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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

…like liquid diamonds fall: YOB – ‘Catharsis’

With stunning, more suitable cover art courtesy of Aaron Edge, Yob’s seminal, long out-of-print masterpiece, ‘Catharsis’, is once again available to the masses complete with a fine-tuned remastering job at the hands of Tad Doyle from the depths of his Witch Ape Studio, thus reuniting the Lumbar trio. Where Yob’s debut, ‘Elaborations of Carbon’, was an instantly gratifying slab of psychedelic doom orbiting the Earth from amidst the exosphere, ‘Catharsis’ achieved the impossible by pushing the band’s sound into the aether and beyond the confines of interplanetary space.

Uncompromisingly heavy and cosmically spacey, the trio of Mike Scheidt, Isamu Sato, and Gabe Morley have, from the band’s inception, redefined and explored the possibilities of doom and psychedelic metal. Despite a couple of lineup changes from within the band’s rhythm section beginning with the release of their third album, ‘The Illusion of Motion’, Yob has—under the sage-like guidance of Scheidt—continued to expand their sound and push the boundaries of heavy music. And though Yob has carved out an unmistakable and indelible sonic “fingerprint” due to Scheidt’s unique vocals and riffs, each and every release has an essence of its own, and ‘Catharsis’ in particular seems to resonate strongly with many.

With only three tracks and a runtime near the fifty minute mark, ‘Catharsis’ is an abomination not restricted to the earthly confines of space and time. Each song is a sprawling journey suffused with tempo and tonal fluctuations keeping the tunes both wholly immersive and undeniably immediate while additionally providing the illusion of brevity. Simply put: ‘Catharsis’ is an engaging listen from the initial feint percussive notes provided by Morley on album-opener “Aeons” to the demoniac shrieks and wails of Scheidt during the closing frenzy of the title-track, “Catharsis”.

And while a reissue of ‘Catharsis’ has been long overdue, a remastered edition, at first, seems unnecessary. That is…until you press play. Though the effect is not completely obvious or overwhelming, a cursory comparison reveals a greater degree of clarity which ultimately enhances the overall listening experience. With Tad’s masterful production contributions notably established with the recording of two of the year’s best albums, Uzala’s ‘Tales of Blood & Fire’ and portions of Lumbar’s ‘The First and Last Days of Unwelcome’, it should come as no surprise that the man brings a sonic lucidity to the proceedings without sacrificing heft in the least. Pick up the cd from Profound Lore Records or, if you’re a vinyl junky, preorder the upcoming vinyl release from Relapse Records. Highly essential…



Profound Lore

Relapse Records

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

…architects of your demise: TRAITORS RETURN TO EARTH – ‘Betting on a Full Collapse’

It’s always refreshing when a band is able to create and shape their music within the confines of a given genre while transcending conventions by including a variety of influences. Ohio’s Traitors Return to Earth are one such band. While listening to their full-length debut, ‘Betting on a Full Collapse’, it’s clear that their main agenda is to lay waste to anything and everything in their path. To accomplish this the band has instilled their debut with a heavy dose of acerbic, down-tuned heft in the blown-out vein of sludge godfathers Eyehategod, with additional metal and noise influences stemming from the heavy underground of the 90’s to the present.

Over the seven track span of ‘Betting on a Full Collapse’ the listener will be subjected to moments of déjà vu—sounds that fire neuronal synapses recalling and hinting at greats both past and present. The album opener, “Human Drone”, for example, is a staggering, stutter-step slab of sludge that is occasionally imbued with angular riffs recalling Duane Denison’s work with The Jesus Lizard or, to a lesser extent, Steve Albini’s scratchy guitar work in Shellac—a sound that also rears its head on the third track, ‘Wall Street Swan Dive.’

Genealogically speaking, it’s almost impossible to ignore the bloodlines that were firmly established in Birmingham, England in the late 60’s that have continued, like a capillary network, to branch out and influence almost every dimension of heavy music to this day. The shadow of Black Sabbath can’t be ignored on the whole of ‘Betting on a Full Collapse’ but is profoundly felt on the second track, “EHM”. The sluggish, swaying groove of “EHM” is not too dissimilar from the main riff of “Electric Funeral”, but it remains filthier and overblown. Despite the similarity to the Sabbath classic, “EHM” is its own angry beast and features some trippy, atmospheric lead guitar work on the latter half of the song.

