Saturday, September 26, 2020

Sumokem Interview

 On September 4th, Sumokem released Prajnaparadha. Following their 2015 debut The Madness of Lu Shen Ti, Vol. 1, and 2017's The Guardian of Yosemite, the new release finds the Little Rock-based band shifting their musical approach once again, but also turns out to be something of a larger turning point for the group.  We spoke with Sumokem about their history, the making of the new album, and what they see in their future.

The Burning Beard: Hi there, congratulations on the new album, and thanks very much for sharing some of your time with us. To start with, could you give new listeners a run-down on the band's current line-up?

Sumokem: Yeah, so it's always been myself, Jacob Sawrie, on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Drew Skarda on drums. Since 2015 we've had Tyler Weaver on lead guitar and Dustin Weddle on bass. Now myself and Dustin play synths, as well, on every song on the new album, actually.

TBB: Who was in the band's original line-up, and how did it come together?

Sumokem: Originally it was myself, Drew, and Josh Ingram on lead guitar. We played for a few months with no bassist, and I'm surprised people liked it, haha. We were fortunate enough to add local legend Alan Wells on bass, and that was SMKM for the first couple of years. We recorded our first EP in Alan's basement. Josh died in May of 2015, and Alan left at the same time to take care of his family and his health. Tyler and Dustin came in and we found some new life.

TBB: How did the writing and recording of Prajnaparadha differ from your previous albums?

Sumokem: Really the only thing that was different about the process was that everyone incorporated riffs. It really opened things up and made this album what it is. We also took things a little more seriously in the studio, and that definitely made a difference.

TBB: What were some notable inspirations for its themes, and what led the band to settle on the final overall concept for the album?

Sumokem: This album is definitely a reflection of the four of us and our separate tastes shining through and meeting in the middle somewhere. We were all able to contribute to the writing process on this one since we’ve settled into the lineup, so I think that’s a reason it sounds much different. Our drummer, Drew, even wrote quite a few guitar riffs for this one.

TBB: Were the songs mostly put together before the concept was decided, or did the concept come first and direct the song-writing?

Sumokem: Honestly, my stories kind of write themselves. I start with a time and place, do a lot of research, write an outline of the story, and go from there - but as soon as I learned the word "Prajnaparadha," I knew that "sins against wisdom" had to be the theme.

TBB: Were there any other memorable ideas on which direction to go with this album?

Sumokem: The concept for the albums, and the lyrics, have always existed before the music, per record. We've just always kind of written the songs based on what we feel from the lyrics - but this is the last album we'll write that way, at least for a while.

We wanted this album to be our most progressive, most dynamic album yet, but let things play out naturally, and it worked out.

TBB: If there is one, what's the usual process for Sumokem to build a song?

Sumokem: The writing process was pretty organic, we brought riffs in and arranged them together and somehow it all worked out without sounding too juxtaposed or odd.

TBB: Given Sumokem's tendency to change atmospheres or presentation with each album (Chinese vibes for Lu Shen Ti, First Peoples for Yosemite, and Indian for this one), are there any influences on the band which you feel have stuck around from the start?

Sumokem: The only real influence that has stuck around is the use of cannabis or other psychoactive drugs in ancient cultures; be it for a character's benefit, or to their detriment, as in the new album.

TBB: If it wouldn't be giving away too much, does the band have any thoughts on which culture the next album might visit?

Sumokem: Actually, this is the last we'll be doing the "concept album" thing, at least for a while. We have started writing for another EP that is going to go in a more philosophical direction, lyrically.

TBB: What are some of the challenges you've faced as a metal band in/from Arkansas?

Sumokem: It's hard to say we have struggles any different than bands from anywhere else. You could say that the Little Rock/Arkansas scene is more underground than other major cities, but with bands like Rwake, Deadbird, Pallbearer, and Terminal Nation bringing attention to it, we can't really complain. It's a slow burn at worst.

It has its ups and downs being from a small city, we luckily have a history of killer bands here. It’s also harder it seems to get attention outside of Arkansas sometimes, but locally the reception here has always been great and we are grateful for it.

TBB: Are there any bands with whom you've shared a stage that you feel have helped sharpen your sense of who you are as a band?

Sumokem: Ha! Most of them. We've gotten to play with so many bands we admire, or even worship. We couldn't list all the bands we've played with that showed us how much better we could be. I think the biggest blessing was spending a week on the road with our friends in Pallbearer and Spotlights. Seeing them just kill it every single night was truly inspiring.

TBB: Are there any current bands with whom you'd be especially interested in putting out a split, or otherwise collaborating?

Sumokem: There's also a ton of bands we'd love to collaborate with. Personally, I'd love to do something with Pinkish Black or Kayo Dot, but we've also thought (if in passing) that an ultra-Arkansas collab could be cool.

TBB: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

Sumokem: Hey, we just hope people like the record - and a lot of people deserve a lot of thanks. We hope to see people on the road sooner than later.

~ Interview by Gabriel

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Transcending Ignoble Impulses...

