Black Stone Cherry – Family Tree

 

The snow has melted away, the evenings are brighter and lighter, and over here in the good old UK we’ve even had a couple of days without rain. suggesting the summer is well and truly on its way. So, there couldn’t be a more perfect time for Kentucky quartet Black Stone Cherry to lazily unfurl their sun-kissed sixth album Family Tree (Mascot).

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Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart

Much darker in tone than its ethereal predecessor (both Century Media), The Banished Heart is no less beautiful in its execution. Where Winter would often soar, this record looks inward and deals much more heavily with personal, introspective feelings of heartbreak and loss. Continue reading

David Bowie – Blackstar

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I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready to hear this record right now or to write this review. I was not ready to learn David Bowie had died of cancer, and that this already rough start 2016 had already dealt my mental musical Parthenon another harsh blow. Before I was laid low by these events, I was intrigued by the ‘Lazarus’ music video and pre-ordered Blackstar (Columbia/ RCA) on Amazon. But I hadn’t played the album one time in a busy weekend. And then once the news came down, I retreated to what most do in these cases, share my sorrow publicly and played my favorites on a loop for a few days. Mainly relegated to what is on my old iPod Classic 160 GB, my portable Bowie collection is mainly the 70s albums I grew up on (Diamond Dogs, Station To Station, Low, Heroes, Lodger, my 1990s favorite Outside, and some obligatory hits here and there I’m sure everyone else knows well. I wasn’t sure how to approach this final album review from an artist I admired all my life, knowing this was the last new thing I would ever hear from him. I laid down in bed for the first few listens. Just in bed in the dark with my headphones on.

As much an album rooted in Bowie’s entire oeuvre, ‘Blackstar’ is equally an album that would have come from a future timeline or reality. The epic title track opens things up and is almost like a little elctronica-based rock operetta. It chirps to life at once, but soon morphs into a gorgeous, almost Gospel rock-inflected anthem. The third motif in the middle section has the grit and grace of any great rock song the man ever put down on wax. Vocally and lyrically alone, the performance moved me to tears right away. Of course these ominous whooshing churchly vocals, swelling and brooding horns and reeds, right along side with lyrics about life, death, fame and rebirth heard in the context of knowing he had died surely hit me harder than it would have otherwise. That doesn’t make this track any less amazing.

The rest of the album flirts with an array of stylistic choices. The powerful uptempo beat of ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore’ comes with a subtle Sun-Ra style discordant beauty to it. A chaos that flirts with ruin, but holding together by a thread of greatness. David’s voice is just magical, and harkening back to his earliest work in a lot of ways. Donny McCaslin’s brass work just crushes on this track.

‘Lazarus’ is a song that along with its companion video will be analyzed, deconstructed and perhaps books will be written about for the next few decades I would imagine. The somber balladry of the tune can barely stand up to the titanic lyrics. It was hearing the collected writing of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross set to song. No doubt anyone who heard the track when it came out, saw it in a different light after David’s death. The eerie lyrics are not just prophecy, they are spooky real. Like a manifest from the before the grave. Many artists wrote with their own death as a specter in their life that was all too real to them. Hank Williams Sr., Warren Zevon, Frank Zappa, and hell, evenin the tragic case of Jeff Buckley; he  must have “felt like he was dying since the day he was born” in the purest sense. Bowie was clearly leaving no illusions to chance with this track, so present and bare and raw about the sum of his life coming to a bittersweet end. And you never want the track to end, but it does as well.

At this point, after a track like ‘Lazurus’, it starts to be hard to even track quality on a real scale that has meaning, but I will press on. In a change of pace and tone ‘Sue (Or In A Season of Crime)’ is a slick blend of those killer collaborations with Brian Eno, but via the centrifuge of the many who followed in those massive footsteps too like Nine Inch Nails or more recently, Puscifer. ‘Girl Loves Me’ has a creeping rhythm and a call and response refrain. The full expanse of his singing range, including a not often enough heard vamp in his bass register is a thrill and treat. This song will find its fans, but really it’s just slightly above filler.

‘Dollar Days’ again finds us in familiar ground. Almost a call back to his earlier work: a deceptive, emotional, subversive, brilliant pop song. And lyrically again, so final and so very sad, it will break your heart to hear it. Special note goes to the piano work of Jason Lindner.