At the midpoint of the album stands “The Hollow”, Traitors Return to Earth’s most potent statement. While the majority of ‘Betting on a Full Collapse’ is prone to the throaty, tortured vocals common to sludge, the vocals of “The Hollow” have a sinister edge that are unmatched on the remainder of the album. Again, synapses fire and, at times, the vocals and delivery of singer Chris Sherrod are reminiscent of Fudge Tunnel’s Alex Newport. “The Hollow” is a sprawling, heavy tune that is dominated by a murky, undulating groove.

With sludge as a starting point, Traitors Return to Earth incorporate stoner, doom, noise, and traces of psychedelia into a killer overall sound. ‘Betting on a Full Collapse’ may, at times, evoke moments of familiarity, but these moments are fleeting and ultimately far and few between. Fans of sludge and doom, particularly acts like EHG, Demonic Death Judge, Black Sabbath, and Sleep will find a well of destructively heavy riffs ready to flood their senses.



Big Cartel

Saturday, January 18, 2014

…cast your gaze upon the setting sun: LANDSKAP – ‘I’

Landskap’s debut album, ‘I’, has the distinction of being the first 2014 release to be reviewed at Vertical Chamber Apparatus and, to top it off, it’s the first great surprise of the year. The London based band features veterans of the European metal scene from such acts as Serpentcult, Fen, Pantheist, and Dead Existence among others. Despite the wide-ranging influences that each member brings to the band, ‘I’ is truly unlike anything that the individuals were producing before coming together. The four tracks that comprise ‘I’—two of which are instrumentals—cover a wide range of styles without sounding incoherent or disjointed. Classic hard rock and metal, prog, doom, and psychedelia are all represented in equal measure resulting in an exceptional collection of tunes.

The album takes a giant stride with its best foot forward on the opener “A Nameless Fool”. Easily the doomiest track of the album complete with an eerie atmosphere—aided in part by organ and the sporadic tolling of a bell—that’s not too far removed from what The Wounded Kings had created on their phenomenal debut ‘Embrace of the Narrow House’. With a runtime venturing near twelve minutes, “A Nameless Fool” staggers forth at a doomed pace while allowing exploratory, inter-dimensional lead guitar to ebb and flow from a seemingly distant plane for a spectral, otherworldly experience.

“My Cabin in the Woods”, in jarring opposition to the haunting opening track, is a three minute blissful instrumental that brings Chicago post-rock instrumentalists Tortoise to mind. Bright basslines are played high on the fretboard, and notes plucked from the guitar ring out and calmly turn themselves inside-out. It’s soothing, sunny, and trippy.

The third track, “Fallen So Far”, channels the best of Deep Purple and King Crimson and funnels them through a hard rocking, proto-doom filter. Where “A Nameless Fool” was Hell-bent on creating an ominous, doomy atmosphere, “Fallen So Far” instead goes for the throat by rocking out and features stellar performances from each member of the band, particularly on drums. A killer track from start to finish.

“Fallen So Far” eventually melts into the fourth and final track, “To Harvest the Storm”. The twelve minute album-closer is a cerebral, kraut-rock inspired jam that builds in both intensity and layers before ultimately taking off midway through the track. Initially hypnotic, the song rips into a mesmerizing fury with the controls set for the heart of the sunrise.

Landskap’s debut is an incredibly eclectic collection of tunes that remains engaging from beginning to end. Despite the variations in styles and influences the band is able to pull it off effortlessly. With only four tracks and a runtime of just over thirty minutes ‘I’ ends way too soon. Fans of hard rock and doom with an openness to experimentation should definitely check these guys out. Hopefully ‘I’ is a sign of greater things to come. As it stands this is a phenomenal release that is punctuated by great songwriting, killer vocals, and excellent instrumentation.



