Check out all of today’s new releases in the music world! Continue reading
Josh Graham has long been a leading light in underground art and music. Highly influential as a musician, graphic designer, and live show art designer, when you are able to walk in this many wolds and do so with authority, you are bound to make as many champions as you are detractors. Josh’s talent is not up for debate, however, as his body of work already is admirable and lasting. With A Storm of Light, most of these releases are noteworthy, but none of the previous albums may make an impact the way the new album Anthroscene (Consouling Sounds/Translation Loss) will. Continue reading
Mono have revealed their new album will be called Nowhere Now Here, and was recorded with music legend Steve Albini (The Pixies, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, PJ Harvey, Helmet). It will be released this coming January 25th via Pelagic Records. Listen to the new single and watch a short film for the track, directed by French director Julien Levy, ‘After You Comes The Flood’ now. Continue reading
Saturday at Psycho Las Vegas was no less impressive and perhaps the best single day of the fest band for band, especially if you were still able to stand after the first few days. Starting off with the public première of the Melvins documentary, The Colossus Of Destiny, followed by a Q & A by the director, Bob Hannam; this set the tone for the day. Continue reading
Multi-instrumentalist and composer Josh Graham’s solo project IIVII (Red Sparrowes, Battle Of Mice, A Storm Of Light, Jarboe) is releasing their debut album in September via Consouling Sounds. The project focuses on sonically engulfing and moody soundscapes, layered with a science-fiction edge.
Day three: today we get just what I longed for after yesterday: more traditional heavy Roadburn fare. We start off with the bone crunching Noothgrush. Though not the mellow I was looking for they were very good. However, I didn’t get caught in their more abrasive deathy-sound and soon wandered off to catch some of Monster Truck. They pretty much play trucker hard rock, and if you have no idea what to imagine when I say that, think the kind of hard rock, burly, manly tough truckers would sing along to while driving down the long lonesome roads on long distance hauls. This was proper manly stuff, and very entertaining. After their set in the stuffed Greenroom I wandered outside to catch some air, meaning to go see Circle. However I got completely sidetracked and since I also wanted to see Windhand returned to the main hall to see them play an amazing set.
Windhand are rare, as they have a female vocalist, and not one who does overly female vocals. You could be forgiven for mistaking the deep throaty voice their vocalist has for a man singing and I’m not sure if they’d mind. Their stage presence is completely introverted, and they shamble and shuffle around in trance of their one performance, hardly seeking a connection with the crowd they play for but with them it doesn’t matter. It’s actually better, and makes you feel a bit like a voyeur if you actually watch them instead of dragging into the music, eyes closed slowly swaying side to side.
Today has been a day of good intentions getting sidetracked. I meant to see Scorpion Child, but ended up missing them and going to see Yob. Ah Yob,’s 5th set at Roadburn, 6th planned for tomorrow. What can we say but what Yob say themselves? Yob is love and right they are. The sound these three can produce is staggering, not just in sheer volume of the bass still audible in a restaurant across the street from the venue…), but also in the layers they produce with just three people. The drums pounding on while the bass crashes against the walls of the venue like cliffs, and the guitar heavy yet clear and melodic in her higher registers. The vocals are a refreshing snip through all the heavy being more a high end scream. The most incredibly thing about Yob though is the atmosphere and vibe they give off. You may be forgiven to think they make sad, angry and melancholy music, but really all the vibe is very mellow and even spiritual, taking you on a journey you never expected to go on. After their set we’re back to the theme of the day: meant to but somehow it slipped. I meant to see Indian, who played an incredible set, I heard, and had a que outside the door of Het Patronaat that stretched about 20-30 meters, I meant to see old man gloom, but decided I needed a bite to eat at that time. I meant to see Horisont, but instead went to catch some of the Icelandic Momentum. What to say of these guys… confused. For the first two three songs I didn’t quite know what to think of them, it was pretty straightforward doom, with some proggy bits, but nothing fantastic. And then their vocalist switched from grunts to clean, with harmonies that made no sense