Friday, September 25, 2009

Slough Feg - Ape Uprising!

Slough Feg
Ape Uprising!
Cruz Del Sur

One of the two main things I’ve always admired about Mike Scalzi and his band Slough Feg is that they’re not afraid to get goofy. Ape Uprising!, the San Fran band’s seventh album, is a concept record that chronicles the day our simian cousins got tired of being humanity’s bitch and, well, rose up. It’s fight or flight/Our strife continues on/You found the might in your opposing thumbs, proclaim the antagonists in the title track. Between lines like that, song titles like Nasty Hero and The Hunchback of Notre Doom and the cartoonish artwork, methinks Scalzi is having his bit of fun with the concept of heavy metal epics. No matter. Because the other thing I’ve long dug about Scalzi is his mastery of the melodic metal anthem, and that mastery is in full flight here. Simian Manifesto, Nasty Hero and Shakedown at the Six are catchy, finely crafted and powerful, and Scalzi’s still got the greatest voice in trad metal these days. The band’s long-held Celtic influences have been pretty much excised by this point, which is a shame, but that’s a minor quibble for an album that proudly and loudly stakes claim to the metal throne for all man- and apekind.

- Michael Toland

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

White Wizzard - High Speed GTO

White Wizzard
High Speed GTO

Are you tired of the relentless nĂ¼-metal onslaught? (I know I am.) Do you turn your nose up at the suggestion that groups like Isis and Mastodon are metal? (I don’t, but I know folks who do.) You’re not the only one. Bassist/bandleader Jon Leon wanted a metal band that pretended that the 90s and the ‘aughts never happened, and, by Zeus, he got it with White Wizzard. The L.A. band’s debut EP is seven songs’ worth of driving, melodic hard rock in the vein of the non-superstar NWOBHM bands like Diamond Head, Angel Witch and Praying Mantis. James LaRue’s guitars are heavy, but not too heavy – there’s no mistaking this for downtuned sludge. Leon’s powerful bass manages to be busy as hell while staying in lockstep with Tyler Meahl’s drums. Frontdude James Paul Luna’s voice neither soars nor growls, but sticks to a tuneful mid-range charisma. The lyrics can be goofy - from the prehistoric shark-loving Megalodon: Denizon [sic] of creepy seas/Born of ancient depths is he/From the world of heinous beasts/Beady eyes a thousand teeth – but there seems to be not jot of irony. Most impressively, the songs are unfailingly catchy without making any concessions to pop – the 80s hair metal crowd would’ve killed for tunes as memorable as those that power Into the Night, Octane Gypsy and the title cut, but these tracks are built for arenas, not top 40 radio. White Wizzard is defiantly unhip and uncool, and that makes this homage to metal’s illustrious past seem almost innocent, giving _High Speed GTO_ strength to last beyond any retro revivals.

Unfortunately, Leon fired the rest of the band after these recordings were made – hopefully the new lineup will propel the forthcoming full-length to the same heights.

- Michael Toland
Raygun Cowboys - Raygun Cowboys

Frantically frazzled rockin' swinging from the get go from these Canadian crazies like fresh air crushed outta you with the weight of a grizzly landing atop your lung enclavatures. Tis no mean feet to stomp your own flavour into the tightly strictured sounds of rockabilly that too frequently seems as though some dude with a clipboard comes around to check the instruments, attire and body art are all sufficiently identikit. This is pure party time on the breadline, broncos and babearoooos, cartoon capers from the the opening double shot salvo of Asbestos Rock and Devil On My Mind right through to the doo wop stomp of closer One Life Left and unhidden bonus tracks recalling an Ant Hill Mob or soundtrack to a crime caper racing downhill with heads up high all the way. Fuelled equally on the spirit of The Ramones (above and beyond the song Joey Ramone Street) and The Pogues (ditto closing time lament For The Whisky) as much as any right on rockabilly, though some loosely juicalicious twang is right in there, twinklin' and tickling between the slap, the inclusion of brass in the shape of trumpet and trombone only increases and accentuates the swing and the haystack-toppling hooks they reel and rush through your hair and hinds like hounds with hooch-lust. But dismissing such antics as a novelty would be to turn an inbredly mutated ear to the gristle on these bones. Nor should such lead some to dismiss them as like the grungier Rocket From The Crypt, there's more country hick on these winds (Come Back To Me) than them or the more hard-edged though equally glory-deserving Kings Of Nuthin'. And the ska-punk shouldn't really even deserve a mention. The closest they come to that is the gypsy-infused fun, appropriately, of Curse Of The Django. For that and so much more, like the sheer scale of their song-scribing chops shown on straight ahead Billy bash by numbers Dead King's Rise and Sideburns & Switchblades which cruise past numerous paltry purveyors of supposed petrol-head psychotic rockin that all too often has a high filler factor and oil spill problems, or the sly steal of Radiohead's Creep on the desultorily comical waltz Since You've Been Gone this is a rare treat. A fuckin' exultantly excilliant one at that, I do exhort, exhaustlessly.
Stu Gibson