Thursday, January 16, 2014

…ride the fucking snake: SONIC MASS – ‘All Creatures Strange’

A slightly murky, multi-layered lo-fi production, freak-out psychedelia and blues-based stoner rock collide on Sonic Mass’s outstanding debut full-length, ‘All Creatures Strange’, resulting in what can only be described as ‘Outsideinside’ era Blue Cheer waging war against the conspiratorial paranoia of being governed by a shadow empire of reptilian overlords. No shit. ‘All Creatures Strange’ is a blistering, kaleidoscopic journey that bends the mind almost as hard as it rocks.

Sonic Mass doesn’t hesitate to show their intentions as album-opener “Iron Bong” sets the tone by launching into a scorching, minute-and-a-half instrumental before settling into a bluesy, up-beat jam. The second track, “The Order”, starts with a simple garage rock riff that would undoubtedly make The Sonics proud and then hurls itself into stoner rock territory. “The Order” stands out amongst the eight tracks of the album by ultimately boasting some of the album’s sexiest, grooviest riffs and then driving it home with some excellent guitar harmonies and vocals.

While a majority of ‘All Creatures Strange’ plays out as stoner rock executed with a garage rock intensity, the band often takes the listener into the stratosphere for some truly spaced-out moments. The latter half of “Widow Stone – The Black Lodge”, as an example, is an extended cosmic jam that is awash in acid-tinged leads, swirling noise, and wah pedal abuse before things get really weird. Ride the fucking snake…

Though the entirety of ‘All Creatures Strange’ is superb, the trilogy of tunes consisting of “Rise of the Royal Reptile”, “Black Acid Nightmare”, and album highlight “Pentagon Chameleon – To the Devil…a Daughter” simply make the album. “Rise of the Royal Reptile” kicks things off with some intertwining guitar leads that build-up and lead into one of the most immediately gratifying tunes of the album. If ‘All Creatures Strange’ had an immediate hit single, this would be it. It’s catchy, heavy, and representative of the band’s overall sound. “Black Acid Nightmare”, the album’s shortest track, brings back some of the weird with its slightly demented, unconventional riffs and distorted background vocals.

“Black Acid Nightmare” bleeds into arguably the strongest, most dynamic song of the album, “Pentagon Chameleon – To the Devil…a Daughter”, where the lead-in track becomes slightly perverted and overdriven before eventually slowing down to a bluesy crawl bathed in waves of feedback, atmospheric guitars, and soulful vocals. Roaring interstellar noise ultimately usurps what could have been one of the album’s “slowest” songs, and closes out the track with a fiery, spaced-out intensity.

With ‘All Creatures Strange’ Sonic Mass have crafted an unbelievably awesome full-length that effortlessly combines heavy blues, garage rock, and psychedelia into a potent elixir that’ll either have you breathing through your teeth with anxiety and paranoia or blissfully rocking the Hell out to their mystifying tunes. Hopefully 2014 will see a physical release of this amazing debut. Highly recommended…



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

…cast out all demons lurking inside: ARGUS – ‘Beyond the Martyrs’

Classic heavy metal never loses its luster and Pennsylvania’s standard bearers of melodic, hook-driven metal, Argus, keep their collective fingers on the pulse of yesteryear with their gaze firmly fixed on the future. ‘Beyond the Martyrs’, the band’s third full-length, continues to explore their hybridization of sounds established by such greats as Scorpions, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, and both Ozzy and Dio era incarnations of Black Sabbath to stunning effect. Though the band has an obvious admiration for these forefathers, and for good reason, they have developed a finely tuned, razor-sharp approach all their own.

At the heart of their sound lies the powerful and commanding vocals of Butch Balich and the dual guitar harmonies of Erik Johnson and Jason Mucio. The one-two punch of “The Hands of Time are Bleeding” and “Trinity” fully demonstrates both Balich’s soaring vocal capabilities and Johnson and Mucio’s talents. Though the guitars and vocals have an immediate impact upon the listener, the contributions of the rhythm section consisting of drummer Kevin Latchaw and bassist Andy Ramage should not be underestimated. Together, Latchaw and Ramage lay a foundation of hefty, galloping rhythms for their band members to build upon. The end result is one of 2013’s catchiest, most rewarding heavy metal albums.