and just… no. I’m a stickler for clean vocals, if you do them, invest the time and training to do them properly, or else leave them to someone that can, or leave them out. They may grow and become better or may realize what style they want (it still felt very confused and in search of a solid style), but I walked out at that moment in search of something less wincing on the ears. This as it turned out was Loop. Here again I’m not sure what to think of them they were good, yes very good and technically excellent. But I’m not sure if the music is my cuppa tea. It felt a bit too 80s for me, and if I do retro I tend to lean more towards 60-70s than 80s. in any case after having tried to form an opinion on them for a while I gave up and went to see some of the Vintage Caravan again. They were again packed and again excellent, but the claustrophobic conditions in the stage 01 meant I didn’t stay long. I sincerely hope they get called back on a roomier stage another year or I can see them somewhere a little less crowded and enjoy them properly. Now here’s a pickle. Harsh Toke, Horse Latitudes, A Storm of Light and Glitter Wizard, playing the same time slot. These four bands are all over the board, but that doesn’t make choosing easier. Horse Lattitudes is properly heavy oppressive stuff, and A Storm of Light is best put in the more conventional sludge side, with some post core influenced I’d say. Harsh Toke is a proper party band, but loud and heavy enough that no-one goes “weak!” They’re psych rockers, but not in such a way as most are. While the riffs and notes are complex the dreaminess is kept in check by some good steady bass and drums, making it much less bewildering than most psych rock and definitely a very good band. After a bit of them I go see Gliytter Wizard though. The moment these Americans were put on the bill I knew I had to see them. A party band, these guys manage to 70s psych rock n roll with glitter touch (bare chests, sequined open black vests and magnificent moustaches) without becoming so terribly cheesy and well… glittery all balls are lost. The absurdity of this band however cannot hide they play incredibly good music and while it’s doused in a good dose of party even the musical connoisseurs of Roadburn seem to really enjoy these glitter wizards. And then off we go to the after party, heavy metal disco with Alan Avrill from Primordial spinning 80’s metal discs for our enjoyment, and while drunken shenanigans are a plenty, the foyer is definitely much more crowded this year than other years before. Maybe we need to move this party back to Het Patronaat?
Selim Lemouchi’s Enemies: Even when the clouds appear over the realm of Roadburn and it’s permanent inhabitants, it cannot break the unity. Selim Lemouchi and his Enemies was scheduled to play the afterburner until tragedy struck and the ex-Devil’s Blood singer took his own life a mere 1,5 months before the festival. The loss was raw and very real, but the organizers didn’t erase him. Instead they let the band, his enemies as he called them, play a tribute of over an hour fro their fallen leader. A big empty space in the center front of the stage symbolizes the loss and emptiness left behind as the whole of the room turns silent as the grave and the musicians play which such raw emotion it’s hard to bear. Projected images of Selim himself on the background add to the feelings that whirl through the main room. A heavy start to the last day, without the music itself being as “heavy” as some of the programmed bands.
To mellow us out after such an intense moment of grief for many attending, we have Avatarium. The gentler sounds of this doom band is a proper transition from something so intense to another very heavy show to come. The crisp clean female vocals of the band are exceptional in their opening number ‘Moonhorse’. The overall sound of this band is more towards Candlemass, but also Anathema’s older work. The sadness and mournfulness with a glimmer of hope depicted in the gentler, melodic patches of the music, after which the doomy storm of heavy bass and guitars pick up again prepare us for the onslaught that is to come; a second set by Yob.
He general consensus among all Yob fans (me included) that I chatted with was that their second set was better than the first, though both were very good. The thunderous waves of bass interlaced with melodies and vocals cutting through like clear knives is amazing with this band, especially with the energy they portray on stage. And while deep dark an oppressive, the mellow, happy gleaming beauty of this band rings through, as watching an ocean storm taking form and battering against the rocks. It is however a band that you need to fully immerse yourself in and then learn to ride their waves of bass to fully enjoy. Sit down, relax, close your eyes and let them move you and take you along.
