Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dark Americana Briefs, Volume 13

Things Aren't All Rosy

Songs of Townes Van Zandt Vol II (2014)
3.5 out of 5 stars

Here is the follow-up to 2012's Songs of Townes Van Zandt, an album I loved. This time around the contributors are John Baizley (Baroness), Mike Scheidt (Yob, etc.), and Nate Hall (USX). Each of them has at least one strong contribution, but really, it's kind of hard to screw up such magnificent songs as "St. John the Gambler" (Baizley) and "Rake" (Scheidt). The real winner of them is Hall, who superbly covers "Waitin' Around to Die" and "Our Mother the Mountain." Some of the split’s modern touches are nice, like the echoing percussion on "St. John the Gambler," but Baizley's characteristic guitar tone on his solos is just a bit too heavy-handed. Overall I like this, but it just doesn't hold up to the excellent Steve Von Till/Scott Kelly/Wino record that preceded it.

Neurot Recordings

Thursday, March 27, 2014

High Spirits: You Are Here (2014)

A Subtle, but Important Distinction

The first few times I listened to High Spirits, I thought, "Man, that guy sounds like Chris Black, but better." By sheer coincidence, it is Chris Black.

Dawnbringer has no doubt made a strong impression on you with their last couple of releases. The mastermind isn't done yet. High Spirits is not a huge departure, and it's going to be tough to draw the right distinction in words alone. It's just different enough to justify using a different band name. Like its name suggests, it's a little more feel-good, a little more happy-time. Well, not always happy, just a little less dark. As my 6th-grade teacher used to say, "Clear as mud?"

Of course, I'm sure you'd be perfectly happy with another Dawnbringer album. Don't worry, you'll like this too. And you'll agree that it's not a Dawnbringer album.

Summary Judgments, Volume 11

Disfigured Sub-reviews

Prostitute Disfigurement: From Crotch to Crown (2014)

I can find zero fault in this no-holds barred, high speed death metal assault. It's exactly what it's supposed to be. Take that for what you will. It’s trve as fvkk, and if that’s all you care about you will love it.

Loinen: Loinen (2012)

The sludge metal of Loinen seems to be marketed purely on obscurity. It just now struck me how absurd that is, because if it's too successful then it won't work anymore. Anyway, there's nothing especially wrong with it as far as I can tell from one listen-through. But sludge metal demands a beefy production, a demand that is not met here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Shroud of the Heretic: Revelations in Alchemy (2013)

That Moment When . . .

That moment when you're lost in a long-forgotten crypt and you think you're never going to make it out alive.

Maybe I'm turning into an old person faster than I realized, but I find it ever more amusing to mock the trends of the young. This time, it's the "That moment when . . ." trend. Sadly it seems that incomplete thoughts may be the deepest form of social interaction most of that generation is capable of. If I understand it correctly, these too-short-to-even-be-vignette sub-observations are put out there as something for others to relate to. In that spirit, we can all relate to this one.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Conan: Blood Eagle (2014)

What Is Best in Life?

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

"Who are you?" Heavy. Doom. Stoner. "Conan" Riffs. Head nods. "I have heard of you". Heavier. Cooler. More riffs. Bigger head nods. "I will have my own kingdom." Kingdom of doom. Kingdom of stones. Kingdom of metal. "My own queen." Queens of the age of stone. Boulder sized riffs crashing down a mountain. "Valor pleases you, Crom." Waves of riffs, of riffs, of riffs crushing the stones. "Where is the eye of the serpent?" A pile of bricks.

"We won again!" Heavier than a heavy thing. A heard of buffalo falling off a cliff. "That is good." Stampeding and stomping elephants. Like a ten ton hammer. Riffs. Gigantic. Huge. "But what is best in life?" Black death dark blood of riffs. "The Open Steppe." Wide expanses of heavy as fuck. Heavy as shit. Heavy as a fleet of garbage trucks. "Falcon at your breast. Wind in your hair." Wooly mammoths. All the hippopotami in Africa. The brontosaurus family.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Wounded Kings: Consolamentum (2014)

Jolly Olde England

What a name that is! The Wounded Kings: Vaguely occult and majestic, which turns out to be quite suggestive of the music they play.