Argus has always included elements of doom on their albums to some degree or other, but ‘Beyond the Martyrs’ seems to reign in those tendencies in favor of even more melodicism and an increase in head-banging, driving rhythms. While those doom-tinged moments have taken a back seat, they are not completely forgotten. Album highlight “The Coward’s Path” is an epic doom anthem complete with arguably the heaviest riffs of the collection as well as some of the most engaging, searing guitar leads.

‘Beyond the Martyrs’, like all of Argus’ output, is an incredibly strong collection of tunes without a single weak link in the lot. Heavy, hook-driven instrumentation, amazing vocals and killer lyrical themes that range from the historical to the personal are what Argus are all about. Fans of classic heavy metal in all its forms and doom should be impressed not only by Argus’ unique transmutations of old into new, but also the entirety of their recorded output. ‘Beyond the Martyrs’, like many early gems of hard rock and metal, is an instantly gratifying listen that never ceases to shine.



Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Wielding the war hammer of doom under such battle cries as Heavy Drunken Doom or Slower Harder Drunker it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Italy’s Doomraiser practices a belligerent and barbaric combination of sludge and doom. Though these two mantras may be a part of the band’s modus operandi Doomraiser is actually firmly rooted in traditional doom metal while pulling in both progressive and psychedelic elements. Up to this point the band has released an amazing trilogy of full-lengths with their second album, 2009’s ‘Erasing the Remembrance’, standing as their crowning achievement. Doomraiser has also put out notable splits with both Earthride and fellow countrymen Midryasi. For their third foray into the realm of split releases Doomraiser has chosen to once again team-up with an Italian-based band, the relative newcomers Caronte. Exceeding the work of their impressive debut, ‘Ascension’, Caronte’s two tracks add a grimy, sinister vibe to the tripped-out trio of tunes.

No strangers to sluggish, heavy compositions Doomraiser’s track, “Dream Killers”, is a twelve minute ode to the band’s past while also shining some light into the shadows to reveal new dimensions to their sound. Displaying their penchant for slow, atmospheric intros—just listen to “Phoenix” from ‘Mountains of Madness’ as an example—“Dream Killers” is a smoldering slow-burn of pulsating bass, eerie synth washes, glockenspiel, and haunting guitar leads. Rather than plunging into a slow-motion doom crawl, Doomraiser defies expectations by launching into an up-tempo rocker. Despite the accelerated pace of “Dream Killers” the band still takes the time to slow things down on a couple of occasions for introspective, mind-bending excursions into hazy, smoke-filled lands.

For their side of the split Caronte chooses to take the left hand path by lending a sinister, fuzz-filled vibe to their two tracks “Back from the Grave” and “Journey into the Moonlight”. With Electric Wizard as a starting point—particularly on “Back from the Grave”—Caronte have crafted a couple of sleazy slabs of stoned-as-fuck doom metal. Wah pedal abuse, organ, dirty riffs, and satanic chants swirl around the distinctive vocals of Dorian Bones whose bellows, at times, resemble the unhinged caterwauling of The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow. With “Back from the Grave” and “Journey into the Moonlight” Caronte have surpassed the tunes that made up their debut, ‘Ascension’, and have provided worthy counterparts to Doomraiser’s “Dream Killers”.

2013 has provided some excellent split releases, most notably Cough and Windhand’s ‘Reflection of the Negative’ and the split between Australian doom masters Rote Mare and Dire Fate. The Doomraiser/Caronte split should feel right at home amongst these other masterpieces as both bands have crafted some killer tunes. Though it appears that Doomraiser has recently undergone a personnel change resulting in what the band has dubbed as the “Drunken Mark III” lineup, they are reportedly working on their fourth full-length. Here’s looking forward to Doomraiser’s continued legacy and new tunes from Caronte…

Doomraiser Facebook

Caronte Facebook

Sunday, January 5, 2014

…a grand grimoire of compositions and incantations: BLIZARO – ‘Strange Doorways’

Acting as a conduit while in the throes of a hypnotic madness—with seemingly unseeing eyes and actions guided by the all-knowing seers from realms long forgotten—the wizened sorcerer deciphers and channels forbidden knowledge from beyond the macrocosm. With a mastery of the mystical and alchemical spheres of the arcane arts disparate elements are meticulously combined into countless compounds, broken down, and recombined into unfathomable abominations that transcend both space time. Welcome to the wonderful world of Blizaro…