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dawn Of The Metal Gods - Al Atkins & Neil Daniels
Iron Pages

Following on from the Anvil film comes this further tale of a nice guy who apparently did no, or relatively little, more than the initial burst of activity that saw him enter the footnotes of stage history. Atkins was not just the original singer but founder member of metal titans Judas Priest and the man who gave them their name (literally as it happened, for he never registered it). Though he never recorded with them (bar an early demo) he also had a hand in a slew of songs on their first two albums and has continued into his fifth decade in music. And so why the fuck shouldn't he earn a pint or two, he'd been grafting at getting bands going for a few years before he started JP in 1969. Aside from Priest's excommunication of past members, this type of book is far better than the usual few years rehearsing and getting a recording deal, followed by tour itineraries and yawnsome arsing about with a few old magazine snippets thrown in. After all these are the boats known to most of us and admirably Atkins is one you can salute for continuing rockin', not merely being about to, without actually hearing his music. Never does he come across as self-serving or self-obsessed, vainly attesting to his own unrecognised talents and sulking about his lack of success. With hardly a trace of bitterness, though there is the odd hint of tongues being held - Iron Pages perhaps not wishing to bear the brunt of the Priest's legal wraiths - Atkins relates his story from 50's Birmingham through to the present day with his current bunch of hard rock stalwarts The Holy Rage. Along the way he tells in engaging though rambling style (though that with a mention of the many typos would be a tad hypocritical methinks coming from this old teapot. One of us however has the excuse of a German translation!) the troubles and travels of trying to twist that steel hand of fate with a multitude of bands. Perpetually on the edge of that old cusp, with so many cases of wrong timing, slightly missed boats and the wrong hair let alone trousers for what the prevailing wind liked to be passed onto, you'd think he would have changed career and started bottling optimism or written self-help guides, especially after seeing many contemporaries such as The Move, Sabbath, Zeppelin and Budgie pass him on their way outta West Brom to wealth and LA. Even with his solo albums he's had to endure some treacherously atrocious album cover-work which should make any supposed artist or designer question their talents, or at worse make Atkins wonder if he's being conspired against. Though he comes across as an endearing and utterly likeable bloke some of his outbursts show either age or ignorance or just the plain ideological differences between what came after the metal / hard rock era, like his somewhat simplistic dismissal of punk for instance being all skinheads and spitting. With recent releases meeting increasingly favourable responses and acclaim from Scandinavia and Japan the years of striving and inactivity end on a suitably high note and demonstrate obstinacy and passion can't be beaten if the talent and tenacity are there. As a business guide it's slight but moreso slightly indispensable and you come out gunning for the underdog through his humility and self-effacing naturalness.
Stu Gibson
Will Hodgkinson - The Ballad Of Britain

