So much of working in the music industry thrives on chaos, it’s hard to breathe sometimes. I’m not lamenting the job of the music journalist, but just part and parcel of the this business seems to be powered by anxiety. Labels push bands, PR firms push albums and events, bands promote themselves (if you are lucky) and we the writers push reviews: in hopes that some eager ears find some enjoyment among the dross. Sometimes in all the chaos what you need is the vibe of a band that makes you reevaluate what you have listened to and why. All Them Witches, I’m glad you showed up when you did!
Not he most technical, brutal, fast or screamy music to come across my desk in 2015 and my trusty AKG studio cans this year, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker (New West) just jams. All Them Witches, mashes up the meticulous songcraft of a Jazzier Pink Floyd and Camel with the doomy cadence of Ufomammut. ‘Call Me Star’ eases into things with a laid back guitar swell. Things get weighty with ‘El Centro’, which is hypnotic riffer complete with B3 organ vamps and a dedication the proto-metal a la Sabbath. ‘Dirt Preachers’ steps up tempo wise and is a garage feeling little ditty. This is where the vocals of Chris Michael Parks Jr. come into play. At times channeling J. Macias, Frank Black, Josh Homme and best of all a smoked out sounding Mark Lanegan; so you need to stop what you are doing and listen Chris sing. The album follows a similar ebb and flow the rest of the way, mellow moments, slow simmering blues joints immaculate musicianship, and versatile singing. Sometimes they will remind you of Baroness with their ability to focus on a motif such as on ‘Open Passageways’.
Toward the end of the album ‘Instrumental 2 (Welcome To The Caveman Future)’ sounds like the ending credits of a 70s movie. ‘Talisman’ is a fuzzy out joy full of wailing solos. The final track, the mysteriously named ‘Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters’ will have you thinking of the more space rock Floyd moments again. Do not sleep on this band and spend some time with this album for unexpected rewards.
Last time, nobody really thought there would be a next time. Some of us maybe hoped there wouldn’t be. Four years on from Last Rites (Metal Blade) however, Pentagram return with Curious Volume (Peaceville), and there’s still a level of energy despite the weight and omen of previous victories having lost its potency.
Opener ‘Lay Down and Die’ and ‘Earth Flight’ have more of the power and sleaze of early Kiss: Bobby Liebling’s gruff vocal Simmons-like; whilst Victor Griffin’s deep riffs dance around the rhythms, his solo work proving as stellar and timeless as ever. Nowadays, of course, we’d class much of this stuff as good-time Heavy Rock, adding fuel to the argument that some people should know when to quit. ‘Dead Bury Dead’ however, with its return to Iommi-style riffage, tortured solos and lascivious vocal, sounds like a fresh foray into Liebling’s song vaults: returning the band to its former glories whilst simultaneously displaying an existing relevance.
Conversely, the ensuing title track sounds like something that should have been recorded thirty years ago: the squalling strings and ominous nature not enough to hide the belief that a younger band could have prevented this from becoming a mere ‘filler’. Similarly the Punkish feel of ‘Misunderstood’ descends to a ‘pub Rock ‘n’ Roll’ that the band’s history ill deserves, despite the up-tempo rhythm recovering some of the early vim. A return to the signature Proto / Doom of ‘Close the Casket’ and ‘Devil’s Playground’ shows where the real power of Pentagram will always reside: the tolling riffs and Bobby’s ringing yet sinister vocal betraying both his years and his troubles, while the Country Rock twangs of the latter still show they can mix the sound up.
While it strums the heartstrings to see Vic and Bob back together, it’s plainly obvious that their outfit’s best days are behind them. Still capable of eliciting an involuntary twitch of the hips however, Curious Volume is unlikely to win new fans but raises a fond smile, and still shows the odd flash of why we should be thankful for their very existence.
You know them. They laugh, talk, seem pretty normal, then they suddenly stop and glaze over. The Affected, they have stared into the eyes of Bobby Liebling…
Pentagram has as long a history of spellbinding gigs as that of its figurehead’s appetite for self-destruction. This exhaustive DVD of live performances spans thirty years and is, according to the sleeve notes of long-suffering guitarist Victor Griffin, merely the first such offering. The notes further allude to this episode being the cathartic ‘split’ between the band’s tumultuous past, including their brief stint as Death Row, and their more peaceful present. A collection comprising mostly home videos chosen by the band, it surely meets their collective approval.
