Monday, November 30, 2009

Saviours - Accelerated Living

Accelerated Living

Is it time for the New Wave of Oakland Heavy Metal? Saviours seem to think so. The quartet takes obvious inspiration from the 80s hard rock of our former colonial masters on its third album Accelerated Living, while somehow not sounding retro at all. The band has the hellbent-for-leather (pants) drive down pat, and works hard to resurrect the days when riffs oozed from every pore. Slave to the Hex, We Roam and the awesomely titled The Rope of Carnal Knowledge kick the proper amounts of ass without pretense or excuses – this band is all about getting the job done, regardless of what label anyone tries to hang on it. Ironically, one of the main elements that sets Saviours apart from its more slavish compatriots is also its weakest link: the vocals. Justin Barber’s raw shout is hardly the kind of soaring powerhouse one usually associates with this kind of trad metal - it’s not the hardcore roar with which he started, but it’s not exactly the charismatic croon a song like Livin’ in the Void needs. Then again, you could also argue that the larynx is beside the point here – Accelerated Living is all about the plectrums and amplifiers.

- Michael Toland

Zoroaster - Voice of Saturn

Voice of Saturn
Terminal Doom

Southern-fried psychedelic doom. Sounds like a dish on the menu in a hip greasy spoon, don’t it? It’s not edible, merely audible, as it’s as good a description as any for the eardrum-abusing sounds provided by Zoroaster. The Atlanta trio digs deep into the Georgia mud for crusty sludge stompers like Lamen of the Master Therion and Undying, which will warm the cockles of any doom-monger’s blackened heart. But it’s tunes like Voice of Saturn and Spirit Molecule that mark Zoroaster as something special – spacey, melodic, experimental, but still grunged all to hell. Even the more straightforward doom metal tracks often have synth bleeps poking out through the smoke – not for nothing are all three members credited with Moog as well as their regular instruments. Plus there’s an untitled piano-based coda that’s, Gog and Magog help us, actually pretty! Zoroaster is more than just another chip off the old Sabbath block – this is doom tailor-made for the when the acid kicks in.

- Michael Toland

Sunday, November 29, 2009

NAAM - s/t

Tee Pee

The lysergic power trio NAAM returns to this dimension with a self-titled debut, following up the Kingdom EP from earlier this year. The NYC bunch may be a trio, but they make a big noise, filling up every inch of the earthly cosmos with enough feedback and distorted guitar waves to make Hawkwind jealous. Frigid, mysterious tunes like Tidal Barrens and Westered Wash provide some respite, but overall the band drenches the world in dark, acid-washed hues. The aggressively psychedelic Black Ice, Frosted Tread and the massive Kingdom (a longer version than the one that headlined the EP) roll mercilessly across the skyline, leaving bad dreams, broken bongs and a buzz in their wake. Righteous, minus the hangover the next morning.

- Michael Toland

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Moss - Tombs of the Blind Drugged

Tombs of the Blind Drugged
Rise Above/Metal Blade

I remember well the last time I was trolling the swamps, looking for dead alligators so I could keep the off-brand shoe business going. The moon was high and clear that night, the wetness glistening on the reeds. Suddenly the temperature dropped; despite the humidity in the heat of summer, the air was near freezing in an instant. I instinctively looked around for the cause, thinking I was being silly – after all, changes in temperature aren’t precipitated by the sudden presence of…Something Else, right? But I was wrong.

It was rose from the fetid waters, scattering frogs, birds and snakes in its wake. It was horrifying to look at, seemingly constructed of leaves, mud and, most prominently, Moss, as if a piece of the swamp itself had come alive and detached itself to wander. I was stunned, riveted to the spot as it slowly, so slowly, drew closer. Then a sound began to emit from it, and I realized to my horror that, deep in the recesses of the mossy strands at its apex, it had a face. And from that face issued a sound of pure pain, as if every shuffling step it took in my direction was utter agony; indeed, the sludge from which it was formed seemed to have its own viscous sonic flow. It shrieked and roared, and words could barely be discerned – something about Skeletal Keys, Tombs of the Blind Drugged and some kind of Eternal Return. It halted briefly, then began again, lamenting painfully about I know not what. As it inched its way through this horrific performance, I couldn’t move – repulsed by its suffering, I was also strangely absorbed by it, as if I was witnessing the destruction of something holy, making it impossible to look away as it twisted my soul.

After nearly 40 minutes, during which time it seemed to draw no nearer, it fell silent; the spell broken, I made my escape, not looking back. I vowed never to return to the swamp and to seek my fortune elsewhere. And yet…and yet I feel compelled to return, to confirm the thing’s awful presence, to prove to myself it wasn’t a hallucination, to experience once again its frigid, mossy embrace. Pity me, dear readers, for I am in the grip of something stronger than I, and if you see a faint trail of moss and swamp water behind my feet, please, I beg you…lend me some hip-waders.