Having already seen the new keepers of the water tower play during the per-sale party, I skipped them now, but their set was as magnificent and moving as it was then. The gentle psychedelics, combined with heavy riffs, beautifully harmonized drowning vocals and almost watery lights get everyone nodding. Their musical en technical prowess is more than adequate and these guys are definitely a band to go see when you can if you like the trippier side of heavy. Up next is Triptycon. What to say: bam! It blows you away and smashes your skull inside your head. Excellent set really and expertly done but again not really the thing I go for. Definitely one to cross of the “need to see” list, just didn’t move me the way some other bands do. Just a matter of taste. Having seen Harsh Toke the day before I decide to mellow out a little outside the room. I grabbed a glimpse of Mourne who were… immense. Immense, overwhelming and excellent, but a little heavy on the last few hours of an experience so intense as Roadburn. In the end I ended up watching Lumerians, and words cannot describe their show. They make very trippy atmospheric psychedelic… stuff that’s incredibly danceable, yet mellow and a perfect closer. And what appeared on stage can be described as wraiths or spectrals… they all wore long white hooded robes, obscuring the bands features, playing bent slightly forwards and sometimes a glimpse was caught of glowing eyes: L.E.D. -lights used inside the hoods as eyes of these spectral creatures. It gave an excellent extra dimension to a band that was more than enjoyable. And with them the last bits or Roadburn wither away and disappear, not to be seen until next year. Hugs were exchanged, goodbyes were said and sleep was needed. And right away the homesickness for Roadburn starts again. Just a year to go.
Words and photos by SUSANNE A> MAATHUIS
One of the best releases of 2013 was A Storm of Light’sNations To Flames (Southern Lord). Led by multi-instrumentalist/visual artist Josh Graham (Neurosis, Red Sparrow’s, Battle of Mice) we have followed their quiet evolution over five releases. Perhaps equally well known as the long time artist in residence for Neurosis and other Neurot recording artists, he has also done an array of brilliant, genre defining artistic work that would have our attention, even if he didn’t also make music.
Nations To Flames is a departure of sorts stylistically from most of ASOL’s previous work. The slow post-metal tracks are lessened, in favor of aggression and venom the tempos. The music has an urgency that matches the subject matter too. Graham expands on the genesis of creating his new opus: “The entire album took about ten months, maybe close to a year to write. We decided that we wanted to play faster music after we played with Slayer and Wormed last year. We got to watch Slayer at sound-check. I had seen Slayer a bunch of times, but never without an audience. Seeing like that was pretty cool. It really inspired me, the first spark to make a faster, heavier album. Then we started the writing process. We’d put together a rough song, guitars and some rough vocals. Then we sent the tracks to Billy. We all live in different places. Our bass player Dominic (Seita) lives in Rhode Island and Billy (Graves), our drummer lives in Knoxville, TN. I’m in New York. I’ll send the tracks around to Billy and he will send back drums, and then we change the tracks around some more. We’ve had days when I worked on and edited the songs. Dom adds bass, and we’ll change them again. We just kept rearranging tracks until we were happy with them. I think we’ve had a better response with the faster songs too. Our first record, (And We Wept)The Black Ocean (Within)…. I mean I like it, and it’s heavy, but some of it is so…slow. (laughs) There is so much stuff between guitar notes, that it is a little stagnant to play the songs over and over. Even when we are rehearsing, it’s mind blowing how fun these new songs are to play. There is really no time to think about it. It’s a really different way of playing together.”
Throughout his career, he has been a person sought out by others to collaborate with. How then does Graham choose his own band of conspirators when the stakes are high? Although names like producer/engineer Travis Kammeyer and producer Matt Bayles, who mixed the new album, jump out at you, neither was chosen on their reputations alone. Rather, they were tasked to join up based on a trust of what they bring to the process:
“Billy our drummer plays in Generation of Vipers with Travis. Being as how we are situated not living in the same state, we were struggling at first to figure out how to get the tracks we were recording back and forth. We did the official demos for the last two albums with Travis. Just basic stuff, with drums. They didn’t even spend that much time on it. The sound they got, we were really blown away by it. For Valley… (As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade) we already had the recording plans in place. We did the demos again with Travis for Nations.., and we just felt it was time to go with him for the entire album. We thought we would just track with him at last. He didn’t have a lot of outboard gear in the studio either. While we were very comfortable recording on our own, we felt it was important to have someone we really had the respect of, for his knowledge. And it’s the same thing with Matt. Matt, I just know him for a long time. His work with the ISIS guys, who are friends of mine, and a bunch of other bands is well known. His work obviously speaks for itself. Our friends in KEN Mode just recorded and mixed their new album with Matt. And the sound of that record, it was amazing at how different it sounded from anything they had done before. He’s so versatile. He was able to get clarity out of all of the insane layering that we do, which we’ve never been able to get before. It was awesome!”