Our copy highlights inaccuracies in the list of contents, 1983 being the actual year for the solitary Death Row recording on the first of this 2-disc, seven-hour extravaganza. The vast majority of these outings are in intimate settings and intimately recorded: many stage-side which, of course, leads to some seriously distorted sound, though it does enable the 1993 camera to pick up a “Fuck yeah!” close-up from Griffin. It also gives the uninitiated the chance to see why early Pentagram shows were so legendary – the powerful Doom / Classic metal crossover coming out as a booming groove, Griffin’s leadwork as intricate and stellar live as on record, and Liebling’s outfits and alarming antics bewitching. Bobby’s electric, unnerving, occasionally camp and comedic stage persona would arguably have been less startling, less intense and claustrophobic, without those well-documented issues. Indeed it’s easy to forget that his craft would have been well honed by the time the 1985 CBGB’s antics – climbing all over Griffin during his solos, at one point biting his unfortunate guitarist’s arm – stare out from the screen.
That outing as Death Row gives some of the most striking visuals of the whole package: Bobby appearing to be whacked off his tits, his stare ghoulishly affectionate; then-bassist Marty Swaney doing his best ‘Lou Reed‘ impersonation; the face-paint of Liebling and Griffin, plus the latter’s massive poodled hair, not detracting from the weighty music one iota. There’s a moment, during ‘When the Dreams Come’, where Bobby stares round the corner of a shadow: it’s a one-eyed mindfuck that’ll stay with you forever.
Most of the sets here demonstrate the improvement of a band in terms of both presence and musicianship. By 2010 you’d expect some serious slowing in action but Liebling remained at that time a potent force: eyes wild; bony fingers curling frequently around Griffin’s shoulders; biting the mic stands with an uncontrollable tension. Sadly the last two offerings are a major disappointment, with the tinny sound of the distantly-filmed 2012 Oslo concert leading into two songs from the only multi-camera experience, just over a year ago. Thankfully this makes up merely a sixth of the total which, overall, gives a comprehensive and thoroughly enjoyable, if a little over-long, journey through the live history of one of metal’s most intriguing, enduring, and lovable outfits.
When Royal Thunderappeared on the scene a few years ago, there was much hype and early praise for the band. It was a well deserved frenzy of high-profile tours and fests that made them a “buzz band”. You had to stand back and marvel at their music; unafraid to take tried and true elements of rock, blues, and proto-metal and not fall to into the cliches so many others do. Then an interesting thing happened on the way to album number two: coping with being band growing up under a microscope, and the implosion of a relationship within the band. Rather than crumble apart or mail it in for Crooked Doors (Relapse), you have the emotional maelstrom of a finished masterpiece.
Don’t be fooled by the beautifully picked guitars and dolefulness of ‘Time Machine’, the lead track of the album. What ‘Time Machine’ has done by starting with the direct rock approach and almost four-on-the-floor beat is a clever device to lull you in. After the verse, chorus, verse of the first few minutes you are left with transformative middle passage not unlike classic Pink Floyd that doesn’t prepare you for the anguish to come. It’s not about feeling sorry for oneself either. The remainder of the song is a triumph of pained, passionate vocals and wah-soaked guitar leads.
The supremely heavy ‘Forget You’ is more in the style you are accustomed to if you have followed the band from the beginning. Vocalist Mlny Parsonz shows off her range and advanced harmony vocals. She can deliver a bruised, bluesy line with the best of them, including the final refrain of “you better run for your life”. The bands has really learned how to build drama musically to unbearable levels. Guitarists Josh Weaver and Will Fiore weave parts in and out of each other, adding layers upon layers of motifs, adding to the tracks without ever sacrificing the heaviness. ‘Wake Up’ is another track steeped in dynamics and killer performances. Drummer Evan DiPrima is a silent assassin behind the kit. He never over-plays, but has equal moments of bombast and grace. Musically the DNA of this album is similar to the leap in maturity seen by a Mastodon, Baroness or Kylesa over the years, with the members of Royal Thunder knowing just how to transmute their songcraft into something new without ever feeling forced.
