Tuesday, May 26, 2015

…weathering the storm: BILL WARD BAND – ‘Accountable Beasts’

Seemingly out of nowhere and as if in response to critics Bill Ward drops ‘Acountable Beasts’ merely two weeks following a handful of promising posts on social media about writing and rehearsing. Also notably, the release follows flare-ups between the Sabbath (particularly Ozzy) and Ward camps, but for more details you can fuck-right-off to Blabbermouth.net. Coincidental or not, the estranged drummer was once again under the spotlight due to what is quite an embarrassing feud just prior to his newest album’s release. And what of ‘Accountable Beasts?’ The album is a multilayered affair that, in short, can best be described as “spastic melodicism.” This is a far cry from anything produced by Black Sabbath in any incarnation and is, for better or worse, a much more creative endeavor than what was produced by Sabbath on ’13.’ While it would be difficult to justify calling ‘Accountable Beasts’ “metal,” it is definitely not bereft of heavy moments. Don’t get me wrong, ‘13’ was a highly enjoyable album, albeit a minor album within Sabbath’s extensive and mighty canon, but one cannot help wonder how the ‘13’ sessions—Iommi and Geezer willing—could have benefitted from Ward’s creativity and songwriting skills.

Though the album seemed to come out of nowhere there is no denying that this is a fully realized release that is both well-crafted and seemingly meticulously composed—a testament to Ward’s skills as a songwriter. ‘Accountable Beasts’ ebbs and flows with compositions that are often cinematic in scope and punctuated by orchestral embellishments that are intricately woven throughout the entirety of the nine tracks spanning the release. This is progressive hard rock with occasional heavy metal tendencies. Perhaps the best points of reference would be Brian Eno’s first three albums, particularly ‘Here Come the Warm Jets,’ or any of Kevin Ayers’ first three post-Soft Machine solo albums. The eponymous title track, “Accountable Beasts,” kicks off at a scorching pace, but like most of the tracks on the album it is composed with several peaks and valleys. Blistering lead guitar and tastefully restrained keyboards add texture to the track.

While the metal elements are used sparingly, anything resembling doom metal is all but absent, save for the ominous creeper “Katastrophic World.” Excellent drumming and percussion in general—including tambourine—are at the forefront while the tune uncoils around the precise and adventurous percussive elements. Heavy riffs are present, especially midway through the track, but are not overly abundant. The song oozes with a goth-rock undercurrent that is unparalleled by any other track on the album.

One of the greatest strengths of ‘Accountable Beasts’ is the musicianship and Bill Ward has managed to surround himself with some excellent players who are just as capable of producing finely textured tunes that meander through multiple styles and tones as they are at crafting hooks. Both “D.O.T.H.,” with its anthemic chorus, and the chorus of “First Day Back” are extremely infectious, the latter of which finds Ward pushing his vocals precariously, yet satisfyingly close to exceeding his capabilities. Multi-instrumentalist Keith Lynch, who handles all guitar duties, contributes his fair share of hooks whether it’s a well-placed lead or a riff designed to add heft. His playing really stands out on “Ashes,” first with his spacey guitar solo, followed by melodic heavy metal shredding.

‘Accountable Beasts’ will have no shortage of naysayers, particularly to those who have no interest in music outside of the metal realm, or potentially to those who have biased feelings over Black Sabbath’s latest, yet seemingly never-ending string of petty feuds. I’ll admit, the first spin was a bit jarring, but a second spin was highly rewarding. While Black Sabbath seemed to stagnate to a degree under the direction of Rick Rubin, Bill Ward’s creativity seems to be untethered. Hopefully the boys can get their shit together for a final album and tour, but if not? One can find solace in the fact that Iommi, especially with Geezer, is truly incapable of producing a dud, even with Ozzy’s tired, spoken word vocals laid over the top, and Bill Ward will weather the storm and soldier on...

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

…the temple is empty and ruined: OBSIDIAN SEA – 'Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions'

It has been three years since the Bulgarian doom duo Obsidian Sea has unleashed their excellent debut, Between Two Deserts, (review HERE) and the passage of time and the inclusion of bassist Ivaylo Dobrev into the Obsidian fold has served the band well on their follow-up, Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions. Between Two Deserts was a solid debut due to the heavy, memorable riffs and chant-like vocal cadence of guitarist/bassist/vocalist Anton Avramov, and a murky, dismal atmosphere that was successfully conveyed throughout the album. Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions is a much more varied release that trades in heft for arguably stronger compositions.

