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.

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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…

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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

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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.

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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…

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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…



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