There are no throw away songs on this album, and every track rewards with repeated listens. From the dusky vocal lines and neat rhythms on ‘Forgive Me, Karma’, the rough cadences of ‘The Line’, to the classic “Desert Rock” charm of ‘Glow’; each song is an exploration to an inner-space of the bands’ resolute psyche. ‘Ear On The Fool’ is Crooked Doors‘ pièce de résistance. Almost tear rendering, anyone who has ever lost the “love of their life” and lived to tell about it, this track has your name all over it. The track also has the late era-Zeppelin vibe mixed with some of the better guitar interplay of a band like TheEagles down pat.
Closing out the album with the ‘The Bear I’ and ‘The Bear II’, they are less like the prog epic you might have imagined, and more like a funerary march, melting into a torch song. Crooked Doors is the sound of pressure cooking sand into glass and then into diamonds, all with with an alchemy fulled by magic and loss.
In the beginning there was Black Sabbath. There was also Bedemon, but no one knew of them. And the world of Doom went about its business, for Bedemon were not the droids that were being looked for. Yet, the world of Doom was to realize its mistake and to come to know and love those that created the Bedemon, for their line up boasted none other than Pentagram’s Bobby Liebling, Geof O’Keefe and occasional member Randy Palmer. So, it all worked out alright in the end. Certainly better than it did for the Stormtroopers.
Child of Darkness is a collection of demos and recordings the band made in the early 70’s, remastered and reissued by Relapse. It will surprise none to learn that this collection of proto-metal tunes is very close in sound and style to the works of the aforementioned infamous forefathers, though with tunes bluesier and less riff based, and with Liebling’s a cleaner tone to Ozzy’s.
Whether you see this as a curio or an essential purchase will depend on how deep your love of Doom is, and how interested you are tracing the lineage, as this line up (in this guise) and this collection of songs didn’t see the light of day until 2005, other than odd tracks on mythical bootleg records and tapes.
Even though this suffers in places from poor source audio quality (some of the tracks are notably warped or distorted), that doesn’t detract from the overall experience, and in fact, enhances the feeling of authenticity; overdriven dark blues that would form the basis of an entire genre a generation later. The simple but oh-so-effective laid back groove of ‘One-Way Road’ is a three minute template for desert rock and on the more considered ‘Into The Grave’ you can hear the origins of the sounds that would inspire and drive Monster Magnet.
Child of Darkness is a collection of good, dark and heavy bluesy proto-metal tunes from talented musicians who, while not having the same global impact as Sabbath, would nonetheless go on to make an indelible mark in the history of this beautifully ugly mutant we call metal.
With the profusion of proto-metal, stoner, psychedelic rock acts about the question is, do we really need another one? Zodiac, Blue Pills, Scorpion Child and a host of others are now joined by Stubb and their second full-length release Cry of the Ocean(Ripple). Everything fuzzed up, riffs repeated ad infinitum and laid back languid vocals it would seem that Stubb have all the ingredients to fit into the psych, blues locker and roll out success.
But there is a problem; at times it seems that all the ingredients are part of a formula. It is only by the time track four, ‘Sail Forever’ kicks in that the sense of individualism comes through, as Jack Dickinson’s vocals rise above his intricate guitar work. The ability to put together such involved work is on display on ‘Heartbreaker’, but Dickinson’s vocal performance this time is reminiscent of an off-key punk doing a ballad during the verses, however, when it kicks in it turns into a good track which displays the potential of the band. Stand-out track ‘Devil’s Brew’ has a sense of purpose to the blues tinged classic rock feel as Christopher West (drums) and Peter Holland (bass) drive the track along, though
Throughout this release there is no doubt of the potential in Stubb; but someone needs to sit them down, take that potential (and musical ability) and slap it into shape. At times they stray into early Pink Floyd, Iron Butterfly and Cream territory so much so that it might be best to take any albums they have of those acts away from them until they can work on their own sound, and Dickinson’s vocals range from bluesy to sounding like Roger Waters giving a lecture on life’s lessons.
