Archive for June, 2014

Probably one of 2014’s most eagerly anticipated records, certainly by me, and one of only a select few that I could see pushing Mount Salem off the top spot from a personal point of view. Full disclosure: I FUCKING love Mastodon. Ever since I head ‘Blood and Thunder’ from ‘Leviathan’ 10 years ago, they have been one of my all time favourite bands, a band whose records I devoured as soon as they were released. But, can ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ stand tall with the likes of ‘Leviathan’, ‘Crack the Skye’ and the imperious ‘Remission’?

First of all, check out that artwork. It’s the definition of an acid trip gone wrong. It’s stunning, and is genuinely making me want to buy the vinyl edition to truly appreciate it. The album opens with ‘Tread Lightly’, an urgent acoustic guitar emerging from silence before the main riff kicks in. It lacks the heft of traditional Mastodon album openers, but since when does this band conform to stereotypes? ‘Tread Lightly’ is more of a majestic reassurance that thunderous prog is still the name of the game here. Troy Sanders has clearly benefitted from his stint in Killer Be Killed already; his roar is clear and firm, providing the accessibility that the music generally doesn’t. Spiralling guitar lines, a trippy solo and we’re off to a triumphant start.

‘The Motherload’ keeps the tempo high. It’s a very psychedelic song, driving singlemindedly forward, replete with odd vocal effects. So far, ‘Once More Round the Sun’ is a much more refined, less thunderous than ‘The Hunter’. Single ‘High Road’ is one of the band’s most anthemic cuts. With a soaring chorus and a damn heavy verse section, it screams ‘instant live classic’. Say what you will, Mastodon probably write the heaviest radio friendly singles you can get. This is fighting with (ironically) Killer Be Killed’s ‘Wings of Feather and Wax’ as my favourite song of the year. It’s got that trademark Mastodon stomp, and a chorus to die for.

The title track is heavier, with the first instances of odd time signatures. It’s a short, sharp burst of what I refer to as ‘Earth Mastodon’. It’s heavy, thick and less complex, as compared to ‘Space Mastodon’, that drop in every progressive nuance you can think of. It’s unashamedly catchy as well, and has those trademark Mastodon moments of spirally guitar melodies underpinned by another virtuoso drumming performance. ‘Space Mastodon’ comes to the fore in second single ‘Chimes at Midnight’, which launches into another dimension. An airy riff soars amongst the clouds, before the force comes back in and kicks it into a higher gear. Another driving slice of thunderous doom, picking up where ‘The Hunter’ left off. ‘Chimes at Midnight’ is probably the most ‘Mastodon’ song Mastodon have ever written.

‘Once More Round the Sun’ is by far Mastodon’s most commercial record. But with most bands that would be a disappointment. With Mastodon, you get some of the catchiest and most memorable songs they’ve ever written, but they never sacrifice that exploratory instinct. This is a record with plenty of weird moments (see ‘Aunt Lisa’), as well as some simply lush vocal interplay. Mastodon may have left the primal roar of ‘Leviathan’ behind, but they’ve embraced a much more adventurous and unique clean vocal style. ‘Asleep in the Deep’ has guest vocals from Valient Himself of Valient Thorr, and while a slightly underwhelming track, has some excellent moments of vocal interplay. It’s a softer, much more melodic track than we are used to, and maybe that’s why I’m a bit unexcited by it.

‘Feast Your Eyes’ showcases some more of that Mastodon groove, and is another fast paced stormer. The band seem to have definitely picked up the speed on some of these tracks, and this one has that brilliant spiralling guitar harmonies that I love so much. ‘Aunt Lisa’ sees the return of those weird ass robotic vocals from ‘Blood Mountain’, while the song pulls out some mathcore structuring and some cool, gang chant vocals at the end. If there was any doubt that Mastodon were embracing the RAWK a bit more, they are now put to rest. ‘Ember City’ thunders along with its soaring choruses, while ‘Halloween’ is another psychedelic juggernaut. ‘Once More Round the Sun’ ends with the obligatory appearance of Neurosis’s Scott Kelly, contributing vocals to epic closer ‘Diamond in the Witch House’.

Mastodon have defied all expectations and produced their most ambitious work since ‘Blood Mountain’. It isn’t as heavy as ‘Leviathan’, nor as epically progressive as ‘Crack teh Skye’. But what it is is the next evolutionary step in Mastodon’s astonishing body of work. A band who couldn’t write the same album again if they tried. Thank FUCK for Mastodon showing us that commercialism doesn’t mean sacrificing defining characteristics nor musical integrity. ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ is a staggering piece of modern progressive metal.