As the penultimate track evolves via a danceable beat into the beautiful final cut, ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’. It is the sound of an acceptance an artist saying goodbye forever. It would seem that the sentiment of the title is quite the opposite in reality. On Blackstar, Bowie left nothing behind or unsaid; if anything it’s a bit esoteric. Not just in a sense of this album, but his career and his life. And I am still not ready for this. And neither are you.

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9.0/10

KEITH CHACHKES

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Goatsnake – Black Age Blues

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Given how many of the fallen luminaries of the black/death/grind scenes have recently recaptured their former glories with a slew of successful comeback albums it was only logical that a big name from the South was going to get in on the act. With their line-up reading like a who’s who of classic stoner and doom outfits, the mighty Goatsnake have reformed after nearly a decade away with their classic line-up intact and ready to once more blend the rough with the smooth, which they do so with aplomb on third full-length Black Age Blues (Southern Lord).

Firmly rooted in Southern culture and boasting a strong Gospel influence that filters through the songs like light through stained glass windows, the members of Goatsnake may wear their hearts on their sleeves, but they are more interested in getting your hips shaking courtesy of the bulldozing riffs of guitarist Greg Anderson, whose day job is making people feel sick with Sunn 0))). The sonic waves are nowhere near as punishing as those emitted by that fearful outfit, but they certainly pack a punch. Opening track ‘Another River to Cross’ begins with the gentle sound of trickling water before a gigantic riff appears out of nowhere which the rhythm section instantly lock into for a stately march through the heat haze. Next track ‘Elevated Man’ is more upbeat, with elements of classic rock flaring up around the more standard stoner refrains, especially in the instantly hummable chorus.

The good-time vibes continue with ‘Coffee and Whisky’ which stomps along happily, aided by Anderson’s effortlessly shifting fuzzy riffs and another catchy chorus. The basic percussion adds to the frill-free atmosphere and all seems at ease until the power builds to a monstrously heavy level to close the song, indicating that the band are not interested in playing it safe. Things get even better on the pure NOLA-worshipping headbanger of the title track which the members of Eyehategod will surely be kicking themselves upon hearing for not thinking of it first. The sludge gets even thicker on ‘House of the Moon’ which sounds like it was grown in the New Orleans swamp and fed nothing but BBQ and liquor. The backing vocals from Dem Preacher’s Daughters give it a veneer of class, but not by much.

The band turn their attention away from genre lyrical tropes on the nod-along stoner jaunt of ‘Jimi’s Gone’, an ode to Hendrix that even features a brief guitar solo from Anderson. The soaring backing vocals and harmonica perfectly compliment proceedings and act as the perfect upper to the somewhat downbeat feel of ‘Graves’, which follows. The album finishes strongly with the heavy as molasses march of ‘Grandpa Jones’ which comes close to doom metal perfection, aided once more by superb backing gospel vocals before the slithering, sinister ‘A Killing Blues’ plays us out.

Clearly the time away and experience in other bands has done the members of Goatsnake the world of good. All four of them put in a stellar shift throughout Black Age Blues, from the measured percussion of Greg Rogers, the pulsing bass of Guy Pinhas and of course the fuzzy axe of ol’ Greg. However the plaudits must go to vocalist Pete Stahl, who not content with having pioneered hardcore with Scream back in the 80s, has just staked a claim for being one of the finest singers of today. His clear, soulful tones elevate the songs above the rest of their stoner/doom brethren and his vocal lines will lodge in your head for days after.

An excellent comeback album from a band that has been away for far too long. Let’s hope they decide to keep this motor running for a little longer this time around.