Sumokem - Prajnaparadha (2020)

Following up on their advance single for “Fakir” at the start of this year, the Little Rock-based group of Sumokem have released their latest LP, their third since kicking off with The Madness of Lu Shen Ti, Vol. 1 back in 2015. Running slightly under an hour across its six tracks, Prajnaparadha shows the band in great form, putting deep consideration into not just the individual song composition, but also how they fit into and build off of each other.

Leading off with “Prologue” (easily the album's shortest song, at three minutes and change), Sumokem set up a base-line atmosphere of muted choral voices, brooding piano melodics, and deceptively complex percussion. Working through its progressions, the group establishes a sense of deliberation and craftsmanship, which they temper by introducing some rough-edged guitar and bass in the following track, “Nihang”. There's some understated noodling going on here from the guitar, which helps cut the serious tone and keep it from feeling overwrought. Vocals are used with care, tending to a rumbling growl when they appear (though some clean contrast does crop up), and the instruments generally dominate the track. Gnarled and twisting as the song-writing is inclined to be, the hooks bite deep, and pull listeners along with the momentum and beats.

“Parak-Dar” picks up from there, tracing out a similar groove as the end of the preceding song for a bit, before switching to more of a roll-and-stop rhythm, and a number of others after that. A stripped-down break again highlights the group's facility with morose melody foundations, gradually building back up into tension and a bit of a duel between the guitar and bass. The high/low opposition is held onto and developed intriguingly, with the guitar going higher still as the vocals growl deeper, and another twisting passage leads the way to the second half of the album.

With “Sadhu”, Sumokem turn up the headbanging energy, while holding on to their doom/prog cocktail dynamics. They also find room for some lush harmonic interludes, balanced out by some heavy-crunching bass lead runs. “Fakir” (which we've linked below) follows, with some echo pedal lending things further mystic vibes, while the sense of deliberation gets a resurgence in the careful beat deployment. It's a strong pick for the album's lead single, as it gets across a lot of their character, showcases their song-writing skills, and gives a wide range of emotional evocation. Lastly, “Khizer” rides in with a hard riff to keep listeners' heart-rates up 'til the end. It also features more vocal interplay than any of the preceding tracks, and the song's shifting structure makes the final crescendo strike incredibly hard.

All in all, it's an excellent album, putting Sumokem's talents in clear relief with excellent execution. It's also impressive for how cleanly they've set aside the usual metal album preoccupation with finding a particular sub-genre (e.g., stoner doom, tech death, etc.) and diving headlong into it. Instead, Sumokem pull from a wide variety of styles, blending them into their open-eared metal foundation in whatever way will serve the song's growth. It's a song-writing approach that's sadly too infrequently undertaken, but Prajnaparadha is a fantastic demonstration of how well it can pay off. Seekers of ambitious metal, put this one on your list, and pick up a copy when it lands on digital September 4th, and with a vinyl release from Cursed Tongue Records in November.

~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Abstracter, Ancient Lights, Flight of the Seraphim, Funerary, Hijo de la Tormenta

Facebook Twitter Instagram BandCamp

Sumokem - Fakir (320 kbps)


Saturday, August 01, 2020

Fumes And Sparks...

BongBongBeerWizards - Albong (2020)

Following up on a rehearsal track from 2017 and their debut EP from the start of last year, BongBongBeerWizards (you're already down just from the name, right?) are a German trio with plenty of fuzz to live up to their chosen moniker. With the time off to craft this return release, there's more thoughtfulness to the music's arrangements than the name might suggest, and they carry themselves well, pulling off a tough balance of garage-like cragginess and expansively spacy polish.
Leading off with “Melothrone” (which I'm guessing is an allusion to the classic Mellotron), the new EP gets off to an enjoyably grimy start. Riding deep feedback rumbles and pacing itself with the drummer's wary-sounding beats, the tune grinds through the grooves with a serrated sort of vibe, building momentum until the vocals arrive in an effects-laden entrance. Providing warping tension, mixed somewhat low against the rough riffage of the guitar and the rising punch of the drums, the wordless (or so I'd guess) singing lends things a spike of psychedelic vibrance to lift the heavy doom patterns. Running just over nine minutes, it's a clear guide to their style and character for those who might have missed the earlier efforts. They even pack in a break and bridge before the last couple of minutes, with an hooky rolling riff against cymbal clangs providing a bit of good-natured spookiness before the fuzz comes in like a tall tide.
“Journey” follows from there, easily the shortest track of the EP at just under three minutes, and it turns the atmospheric inclinations shown earlier into a short but haunting bit of tone exploration. It's a nice (and high-contrast) break with the weightiness of the opening track, and concisely demonstrates the band's facility with sparser song-writing, while keeping it both bare and forthright enough to bust any beliefs that they're getting by on the FX. The clean vocals, slight string echo, and restrained percussion all come together wonderfully, lulling the listener into a chill before the next song strikes.
“Meathead” rides an opening touch of drone into more somber territory, with the vocals shifting down to an ominous and thoroughly distorted call-and-response dynamic between the higher and lower singing. Riding the groove deeper and deeper, augmenting it with additional layers of instrumentation (or just more pedal activation, maybe), they pull some real Sleep vibes into action, providing what will likely be the high point for many listeners. Lastly, at more than ten minutes by itself, there's “Summoning”. I have to acknowledge that the opening of this had my cat spellbound. After its 'doom UFO' antics fade out, the heavier, more serious side of BongBongBeerWizards returns, prowling through a valley of semi-jammy but still powerful stoner doom flexes. It deflates the tension built by the preceding tracks, to a degree, but it also feels like a fitting finish, just kind of sprawling out into the smoke. All in all, there's a lot to dig into with this EP, so if stoner doom is one of your preferred styles, be sure to get a copy once it drops.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Atomic Trip, Electric Wizard, Hypnochron, Ladybird, Sleep


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Breaking Old Molds...

