Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chris and Strawb Take Over: Doom/ Stoner Part III

Across Tundras Sage


By: Chris Davison

Across Tundras are from Denver, U.S. of A. I don't know pretty much anything about Denver, or indeed Colorado. Being from Merry Olde England, (you know, the place depicted in Marvel Comics as being wall-to-wall Tudor houses and the population still dressing like medieaval serfs), I don't really know too much about Americana at all. I do have a mate that did American studies, but he now lives in Dundee, Scotland. I'm not sure what use he gets from his American Studies degree – probably about the same amount that I get from my Philosophy degree. Ho Hum.

Why am I rambling about Denver? Well, I wish I knew more to be able to say how much the location may or may not have influenced the music on Sage. As the resident doom and stoner fan here at the Metal Flows In My Veins towers, it befalls me to comment on Sage. Across Tundras are, ostensibly, a stoner metal band. This may indeed form the basis of the work here, but there is so much more to it than that. This is an album that reeks of what I assume is Americana; a frazzled, burned out after image of country and western music as experienced through a pair of 3D glasses. The lenses of the glasses project twin images: 1971 Black Sabbath and Johnny Cash. All of this while experiencing a particularly psychedelic acid trip.

(Editor's note: An eagle eyed reader pointed out that Across Tundras formed in South Dakota, and currently reside in Nashville, Tennessee. Thanks.)

The twinging, twanging reverberation of the guitars while interspersed with slowly echoing electronic sounds bring to mind the vastness of the great American wilderness – an effective musical companion to The Lone Ranger, if The Lone Ranger wasn't so much a crime-fighting do-gooder, but a burned out ex-hippy seeking spiritual rediscovery. The psychedelic nature of the prolonged wig-outs on the album is certainly less formulaic than many of their peers, and the introduction of the Cowboy spirit into the music is certainly a brave – and for the most part effective – move. The vocals are clean, and frequently echo in a spectral fashion, while the guitars portray both power and desolation, in tones which can vary between typical stoner fodder and a higher, haunting vibe not unlike country rock. The rhythm section is worth some special attention too. The bass is higher in the mix than I am used to, and hence I am able to say that the playing is subtle but effective, while the drumming has some basic, but again haunting, work.

My only complaint would be that I don't find a huge amount of metal here. As a piece of atmospheric rock, Sage is an absolute cracker, though the aggression and bite that you would expect from a heavy metal album are sometimes buried underneath the rambling roll of the desert-dirges. This is really a bit of a pointless whinge; only the most ardent genre Nazi would insist on listening to only one kind of music. So unless you have a penchant for pigeon holes, then this should be an enjoyable ramble through the dusty road less travelled.

Across Tundras MySpace

Dave's Underground Laboratory

It's practically right down the street!!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In Solitude The World. The Flesh. The Devil.

In Solitude The World. The Flesh. The Devil.

(Metal Blade Records)

By: Chris Davison

First, it was re-heated thrash. Then, it was re-heated old school death metal. Then, it was “djent” (oh, "lord," please strike down those responsible for this crime). Now it's – THE NEW WAVE OF TRADITIONAL METAL. Except, for the most part, it's not really as awesome a prospect as you might think it is. Sure, everyone likes the old school gallop, the soaring vocals and the twin guitar attack favoured by my British forebears. In practice, however, it generally boils down to this: recycled Iron Maiden riffs endlessly solo’ed over and bereft of any real inspiration other than the most blatant cookie-cutter composition, and horribly contrived stage outfits that look like early promo pics of Def Leppard.

It doesn’t help that the bands that are aped are often the same four – Maiden, Priest, Motörhead and Saxon. All great bands, to be sure, but not the only great outfits operating from 1979-84. Indeed, arguably the best albums of the period are the mighty Melissa and Don’t Break The Oath by Mercyful Fate. While their back catalogue has been ceaselessly plundered by successions of Black Metal disciples, lured no doubt by the proto- corpse paint and Satanic themes of the King himself, there hasn’t really been a band that has been more directly influenced by them in terms of their keen ear for spooky melodies, and, in particular, the trademark guitar work of Denner and Sherman.

In Solitude are that band. If it were just the fact that they have the Mercyful Fate sound down to an absolute tee, then that would be cool, if not particularly interesting except for the fact that no one else is doing it. What is absolutely jaw dropping is that they manage to grasp the absolute essence of the music, producing original tunes that not only could have been Mercyful Fate tunes from back in the day, but in many cases are better than anything that Mercyful Fate themselves have put out since 1984.

The Upsala upstarts have all the chops: Niklas and Hendrik, the twin axemen of the outfit have a nice line in producing those delicious dark melodies, which allow Pelle to flex his majestic voice over the top. It’s a very King Diamond delivery – albeit without the falsetto, but then attempting to ape that as well as the general tone and timbre of his voice would have fallen away from affectionate tribute and more into comedy impression territory. Drum and bass work is followed in the best traditions of the NWOBHM sound – complete with gallops-a-plenty and plenty of groove in the skin-bashing. The songwriting is absolutely top notch, and elevate In Solitude well above 90% of their peers, with the likes of “To Her The Darkness” being well over the five minute mark, shadowy epic metal with hints of prime Candlemass subtly injected into the mix. The production is bright and shiny, with plenty of clarity for all the black atmosphere seeping into the ears.

An absolutely brilliant album, and, by, far the best retro-inspired platter to have been played on my equipment for a very long time.

In Solitude MySpace

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Origin, Hate Eternal, Vital Remains, and Abysmal Dawn tear up the Key Club

Bands: Origin, Hate Eternal, Vital Remains, and Abysmal Dawn

Venue: The Key Club; West Hollywood, California.

Date: June 20th, 2011

You can read my official write up here.