 

8.5/10

Goatsnake on Facebook

 

JAMES CONWAY

Esoteric Youth – Pelle Åhman of In Solitude

 

Ghost Cult last caught up with In Solitude at the start of the cycle for Sister (Metal Blade) when Gottfrid Åhman spoke about the musical developments and progressions that led to the critically acclaimed release. Closing up the circle, frontman Pelle Åhman opens up about introspection and the fundamental heart of the band…

 

Ester Segarra

 

“We were surprised how people have really taken us seriously and tried to grasp what we do. You can call it maturing but it feels like coming home to our roots. It is a very primal thing.” The lanky figure of In Solitude front man Pelle Åhman is sitting next to me wearing a Darkthrone long sleeve. He looks very much like a typical early twenty-something heavy metal fan. Yet spend any time in his company and you will quickly become aware that this tall, softly spoken Swede is anything but ‘typical’. “I love Gospel and Blues music as it is very simple. People singing these repetitive lyrics and clapping their hands on songs like ‘Jesus Make My Dying Bed’. They remind me of certain mantras in eastern religions. That dark and brooding form of prayer is very inspirational. These primitive forms of music have the same appeal to me as acts like Darkthrone.”

As the scent of incense sticks and pungent aroma of hash fills the air of the venue’s backstage area, talk turns to the band’s third album Sister (Metal Blade), a record which has brought many to lavish attention on the quartet. Influenced by the blues, country and the occult rock masters, Sister is a very mature record for such a young band. Åhman mused thoughtfully on its conception: “My family have a cabin north of Uppsala where I go to relax and write. It is very isolated. You can’t get any phone signal up there. I go there for the same reason the swami sit in caves and my uncle goes to fish; for refuge from this world. People need to have those places where they have peace and forgiveness. You are truly able to start over because you cannot be bombarded with information the way you are when are in a big city. When I go up there it is like I get baptised.”

Seeking sanctuary in isolation may be nothing new but in an age where everyone is posting an update online regarding what they, eat, drink and think all in the public domain it is hard not to admire this young man’s steadfast resistance to the status quo. “You can be introspective and get a sense of how things are,” Pelle muses. “People have lost that now. Social media allows people to present a false sense of who they are. Look at the way people update their status on Facebook! They feel they need to be seen and heard all the time when they aren’t doing much at all. People have become frightened of introspection. They see it as a negative thing but we heartily embrace it. When I am at home I love to get away from all of this. You cannot check your email at our cabin. I enjoy meeting people and seeing different places when I am on tour but when it all stops I may not come back!”

 

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The stylistic shift Sister took from its more overtly metallic predecessor The World. The Flesh. The Devil. (Metal Blade) may have been surprising to some but for Pelle, this was a natural part of the band’s evolution. The World. The Flesh. The Devil. is a good album but not long after it we realised how we could define our sound. In retrospect I think we were looking for a certain atmosphere with that record which really came to life on Sister. How next album will take shape yet is unclear but we have begun piecing the fragments together”.

Despite their tender years, In Solitude have already been a unit in one form or another for over a decade. So many acts come together later in life that we forget there are still a few prodigious talents which were reared together. The Åhman brothers on vocals and guitar may be the main driving force behind the group’s creative process, but Pelle is insistent that it is the collective which makes In Solitude what they are. “We definitely have a gang mentality. We played together since we were eleven. Our drummer and I have been friends since we were very young. Our parents knew each other before we were born! I think we all found our identity in this group. We constantly spend time together walking in the woods but when we write we all disappear to our own corner and bring ideas back to the group. When I look at my life from afar it is strange to see how we have developed. It is a very natural and creative place for all of us. We replaced Mattias (Gustavsson, bass) the last time which worked because we did not understand each other to the degree we do now. I think if we were to lose a member of this band then it would cease to exist as we need each other for this to work.”

Speaking to Åhman, his unwavering conviction and commitment to this tight knit unit couldn’t be any more apparent. Conjuring up romantic notions of walking in the woods of Sweden side by side with his brothers in arms, Åhman does at no point sound trite or sentimental when it comes to discussion of In Solitude and their craft. Talk then turns to the inspiration for the opening track from Sister, ‘He Comes’. On the face of it this is another proclamation of Lucifer’s power but once again there is more to it than meets the eye. Gottfrid had written this song with just a tambourine and acoustic guitar. It was going to be a big electric rock song at some point but it had an energy about it all its own. The lyrics were a poem I had written. The song really concerns all of us (in the band) – we wrote the song with me playing one note on piano and the guys were playing percussion on their guitar cases. The Devil inspires me more than ever before! He is the one that stands upon the threshold of things. My vocabulary has evolved but his influence is more important than ever!”

 

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In Solitude on Facebook

 

ROSS BAKER