- Michael Toland

The Gates of Slumber - Hymns of Blood and Thunder

The Gates of Slumber
Hymns of Blood and Thunder
Rise Above/Metal Blade

Heavy metal has so many genre permutations it’s ridiculous: power metal, doom metal, progressive metal, black metal, death metal, blackened death metal, doomdeath, etc., etc. So I have to raise a sardonic eyebrow to the notion that there has to be a new category, “traditional metal,” to encompass the acts that don’t prominently fly the flag for a particular style. But if there’s got to be a trad metal banner, then the Gates of Slumber is the band to carry it. Like historical predecessors Trouble, Manilla Road or Cirith Ungol or contemporaries Grand Magus, the Indiana trio earnestly combines the atom bomb-heavy crunch of Black Sabbath with the soaring melodic sweep of NWOBHM acts like Iron Maiden or Angel Witch and a bit of Dio’s melodramatic fantasia. On Hymns of Blood and Thunder, leader Karl Simon writes tunes big on deliberate pacing, majestic momentum and, of course, big-ass riffs – perfect for killing zombies, blowing up tanks or leading the conquering hordes. Oddly, Simon diffuses his vocals by clouding them in the arrangements, but he makes sure his guitar solos (which tend to be concise and to the point) are right up front. If you wanted to strap headphones on an alien to explain what heavy metal is, The Bringer of War, Iron Hammer and The Doom of Aceldama are the ones you’d use to do it. Simon varies the mood with Age of Sorrow and The Mist in the Mourning, which sound like ancient folk songs performed in a cathedral over the bodies of the dead. Wrapped in a war-torn barbarian cover that would make Frank Frazetta proud, Hymns of Blood and Thunder smashes its ale stein over goblins’ heads before drawing its broadsword and flaying every headbanging inch of you.

- Michael Toland

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Stabs - Dead Wood

The Stabs
Dead Wood

I’m sure there are complex and interesting reasons why Australian musicians are so goddamn good at blending rootsy rock & roll with dissonant noise, but I don’t know what they are and I’m not feeling up to writing a book about the subject. (Yet.) I’m always up for that particular band of clang, though, so I’m already pre-disposed to like the Stabs. Dead Wood, the Melbourne trio’s second album, hews closer to the more accessible side of the style, like contemporaries the Drones or Kill Devil Hills instead of old dogs like Feedtime or the Birthday Party, but it’s definitely still in the tradition. On No Hoper, Blues in F# and Ain’t That the News, mutant blues grooves hold hands with honky-tonk skronk, while frostbitten decadence flirts unselfconsciously with seething rage. The Stabs are a well-named outfit; as their best, they approximate the strangely sensual discomfort of a keen dagger inserting into your flesh - acutely painful at first but strangely satisfying once the blade slides home. Dead Wood is a model of ugly beauty.

- Michael Toland

Black Breath - Razor to Oblivion

Black Breath
Razor to Oblivion
Southern Lord

Moving forward in their attempt to corner the market on bands with “black” in the name, Southern Lord releases its latest slab o’ sludge, the Razor to Oblivion EP by Black Breath. Hailing from bucolic Bellingham, Washington, the quintet reaches beyond the grunge for which its region is most famous to the legacy of bands like the Accused, combining whiplash-inducing thrash, spittle-gushing hardcore and Baphomet-baiting extreme metal. Kinda like Celtic Frost and D.R.I. grudge-fucking each other, in other words. Like a self-referential slasher flick, the four-song set is ugly, violent and messy, yet somehow compelling; Neil McAdams’ caffeinated shriek is simultaneously forbidding and inviting. I don’t know if I’d really want to hear more than 15 minutes; music like this can be numbing and tedious unless the riffs flow like blood from a severed artery, and the heart quits pumping over time. But this particular quarter of an hour is the perfect length, and more bracing than a cup of espresso chased with No-Doz.

- Michael Toland

Church of Misery - Houses of the Unholy

Church of Misery
Houses of the Unholy
Rise Above/Metal Blade

Oozing out of the tar pits of Japan, Church of Misery tramples the world once again, leaving bloody kaiju prints on the flattened ground in its wake. The Tokyo quartet’s third studio album is as obsessed with homicidal mania as ever, rounding up another batch of nefarious evildoers. This time the notorious Richard Speck (Born to Raise Hell), Charles Starkweather and his partner Carl Fugate (Badlands), Albert Fish (Gray Man) and Richard Trenton Chase (Blood Sucking Freak), among others, get tributes/criticisms/whatever the fuck it is. (There’s also another classic metal cover, this time of Sir Lord Baltimore’s Master Heartache.) CoM’s thematic intentions may be unclear, but what isn’t in doubt is the band’s mastery of Godzilla-heavy doom metal; if Ozzy had been replaced by a demented grizzly bear, Black Sabbath couldn’t have sounded any better.