Monolith Grows! - Interregnum EP (2020)

Running two tracks on vinyl, and three in digital form, this EP is the latest from Monolith Grows!, whom we last checked in on back in 2015. Back then, they were still going by just 'Monolith', and had released their Even More album. With this new release, the Italian group have assembled some deeply enjoyable and surprisingly hooky tunes to lift your spirits in the tumult of 2020, with All Right Riserva Recordz picking it up for release.
First up is “Nicolas Cage”, a rumbling cruiser working off of a solid riff, with a blend of heavy rock and stoner metal flavors keeping it fun while digging into gnarly grooves. The extensive cymbal-bashing helps with that lightening of the tone, while the vocals rock on in a nice fusion of modern and retro stylings. There's plenty of energy, and the twists taken by the melodic direction lift it above much of the output that's come through in comparable heavy music lately.
“Nicolas Kim Coppola”, the digital-exclusive track, can be heard as something of a reworking of the first, operating from a similar groove, but dropping the cymbal prominence somewhat, leading to a more grounded run that lets the guitar's tone come through better. It's also about a minute shorter overall, and ends on a fade-out, giving the impression of a 'radio edit', wherever there's radio stations cool enough to play this.
Lastly, “Shade and Sleep” fades back up into a cool drum-and-guitar exchange, before the guitar takes it solo to heat things into the main ride. The heavy rock takes a bit more of a turn into yesteryear's dynamics here, with the bass strings allowed to rattle just a bit, injecting some hang-loose cool into the vibrant head-banging energy they let loose. Loaded with still more twist-ups and break-downs, it brings the EP to a victorious close, pumping out enough energy to make listeners wanna cycle right back to the start for another go. The band describes the EP as being a shift into more acid rock territory, and judging by the quality they've put on display here, their upcoming album (currently scheduled for 2021) will be a true treat, packed with creativity and indelible hooks. As of this review's writing, there are still vinyl copies of the Interregnum EP available, but you'll need to move fast to snag one, as only fifteen are left.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Craneon, Lint, Monocluster, Mother Mars, RHINO (Italy)


Saturday, July 18, 2020

Talisman Of Change...

Merlock - that which speaks... (2020)

Following up on a couple of advance singles between their 2018 debut EP/demo and this new one, the quartet of Merlock (named for the Christopher Lloyd villain from DuckTales, I'm hoping) bring a cool blend of heavy psych and doom metal to action over the course of the four songs on that which speaks....
Kicking off with “Idolon”, the band establishes a solid riff before reinforcing it with extra fuzz, bass, and treated vocals, lending things a gloomy, semi-mystical air. That continues for a couple of minutes, before picking up speed into a near-thrashy groove that brings the guitar out in greater relief. Tasty bridges and pedal effects draw listeners through the midway of the song before revisiting the earlier riffs with still more intensity, and the vocals rise to match it, before fading away in favor of distorted shredding.
An abrupt cut makes way for “Prolapse”, which picks up still more thrash flavoring with its rolling guitar progressions and steady cymbal clangs. Some fun noodling dominates most of the ride, with the vocalist hanging back and picking their break-out moments with care, and the main hook of the song is almost guaranteed to get lodged in your head long after you listen. “[Vessel]” follows, building a thick atmosphere around slow-moving measures and tonal sustains, with enough shifts throughout the song to keep things engaging and fun.
Lastly, “Condemnation” brings a bit of a death metal edge to the guitar and bass riffage, though the song grows slower and heavier as it progresses, finishing out the EP on a sinking moan. All together, it's a solid sophomore release, with a good showcasing of the band's abilities in a variety of approaches to their psych/doom blend. There's a limited run of cassettes (fifty copies) available for order through Merlock's BandCamp, or you can go with the digital version. Either way, you'll be getting some tunes that are quite easy to let yourself sink into and enjoy.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Demon Head, Goya, Pilgrim, Sleep, Venus Sleeps


Saturday, July 11, 2020

No Time To Sit...