I’ve been complaining lately that the doom metal releases of the last year or so have been underwhelming, but Consolamentum may well be the first step in rectifying that situation. And what better place to start than in unadulterated, capital-D, Doom Metal. This is as pure as it gets. They’re too slow to be mistaken for any kind of rock music, so a direct Black Sabbath comparison is out. Yet they’re not slow enough to be funeral doom, and not fuzzy enough to be stoner doom. They’re just, right there, right in that definitive place, and staking it out once again for jolly old England.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Black Metal Briefs, Great and Not Great


Have I mentioned there is a lot of black metal out there? A few releases are excellent. Most of it falls into predictable patterns. But even when a band does manage to try some new combination of things, it doesn’t always work out.

The Ash Eaters: Nothing Is Real (2014)
4 out of 5 stars

The Ash Eaters is one of the few black metal bands remaining with a distinct sound of its own. He cleverly blends open chords and chugging palm-muted ones before turning them upside-down, without ever lingering for too long on any one idea. This makes it instantly recognizable. The EP has the added benefit of, first, being an EP (the band excels at the format) and, second, of having a good measure of his unusual vocal style.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dead Tank Briefs


Dead Tank Records is a small label that's hitting my eclecticism in a lot of the right places right now. It looks like they specialize in vinyl and cassette, but you can hit them up on a pay-what-you-want for most (all?) of their releases. Three cases in point:

Thou: Ceremonies of Humiliation (2014)
3.5 out of 5 stars

People seem to lose their shit over Thou. I don't, so much, but I appreciate their raspy-voiced slow-burn sludge well enough. This release collects all of their extensive contributions to splits from prior to Summit on 3xLP.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hyperion v. Terrestrials

Drones . . . in . . . Space!


My occasional flirtations with drone music have been fairly well documented on this site. I’ve never come away with the kind of reverence for it that some people have, but I’ve also never fully dismissed it as bullshit. My internal jury is still out.

I came across two more intriguing drone records and decided to give each of them a few spins. The first is Kinit Her’s Hyperion. It snagged my attention mostly because it’s on Pesanta Urfolk, a label that endlessly fascinates me and occasionally blows me away. It also attracted me because it bears the name of a sci-fi series I read recently. (It probably is named for the work by John Keats instead, the subject of which is worth reading about.)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Adventure Time

The Greatest Television Series Ever Created

Whatever you think Adventure Time is, you're probably wrong. Or, maybe you're partially right. But it's much more than you think it is. It's more than even I think it is. I've talked about the show before, briefly, but this is so important to me that I have to tell you more.

If you've dismissed it, I want you to forget that. Forget for a minute that the show is wildly popular, forget that it's got a huge following among the Hot Topic crowd. Come at this with an open mind.

Most fans of the show are probably watching it for the weird, random humor. It has that in spades. Outrageous characters like Lemongrab, Xergiok, the Ice King, and Lumpy Space Princess ensure that. And it isn't just for kids, either, or the great John Hodgman wouldn't be a likely choice as a guest voice. But humor is just the hook to draw you in. If humor was the be-all end-all of Adventure Time, I couldn't possibly tell you that it's a better show than, say, Firefly. I wouldn't have watched it nearly every night for the past three years.

This is going to sound like a cliche, but it's true: The show makes me laugh, and it makes me cry. That's no easy thing. It also makes me confused about what I'm supposed to feel, and that's even harder to do.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Yautja: Songs of Descent (2014)

Category Resistance

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

The metal CDs at Rasputin in Berkeley are separated into no less than five separate categories: progressive metal; thrash/crossover; death/grind/deathcore/metalcore; doom/stoner; and heavy/power metal. This leads to some confusion on my part, not least because I am not that bright. It also leads to some incongruities. Mastodon is categorized with Dream Theater. Vastum just a few artists away from Unearth. DRI is nowhere to be found in "Thrash/Crossover" (check the Punk section!). It's an ungainly system and pity the poor employee who has to display Yautja's Songs of Descent. I sure wouldn't know how to categorize it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Psalm Zero: The Drain (2014)

Industrial Progress

The word “jazz” immediately makes me suspicious. I fucking hate jazz. I know, I know—allegedly there was a time when jazz was both the most avant-garde and the most visceral music out there. As far as I can tell, it’s soulless and aimless. It’s background music for social situations among fake people. Adding jazz to metal is usually the equivalent of adding poop to ice cream.