- Michael Toland

Friday, November 13, 2009

Brimstone Howl - Big Deal. What's He Done Lately?

Brimstone Howl
Big Deal. What’s He Done Lately?
Alive Natural Sound

Not everything from Omaha, Nebraska is socially conscious indie folk rock. Witness Brimstone Howl, a pounding, throbbing garage rock trio that sounds like it rolls in mud before hitting the studio. The group’s cleverly-titled third (or fifth) album keeps the boat steady, or as steady as this kind of racket can let it be, subtly increasing the melody quotient beneath the muffled grunge. Indeed, the Howlers explore the folk rock side of the Nuggets experience with End of the Summer and Final Dispatch, and quite nicely, too. But in the main the record consists of beer-fueled slammers like M-60, Iota Man and Everybody Else is Having Fun, perfect for rock club rave-ups and apartment trashings.

- Michael Toland

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Jayhawks - Music From The North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology
Sony Music

Not before time comes this harbinger of the pioneers declaration to stumble down the remastering and rumoured reformation campaign trail. Originally centred on the writing partnership of Mark Olson and Gary Louris they sauntered out of mid-eighties Minneapolis, issuing a quartet of releases including the hallowed Hollywood Town Hall and fabled Tomorrow The Green Grass before the twain split under the strain like the twin cities of their hometown. The earlier material - take the gently disembodied loping opener Two Angels or Waiting For The Sun - shows their clear passion for Gram Parsons and Crazy Horse though the sheer songcraft easily sets them several saddles apart from mere Americana five-minuters, as does the askance, sardonic worldview shared by fellow Minneapolis alumnus Paul Westerberg. The seemingly simplistic songs being shrugged off are in reality unassuming masterclasses and defining examples of autumnal, starkly sun-dappled laments and lonesome, cloudy lullabies. Concise, eloquent, evocative and sent still further astray from the middling majority by virtue of the unique, quite possibly divinely ordained, celestial harmonies of the two songwriters' tremulous, keening drawls. Utterly entrancing on the more (often than not) subdued mournful moments, positively ecstatic on the less present but more madly exuberant elegies like the deliriously sublime Miss William's Guitar - a hugely endearing off-kilter love-ode to Olson's future spouse Victoria Williams - leaving the largely allusory and veiled lyrics to subtly incise meanings into your subconscious, these songs can truly tear tears from the most arid trails without notice.
Post-split Louris charted an inconsistent course out of their earlier country by-ways into power-pop and straight-ahead West Coast American rock territory of the sort hinted at and, it appeared, perfected on 1995's Tomorrow The Green Grass. Pleasingly, though, Louris alone rarely strays into overly lush, stagnant and self-satisfied straits that suggests nor strife-fuelled self-despair. That they floundered somewhat with the double-blow of losing Olson and presumable label dictates is readily discernible, as over-long songs and cluttered production stifled either by guitar or orchestral sludge at times attest. Whether desperation through loss of direction or experimentation gone slightly too far there could be a case made that at least some of these elements were bitterly self-aware statements mocking himself, the industry and individuals, especially with a cache of stronger songs. Not that they were now entirely bereft of significant treasures, however. The ironic and acerbic stampede of Big Star resides resplendently amid the dysfunctional Sound Of Lies and Smile lathers you in the gloriously beguiling yet slightly tart as ever slice of sunny seventies lotion I'm Gonna Make You Love Me, brimful of the sort of stupified optimism even Mike Scott or Julian Cope would sneer cynically at, while Rainy Day Music harked back to the by now lightly browned green grass outside an old town hall, still as ever a display of Louris' distinctive melodic sense.
With the second rarities disc here hopefully just hinting at the stockpile Louris has at his disposal to plunder and disperse amongst further two-disc reissues (alternate Two Angels titled Old Woman From Red Clay, the dour-garbed doppelganger of I'm Gonna Make You Love Me in the guise of Someone Will and Stone Cold Mess with lyrics that turned up on Smile just a trio of prizes for fans of such artefacts) this is one band that were a scarcity in their own time and would be a rare thing once again in being worthy of a reunion show or two. For now, this serves supremely thankyou as both a perfect introduction to a mighty and arguably mite under-appreciated musical chapter aswell as a tantalising appetiser for what's to come on any repackaged classics. Simply, elegantly astounding.
Stu Gibson