Guided Meditation Doomjazz - No Throne (2020)

Following up an EP, a live album, and a single, all released within the past year, the Austin-based trio of Guided Meditation Doomjazz are back with another four tracks. One of those was used for the aforementioned single (“Swamps of Sadness”, with another nod to The Neverending Story in its cover art), but the other three are fresh for this offering.
The release leads off with the title track, building from ominous words of nullification into a heavy but nuanced groove. With reminders to “breathe in, breathe out,” the song curls along on thick-toned bass-lines and a bowed instrument (which occasionally mimics an electric organ in timbre) providing the foundation over which the vocals drift. There's definitely a heavy psych vibe at play, but with some of that Austin fusion mentality in the works, things take an unpredictable course. “Swamps of Sadness” follows, with a poker-faced recitation of Atreyu's quest and loss of his horse. An interpretation of Giorgio Moroder's score for that section of the film accompanies the proceedings, but with the shift from synths to analog, there's an interesting adjustment of the mood to match.
Imagine Relief” provides a rise up from the despair of the preceding track, though it keeps the mood low and heavy. It builds into a slow-loping riff carrying itself and the vocals into rising intensity and action, until they burst loose from a drum crescendo back into the original take, though now counter-playing against echoes of itself. Lastly, “New Nostalgia” picks up into a comparatively brighter groove, noodling along on the bass while the cymbals get prominent deployment. It all comes together as an interesting experience, fitting the band's name while giving your ears quite a bit to chew on. If you've been looking for something distinct and different in the doom realm, this will certainly fit the bill.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Merlin, Morphine, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, Shadowmaster, Wyatt E.


Saturday, July 04, 2020

See, Hear, Feel...

Sound of Origin - The All Seeing Eye (2020)

After popping up with their Seeds of the Past EP back in 2017, and making an appearance on last year's Doomed & Stoned in England compilation, the quartet of Sound of Origin have rolled back around with their first full album, boasting fifty minutes of stoner-tinged doom across nine songs.
First of the bunch is “Not Dead Yet”, with some lancing guitar and booming bass chords setting things up for a run of slow and heavy riffage. The title track pops out of that form, briefly, with a burst of higher-tempo drumming opening it up before sliding right back into regular stoner doom proceedings. Good mixing keeps the bass unmuddled, while the slight sinking of the vocals makes them a part of the crunches and fuzz. A mid-way break launches things back into the higher energy altitudes, before arcing back down into a bass riff that makes up for the interlude with extra weightiness.
And, for the most part, that MO carries the album. There's twists of sludge (as in “Dim Carcosa” and “Lockjaw”, their choice for lead single), and Sabbathy melodics (“Morning Bird”), but the grounding in that style established by the opening tracks is always evident, however tweaked. Luckily, the interplay between the bass and drums (like the opening cruise of “Stoned Messiah Blues”) keeps things fun enough to buoy the listener through the album. It's an easy one to let yourself let go and float along with, thanks to the solid riffs throughout each song, and the momentum rarely lets up.
Closing out with the nine-minutes-and-change of “Tempest Dunes”, the band stretches their riffs and scope out to monstrous sizing, working a call-and-return structure to fun effect. All together, it should be a nice treat for stoner doom fans who've been looking for a new group to add to their rotation. The All Seeing Eye goes up for sale on August 21st, through APF Records.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Attalla, Dopethrone, Godsleep, Tar Pit, Wizard Smoke


Saturday, June 27, 2020

Crushed In The Gears...

Malsten - The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill (2020)

Following up on their Torsion single from May of last year, the Swedish doom quartet of Malsten (which translates to 'grindstone', or, more thematically, 'millstone') have emerged more fully with this, their debut album. Leading off, naturally enough, with the song from that preceding single, the album gets underway on a horripilating vibe, with feedback and synths rolling out an uneasy tension before the guitar comes in with a raw-edged riff. It's a nice, broad-shouldered progression, and the band takes their time building it out for a bit before expanding things with the vocal incorporation. Should you wish to follow along with the lyrics, you'll get to explore the dastardly doings of the titular mill's owner. According to the band, this album shares only the first four chapters/tracks of that story; an uncommon approach, but the distinctiveness is well appreciated.
Through each of the songs (“Immolation”, “Grinder”, and “Compunction” follow, in that order), Malsten show themselves to be quite skilled not just with the moment-to-moment doom, but also at the larger shaping of the songs, and their place in the album as a whole. They're able to dig into a riff or rhythm interaction and tease it into something new, without it seeming overly indulgent or dry. The slow slides into relative calm, when they're used, are effectively offset by crashing returns, and their use of synth textures (courtesy of member Andreas, who's also the bassist) lends the music some engaging further dimensions. Bridges and breaks come through naturally, without a sense of over-orchestration, and the band's ability to keep strong momentum flowing through the various change-ups is one of the album's most impressive qualities.
Heaviness is abundant (and then some), but it's managed with an ear towards how it can strengthen the song, rather than being a persistent, unchanging weight across everything, as some doom bands fall into doing. The band also operates so smoothly with how its individual instruments come together, it can go right over your head how well they're playing off of each other if you're just grooving along with it. But they've definitely got the chops, as this excellent first album shows, and finding out how they grow from here is going to be very exciting. If fine-crafted traditional doom is your thing (or if it's not, but you're willing to give it a shot), do yourself a favor and pick this up once it's out. Pre-orders start July 3rd, full release is July 24th, vinyl is coming through Interstellar Smoke Records. Hats off to Malsten.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Descend Into Despair, Earthshine, The Fateful Hour, Heavydeath, HellLight


Saturday, June 06, 2020

Soot And Stones...