Originally posted here: http://www.thesleepingshaman.com/reviews/album-reviews/o/opium-warlords-taste-my-sword-of-understanding-cd-lp-dd-2014/

Subnote: I was particularly proud of this review, it was one where I felt at ease writing about the music. Sometimes I feel restrained, leashed by invisible forces that don’t let me get out what I want to convey. I just heard that the Roadburn Festival website picked this review to cover their ‘Record of the Day’, which was ‘Taste My Sword…’ Again humbled by the fact that the people who run such an amazing festival read my work, let alone enjoy it enough to use it on their site.

When I read that this was a release featuring a former member of Reverend Bizarre, one of my favourite doom bands ever, I thought I knew what to expect. Rollicking doom anthems mixing with a sardonic wit and riffs the size of icebergs. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but yet, I was not disappointed.

Taste My Sword of Understanding’ is a droning behemoth of an album, mixing ambient and drone doom with devastating effect. Take opening track, ‘The Sadness Of Vultures’ for example. A slow, shifting riff emerges from a gloomy atmosphere, treading between clattering chimes and buzzing feedback. It’s slow, it’s dense and very foreboding. This is a different kind of doom; dispensing with riff heavy crush fests and using the very essence of the word doom to create a feeling of desolation.

The Self-Made Man’ starts similarly. A slow, mournful riff wails from the speaker, before the first instance of drums appear and then the majestic vocals start. This is where the Reverend Bizarre link becomes more obvious, with Sami Albert Hynninen’s rich, full voice drifts over the riffs. There is a magnificent note of helplessness in his toning and phrasing, and it suits the almost funereal stylings. When the organ appears roughly halfway through, it takes it to new heights, leading to a melodic and slow guitar solo, then a storming faster ending. This is a titanic track and probably one of the finest epic doom tracks you’ll hear all year.

The God In Ruins’ leads in with a quiet melody, overlaid with growling ranting and raving. It’s a disturbing juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, the minimalism of the actual music playing up the visceral, naked rage of the vocals. ‘The Solar Burial’ has a soothing and gentle intro as well, and plays up the ambient and ritualistic nature of the record. Subdued chanting permeates the repetitive ambience, before it launches into crashing riffs and tortured howls. ‘Taste My Sword Of Understanding’ revels in not allowing you to feel comfortable, nor complacent about what to expect next.

Land Beyond The Pole’ is possessed of a rumbling menace, shot through with jarring dissonant guitar notes. ‘Mount Meru’ is the longest track, clocking in at a whopping 14 minutes, and is a shape shifting monster. Mixing crushing doom riffs with whispering vocals, it could almost be Reverend Bizarre on a dark day. Followed by the almost shoegaze ‘This Place Has Been Passed’, the malevolent cackling ‘Manisolas From Misandria’ and the closing ‘In Melancholy Moonless Archeron’, Opium Warlords channel the aching misery of My Dying Bride to startling effect, all while retaining that element of wrongness.

Taste My Sword Of Understanding’ is a disjointed, jarring monolith of a record, equal parts heavy doom and experimental ambience. It’s a tough 70 minute ride, being essentially the aural equivalent of a nervous breakdown and people who prefer their doom a bit more straightforward will struggle with parts. But underneath the darkness and despair, there is a record that yearns to be appreciated for what it is; a twisted, bleak exorcism.

Originally published here: http://www.thesleepingshaman.com/reviews/album-reviews/w/wort-not-your-cup-of-tea-cd-dd-2014/

Sometimes, when you hear a new release by a band you’ve been previously unaware of and you think, man this is pretty good, you go looking for a physical record. I got the download of this to review, and halfway through the first track, I was searching for a place to grab the CD. Fate would have it that they’re all sold out…

Not Your Cup Of Tea’ is four tracks of groove heavy sludge doom, taking its finest cues from the likes of Weedeater and EyeHateGod. ‘Suicide Tram Ride’ is a righteous slab of massive groove, a house built on foundations of misery and bile but with a decidedly stoner doom stomp. We’re off to a good start.

The Swine Herd’ continues this path of fuzz laden destruction, carving a path of rumbling menace. The vocals on this track are great, sounding almost hopeless, crushed under the heaviness. Wort is a band that excels with riffs. They sink into your brain, demanding repeated spins to appreciate. ‘Fire Flute’ has a cool opening vibe; a laid back swaggering groove with some great bluesy riffing. You could almost compare Wort to Iron Monkey, if Iron Monkey were from the southern deserts of the USA.

Closing with the deceptively simple ‘Tea’, laden with odd samples and tar thick sludge riffs that bring to mind NOLA’s finest sons, EyeHateGod, Wort show enough in this brief fifteen minute release to warrant a closer look on a full length. Twisting, howling and hammering their way into the ‘keep an eye on’ pile. Find and worship the fucking riff.