Following on from his two previous travel annals in search of some sort of songwriterly wisdom (namely Guitar Man and Song Man) here the author sets off on a quest across the UK to assess what, if there is such a thing, constitutes the folk music of Britain today. This in itself follows Victorian composer Cecil Sharp’s decade-long endeavour to document the folk song of turn of the century Britain before it went the way of the horse and cart. Using the term folk as ‘people’ not the music form applied to it, he covers a lot of ground in his short six month stint to see whether folk song exists in it’s traditional manner in our modern age - narratives of universal themes passed down and along through families and across regions - or lost in a blitzkrieg of consumerism. With a Zoom recording device in tow the author journeys through the big city blues of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and London and the purveyors of popular song commonly associated with them, to the outer edges, visiting Cornwall, Fife, Cardiff and Robin Hood’s Bay and many places inbetween, collecting field recordings in the manner of the Lomax’s with the folk blues of the jazz and depression era rural America. So from the morris dancers of olde Britain to the Brit school, gypsies to the grime scene on London’s streets, itinerant troubadours and inner city buskers to leftfield experimental labels and dance collectives, he encounters a cast of characters including The Watersons, Incredible String Band founder Clive Palmer, Pete Townshend, Cornershop’s Tjinder Singh, Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals and Jarvis Cocker, along the way alighting on enlightening glimpses of modern life, illuminated, appropriately it seems, more by the supposedly lesser lights when juxtaposed with the society they exist alongside.
Those out of the public eye like buskers Tim and Lewis in London, Glaswegian duo Directing Hands’ evolution of ballads into discordant dirges becoming the derelict environs they now found themselves in compared to The English Ayre’s evocation of medieval courtly tunes and Stephanie Hladowski in Bradford seem to be more plugged into any ancient ways, above and beyond existing in relative obscurity. Woven through all these threads are historical and sociological snippets alongside the author’s own ruminations, insights and asides that show him to be once more an entertaining guide who’s clearly a fan beloved of anecdotal tales and beholden to discovering what makes these people tick and admirer of the results.
As anyone with an ear anywhere near the ground should be aware, he unearths much of hope in the people who write and perform music purely because they want or have to, not out of careerist opportunism. While not something to take for granted, his trips from the contentedly localised to those with ever so slightly more commercial designs like Fife’s Fence Collective and the Green Man festival in Wales show that the impulse to sing or create music for its own, or the immediate community’s, sake is inside many, if not each of us. Though the days when families had a piano in the front room and a Sunday sing-song are generally long gone, away from the onslaught of mass media, false celebrity and fame for ‘noffink’ culture, there will always be individuals with a desire for a return to ‘simpler’, ‘less fast-paced’ times, and not just in a weekend-at-Glastonbury commercialised way, or people simply playing music for their own means without any conscious decision to be engaging in any form of folk music. Idealistic it may be but this book demonstrates this culture is slowly occurring and has been for some time below the surface and will no doubt continue to do so under its own steam. Whether songs by the likes of The Kinks or The Stones nevermind James Yorkston or (God forbid) Rihanna will become folk songs as in songs of the people that have evolved and being disassociated from their origins is for another century’s musical ethnology to try and ascertain.
Thankfully by no means a stuffily academic tome of musicology, as a snapshot this thought-provoking book will have bypassed many inclusions (nothing about the midlands continually being a bedspring of heavy metal), based as it is subjectively, using people known to the author and his own references as a starting point, but it is an affecting and vibrant portrait of not just the songs that roam around it but the island of Britain’s spirit itself. Full of wit, wonder, loneliness and tinges of sadness aswell as communal spirit and kinship it’s almost a song in itself.
Stu Gibson

Monday, September 21, 2009

Left Lane Cruiser - All You Can Eat!!

Left Lane Cruiser
All You Can Eat!!

Funny how that two-person blues rock thing has become such a trend these days. Are the White Stripes and the Black Keys really that influential? I suspect, though, the notion holds sway over record companies (especially Alive, which jumpstarted the careers of the Keys and Two Gallants and shelters Trainwreck Riders, Henry’s Funeral Shoe and Black Diamond Heavies to boot) more than musicians. Whatever – Left Lane Cruiser follows suit, with a kit-smashing drummer and a guitarist/vocalist ripping the slide-slathered limbs off the old barroom blues. Freddy J IV is actually quite the demon on the six-string – he plays like he’s visited a crossroads or two, with Kenny Brown by his side and a Lucifer bearing a strong resemblance to RL Burnside. He can do the grunged-out Zeppelin thing, too, when he’s of a mind (cf. Black Lung and Hard Luck), but he really comes alive getting his hands dirty. Frankly, Freddy’s not much of a singer, but when he digs into the frets it doesn’t matter. The songs are perfectly adequate for LLC’s purpose, which is to rock every room like it’s a deep South juke joint (despite the duo being from Fort Wayne, Indiana). All You Can Eat!! may not set the world of rock & roll on fire, but if you think the Black Keys are too slick and Scott H. Biram too wildcrazydrunkandpilledup, Left Lane Cruiser will satisfy the same itch, no question.

- Michael Toland

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gnaw Their Tongues - All the Dread Magnificence of Perversity

Gnaw Their Tongues
All the Dread Magnificence of Perversity
Crucial Blast

Gnaw Their Tongues is a one-man black metal nightmare along the lines of Xasthur or Deathspell Omega, if those guys followed through with their suicidal impulses and after their postmortem descent compiled a demonic orchestra in Hell. All the Dread Magnificence of Perversity is a vaguely organized mishmash of electronic orchestration, reverbed-into-incomprehensibility guitar washes, Godzilla-stomp rhythm throbs and various human and sampled screams. It probably goes without saying that every track sounds like every other track – after all, the point is to set a consistent mood, one that’s as disturbing and unpleasant as a serial killer’s idle daydreams. This is soundscraping aimed at a very narrow and specific audience; for the rest of us, the main source of entertainment is likely to be in the gloriously ridiculous song titles. Tell me you can read Gazing at Me Through Tears of Urine, The Gnostic Ritual Consumption of Semen as Embodiment of Wounds Teared [sic] in the Soul and The Stench of Dead Horses On My Breath and the Vile of Existence in My Hands and not (a) want to hear this at least once and (b) know that Mr. Gnaw has a sense of humor. As for me, here’s hoping that my favorite, My Orifices Await Ravaging, becomes a staple of small-town high school proms everywhere.

