacle I’ll take Slow Heart any day. Ron, Joe, and Carter have nailed it by drawing inspiration from late 70’s/early 80’s goth-rock and post-punk to create an album that transcends both the scene and era that influenced it. Ice Dragon’s fifth full-length, ‘Dream Dragon’, found the trio experimenting with lighter, psychedelic rock with much success, but ‘greyblackfalconhawk’ and now Slow Heart’s ‘Dead Friends and Angry Lovers’ confirms that Ron, Joe, and Carter are more than proficient at creating dark, atmospheric tunes seemingly on a whim. Here’s looking forward to more Slow Heart Ice Dragon in the future...



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

…earthmen on a fabulous, peril-journey into outer space: SLOMATICS – ‘Estron’

Cataclysmic in scope and tumultuous in execution, Slomatics are about to drop their fourth full-length, ‘Estron’, the follow-up to their stellar 2012 down-tuned masterpiece, ‘A Hocht’. In terms of sheer mass and amplitude, Slomatics inhabit and reign over a kingdom all their own—a kingdom subjected to whirlwinds of swirling noise, destructive upheaval of seismic reverberations, and a percussive storm at the hands of a howling tyrant from within the eye of the storm. ‘Estron’ is a worthy heir to the throne that was won and occupied by ‘A Hocht’ (review HERE).

This time around the Belfast three-piece has incrementally reigned in some of their atmospheric aural experiments—particularly the instrumentals—in favor of a more straight-forward, bludgeoning sonic assault resulting in a completely immersive and hypnotic listening experience. The album opens with the feint sound of a whirling wind blowing over a desolate alien landscape before beginning its battering with “Troglorite”. The album’s first track is a monolithic slab of interstellar doom—the military field music of an alien invasion.

“Tunnel Dragger”, one of the strongest tracks of the album, features the band’s signature rumbling guitar tone and is, at times, reminiscent of ‘A Hocht’s’ “Flame On”. Though there are moments where the riffs sound a bit similar, “Tunnel Dragger” distinguishes itself with its compelling, cacophonic vocal melodies and a spacey lull of percussion and extraterrestrial noise. Killer, spaced-out weirdness grows in intensity after the tune finally roars back to life.

Coming from the Conan school of inner core-dwelling guitar tone is the album’s excellently titled fourth track, “Lost Punisher”. Truly a lumbering, brutish beast of a track producing some of Slomatics’ most earth-quaking, low-end rumbles. Not only do the riffs issue forth as if they were entombed in the center of the Earth, but so do the slightly muffled and distorted vocals.

Hearkening back to the atmospheric elements of ‘A Hocht’ are the closing tracks of “Red Dawn” and “The Carpenter”. “Red Dawn” is a dread-inducing instrumental of piano and interplanetary interference that builds up to, and ultimately morphs into, “The Carpenter”. The ominous build-up turns into a sludgy crawl for one of the band’s longest tracks to date. “The Carpenter” is a heavy, slow-moving tune with the planetary mass of a derelict satellite floating through space.

Slomatics have once again delivered and, based on the strengths of ‘Conan Vs. Slomatics’, ‘A Hocht’, and ‘The Future Past’ single (review HERE), expectations were through the roof. The seven tracks of ‘Estron’ are interconnected and bleed into each other for what could be, essentially, a near forty minute trip through the outermost reaches of the galaxy. The band has continued to push their sound and their extremes while managing to remain as heavy, if not heavier, than most of their down-tuned contemporaries. While it would be difficult to claim that ‘Estron’ is in any way superior to the masterpiece that was ‘A Hocht”, it easy to say that it is just as good. Out soon on Head Of Crom Records. 'Estron’ is essential listening…

Slomatics Homepage

Slomatics Facebook

Slomatics Bandcamp

Head Of Crom Records