Praise to I, Voidhanger Records for collecting and compiling the elusive demo recordings of Blizaro, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and mad composer John Gallo. While not releasing some of the best American doom metal with Orodruin, Gallo has kept busy by crafting…well, pretty much whatever he pleases. With influences ranging from doom and traditional metal, horror soundtracks, Italian prog-rock, organ church music, and Gregorian chants, Gallo has concocted a vast collection of tunes that are both reverential and, at the same time, interestingly new. Throughout the forty tunes that make up ‘Strange Doorways’ the listener will hear glimpses of Black Sabbath, Paul Chain, Goblin, John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, and Thin Lizzy among a myriad of other notable and influential acts. Despite the often dissimilar and contrasting elements, Gallo seems to pull off the unimaginable by throwing them into the loom that is his mind and miraculously weaving a cohesive sonic tapestry.

The two disc set, ‘Strange Doorways’, compiles the band’s demos in reverse chronology: 2012’s ‘Blak Majicians’, 2009’s ‘The Old Wizard of Winter’, 2008’s ‘Blue Tape’, and 2006’s ‘Horror Rock’, with additional tracks thrown in for good measure. Throughout the span of the forty tracks of ‘Strange Doorways’ the listener is, in the blink of an eye, transported to the uppermost chambers of a wizard’s tower, to the darkest, deepest dungeons of a decrepit old castle, to the desolate wastelands of a cityscape crawling with the undead, or to being shackled to the sacrificial altar of a black mass.

‘Strange Doorways’ defies all logic and is not bound by space, nor is it subject to time. The album, though rooted in the musical genres and traditions of the seventies, branches out to ages long past while simultaneously reaching out toward the present. The instrumental demo ‘The Old Wizard of Winter’, for example, is an organ and synthesizer laden soundtrack filled with homages to seventies Italian cinema with tracks like “Fierce Steps the Troll” as well as an ode to 8th century church services exemplified by the likes of “White Frijid Mass”. It’s also a timeless, hellish journey through the gates of Hell with the sinister vibes of “Portal of Betrayal”.

Blizaro is one of the most uniquely creative bands going today and ‘Strange Doorways’ is a career spanning collection of mad genius at work. With a runtime of two-and-a-half hours, ‘Strange Doorways’ is a massive collection of multi-faceted tunes that avoids easy categorization. Few individuals or bands are able to include such wide-ranging influences into their musical vision without crashing and burning to some degree. Blizaro—through some form of witchery or other—seems to avoid this pitfall. ‘Strange Doorways’ is the perfect name for the album, as each tune is a portal to another time and another place, and each one is seemingly darker and gloomier than the last.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

…turning shadows to flesh: THE WOUNDED KINGS – ‘Consolamentum’

UK doom sovereigns The Wounded Kings have, over the span of several full-lengths and a split with Cough, crafted and channeled some of the most atmospherically heavy doom of the past decade. Through their dark arts the band has revealed the musical accompaniment for seeking forbidden knowledge, plumbing the dimly lit depths of the unknown, or as a soundtrack for performing necromantic rites. Despite some lineup changes and a subtle shift in sound for their excellent 2011 album ‘In the Chapel of the Black Hand’, Steve Mills and The Wounded Kings have persevered and are about to release their fourth album overall and second featuring Sharie Neyland on vocals, the highly anticipated ‘Consolamentum’.

Essentially picking up where ‘In the Chapel of the Black Hand’ left off, ‘Consolamentum’ continues the band’s explorations of dark occult themes, arcane compositions, and oppressively heavy instrumentation. What ‘Consolamentum’ does best is marry the foreboding atmosphere that oozed and radiated from ‘Embrace of the Narrow House’ and ‘The Shadow over Atlantis’ with the dense, slightly more straight-forward doom of ‘In the Chapel of the Black Hand’. The results are stellar and make for one the band’s richest and most rewarding albums to date.