Thursday, November 05, 2009

W.A.S.P. - Babylon

Like an alternate, spurious universe's embodiment of Bonodonna, Blackie Lawless here humbly appoints hisself ambassador for marrying, or marring, ancient myths with their modern day mirrors, valiantly tackling the beastly spectre of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And despite, or because of maybe, it sounding like quite a colossal dose of classic WASP, with some latter day idol-besmirching concept clutter coerced into typical positions, then it is likewise quite good but not exactly far-reaching. However, as in the past so in the present, for these positions aren't exactly compromising or explicit as all content is covered by strict pre-screenings in WASP's staple theatrical metal tenets, before surgery begins. No longer simply intent to arouse outrage in moral majority territory, modern day WASP's masterplan is to enforce relations with their tried, much-jested about but easily digested attack formations and such timeworn yet eternal metal concerns of good and evil. Never as barren of brain as his guitarists might have made him seem by their being in his band, Lawless can still seemingly toss off and crimp out metallic-pop anthems from the immortal blueprint of early Alice Cooper, Twisted Sister and KISS albums like a priest dispensing hail mary's. Tis a crusade positively bulging with trademark incandescent energy - once again they keep their ages old chaotic NWOBHM spark - with many a height soared and field marshalled to say the least, as the Lawless way with a shameless 'n shapely melody meets little resistance. With that peculiarly unique and passionate raven squawk masking the faux-philosophical lyrics until the choruses swoop low to distract attention slightly from the actual titles he's charring with his petrol-coated larynx...either that or it's when the ladies touch their knees and no-one can hear anyway. For here exists quite possibly the most banal bundle of song titles lumped together on one back sleeve ever. Burn, Into The Fire, Thunder Red (mis-heard Springsteen??) and Babylon's Burning. Hell, why not just shove Number Of The Beast in there too? And Seas Of Fire must have been etched on the hairy back of at least three album sleeves in 1982 alone. Cheerily though, as can be discerned, this doesn't affect the music muchly. Nooo, tisn't like they've taken their carefully considered consternation-causing moniker in vain with a Damascean exchange for the shock tactic of taking the serious stance, nor can it be described as an imaginative stride to go a-roaming down new alleys, dabbling in industrial stuff ten years too late like some old L.A. lags of Blackie's time. Despite Blackie's ultra distinctive voice and indiscreet charisma, though, it's ultimately an ephemeral and easily forgotten session. Of course none of it is comparable - though the first trident strike arguably could make good ground - to their days of cod-piece backfiring; beastalike fuck service; pyrotechnics by way of accidental hair-torching; PMRC- feminist-law flouting aaah the simple pleasures of a life that was solely L.O.V.E. Machine (need) vs Doctor (don't need); sleeping in fires while blind in Texas; wanting to be somebody, presumably because being seen as a hellion wasn't good enough for the ambitious bunch, it seems), and judged against most of the toss relentlessly yet aimlessly seeping and slipping out of the running to ascend the colossal, shite-stained, suppurating, rotten tit of an industry, striving to within sun cycles distance of the summit just to suck a piece of the putrefaction from the holy and wholly, slowly oozing cesspit, this holds a candle to them then scolds their faces off. So they're no longer ravenous shock tactic junkies and titillation but a solid bromide WASP-sody with an arid lack of dramatic tension in the titular area will far suffice over quite some dimension of the current musical climate. The grand galloping, gallivanting cavort with the Wonder Woman-twirling riff from Wild Child introducing Crazy (incidentally Seas Of Fire enters with a riff not unlike 9-5 Nasty), supposedly dealing with much darker themes than the love song setting it occupies, hmmmm, is possessed by one of those irrepressibly strident choruses comparable to those that seemingly dropped out of Blackie's BBC-approved ass-less pants in the above heyday, a trait that Live To Die Another Day (title??) takes on and verily trounces. That this even and easily survives a descent into Ronnie Dio domains on Babylon's Burning (though, admittedly it is of Long Live Rock'n'Roll) speaks volumes, well at least one notch. At nine tracks it appears pretty short, though all songs check in at around the five minute or so mark. One of the couple of inconsequential ballads, Godless Run (notable mainly as Into The Fire could be the bastard son of the debut's Sleeping In The Fire), should be cast adrift. The diabolically jolly and gloriously devil may care plunge through Elvis Berry's Promised Land is - surely implausible as a song that couldn't be enjoyed while seas swell and skies fall - suggests a hopeful end to the saga. Time will tell. 'It's easy to mock', so goeth the saying. Yes, but it's also easier to rock. And the sight of Mr World Apocalypse Saving Preacher bringing the four horsemen to heel would rock even more. Even if it did cause some sort of continental collapse.
Stu Gibson
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