Despite these criticisms, what Stubb have produced is a solid album within their chosen genre, with the final two tracks –‘Snake Eyes’ and ‘You’ll Never Know’ – showcasing what they can do when they focus. The space the seven-minutes plus of each track allows is enough to doff a cap at what Stubb might become. Overall, this not a bad release, but has too many flaws to make it an essential part of collections of fans of this type of rock.
Time to sojourn out to the Palladium once again for another show on a brisk Autumn Saturday night! While I am hitting seemingly less shows than in past years (still about one every 1-2 weeks) there are certain tours you have to make sure you see. Kreator is one of the most legendary thrash bands ever and always puts on a satisfying live show. Arch Enemy, with the new blood injected by Alissa White-Gluz definitely had the curiosity factor going for it, but AE too has always been nothing if not very consistently excellent as a live proposition. Surely lots of fans wanted to know if the band still had the goods without Angela Gossow, but if you listened to War Eternal (Century Media), you had plenty of evidence to go on. Getting to the venue early, I saw a ton of people in early for the VIP/soundcheck and you could here for a block around the venue, the co-headliners had brought their A-game on this day. Also, I need to send a special shout out to my bro Dan for getting out to the show early and having a blast all day with me. Good times broseph!
Due to some Ghost Cult business, I missed the second stage opening bands, many of whom I was looking forward to seeing. It’s tough parsing up my time, but think in 2015 I am going to give more time to underground acts and locals when possible. Anycase the first band I caught on this night was Starkill and I was pleasantly surprised by how well put together they were live. The early light crowd in the venue early was definitely feeling these guys and their intense performance. They were heavy and tight and seemed very comfortable in what could have been an intimidating situation. I may have to give their just release Virus of the Mind Album (Century Media) another listen as perhaps I shelved that one away a little too quickly a few months back.
I’m not entirely sure what is going on with Huntress these days. They had me in the fold early on in their career with their blend of proto-metal, occasional thrash and occult rock influences. I knew Jill Janus was occasionally cheesy on the mic, certainly her lyrics you can skip, but she could deliver vocally and the band has been very solid at times. Perhaps I caught the band on a bad night, but they had a dismal performance. Jill voice was definitely suffering from some malady, sounding hoarse, and the band overall was lackluster. The set list didn’t help their cause either since other than a few songs off of their debut, they played a chunk of their latest album, which I also didn’t enjoy much. I think ahead of their next album, this is a band that really needs to evaluate themselves hardcore, and go back to playing to their strengths. There are a lot of bands that do what they do with making it such a poor mish-mosh.
By comparison Kreator was amazeballs, but you just knew they would be. Whatever fountain of youth these guys have access to, please point me in the right direction. There tireless Teutonic Thrash warriors just deliver every single time I have ever seen them, dating back to club shows in the 90s. They played a badass set of old jams and new classics for an unrelenting set that clocked in at about one hour. Mille Petrozza continues to be one of the best front men in metal, never sacrificing his immense playing ability for his vocals. Playing a set comprised of tracks from across their history, the highlights were opener ‘Violent Revolution’, Extreme Aggression’, ‘Enemy of God, and ‘Hordes of Chaos’ among others. The pit action was non-stop basically the entire set and I wondered how Arch Enemy would do to match this. The band performed like the seasoned, veteran act that they are had the crowd eating out of their hand. I am ready for 2015 to bring a new Kreator album, how about you?
As the roadcrew took a while to change over Kreator’s set for Arch Enemy’s staging (although they used the same lighting rig, I surveyed the crowd. It was a little on the light side for these top two bands and in this venue, but in fairness there had a plethora of shows this week and the annual Rock And Shock festival was the week before. Still, there was a full crowd in front of the stage and they were ready to get their Arch Enemy on, as it has been a while since the band was in front of their American fans to put on a show.
And put on a show they did! Following the into music the crowd welcomed back this long running institution of modern melodic death metal. From the very first notes and guttural roar of White-Gluz announcing the band to the stage with opening song, ‘Enemy Within’, it was on! The pit was active early on in the set as they chopped their way through tracks like ‘War Eternal’, ‘Ravenous’, and ‘Revolution Begins’ before even addressing the audience. The band just seemed to have a fierceness I had not seen from them in a long time, and dare I say they were up there having fun.