One of the guys in Psalm Zero (Charlie Looker) is known, at least in part, for jazz, so I did not have high expectations for The Drain. Luckily, the other member of the band is the dude from Castevet (Andrew Hock). So, a math rock/jazz guy and a black metal/hardcore guy get together, and they make industrial prog-metal. Obviously. No, I don’t know where I’m going with this either.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Metal Briefs: Doom in 2013


I didn't cover a lot of doom in 2013, because I didn't feel like much of it lived up to what had come out in the previous couple of years. Still, some of it is worth noticing.

Solstice: Death's Crown Is Victory (2013)
4 out of 5 stars

Solstice are old pros in epic doom, but this reunion mini-LP is the first time I've heard them. And I have to say, I'm impressed. It blows Atlantean Kodex away, for sure, and holds up against some of the best Candlemass has to offer. The music is classic: Heavy but simple riffs of the kind The Sword has been ripping off for a while now. The vocals are soaring, giving it a Wagnerian sense of gravity. This is epic doom as it’s meant to be .

Friday, March 07, 2014

7 Metal Bands That Will Blow Your Mind

I Can Write Buzzfeed-Style Headlines, Too

I've been reading about Babymetal since No Clean Singing first covered them two years ago. Now I'm starting to read about them everywhere, and it's blowing the minds of regular people. Even my six-year-old son--who has grown up completely immersed in pop music and extreme metal--had a "WTF?" look on his face: "Why are those girls there?" You're right, son, it doesn't make any sense.

It hadn't occurred to me that Babymetal would be so interesting to non-metalheads (outside of J-pop fans, anyway). So I started thinking: What else might blow the mind of a normal person? Metalheads, this list isn't really for you: Share it with your friends.

7. Theatre of Tragedy

Sticking with the synthpop theme of Babymetal for a moment, take Norway's Theatre of Tragedy. Their albums Musique and Assembly sound like Rammstein teamed up with Madonna. What's not to love about that?

6. Apocalyptica

A video was going around not too long ago, showing two men playing AC/DC on the cello, and, again, this was blowing people's minds. Never mind that Finland's Apocalyptica started covering Metallica almost 20 years ago, and have gone on to some commercial success with original material.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Dark Americana Briefs, Volume 12

There's a Bad Moon on the Rise

This time around, I check out a late release from a standard, a proto-dark Americana masterpiece, and something I discovered completely by random chance.

Slim Cessna's Auto Club: Cipher (2008)
3.5 out of 5 stars

Slim Cessna's Auto Club are the group that began the Denver sound, and even the relatively recent Cipher displays all the hallmarks of it: An allegiance to country, rock, punk, metal, and folk music all in various measures. Where it differs from 16 Horsepower is that it's not as consistently dark. Sure, there are apocalyptic pieces here ("Jesus Is in My Body - My Body Has Let Me Down") but there's also quite a lot of upbeat material. The arc of the record overall seems to center on the concept of human failings and a struggle of faith. But cuts like "Ladies in the Know" will broaden the appeal, while simultaneously making it less powerful to those of us who want it dark all the time.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Vardan: The Woods Is My Coffin (2013)

In the Dark Alone

Review by Metallattorney. He is the law.

As a metalhead, I try to immerse myself in as many different types of metal as I can. I find there are styles I like more than others of course, but I usually try a little bit of everything. One style that I have done only minimal exploration of is depressive black metal. I have heard Xasthur, Leviathan, Silencer, and a few others, but that's really about as far as I have gone. Most of it is a little tedious to listen to, long and very slow songs without a lot of direction. So I was a little reluctant to look into Vardan when the first song started.

Vardan is a one-man black metal band from Italy lead by Vardan, of course. This is as basic as black metal gets, minimalist riffs which are typically very slow, drums doing little more than keeping time, and tortured wailing vocals. The songs are quite long, with the shortest being just over six minutes. Vardan does do a decent job at changing up the riffs to keep things from becoming too monotonous. There are only five songs so it makes the length of each song a little more bearable.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Hammerdrone: Clone of Europa (2014)

Sign Them

A while back I let you know about Hammerdrone. Still unsigned, they’re back with a full-length that lives up to the high standard they set on the EP.

They still sound primarily like they’re from turn-of-the-millennium Sweden. This is melodic death metal from a time before the term got infected by metalcore and Youtube, a combination of early Soilwork and Amon Amarth. Even when they do a ballad (“Wraiths on the Horizon”) they don’t allow any clean vocals to sully their commitment to metal.