- Michael Toland

Friday, September 18, 2009


Prior to the Fire

When your major label refuses to put out your new record and the police ask you to move your recording studio because you’re just too fucking loud, well, brother, you don’t need to rub your bleary red eyes because you’ve got a bloody monster on your hands. Of course, when you’re Priestess, and it’s been over three years since you destroyed the rock n’ roll scene (with a debut album this eager and excited critic may have presumptuously canonized...but there is no disputing that it is truly awesome), and you’ve been runnin’ ragged and righteous on the road a long goddamn time, that’s just the way it’s gonna go down. So you piss on the suits and fuzz, and raise the sledge of rock high and forge a new path of glory over mortal bones. Thus Priestess makes their triumphant return not as hard rock heroes but as champions of magic, equal parts cosmic bikers and savage woodsmen, a raging fire in their belly and warrior blood pumping through their veins. Much more majestic (musically and lyrically) than its predecessor, Prior to the Fire is valiant in its riffola, a heavy-hitter of new wave thrash, stoner grooves, and progressive subtleties. You couldn’t achieve this kind of power if you harnessed the ability to shoot lightning bolts outta your beard, believe me. It’s as ruthless as a starving beast, as swift as a falling sword, and totally worth the wait.

- Jeff Warren

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ancestors - Of Sound Mind

Of Sound Mind
Tee Pee

One thing I’ve noticed about the kind of cosmic doom that’s the stock in trade of bands like Ancestors: it’s usually much more impressive live than on record. The recording studio often blunts the impact, making the lengthy, deliberately paced riff crunch more boring than it ought to be, while the stage loudly highlights the deliberate intensity. Which is a roundabout way of saying I wasn’t expecting much from this Ancestors record. I saw the band at SXSW a year or three ago, and was extremely unimpressed. The L.A. quintet seemed bored by its own music, and if they didn’t care, why should I?

Of Sound Mind, though, is a different story. I don’t know if it’s my lowered expectations or what, but nearly every song here has the textural weight, melodic heft, psychedelic tinges, melancholic beauty and sheer power that I was hoping to hear that night at the music festival. Mother Animal, Bounty of Age and The Trial balance fury and fragility, sighs and supernovas, with rare skill. I obviously caught the band on a bad night, because Of Sound Mind is stoner space doom done just right.

- Michael Toland

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Black Cobra - Chronomega

Black Cobra
Southern Lord

After hitting the boundaries of extreme metal, it seems musicians are heading away from the hinterlands and back to the core. At least Black Cobra seems to be on Chronomega – the San Francisco duo comes from the scorched-earth-and-hellfire school of pummel, but happily adds soaring classic metal riffs to their lowdown death grunge. Listen to “Chronosphere” and tell me these guys don’t have some Thin Lizzy records proudly lined up with the Sabbath and Celtic Frost disks. Admittedly, High On Fire has been hacking and slashing at this particular edifice for years now, and the Cobra certainly owes something to Matt Pike and company. But Chronomega is still a satisfying chunk of meat, chewy and filling in the appropriately heavy ways.

- Michael Toland

Thursday, September 03, 2009



Maybe it's just my latent patriotism kicking in as a result of all the upcoming Vancouver Olympics hype, but I think Canadian bands make some of the best rock and roll in the world (with the exception of Rush, who I cannot fucking stand). As an aside, I also cannot stand the Olympics, although I often find myself watching figure skating, for no good reason.

Where was I? Ah yes, GG Dartray, a band from the incestuous Vancouver music scene (members have also played in The Spitfires, CC Voltage, Zuckerbaby, Econoline Crush, and Slow). Equal parts snarly glam rock and melodic synth-pop (with handclaps!), this record will get the party started and keep it going long into the night, providing both bangover potential ("Stop," "Take You Down") and dance opportunities ("The Here and Now," "Uppercut," "Cry"). I haven't taken this record out of my cd player since band-founder Graham Tuson gave it to me last week at The Spitfires show. Sadly, I don't know how you can get a copy of your very own to listen to and love. Call Graham, I guess...
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