Whether it’s the inclusion of Dobrev on bass or a conscious decision by the band, but the presence of bass guitar plays a much larger role on the Obsidian Sea’s latest and to great effect. Dobrev’s presence not only adds a bit of low-end heft that was missing from the debut, but his basslines help to sculpt the tunes into sonic masterworks by not always simply following along with Avramov’s riffs. “Somnambulism,” the album’s closing track, perfectly captures the strength of Obsidian Sea’s rhythm section and captures drummer Bozhidar Parvanov at his most creative.

While solid drumming and the added presence of bass help to define the tracks found on Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions the guitar playing of Avramov is bolder, more adventurous, and his vocal range is both more expressive and more expansive. The album opener, “The Trial of Herostratus,” musically bears a remote kinship to Trouble’s Psalm 9, particularly “The Tempter,” but also illustrates Avramov’s great guitar playing, especially his soloing, and his growth as a vocalist.

One of the highlights of Between Two Deserts was the consistent, unique atmosphere that was threaded throughout the album’s nine tracks. Thankfully the band successfully wields a similar magic on their sophomore effort, though there are more nuances for the band to explore. “Confession,” the album’s second track, creeps along with a sepulchral ambiance largely due to the spacey, effect-laden bassline of Dobrev. The tasteful inclusion of organ courtesy of Nikolay Karakehayov on tracks “Child in the Tower” and “Mulkurul” adds depth and variety to the compositions. “Child in the Tower” may be the strongest track penned by the band and shows the trio at their most creative.

Dreams, Illusions, Obsessions is a stunning release from start to finish and stands as one of the year’s strongest releases, particularly in the doom sphere. And while the band’s debut, Between Two Deserts, was a solid release it is heartening to hear the band progress to such a high level of songwriting. Fans of traditional debut will not be disappointed as the band delivers on every level. Highly recommended…



Monday, May 18, 2015

Live Report May 15, 2015: NOMADIC RITUALS, TOME, and VENUS SLEEPS at TenterHooks Gigspace, Dublin, Ireland

When it looked like my tentatively planned trip to Ireland would actually become a reality the last thing I was thinking about outside of catching some traditional Irish music in an occasional pub was checking out a metal show. When the plans began to unfold and we decided to actually head north to Belfast I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hopeful that Slomatics were playing a gig. While it seemed Slomatics didn’t have anything planned I was still stoked that I’d be checking out Ireland for the first time. Even though Vertical Chamber Apparatus has been dormant for the past couple of months I still receive an occasional promo or review request. One that struck me was from Sie Carroll of Venus Sleeps—a psychedelic doom band from Dublin. I immediately downloaded the album and was simply blown away by the catchy riffs, the psychedelic/space rock nuances and Carroll’s soaring, somewhat monotone yet satisfyingly expressive vocals. ‘Dead Sun Worship’ has been in heavy rotation ever since.

On a lark, and without much hope, I decided to see if the band was playing any gigs. As it turns out things could not have worked out better. Venus Sleeps were playing a gig on my last night in the country with three other acts—TOME and Nomadic Rituals both of whom hail from Belfast and a reported two-piece grind band, Loathe, who dropped off of the bill prior to the show.

Without a definitive address we set out early toward New Market Square to find the TenterHooks Gigspace. The plan was to circle the neighborhood keeping a keen eye out for metalheads—a strategy that was quickly rewarded. TenterHooks is a cool little venue marginally smaller than Lost Lake here in Denver. The crowd was small, friendly, and totally into the tunes.

Venus Sleeps was the opening act and the band, particularly Sie, had enough effects pedals to tear open a rift in the space-time continuum. Swirling noise and feedback kicked off the proceedings and the band settled into the hypnotic groove that is “Age of Nothing.” It was the perfect opener and flawlessly set the mood. The band was extremely tight and it was a treat to see the dual harmonies of Carroll and guitarist Steven Anderson—both of whom would trade off leads throughout the night. Another highlight of their set resides in the rhythm section of drummer Fergal Malone and bassist Seán O'Connor. The bass satisfyingly carried much more weight in a live setting and the drumming was much more propulsive. If I’m not mistaken the band played everything off of their debut, save “Golden Hair,” and a couple of newer tracks.

My twelve days in Ireland prior to the show were essentially backed by a soundtrack heavy on Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep, Lord Vicar, surprisingly some Martin-era Black Sabbath, and Pagan Altar, the latter of which really seemed to take on a new dimension and resonate even more with me as I explored the ruins and landscapes of Ireland. It was at this show that I learned of Terry Jones’ passing as Sie Carroll dedicated “Ether Sleeper” to the fallen doom legend. R.I.P. Mr. Jones.