Chimney Creeps - Nosedive (2020)

Popping up from New York with this, their debut album, the power trio of Chimney Creeps (like chimney-sweeps, get it?) brings a seven-song batch of sludge-varnished heavy rock to the table. Flexing their style and rotating member focus on the instrumental opener “March of the Creeps”, the band shows a bit of grunge flavoring, but with a leaner, buzzier approach. It's a good foundation-setter for the next tune, “Head in the Sand”, which brings in guitarist Dennis Haggerty's lead vocals, striking a balance between punkish barking and moments of melodic harmonizing. Both the bassist (Donavon deCesare) and drummer (Alex Hadjiloukas) provide backing vocals throughout the album, pulling their performances in the songs that much tighter together.
As the songs go on, the band shows its facility with crusty riffs, big swells, dirty grooves, and beefy bass-lines. Keeping up a steady current of wounded anger, the group digs out old-school hooks and gives them a modern sharpening, while keeping the underground vibes well in effect. Things get a bit expanded in the second half, with the closer of “Diving Line” shading out into a number of stony bridges. Riding out on a big-finish groove, the Chimney Creeps make it easy to spin the album time after time. It'll be interesting to hear how their style develops with subsequent releases, whether they play up their dirt rock, grunge, or sludgy sides, or keep honing a fusion of the three. However it goes, if you've been in the mood for some audibly authentic heavy rock, you'd do well to pick yourself up a copy of this album. Available on vinyl and digital, both at very reasonable prices.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Alice in Chains, Funeral Horse, Pale Grey Lore, Rainbows Are Free, Sex Scheme


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Down In A Hole...

IRN - IRN EP (2020)

Having kept up a steady stream of releases since their self-titled debut album back in 2013, the Canadian group of IRN have kept honing their sludge chops with each split, single, and LP to emerge. This new EP is their mostly widely distributed to date, with support from Breathe Plastic, Rope or Guillotine, Bad Moon Rising, and Craniophagus Parasiticus, coming out on tape, digital, and vinyl once July 1st rolls around.
First of the two tracks is “Blood Seeping from Your Eyes”, which flows from yelled curses right into the main groove. Punch-ins of feedback and snarls of bass smear right into the percussion and bellows, with the ~11-minute track continually finding room for another twist or bridge. “DIE!” is the most common and recognizable command among the vocal distress, and the song builds up some great tension (underscored by ringing feedback) as it burns along. A resurgence of venom helps spike the song into its closing moments, before moving on to the second side.
“Forever Miserable” moves into a slower pace, grinding along while bringing the vocals further to the fore, and delivering coordinated bursts from the instruments. Again, a use of rising tension throughout the track keeps the energy pushing along, with the band rising to recapture the speed from the first song. An extended mood shift back towards the slower material brings it back down to the mud from the midpoint, but revs back up for a big finish. Overall, some solid sludge, and a good way to get out some frustration if you happen to be stuck indoors.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Body Void, Lifeless Gaze, NEST, Noothgrush, Primitive Man


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Cracked And Cadaverous...

Eremit - Desert of Ghouls (2020)

Wasting no time in following up on their debut album from last year, the German trio of Eremit have unleashed this two-track EP, released (as was their LP) by the prolific Transcending Obscurity Records.
Leading with the nine-minute “Beheading the Innumerous”, the band rapidly rumbles up to action speed, pulled upwards by a growler of a riff and stabs of guitar feedback. As the rasping vocals make their way in, the tune congeals into a firmer groove, still working that central riff and showing how durable it is. Some tempo adjustment about midway through leads to more of a groove rider, but the original heaviness and raw vibes remain intact. Things ramp back up to higher speeds for the finish, with a grinding last minute leading to the next track.
The B-side is “City of Râsh-il-nûm”, and while the song doesn't quite deliver the Tolkien-ish mood suggested by that title, it does take its time at the start to build up a gentle atmosphere. Some slow string action, quiet percussion to guide it along, and some echoing bells or chimes glide along for about three of the song's twelve minutes. After that point, some amped guitar enters the mix, perking things up and providing enough dissonance that you may get a few goosebumps prickles while listening. Gradual increases on the general heaviness follow, making the song something of a study in the band's ability to pace itself while pushing onward. Slightly before the mid-point, they kick into hard gear, bumping up the volume on everything along with their intensity, and continue to cruise while finding additional elements to introduce along the way. All around, a good showing from this band, with some fun clues as to where they'll be going from here.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Deuil, Mudbath, Plaguewielder, Slabdragger, Zaraza


Saturday, May 16, 2020

Dreams And Delirium...