Originally posted here: http://www.thesleepingshaman.com/reviews/album-reviews/g/garganjua-trip-wizard-digital-ep-2014/

Generally I refuse to bow to stereotypes. Just because a band called Garganjua released a debut EP called ‘Trip Wizard’ doesn’t mean that they’ll sound like YOU think they’ll sound. It would be unfair to assume as much. However, in this case, you’re TOTALLY right if you guessed how they sound.

Trip Wizard’ is three tracks of rumbling sludge doom, opening with the titanic ‘Huntress’. A slow, creeping intro leads us into a powerful groove. A guttural growl emerges from the riffs, snarling lyrics over a sledgehammer pounding. Garganjua are headcavingly heavy; accentuating the hypnotising vibe is the simplistic but not monotonous riff pattern. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, ‘Huntress’ picks up a groovy, Orange Goblin-esuqe stomp to it in the final minutes that really kills. It seems kind of, well, out of position with where the song seemed to be going, but it’s a hell of a jam.

Lazy Green’ is full of bluesy swagger and Clutch style jams, with a more toned down clean vocal performance. It’s a bit more atmospheric, a bit more catchy, and definitely a cool sound. Garganjua seem like a different band on this track, coming somewhere between the heaviness of Orange Goblin and the straight out blues of Clutch. It’s a sound I very much appreciate, but feels strangely disjointed with the rest of the music presented.

The title track is another crushing doom workout, complete with the returning guttural growl. It contains many trademarks of the genre; the slow heft of huge guitar riffs, mournful melodies and a deep despairing feeling in general. It’s deep, cavernous doom; riffs like tectonic plates crashing together with ferocity. There’s something quite Swallow the Sun about this one, with a few Black Sabbathisms thrown into the mix.

Garganjua seem to be confused between two styles here. They want to be both torturously heavy death/doom as well as a more uptempo, stoner doom band. I suggest they pick and stick, because they have potential to be either. If it was up to me, I think the ‘Lazy Green’ way is the path for them, the world has enough slow growling doom in it.

Originally posted here: http://www.thesleepingshaman.com/reviews/album-reviews/v/void-generator-supersound-cd-2014/

Void Generator is the sound of Italian doom stuck very rigidly in the hazy glow of the 60s. They’ve released ‘Supersound’, a gloriously analogue and saturated by fuzz rocking doom record.
Opening with the propulsive stomp of ‘Behind My Door’, Void Generator don’t pretend to be anything other than a dash of rock, a bigger dash of psych, and a liberal sledgehammering of heavy. There’s something delightfully Kyuss about the opening eight minutes, from layers of fuzz to the bluesy desert rock riffing. We move from that onto the catchy, bluesy ‘Synapsex’, a cracking RAWK tune for a sunny day on the road. It reminds me of a more restrained Monster Magnet; driving space rock lacking just that rockstar madness.
‘Masters of the Skies’ is a titanic slab of psych rock, a hypnotising, rumbling beast with a great vocal performance. There’s something almost Jim Morrison about Gianmarco Iantaffi’s vocals on this track, and it adds a creepy vibe that is pretty cool. There’s smatterings of occult rock mixed within the stoner riffs, an uneasiness that permeates each song, each riff, each solo. It’s a unique mix to me; I’ve never come across anyone who can sound like Kyuss and The Devil’s Blood, but Void Generator come somewhere close. I like it.
The 60’s occult stylings continue with the organ driven ‘What Are You Doin?’; a cover of McChurch Soundroom. Who? Yes, that’s what I said. Turns out they are a 60s/70s krautrock band from Switzerland. Yeah, I still don’t get it, but hey, ‘What Are You Doin?’ is a funky number that blends with the style and era that Void Generator are going for.
The album continues with the heaviest track here, ‘Hidden Orbit’, that is probably my favourite here. I think Void Generator work, for me, better mixing their obvious Monster Magnet influences with some Kyuss fuzz and some occult rock weirdness. ‘Hidden Orbit’ has got this righteous groove to it that I can’t help but promote. ‘Universal Winter’ is acoustic psychedelica, dropping the groove completely for a more mournful, desert ballad, before ‘Globular Cluster’ channels classic Monster Magnet for a satisfying close.
Overall, I think ‘Supersound’ is a good record. It has some great songs that stand out for me, mostly ‘Synapsex’ and ‘Hidden Orbit’. Void Generator have a good sound; they stand out a bit from the stoner and occult rock crowds by combining both into a heady mix. Seek out ‘Supersound’ if you can find it, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

At this point I realised what a challenge finding thirty one quality thrash records that DIDN’T include the nation’s favourites actually was. But, as usual when adversity strikes me musically, I shuffled my iTunes and came up with our following batch. Here is Ser Geary’s analysis:

