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.

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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.

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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.

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