Slowbot - Sleepwalker (2020)

It's been almost five years since Slowbot's last release, with their sophomore EP, Pacifier for the Mind.  Following just a year after their self-titled debut EP (which we covered here), their second effort found the band solidifying their stoner rock flavors into a heavier form, and stepping up their cover art as well.  Both trends continue with this LP, which comes as a welcome return from their hiatus, and brings with it six tracks of the French group's heavy rock explorations.
First of the tunes is “Sleepwalker (Part 1)” (its second half closes out the album, fittingly), a creeping crusher which finds the band delving into doomier territory than they've shown on either of the earlier releases.  Once the mood is firmly set, the vocals arrive, ringing out over the swampiness of the guitar and bass, and muffled clangs of the cymbals, with a goosebump-raising ghostliness to the timbre and intonation.  Some deft soloing directs a bridge into more pronounced restatement of the original riffage, with a brief drop before surging even higher for the finish.
With that powerful opening, there would be a lot of options for how to follow it up, and Slowbot go with a shift towards more of a hard rock route in “Strange Fish”.  The drums are allowed to come through more clearly, the guitar riff rides faster and more intently, and the vocals, while still echoing with some distortion, feel more earthly in their delivery.  As if to balance that out, the breakdown is much more psychedelic, with some serious flourishes on the strings.  “Inside” steps back into the big shoes, coming together at just under nine minutes, and bringing its heavy rock base on a versatile trip.  The vocals come through cleaner still, and some lush atmospheric bridges rise up, but with the guitar and bass slamming their chords down as hard as they do, not an ounce of heaviness is sacrificed.
Opening the B-side (assuming this album gets the vinyl release it absolutely deserves) is “Ride”, which brings a rollicking rhythm to bear, and a pounding chorus to get lodged in your head.  Dropping down to just seven minutes, it really evokes the sun-baked feel of rolling down a highway with no particular destination, and practically demands to be played at high volume.  Penultimate track “Here Comes the Fire”, far from being a toss-off warm-up for the finish, changes to a rawer guitar tone to help it stand out (as the LP's shortest song, it kind of needs that feature).  Some droning warbling from the singer helps lend further garage psych flavoring, and the guitarist really seems to be having fun with the solo on this one.
Lastly, “Sleepwalker (Part 2)” brings a close with its nearly eleven-minute run.  Pulling together vibes from all the preceding songs, it unfurls a lengthy instrumental wandering, building up energy before the vocals break in, pulling it into the doom-tuned mood.  Flowing from there through assorted other twists and mutations, the band eventually ties it all back into the original order, giving a fine showcasing of their chops in the process.  It's a pleasure to hear Slowbot back again, and rising to the occasion with such verve and creativity.  Here's hoping that (in addition to this getting a vinyl pressing) their next release doesn't have such a time gap in making its way to us.  Even if it should, though, this one is loaded with enough variety and life to hold up to playing all that while.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Canopy, Fatso Jetson, Greenthumb, Keef Mountain, Pale Grey Lore


Saturday, May 09, 2020

Acrid Fume Exhalation...

Church of Destiny - Black Smoke Eats Out (2020)

Following up on their debut album from last year, the Bulgaria-based Church of Destiny have resurfaced with this five-track EP, delivering a quick shot of dirty sludge on the lo-fi side. Launching off with the muddy thrashing of “Fixation”, the band wallows about in low-end reverb, growling vocals, and hard-beaten percussion, rolling it together in coat of rough production that fits the attitude on display.
After that pleasant introduction, it's on into “Ghetto Hope”, which brings a bit of rolling rhythm to the beats, building the tune up over its run into something that glides along on heavy bass hum, before breaking back into the rougher handling. Despite some odd structuring, it's one of the hookiest riffs on the EP. A spoken-word sample (an extended cut of one used on Meth Drinker's OIL album) leads into “Shooting Whores”, which bumps along on more of a guitar-riven crunch. Bass breakdowns give it some grounding in the heavier end, though, which makes for an effective balancing.
The last two tracks run in quick succession, adding up to about five and a half minutes between them. First of the closers is “Numbing Dose”, which drops in a druggy sample to set the tone before launching into a punchy up-and-down rhythm, and “A.C.A.B.” leans hard into the punk side of sludge's roots, bashing out a down-tuned blast of hardcore antagonism. Though the production can be kind of ragged at times, it does show off the band's authenticity in a way, and sludge is something that's never benefited from being too clean, anyway. Those looking for some under-the-radar metal, give it a go.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Hypnochron, Lifeless Gaze, Mudbath, O.D.R.A., Zeppheroin


Saturday, April 18, 2020

From Dark Valleys...

Wizards of Hazards - Blind Leads the Blind (2020)

What we have here is an EP from a band with a curious history. Having allegedly been founded in 1989 under the name Black Wizard, but changing their name to Wizards of Hazards about six years ago, Blind Leads the Blind is the first release listed on this Finnish group's BandCamp page. The Black Sabbath nods are obvious just from the titles, and the music echoes those impressions, riding a traditional heavy metal vibe to solid effect.
Leading off with “Children of the Damned”, the EP gets underway with clear riffs, theatrical vocals, easy-going rhythms, and some fun soloing from the guitar. It hits that '80s heavy metal style dead-on, handling the heavier and higher sides with equal capability. Production is clean, without being so glossy as to make it feel sanitized, and the musicians do a good job balancing focus between their instruments.
Stoning” follows, leaning into a slightly harder groove, and the drummer gets to lay out some punchier action on his end, with a steady-beat emphasis that nicely evokes the march to doom described by the lyrics. The bridge-work is deftly handled here as well, swaying you into another hook just long enough for the main one to return with renewed power. “Boots of Lead” (and if you don't get that reference, they re-emphasize it with the final chords) closes things out by bringing in a more somber mood, though it stays firmly in the traditional doom realm, rather than shifting into funeral doom or death doom. And the upbeat bridge featured in this track ends up balancing the mood out, anyway.
All together, it makes for a nice, well-rounded demonstration of the band's style and interests, and dishes it out quickly enough that you can jump back into it whenever you feel like. Personally, I'm hoping they show a wider emotional range whenever an LP comes about, but from what's on display here, there's a lot to enjoy, and very little to complain about.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Below, Dio-era Black Sabbath, Manowar, Pilgrim, Saint Vitus


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Don't Look Down...