It would be an error to classify all of Graham’s output as “conceptual”. Sometimes what that concept is is left to the listener’s own interpretation as a teaching instrument, but sometimes people miss the point when everything is esoteric. Still, ASOL’s albums are each a unique concept album in their own right. Nations To Flames tells a very specific tale. A dire warning of the eventual end of times for the human race, lest we fail to alter our course: “For the last two records that we let the concepts be more loose and not defined. For the first two records, the concepts were so entirely adhered to, the sequencing of the songs, the concepts of the songs; because of the lyrics was a linear story across the entire record. I think it was keeping the records themselves from being as good as they could be. After the second record we felt maybe that was too self-sacrificing to the songs to keep to this linear story. We are now approaching it better, and more loosely. As for the current album, overall lyrically, we are looking at the current state of humanity versus the environment and the potential of where these things might end up. The powers that be ignoring the larger issues: government, global warming, pollution, things like that. The lyrics capture this view of humanity leading a view of the climb in our inhumanity. The artwork itself is more of a focus on what might happen before and after that. The girl signifies some hope. Maybe someone younger will come along, spread some ideas and help change the path that we are on. It also of fits with kind of the fully destroyed environment, and surviving after this catastrophic event has happened. Just biding time until this environment reveals itself, or creates this non-friendly environment to people, and they just end up dying out. It’s a multi-tierd story.”
True to the spirit of the bands’ past body of work, Nations has some great guest turns such as Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and Wolves In The Throne Room axeman Will Lindsey. Josh talks about working with both:
“Actually we sent Kim the full record out and I just told him to pick out whatever he was feeling. The same with Will. We’ve known will forever. We’ve toured with Wolves In The Throne Room and he’s toured with us as a second guitar player. So we’ve have a long term relationship with him, I’m sure he’ll be back, touring with us again. I love what he brings to the table. The same thing with Kim. Having been with Soundgarden, as their art director, in a way, for over three years, I have gotten to do about four packages with them. I did the King Animal artwork, a few seven inches, several shirts, and a few videos. So I’ve gotten to know Kim well. He also played on the Valley… record. This one is way heavier, so when he heard, it threw him for a loop. The stuff he ended up bringing to the table was amazing. The most important part of it for me was to have guitar input on the the record that isn’t me. I can layer stuff until the cows come home, but it’s going to sound like me. So having Will and Kim on the album really completes the palette.”
Even the most talented and confident person in the world doesn’t get up in the morning and proclaim that they are going to make a masterpiece happen on a given day. For the true artist, the creative process is not akin to turning a faucet on to high and waiting for brilliance to pour out. Josh talks about how he juggles music and design work without hurting the quality of either, by compartmentalizing each: “I have to shut down writing. I don’t like doing that, but once we finish a record, I have to shut it down. It just becomes too consuming. Then I will start it back up again more formerly when we need to start writing again. When we are actively writing, I am not doing any art yet. I am working on how the songs fit together. Eventually, I start arriving at a place where I am ready to start exploring visual ideas. I can think visually and figure out where the visual concepts tie back to the lyrics, tying them back into the whole concept. On this record, I actually re-wrote some of the songs three times. More so in the case of what I wanted the melodies to be. Some stuff ended up changing to fit better into the concept of what I wanted the record to be. It’s definitely both. It’s so hard to be focused on artwork and then break away and do music. I tend to work 10-12 hours at a time on whatever I am doing. So to split it up, I would just get derailed. It’s not ideal, but that is what I do.”
At one point Josh was one of those artists as well known for the number of side projects he was in, as he was for his main proclivities. Of late, he has dialed those distractions down a notch to focus on his main gigs.
“I’m working on a dark-folk thing called Crooked Sun, but it keeps getting side-tracked. My hope is that once we get touring I can dedicate more time to that. Other than that, I am trying to focus on the stuff at hand, and not trying to get side-tracked. A lot of the stuff I was doing before, I wasn’t really interested in where it was taking me. I wasn’t getting all that I needed out of it. That is why the side projects were happening. Right now, between ASOL and Crooked Sun, I am getting everything I need out creatively. I am still definitely open to working with more people in the future.”
Keith (Keefy) Chachkes