A fantastic show with all bands, especially co-headliners Origin and Hate Eternal, firing on all cylinders.

Abysmal Dawn

Vital Remains

Hate Eternal


The t-shirt haul...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chris and Strawb Take Over: Doom/ Stoner Part II

The Gates Of Slumber The Wretch

(Rise Above Records)

By: Chris Davison

Y’all know Conan The Barbarian, right? Thulsa Doom (the leader of the serpent cult) has two lieutenants. One of those lieutenants is Rexor, a massive muscled bastard who, early on in the movie, kills the father of the titular hero.

The Gates Of Slumber are basically Rexor made real flesh, and, rather than be equipped with huge two-handed hafted axes of ultra-doom, have been given musical instruments in their quest to solve the riddle of steel. To be honest, front man Karl Simon could probably play Rexor in the upcoming Conan movie; that is, as long as the enforcer for Thulsa Doom ditches the armour and moves towards a more authentic metal image of metal cut-off and sweet skullet.

So, what should you expect from The Wretch? Well, it’s been a while since I last listened to The Gates – 2008, in fact, with Conqueror. Those of you acquainted with them will know what to expect – bombastic hymns that straddle the line between pure heavy metal and epic doom metal with aplomb, the guitar tone set to “blood” and the rhythm section providing the “thunder.” To some extent, this record sees them move more firmly into doom territory, with each song seemingly reined in to slow the pace a little and let the riffs breathe. The pounding intro to “Iron and Fire,” for instance, has been constructed so as to sound not unlike the distant hooves of approaching horses. When the guitar solo finally kicks in at the 8 minute mark (hey, did I forget to mention this song weighs in at almost 13 minutes long?), you’ll be so swept up in the sway and atmosphere of the track that you have already been transported into an epic frame of mind.

There are some more up tempo numbers, such as the wonderfully titled “The Scovrge Ov Drvnkeness” – which although I listened to hard, couldn’t find any reference to my wife – which ramp up the intensity level and provide some needed dynamism to the record. This feels intuitively like a more sombre, measured album than some of their other works, and in some respects this is a curse as well as a boon. From a doom purist point of view, the catharsis to be gained from the leaden paced antics is certainly effective, but from my own point of view, it does seem that the band lose a little of their previous barbarian spirit in perhaps being a little too restrained. Sure, Karl has plenty of opportunity to display that soulful howl, but there isn’t as much – well – warrior spirit as in some of their other albums.

All in all though, this is another triumph for the most honest-to-goodness blue collar heavy metal band in America today. The doom purists will delight in the song writing, the playing and the production – the best in the band’s long history, with an astonishing amount of clarity in the mix – while the more open minded non-genre specific fans might just miss their periodic gallops. Either way, a powerful opus, and in keeping with the title, this is a wretched release- just in all the right places.

The Gates Of Slumber

Voivod Warriors Of Ice

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chris and Strawb Take Over: Doom/ Stoner Part I

Apologies for the absolute dearth of posts lately, but I've been buried in work. My esteemed colleagues are likewise busy with their own endeavors. My committment to my students has taken precedence of late, but my academic year is winding down. With that in mind, I'll be starting to attend shows once more, as I just simply haven't had much time lately, and have had to let a number of banner shows go by. I also have a family committment on the horizon, so I'll have to skip a few upcoming, rather high profile (in an underground sort of way) shows, as well. Bad weather in the form of late season rain in SoCal has screwed over my astronomical observing runs, too.

At any rate, my schedule at About.com keeps me busy on a weekly basis, churning out as many shorties as I can muster that tread the realms of both death and black metal. Promos sent my way that charge head forwards into doom, traditional and stoner genres I pass along to my English brethren, Chris and Strawb, both of whom are well versed in the finer nuances of said genres. I'm turning the blog over to them for a number of upcoming posts, hitting those genres in full.

First up is Strawb with his look at the latest album from Wall Of Sleep. Once more, the English pop cultures references escape me...

Wall Of Sleep When Mountains Roar

(PsycheDOOMelic Records)

By: Strawb

Things change. Not necessarily to the degree of evolution, sometimes it is just a little thing or two. Our tastes and opinions are also fluid (mine certainly are), however, I feel my core values remain as they have been for a long time. So, questions which are asked can be answered as a result of both of the previous points, such questions as, “When did Top Gear stop being a must watch TV program and become a wanky mishmash of the presenters’ mid-life crisis wet dreams? When did Viz finally produce an issue which had nothing funny at all in it, not even the readers contributions?” I won’t even go into the whole Pirates Of The Caribbean arena.

Which brings me to Wall Of Sleep and their latest album When Mountains Roar. Since their previous offering, the 2008 release ...And Hell Followed With Him, my research has shown that the band have had a personnel change, the long serving Gabor having moved on from the vocal duties in 2009 to be replaced by Cselenyi. I really rated ...AHFWH, and, once I had reviewed it, the CD remained on my ‘to play’ pile and eventually made its way onto my iPod, where it remains to this day. So, it may be that I was expecting more of the same with When Mountains Roar, and that would have added to my disappointment when I first heard the album, because there are few similarities between the two.

Wall Of Sleep seem to have taken a different view of their musical direction, because doom this isn’t. It is very crafted, but also soulless, too clinical. It has jollity and expression. Gone is the heavy undercurrent and almost industrial beat of ...AHFWH, to leave a much more mainstream sound - which has a place in the metal universe - but I doubt if many fans will rate both albums.

I have listened to this album many times and have searched for the positives, but in honesty each listening confirmed my previous one and I found myself wishing for the tracks to end. So, it is a big sorry to what was my favourite Hungarian doom band, because this platter has a destiny to become a drinks coaster.

Wall Of Sleep MySpace

Recent columns here and here.

Definitely, and imminent...