Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Loss And Anger...

Gurthang / Beyond Life - Melodies of Sorrow (2015)

Coming from Cimmerian Shade Recordings, this split twists together doom, noise, black metal, and a dash of industrial for a very atmospheric and chilly experience.  Both bands contribute material recorded somewhere in the 2013-2014 range, but it all sounds fresh and vitalized.
Gurthang's half of this split is aggressive but weighty doom with a blackened edge, grinding through riffs while percussion pounds away.  While the black metal influence tilts the scales in its favor a few times (most strongly with "Arise"), there's a low-tuned groove rolling along under their most furious guitar-work, and the bulk of their material makes good use of the moody coldness to be found while wallowing in the low-end.
Beyond Life take their side in similar directions, though they spin a denser cocoon of synth drones and incidental noises, with a near-buried voice intoning a litany of despair.  Starting with "Heavy Rain", creaking mechanical rhythms coupled with the inspired squeals of guitar give things a feel not unlike being strapped to a conveyor belt headed for a factory's furnace.  "The Burial Rite" turns, appropriately, to a more funeral doom style, and "Driven by Melancholy" closes out the album with a keening and thoroughly forlorn arrangement of subdued strings.
Both groups bring a strong sense of their character to bear in their contributed pieces, and it all goes quite well with cold weather, particularly if you've got some frost building up on your windows.  So far, the label's announced no plans for a vinyl release (just CD and digital files), but it's still worth putting your hands on a copy if you enjoy funeral doom with some aggression and experimentation.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of;    Abysmal Grief, The Fateful Hour, Gulaggh, Pedestal for Leviathan, Runes Order


Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Bag I'm In

Sam Knee - The Bag I'm In (2015)

The full title is The Bag I'm In: Underground Music and Fashion in Britain 1960-1990, though for accuracy's sake, that should be amended to have 'Rock' inserted between 'Underground' and 'Music'. Among the genres receiving virtually no coverage are ska (despite a 2-Tone chapter), hip-hop, electronic (aside from a passing reference to the enormously influential Throbbing Gristle and acid raves), and metal, unmentioned until 1984 with the 'Thrash/Crossover' section. Dub, reggae, and rudeboys (none of which get their own section) are brought up peripherally a few times, but the number of photos with black Britons can be counted on one hand, and Indians seem entirely absent despite the fashion-mimicking of their regionality by the hippie and space rocker sets.

There's also some sweeping characterization made with the first line of the author's introduction: “Unique to this island, the music and fashion scenes are ingrained in the UK's DNA, going hand in hand as an inseparable force of nature that shapes our lives and the society we exist in.” Aside from the preposition at the end, there's the issue of omitting (whether by choice or simply not thinking of it) consideration of another island nation, Japan, where music culture and correspondent clothing have similar intertwining, from the punk-sworn bikers to the visual kei movement, not to mention the mainstream-abhorring experimental electronic/noise scene or the massive influx of American rock after World War II. I'll leave additional national counter-examples up to readers' discretions.

Providing brief analysis and background for each of the styles covered, along with a pertinent lyrical excerpt for each (in a nice touch, the back-to-back sections of Second Wave Punk and Goth respectively use “Punks Not Dead” and “Bela Lugosi's Dead”), the book tells its history in pictures well enough through the extensive photo illustrations, though as the author notes, size restraints limit the scope of exploration. The mod section stands tied with punk as the lengthiest, if revivals and derivatives go uncounted, though punk and its various off-shoots would otherwise easily win. One of the more interesting inclusions is hard mod, “an almost mythical, transitory sartorial style that is virtually impossible to pin down,” which spans just two photographs.

A focus on the lead-up to punk's emergence and the subsequent fallout tints most of the historical examinations, but given the impact the arrival of that genre had on music, fashion, and the UK in general, it's an understandable skewing. On the other hand, there's some odd minimizing of some aspects, such as the reduction of third-wave skinhead politicism and agitation to just two sentences. Similarly, “half-baked, shabby, second wave Gothdom” and pre-thrash metal, which the author characterizes as being marginalized to “poodle permed, Dungeons & Dragons playing sci-fi kids” during the punk era get brushed past without investigation even while recognizing their cultural subsumption. Even in light of needing to save page space, the amount of material excluded raises questions, particularly when the book's foreword identifies what did make the cut (such as Smithsmania and the '79-'81 fashions of Postcard Records) as “36 of Britain's most radical, vital underground scenes”.

The subjects of photographs are often identified by first name only, but there are a few with full name inclusions, and some of the photos have the locations identified as well, which adds an interesting sense of the regional disparities. There's some noticeable pixelization with the photos that have been blown up to larger sizes (a handful of which get double-page spreads), but the value of their inclusion (and of being able to get a closer look at some of their details) makes this easy to forgive. On a sweet note, a couple of pictures of Robert and Janet Knee, presumably the parents of the author, are included in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)/Beatnik and Art School Boho sections.

Some regional slang appears, and US readers may be confused by references to 'Mohican haircuts', which go by the name 'Mohawk' over here, but these turns of phrase can generally be puzzled out, and they add a nice personal flavor to the book's analytical angle. The appendix of an 'illustrated style guide' proves one of the book's most intriguing aspects, with paper-doll-style presentations and head-to-toe examinations of the fashions illustrated by Florence Bamberger offering help for quick perusals or more involved study.