Night Goat - Burning Bridges to Light the Way (2020)

On Night Goat's third EP (following the simultaneous release of their Chicken and Egg records), the Australian group has put together just under half an hour of material, with a conceptual emphasis on the deteriorating state of the world.
Opening with “Simulacra”, the group works a slow and atmospheric groove between the bass and drums, with smokily sensuous vocals wrapping their way around the progressions. Restrained toothiness on the bass' riffs gets to come out and play in the bridges, with guitar-work and rougher singing joining in once that side's been uncovered. As things continue to develop, both sides entwine and branch off again, making for an opener that impresses with its technical panache as well as the emotiveness of the playing.
Negative Crepe” (presumably a play on the similarly-titled Nirvana track) picks up from that high note, shifting back to the slow and moody vibes for the most part, though they do find room for some heavy and hard hits on the up-shift. It's more of a tonal trip than a rocker, but they put in such good work, it hardly feels like they're taking it easy. “Anchorite” takes over from there with a broody, simmering lead-in that practically tingles with foreshadowing. And the song delivers, working its way back and forth on intensity escalation, teasing listeners deeper into its web, edging them on with ominous build-up and leaving them eager for whatever may come.
Finally, “The Last Human Sound...” brings a conclusion that builds from the mix of melancholy and anticipation preceding it, delivering the longest song on the EP. Working a rising tension and swelling guitar presence, the band unfurls a track that I have to imagine takes on a spirit of its own in live performances. Despite its length, it's maybe the easiest listener on the EP, thanks in large part to the careful handling of the main melody. All in all, a very respectable release from this crew, and one with some deceptively sharp hooks to get lodged in the back of your mind.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Acid King, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Stonerror, Wicked Lady, early Windhand


Saturday, April 04, 2020

Taste The Source...

Mind Reverse - Cosmic Flow (2020)

Following up on an EP and a pair of singles all released in 2017 (two years after forming the band), the Brazilian group of Mind Reverse have taken an intensive three years to assemble this, their first LP. With a hefty thirteen full songs to its run, Cosmic Flow shows the band's high-octane heavy rock, with healthy infusions of psychedelic and funk rock, and a few splashes of prog as well, all mixed together in top-notch form.
Starting off with the tasty grooves of “New Lands”, Mind Reverse get things cooking and pull the listener right on into the heat. The hooks, captivating arrangements, and permeating creativity are persistent qualities for the rest of the album as well, with quick-changing rhythms playing up the main beat, fills to get your spine bouncing, and always more room for a snazzy flourish or three. It's hard to pick out a favorite song, as the album flows so damn well through them all, and there's always new details to notice.
Fat but nimble bass-lines, deftly agile drumming, guitar-work that can switch on a dime between gritty and soaring, and vocals that wonderfully complement it all are joined by a number of other touches, with organ, flute, and keyboard embellishments making the music practically burst with enthusiasm and liveliness. There's not a false step among the songs, and the range covered by the band is made all the more impressive by how casually cool they make it seem. There's a bit of a Jane's Addiction vibe at times, but pulled off with much more sincerity, less deflective wryness, and a hell of a lot more psychedelic flair.
For the band's first album, it's put together astonishingly well. The energy is managed nicely, with a few slower groove tunes spaced out among the higher-tempo rides, letting listeners appreciate both sides without getting worn out on either. The stylistic range, as previously mentioned, is fantastic, and there's so many melodic hooks that you'll be spoiled for choice on which one to get stuck in your head. The care put into making the music is evident in every moment, though it never gets in the way of rocking out. Thoroughly impressive work, and some of the best heavy rock I've heard in a long while. Don't miss out on this one, if you have even a slight taste for heavy rock. Cheers to Mind Reverse!
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Craneón, Gripe, Manthrass, Necro (Brazil), Persona (Argentina)


Saturday, March 28, 2020

Ascending From Ooze...

ITUS - Primordial (2020)

Marking the first non-single, non-cover release from this Canadian band, Itus' EP Primordial comes together as just over twenty minutes of sludgy doom with an emphasis on melodic hooks. Balancing out that grooviness with high-pressure harshness from the vocals and guitar tone, opening track “Cloud Reader” pulls listeners in with alternations and build-up of those two sides, Good flavor, solid riffing, and impressive back-and-forth between the band-members kicks things off with a strong lead, picked up by “Question Everything”. Changing to a crunching rhythm for the opening portion of its run, the second song settles into a heavy grind, with plenty of change-ups to keep things interesting, and a rattling climax followed by a feedback bridge.
The title track takes middle position, with the vocals mixed into a submerged crush for the slower parts, but rising back up in the mix to match tempo escalations. It also features maybe the hookiest riff on the EP, and finds its counter-weight in a haunting scream before kicking in more of their sludge influence. Rather than settle into a predictable pattern, they follow that with “This Can't Be”, a moody, contemplative piece which takes more from funeral doom in its styling. Drawn-out chord strains and sustained tone adjustments complement the (mostly) clean vocals, pulling thoughts of early Bell Witch material to mind.
Lastly, “The Chaplain” brings the EP to a close on a lush and vibrant note, with early tone study gradually turning to a concrete structure, joined by vocals and regular chording. Taking its pacing carefully, the song grows in sinister intensity and pressure, riding its way up to a pounding crescendo and feedback finish. A very strong first release, and well worth checking out for doom fans looking for something with some brains behind the fuzz.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Dead Hand, The Hyle, Nest, NIXA, Wolf Blood