While Venus Sleeps was melodic and spacey the following acts took the soundscapes to darker, uglier excesses. TOME took the stage next and they laid siege to the listener with a blackened form of extreme doom. For the uninitiated TOME (as well as Nomadic Rituals) peddle a similar brand of sonic terror as Fister or Primitive Man accompanied by a brutish heft not too dissimilar to what is heard on Conan’s ‘Horseback Battle Hammer.’ Incidentally, TOME and Nomadic Rituals have teamed-up for a like-minded aural assaulting split that was released in February of this year.

At that point in time it was difficult to conceive that things could possibly sound uglier than the noxious sonic brew unleashed by TOME, but Nomadic Rituals were clearly up to the task. Seriously, it sounded as if these guys had submerged their amps under three feet of mud before plugging in, turning their levels up to 11, and attacking their instruments like barbiturate-laden cavemen. Despite the shrieks and guttural howls rising above the pummeling cacophony Nomadic Rituals still managed to maintain a mesmerizing and rhythmic hold on the listener.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fangs of the Molossus – ‘S/T’

Despite the wide-ranging and varied palette of doom that has been emerging from Italy since the early eighties the Italian doom scene, if anything, has collectively proven itself to be forward thinking and, at the very least, fascinating. Italian doom, generally, has the ability to tap into the occult or conjure mystical, otherworldly atmospheres with a singular authenticity that is often unrivalled. Relative newcomers Fangs of the Molossus—peddlers of heavy, psychedelic doom—comfortably fit in amongst the diverse pantheon of Italian doom acts. Within that pantheon the band is able to carve out a niche of their own based around heft and the horrific. Though the band’s self-titled debut was originally recorded and self-released in 2013 the album has finally received the vinyl treatment courtesy of Italian Doom Metal Records.

Fangs of the Molossus easily fall on the heavier side of the spectrum, particularly when compared to Other Italian acts, and are perhaps only eclipsed in both overall weight and tripped-out textures by fellow countrymen Ufommamut. While the two bands seem to be following a somewhat similar trajectory, Ufommamut is pushing into the emptiness of space while Fangs of the Molossus seem to be orbiting comfortably within the stratosphere—an admirable feat considering this is the band’s debut. “Cult of the Witch Goddess,” the album’s second track, comes the closest to Ufomammut’s brand of psychedelic doom due to its low-end rumble, but also finds Fangs of the Molossus perfectly balancing monolithic riffs with pedal-hopping noise and atmospherics. “Cult of the Witch Goddess” finds the band igniting the afterburners and accelerating into the realm of space rock. Amidst the maelstrom of whirling noise and swelling rocket jets sound bites from Mario Bava’s brilliant Black Sunday satisfyingly recounts the death sentencing of condemned witch Princess Asa Vajda.

Though the bulk of the band’s debut is punctuated by heavy riffs, seismic low-end, and space rock tendencies, Fangs of the Molossus reveal a deft hand at crafting a varied, moody instrumental with “O Fera Flagella.” At over six minutes in length the track establishes itself as more than just an atmospheric diversion or as a build-up to album-closer “Dead King Rise.” Ambient sounds, acoustic guitar, and bongos effortless coalesce into a melancholy tapestry of sound that is accented with violin, organ, and ethereal noise. While “O Fera Flagella” is easily the most varied track of the album and finds the band delving into “softer” territory it reveals a willingness to experiment and explore—qualities that hopefully will be exploited on their next release.

Vocally, Fangs of the Molossus continue to distance themselves from many of their Italian contemporaries and, again, share similarities with countrymen Ufomammut. The vocals of Acid King Khanjia, who has since departed the band, are distant, often distorted, and laden with effects—a sharp contrast to the clean, unaltered vocals of many traditional doom acts hailing from the region. One possible point of contention concerning the vocals could befall the vocal delivery found on the stoner-groove of “I Drink Your Blood.” While the song boasts a guest appearance from Ain Soph Aour of Italian black metal outfit Necromass the vocal cadence bears a more than striking similarity to Al Cisneros’ delivery on Sleep’s “Dragonaut.” If this is the biggest criticism that can be levelled against this release then Fangs of the Molossus are obviously doing something right.

Fangs of the Molossus is a solid debut that has many things working in its favor. While listening to the five tracks of the album it is near impossible to ignore some of the band’s influences such as Saint Vitus or Electric Wizard—perhaps two of the easiest points of reference to make other than the aforementioned Ufomammut. Though the influences are discernible it would be a grave discredit to the band to call them a clone of any one band or to portray them as unoriginal. In fact, it is the “uncharacteristic” influences that win the day, particularly the minimalistic, repetitive psychedelia of Loop’s A Gilded Eternity and Spacemen 3’s Sound of Confusion lurking just beneath the surface.

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