The book may make you turn a fresh eye towards your own clothing choices in relation to your listening habits, past, present, and future; it may also give you an urge to visit your parents for the purpose of raiding their stored-away wardrobes. Whatever the case may be, it's an engrossing assembly of music/fashion cross-sections over three decades of the UK's history, framed and enthusiastically connected by Knee's assessments of influence. A scattering of band names and record labels adds an extra dimension of enjoyment for record-hunters, and it's fun to imagine the accompanying CD or DJ mix some enterprising individual could put together from all of the songs that get quoted along the way. All together, quite a good read, though some of its choices will have readers scratching their heads as they try to figure out the reasoning.

~ Gabriel


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Heartache And Hellscapes...

Without - Elaborations: I (2015)

The two lengthy tracks of this release add up to the first album from Minneapolis' metal band Without, who have some philosophy behind their style (if you want to read the screed in full, just check their BandCamp page).  The resultant music is slow, heavy, and near-devoid of hope, essentially funeral doom with a few twists to the formula.  The band makes strong use of controlled feedback run alongside clean but mournful vocals, taking their time to spin together an atmosphere of loss and longing, while the bass growls out its unforgiving mood.
While there's plenty of similarities between the two tracks, there's also individuality in the way they approach their execution, with "True Escape" acting as a more straight-forward prep for the twisting sorrows of "No One, Nowhere, Nothing".  The latter track also digs into some evolution of its melody across most of its run, growing more claustrophobically intense and pressurized.
The album is available digitally or as a 150-copy run of cassettes in hand-made fabric cases from Without's BandCamp page, so if you like your doom slow and sad, checking in on this will pay off pretty well for you.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of;    Disenchanter, Evoken, NIXA, SaturninE, The Sleer


Friday, November 20, 2015

Swirl Together Now...

Frank Sabbath - Frank Sabbath (2015)

This first full album from France's trio of Frank Sabbath is quite a first step.  Swirling together heavy psych, blues, stoner rock, and a few other influences, FS deliver a heady concoction of cool grooves and heated riffs, backed by smoked-out vocals, snappy drum-work, and (of course) plenty of bass.  They've also got some great track flow going on, with one dove-tailing neatly into the next, and the album as a whole has great structuring, split into distinct (and titled) halves conceived by the band as sprawling sets.  Just make sure you have song gaps turned off when you play it, so the little delays don't detract from the band's hard work.
Whether they're getting lost in spacy trips or digging down with focus into a deep-trench groove, Frank Sabbath come off here with flying colors, and they're already hard at work on a follow-up.  Expect to see this one on my year-end Top 20 list, and keep your ears peeled for news on that second album.  If you find yourself in need of some more Frank Sabbath after listening to this for the first time (totally understandable), they've been kind enough to throw one of their jam sessions on BandCamp for free download, so dive in already.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of;    John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Mondo Drag, Murder in the Cathedral, Quatrain, Vanilla Trainwreck


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Getting Physical...

CHILD - Healer EP (2015)

Los Angeles' CHILD offer a enjoyable mixture of no-BS riffage, hazy psychedelic rock, and petulant, strutting grooves.  It's clear from the first song of their second release, Healer, that CHILD are all about getting straight to the point, saying what they have to say and getting the hell out.  The EP's longest song is only 5 minutes and with the whole thing lasting a mere 20 minutes, the release certainly doesn't outstay its welcome.
The most striking thing about Healer's five songs is how focused they are.  In a music landscape where many bands of CHILD's ilk work long atmospheric intros and extended spacy jams into their songs, CHILD feel punchy and very immediate.
The vocals are the most unusual aspect of the band - on all of Healer's five songs, the singer is bathed in reverb and echo, giving a trippy vibe to an otherwise fairly straight-up rock sound.  I generally tend to associate the sort of to-the-point riffage that CHILD trade in with reasonably clean, powerful vocals, perhaps in the vein of John Garcia or even Ozzy Osbourne.  Instead, what we get here is something that I would generally associate more with a slow-burning psych rock band than the riff-centric stoner rock of CHILD.  While it might be a little unexpected, it gives the band the unique edge that is needed to set any group apart in such a crowded scene.  It can at times be a little difficult to understand the lyrics - which is a shame as they are interesting – however, the juxtaposition of riff rock and hazy psych works well for them and definitely sets CHILD as their own band.
Also of note is the abundance of memorable motifs and solid hooks on this EP.  The pleasingly crunchy riff of “Window” reminds me of early Queens Of The Stone Age, while “Mountain” has an intro riff that will refuse to leave your head for a long time.  While Healer is brief to the point of fleeting, those with a taste for rock solid riffs and psychedelic inflections will find a lot to enjoy here.
~ Martin

For Fans Of; Black Sabbath, Earthless, Kadavar, Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Raising Hell In The Woods...

Rise of the Wood - Demo (2015)

Playing in the field of hard rock with a metal edge, this Dutch band and their six-track demo specialize in earthy, semi-rural material and attitude.  While the songs have a way to go in making themselves stand out from similar stuff, the band shows a knack for tight riffs and good synergy between the members, something that will see them in good standing for their future efforts.  Some more tonal variety would be nice, and a little more change-up with the drum's pacing wouldn't hurt either, but overall, it's a respectable demo showing the potential of this band without any big flaws.  Whether they follow their hard rock side or settle into a mellower groove base, I don't doubt that Rise of the Wood will continue playing hard and having fun with their music.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of;    Five Black Bullets, Helltrain, Kyuss, Teacher, Queens of the Stone Age