‘Consolamentum’ continues The Wounded Kings’ effective and tasteful use of organ in their compositions and also includes some fantastic guitar solos, particularly on the tracks “Gnosis” and “The Silence”—an element of the band’s music that was arguably in decline on ‘In the Chapel of the Black Hand’. And while their earliest releases relied heavily on a sinister and hypnotic crawl, ‘Consolamentum’ finds the Kings adding an element of groove to their repertoire. The album’s second track, “Lost Bride”, is under the influence of an immensely heavy jam from start to finish and brings to mind the other UK greats, Serpent Venom.

Two of the shortest tracks, the brief instrumentals “Elige Magistrum” and “Space Conqueror”, contribute to the doomed, otherworldly feeling of ‘Consolamentum’ as a whole while adding additional textures. At only a minute-and-a-half “Elige Magistrum” rocks out with heavy riffs, a flanged drum intro, and blistering solos throughout. Conversely, “Space Conqueror” acts as the album’s “Planet Caravan” with its ominous acoustic guitar, muted drums, and undulating bass tones. The tracks avoid the pitfalls of overstaying their welcome and, like the best atmospheric tunes, they successfully add depth to an already killer album.

No easy feat, but ‘Consolamentum’ easily surpasses the achievement that was ‘In the Chapel of the Black Hand’ and is about as perfect as an album can get. Perhaps not as atmospheric as the band’s first two albums, ‘Consolamentum’ is the perfect blend of old and new. Even Sharie Neyland’s commanding, high priestess-like vocals seem more at home amongst the tracks of ‘Consolamentum’ compared to the band’s previous outing. The Wounded Kings have crafted an amazingly heavy album complete with dark themes, psychedelic nuances, and interesting instrumentation. Sure to be one of 2014’s absolute best…


Friday, January 3, 2014

…you’re as good as dead: WOUNDED GIANT – ‘Lightning Medicine’

Living up to their namesake, Seattle three-piece Wounded Giant drunkenly lopes, staggers, and stumbles with a heavy step through the six tracks that make up their impressive debut, ‘Lightning Medicine’. The band’s debut doesn’t reflect the slow-paced, funereal crawl of a hulking beast in its death-throes, but rather a lumbering, unpredictable brute that when backed into a corner can muster enough energy and aggression to rain down upon his foes with thundering destruction. The six tracks of ‘Lightning Medicine’ are masterfully executed slabs of gritty, down-tempo heavy metal that includes a fair-share of spacey solos and trance-like moments.

Exemplifying the sound of the band and kicking off the album is “King Rawhead”, a trippy slab of metal that probably best showcases the individual talents of the band. Not content to simply crawl forth like a ten-ton snail, “King Rawhead” includes enough variety and changes in tempo to keep the song interesting and barreling forth for its ten minute runtime. What’s really impressive about the opener is the rhythm section, particularly the drums which sound nothing short of massive.

The theme established on “King Rawhead” is continued, in varying degrees of concentration, throughout the remaining five tracks of ‘Lightning Medicine’. If “King Rawhead” was a showcase for heavy, trippy riffs and booming, barbaric percussion, then “The Road to Middian” and “Rats in the Walls” were made for earth-quaking rumbles of bass as a pivotal sonic focus. “Rats in the Walls” includes flashes of sparsely used synths for an ominous and ethereal effect.

The fourth track, “Rabid Starlight”, really serves as a brief, moody atmospheric introduction to the album’s most unique track, “Sinistra”. While “Sinistra” is really no less heavy than any of the other five tracks of the album, it has a calmer, more hypnotic vibe. Closing out the album is the title track, “Lightning Medicine”, another thundering tune that is on par with “King Rawhead” in terms of textures and tempo changes. “Lightning Medicine” may be both the heaviest and catchiest track of the lot and the last three minutes has no shortage of blissed-out guitar leads and wah-damaged bass tones.

Wounded Giant’s ‘Lightning Medicine’ is the perfect balance of heft, sativa-induced psychedelia, and catchy-as-Hell songwriting. The band has honed in on and exploited a sound that walks the fine line between rock, stoner, and doom by recalling some of the greats of yore like the legendary Tad and modern day riff-slingers like Utah, Tombstones, or Goya. Highly recommended listening for laying waste to a small village or seeing your enemies driven before you…