At this point, much has been made of Alissa’s rise to front the band, the departure of Gossow, and War Eternal. Hey, change is hard when it comes to your favorite bands. However, chances are, if you were not into the Angela years, you aren’t going to run back screaming for them. On the other hand, Alissa has already proven to be a more than worthy successor, even putting her own stamp on a few classics, but always doing the music justice and sounding brutal as fuck. Let’s not analyze her to death for no reason, just listen and enjoy.
As fun as she was fronting The Agonist, Alissa excelled at pumping up the crowd and getting the audience to participate. Although the moshers were looking tired from my vantage point, she kept extolling them to wake up, scream along and generally have a good time.
As far as the rest of the band, it is always the Michael Amott and Daniel Erlandsson show. Sure the entire band is talents, but Michael and Daniel are worth the price of admission, always. Amott’s soloing and tone sound a crisp and round as ever and he had his usual army of fan-boys in the crowd.
The band impressed me with their energy the entire set long, that went for almost 20 tracks and an hour and a half. It’s great to see a veteran band really act like one, and put on a long set night after night. If you want to just be a hater, then fine. But if you have ever cared about this band and are on the fence about their new front woman or new album, I’m here to tell you to get over yourself and give them a fair chance. You might just get blown away.
“We just want to have fun and play live to as many people as possible. Keeping it fun when things get a bit serious can be a challenge but I think you need to just focus on the original brief. Play music, get pissed and have a laugh. As long as that happens then we have a long future ahead.”
It’s a straightforward idea, but then again this is hardly the most complex of bands. The music industry may be a hard place to get by these days but stoner band STEAK seem to be stronger than ever. With a recent signing to Napalm records and a slot this year at Desertfest Belgium, the band are quickly establishing themselves as one of the biggest rising acts on the UK scene. Perhaps it’s this attitude that helps them survive where so many bands fail as guitarist Reece reveals.
They’re not just living the attitude when they play, it can really be heard pulsing throughout the music.
“A thunderous bass line and fuzzy guitar is the core of our sound. Not over complicating things and letting the riff flow without trying to be too clever. It’s rock n roll, it needs to flow. Sammy joined the band on drums in 2012 just before the Corned Beef Colossus EP and he added a new dimension to the band and brought the whole thing to life and Kip’s vocals just seem to get better and better. Whether you like us or not the Steak sound is unmistakable I would say.”
It seems there’s very little about this band that wants to be taken seriously, and when your playing fuzzed out stoner rock music, that’s definitely not a bad thing. The name STEAK may seem unusual, but the meaning behind it couldn’t be simpler.
“Because meats meat and girls have gotta eat”
This simple philosophy carries through to their attitude towards the band itself. Not straying too far from the usual story: friends get together and form a band, play a few shows and eventually things begin to flow. This band is however pioneering in one crucial area; practice makes perfect even with heavy amounts of alcohol involved!
“We have been close group of friends for years and Kip the singer is my (Reece) cousin. We talked about starting a band for a good while before we actually got our act together and done it. Kip and I went to a music store and picked up some really shitty drums, then called a friend and basically told him he’s our drummer! We were really terrible! In fact I still can’t work out how we stayed together through some disastrous gigs, but in fact it makes you a stronger unit and a little more tougher as a band. Man it was hard work back in the early days, we liked the beer more than playing tight. Some things don’t change but we are a much better band now when pissed!”
Whereas their releases in the past had all been EPs, latest album Slab City saw a departing from the usual shorter format into a full-length album. Commenting on the decision to stray from the original plan, Reece reveals it was getting signed that made the transition possible.“Mostly due to the support from Napalm after getting signed. We honestly wasn’t too fussed about being signed and had a plan to release 4 E.P’s all connected by the comic. At the end we was going to release a comic book that linked them all. After ‘Corned Beef Colossus’ e.p we was signed to Napalm and they wanted us to release a full length. It made total sense to do that if we had their support as we could spend time on the recording and have the back up to get it out to as many people as possible.”
The STEAK guys are just as passionate about music on the stage as off it, and the partying continues as Reece reveals his favorite concert memory.
“For me personally it has to be seeing a reformed Unida, Lowrider and Dozer share a stage at Desertfest London in 2013. Man that was an awesome thing to witness and really never thought it would happen. It felt like it was like 1996 or something.”