Once more unto the breach!
Himsa – Summon in Thunder
Blood Tsunami – For Faen!
Gama Bomb – Citizen Brain
Himsa is a stampede of riffs. I got a hardcore/thrash feel off them in addition to boundless energy. There were a few highlights off this. ‘Big Timber’, ‘Skin Walkers’ – look out for the solos, ‘Summon In Thunder’ and the hellish stomp at the 2min mark of ‘Curseworship’.
Blood Tsunami is a proper blast of raw blackened thrash moulded very much in the vein of the old school. ” Lets be faster than punk”. It’s not directly catchy but your head will nod and it will be reached for again.
‘Citizen Brain’ was one of those albums I’d read about for years and years; we had simply been like two ships in the night. Now that Mosh in May has acted as a lighthouse I can say with certainty that it deserves it’s praise. It bursts with that energy that makes you want to get up and do things! Anything. And it ripples with a sense of fun. How could track names such as ‘Zombi Brew’ and ‘Space Invaders’ not bring joy? It’s a blustering geek dipped thrash classic.Utterly deserving of it’s status.
Sepultura – Schizophrenia
Artillery – B.A.C.K
Aura Noir – Black Thrash Attack
Sepultura. If you do not know these guys stop reading. Go to google and come back when your life has been enhanced. Suitably enhanced? Sublime news. As you now know these stalwarts of death/thrash/groove metal have lead the charge for South American metal for years. This early outing sees a death tinged flare to it all but with a thicker sound that many bands of that era. I’m sure Max only playing with four strings was part of this. Its not their best but to ignore it would be foolish. Crank it up.
Artillery were a new band to my ears and they have been most welcome! From my notes something that leaps out is THRASH N ROLL!!! Which is clearly a good thing. somewhat Entombed like. The vocal varied quite a lot from a strained King Diamond to an Anselmo like muttering. ‘WWW’ is an excellent track with a epic opening riff. One for investigating into!
Aura Noir don’t fuck around. ‘Black Thrash Attack’ is exactly that. It’s a look back at that period of invention where bands had a bit of everything. It’s fearless and essential. One for everyday? Maybe not but like that meal you have a few times a year when it happenes you love it. ‘Caged Wrath’ and ‘Black Thrash Attack’ are track highlights with bonus points for naming a track ‘The One Who Smites’.

I spend a lot of time looking for new bands and music on Facebook. I have a tendency to ‘like’ bands then go back and listen to their stuff afterwards. Seems strange, but that way I don’t potentially forget about them. Forstyrre were one of those bands, and I was pleasantly surprised by their track ‘Haunted by the Shadows of War’ from their 2013 demo. Recently they offered up this demo as a limited to 10 cassettes, 7 of which they would give away for free to people who were interested. ‘ME!’ I cried. How can you say no to a free cassette of quality music?

Forstyrre play a largely ambient black metal style. The tape begins with ‘Sturm’, a delicate piano led intro that creeps and stumbles through a menacing rumble. ‘Haunted by the Shadows of War’ is the first proper track, a buzzing crawl amongst darkness and filth. There’s something about slower black metal that I really enjoy; it generally has a much greater sense of menace pervading it. Faster blasting stuff sounds more maniacal, where as this sounds a lot more dangerous. An almost suffocating night emerges from each buzzing riff, each tar soaked growl.

There’s a little note in the tape liner that says that the lyrics were based on true war stories. Clearly these are not the war stories that the movies tell. The title track is followed by ‘Der endlose Leichenzug’, an even slower track that sounds like that horrible dead Japanese girl from ‘The Grudge’. I couldn’t get the image of her creaking and lurching down the stairs when this track was on. Man that creeps me out… This is an exercise in atmosphere, pure and simple.

‘Unit 731’ starts with deliberate acoustic picking, before morphing into a raw, droning black metal odyssey. Croaking vocals emerge from the shroud of darkness that seeps from your speakers. It is remiscient of the haunting and hypnotic feeling you get from classic Burzum records. The outro ‘Hope’ is peppered with gunfire and explosions, once more reinforcing the idea that war, and the horrors it brings, is the inspiration behind this work. More mournful piano and songbirds twittering bring to your mind’s eye a field covered in white crosses and poppies. It’s a perfect ending. The bonus track on this is ‘Das warten auf dem krieg’, another killer track.

Forstyrre’s stuff is all sold out on their Bandcamp, but hopefully they’ll get a full release somewhere in the future so more people can get a hold of this. ‘Haunted by the Shadows of War’ is dark, dense and thoroughly enjoying deathride into hypnotising blackness.