Saturday, March 21, 2020

Power Of The Cosmos...

Earth Drive - Helix Nebula (2020)

Coming about three years after their previous album, Stellar Drone, the Portuguese band of Earth Drive are back with more tracks than any of their other albums. Subtitled “Dust Makes This Cosmic Eye Look Red”, the new album shows Earth Drive continuing to hone their mix of heavy psych and space metal, and the results are downright fantastic, though it takes numerous play-throughs to appreciate just how much they've packed into the experience.
The first of the dozen included on Helix Nebula is the intro-ish “Cosmic Eye”, which matches a jangling guitar riff to deep-throb bass alternations, kicking things right into gear. A fade leads to the title track, in which rolling rhythms shift momentum between the two lead vocalists, on the back of guitar and drum swells. The excitement of the band to be back is evident, and it's hard to not get pulled in by that energy, along with the hooks and power of the song itself.
As things cruise on from there (with the transitory track “Holy Drone” guiding listeners inward), the care that the band has put into giving the album a persistent sense of flow becomes increasingly evident. Careful handling of the songs' energies creates something of an undertow effect; you try to think back to how the music got to a certain point, and you have to keep threading further and further back, as it builds on itself so much throughout the album.
To be clear, Earth Drive most definitely do not sacrifice individual song quality for the shape of the overall album. Song after song rocks and captivates, with nuances and twists helping to distinguish each track, though the underlying character is clearly consistent. Grooves and deep riff explorations are given full due, and the band's knack for going from an introspective moment of quiet to an outburst of liveliness gets put to superb use several times.
A pair of 'bridge' tracks (“Nagarjuna” and “Anulom Vilom”) mark the change-over to what would be Side B on a vinyl release of the album (and can some savvy label license this band's discography to make that happen already?). With the first return to 'full-length' song size, “Science of Pranayama”, ED reassert themselves in what feels like the album's climax, with the meditative “Deep Amazon”, expansive “Space God”, and outro of “Phantalien” following. All together, the new album is outstanding, and shows quite thoroughly how Earth Drive keep building and developing on the ideas of their earlier work. If you're a fan of heavy psych, do not let yourself miss this.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Frozen Planet....1969, Hijo de la Tormenta, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Ksyatriya, Mondo Drag


Saturday, March 07, 2020

Lowering The Mask...

Hyde - Hyde (2020)

Made and recorded in France, with mixing and mastering handled in Sweden, this debut album from the band known as Hyde packs seven solid tracks of heavy desert rock. Coming together at just over forty-five minutes, the band spreads their wings with style and plenty of memorable hooks, and shows that they've got the chops to keep their chosen style rolling through songs both short and long.
Opening with “The Victim”, the band starts on good footing as big riffs rumble on, get tightened up for the verses, and swell again on the choruses. It brought Kyuss to mind, but Hyde have put enough of their own spin on the vibes to keep it respectable. “Black Phillip” follows, slowing down to more of a doom rock mode, though the vocals hang on to their warmth. Again, the guitar riffs are where the power stands out most, as they hit a savory balance between hooky melodics and craggy roughness. Some spoken/whispered touches, particularly in the subdued breakdown, help shape the song's atmosphere further, making for a brief bout of creepiness before surging back up into the rock.
“Tsunami” takes things in a direction even slower and colder for its intro, and while it retains some of that tone for its remainder, it's largely back into the heavy desert rock. The tail end of the song lives up to its name with a swelling crescendo, then it's on into “D W A G B”, the most mysteriously named track of the album. Making use of an extensive sample (you'll just have to listen to place it), the song is otherwise instrumental, and it's one of the harder-kicking rides Hyde offer so far.
It also marks the halfway point, as the last three songs (“Hunter's Run”, “The Barber Of Pitlochry”, and a self-titled track) add up to twenty-three minutes of the total play-time. Fittingly, it's here where the mood and feel of the songs grow to their biggest proportions. Add to that the compelling flow within the tracks and between them, and there's not much choice but to just go with the ride through the back half and enjoy the massive grooves. Of course, “Hyde”, at eleven minutes and change in the closing position, is the one which dominates, and which shows the band working the most structural changes into their song-writing. All in all, a solid debut, and one which should have desert rock fans keeping an ear out for more to come from Dr. Jekyll's dark side.
~ Gabriel

For Fans Of; Forming the Void, Kyuss, Sonora Ritual, Snake Thursday, Tuber