Although they may not be letting their current success go to their heads, it seems there are exiting opportunities on the horizon for this band still. Just weeks away from a full European tour on the horizon it seems this band wont be buried in the UK underground for too much longer.
“We are just about to be announced as support for John Garcia on a 5 week tour around Europe. That will be awesome as it means playing bigger venues and good crowds. Hopefully Garcia fans will dig what we do and we will sell lots of records! Hopefully he gets up and sings on the track ‘Pisser’ form the new album as he does on the record. Maybe it will happen!”
“Maturity” can be a rather difficult concept to pin down, especially in a genre which so often embraces the inherently unreasonable. Those of us who remember the mass-desertion of Extreme Metal musical trappings that happened in the late-90s can be forgiven for shuddering at the thought of a word used so often back then as shorthand for “we’re embarrassed to be a Metal band” or “we need some new fans”. When sitting down to review the new album from Castle, Under Siege (Prosthetic Records), however, I found that “mature” was the word coming most readily to my mind – and certainly not in a negative way.
Castle play a rough, smoky mixture of Sabbath-model Doom and classic Heavy Metal combined with the slightest hint of what has recently been referred to as “Occult Rock”. If you want a lazy journalistic comparison (and who wouldn’t?) the arcane Metal feel of a Manilla Road or Cirith Ungol filtered through smoke-grooved Sabbath riffs with a touch of Jex Thoth will do the trick, but it’s clear that a straight-up description of their sound, no matter how appealing, is fairly unspectacular – what makes Castle a genuinely interesting proposition is that dreaded M word.
There’s a depth of emotion, a sense of authenticity, a feeling of – yes, damn it, MATURITY to the eight tracks on Under Siegethat is certainly not typical of the genre. It’s hard to pin down exactly where this feeling comes from – possibly vocalist Elizabeth Blackwell’s laid-back, almost lounge-tinged tones; possibly the sinuous, muscular riffing of Mat Davisor the effective simplicity of the songs; perhaps even the lyrics and artwork, which suggest a more personal, symbolic take on subjects which other Heavy Metal bands often play as purely literal.
Under Siege is unlikely to change anyone’s life or redefine any parameters, but it does deliver thirty minutes of powerful, catchy and emotionally-resonant Heavy Metal that manages to be both distinctive and clearly rooted genre tradition.
Ever heard of Tim Rose? It was he who popularised the folk-rock song ‘Morning Dew’ in 1966, way before Jerry Garcia’s mob, with an edgy, angry blues vocal as fragile as it was powerful. It’s harsh and emotive, with elements of beauty scattered about it. You really need to dig it out. He’s also the guy that inexplicably springs to mind within seconds of hearing Christian Hede Madsen spit forth bitterly over the massive grooves of Pet The Preacher’s second full-length, The Cave & The Sunlight (Napalm Records), and the influence of the vocal style upon these offerings cannot be over-emphasised.
Sub-plots intertwine throughout the album, with inflections of blues and psychedelia looming large. Yet, the tragic beauty of opener ‘The Cave’, the slithering groove of ‘Let Your Dragon Fly’, and the lacerating, muscular riffs and tribal drums of Christian von Larsen on the desert-soaked ‘Kamikaze Night’ are all testament to the rustic stoner charm oozing through the set. It’s an even better experience when that raw emotion shines through: the almost balladic ‘Remains’, complete with a wonderful, whisky drenched slide lead from Madsen amid the gravelly edges, shows just how adept these guys are at penning tunes which marry both soft and hard ingredients whilst sticking to your brain like that bastard bubblegum on the bus seat. As with many stoner albums there are perfunctory moments such as the leaden and unimaginative ‘Fire Baby’ and the occasional pub rock of ‘I’m Not Gonna’; but that storytelling roar that points to a life hard lived and that lead guitar underpin enliven even these tracks with a sense of empathy. The growling bass and exploding swells of ‘What Now’ are a pure delight.
You’ll never want the pulsating ebb and flow of closer ‘The Web’ to end, just as much for the joyous surge of its powerful moments as for the feeling that life will be a little more dull once the album’s over. It’s a chapter characteristic of its book: full of peaks and troughs, yet ultimately euphoric in its doleful nature, this will grow more endearing with each listen.