I hadn’t registered so much as a whisper of St Louis trio Wretched Empires…until I learned that vocalist Tom Ballard was also the frontman for UK Sludge-Doomers Allfather. THEN my ears pricked up. Debut EP Bloom (Independent Release) shows the new outfit to be of a Blackened persuasion, which is even more of a surprise upon realising that the other two members of the unit were formerly part of Alt-Indie sextet Redbait. Curious indeed…Continue reading
Usually, Metal from Finland is incarcerated inside a cocoon of cold Death and/or melancholy. For the last seven years, however, Helsinki trio Slave Hands has rebelled against the norm to peddle a particularly horrific brand of Doom-flavoured Sludge, and No More Feelings (Dry Cough Records/Gate Of Deliria/Minor Obscure/Sewer Prison), the band’s fourth album in that time, continues down that solitary, diseased path.Continue reading
Highly-respected Ulster Sludge/Doom outfit Slomatics is as well known for its countless splits, most prominently with fellow Doom yellers Conan, as it is for its own produce. So it’s something of a surprise to discover that Canyons (Black Bow Records) is the band’s sixth album in its fifteen-year existence, but as expected it shows a soupçon of originality in the unrelenting, slothlike heaviness.Continue reading
A 7-inch ‘split’ release (Black Bow), with one track each… the ways of ‘putting yourself out there’ shrink by the minute. The track from Belfast sludge-doom trio Slomatics, ‘Ulysses, My Father’, is Conan incarnate: all colossal riffs dropped from the skies, Marty Harvey‘s vocals echoing from atop Olympus, until some subtle and welcome sequencing introduces a slight quickening of pace and some pulverising stickwork from Harvey.
‘Bill Ward’, the track from Miami instrumental monstrosity Holly Hunt, is something of a powerhouse. Buzzing, crunching guitars fade in and out as if bouncing on the surface of a ‘woofer’, sucked back then spat forth with venom whilst drums reminiscent of the man the track is named after fling the riff around like a toy. The resonant power is stunning and dulls the senses in a hypnotic fashion, but in truth one four-minute track each is not the sort of advert that makes me want to further investigate, especially with the Belfast unit having four albums under their belt.
A multi-track EP could have pushed this intriguing sound further into the psyche.
One of the leading bands of heavy music today, Tombs, released what is surely to be one of the top album releases this year when Savage Gold dropped from Relapse in June. We certainly hyped the album ourselves before we ever heard a note, including it as #1 in our “Top Albums To Watch” list for this year in January. Now at Ghost Cult we interview a ton of artists, since we find this is the way to uncover the most insights about bands that fans want to know about. Tombs front man Mike Hill is a guy we have chatted with many times, so there was familiarity there that we don’t always get to have with others. His speaking voice has a certain authority to it, not unlike you imagine a judge or an college professor has. Always generous with is time, we covered a lot of ground. At the same time Mike is a no-nonsense type of guy who takes his art very seriously, and we afforded him the consideration and respect he deserves.
Listening to Savage Gold the first thing that jumps out at you is the power, clarity and immediacy of the music. We started our chat by asking Mike about the sonic changes from the last few albums and what spurred the move in this direction:
“With the last couple of records there was a lot of atmosphere. We relied more on a lot of effects and reverb, sort of far away sounds. And I feel on a lot of the recordings especially, there was a lot of the details in the recording was lost. For instance some of the drum performances are almost inaudible because of the spacial effects and the atmosphere, things like that. So one of the things I wanted to achieve with this record, was to bring those details that were lost on the last records, like the technical playing.. all these little subtleties and bring them to the forefront. The way we achieved that was to go more minimal, and to scale back the effects. So we allowed just the performances of the songs convey the power, nothing else. In order to achieve that we wanted to clean up our sound to highlight those things. That was what our approach on the production side of things. That was exactly what we were hoping to achieve.”
We found the choice of Eric Rutan, know for his pristine death metal production work to be an inspired choice:
I think John Congeleton who produced the last album, he had a pretty big hand and definitely brought a lot to the table for that record; helping to sculpt the sound and producing a very moody album. On the new album, with this kind of production, we really wanted an articulation and a detail orientated sound.”
“Rutan is a guy I have admired for many, many years. I have been a fan of every band Eric has worked in, starting with Ripping Corpse, then his work with Morbid Angel, and all his stuff with Hate Eternal. They are all great bands. And I am a real fan of his production work, most notably his work on the Goatwhore records. The production of those particular records really piqued my interest in working with him. You can hear everything, and all of the the details are there. They are very brutal records, but very clear. That’s what gave us, sort of the idea, to move on with him. I think the combination of us working with him is a really great team. And I’m looking forward to working with this team more in the future.”
Tombs often has wide-ranging concept albums and we wondered if Savage Gold was any different. Also, we got a sense from repeated listens that this album was much more personal for the band. Hill explained:
“It’s not a concept record the way Rush- 2112 is a concept record (laughs), but yes, it is a concept record. The songs are always related because the material was written over a period of time that was everyone’s life. We were all living together during the period of time of making this album, so all those things going on with us were the themes that made it on to the record. And there was a lot of death and dying of friends and family going on around us, a lot of people in our camp. It was never our intention to write about it particularly. But that kind of environment inspired the lyrical content on the record. And you just find yourself thinking about things differently, when people pass away. This record in general is definitely a mediation on death and beyond and infinity. The lifespan of people. We looked at this borderland between life and death, and explored that idea.”
Where previous efforts by the band beat up your ears sonically only to stem the tide occasionally, the new album has a a sequence and a track flow that highlights the dynamic changes between songs.
“It’s just a natural exploration of the things we are interested in. I’m really into playing fast and brutal, but at the same time I am really into giving things space, and subtlety and expressing myself in other ways. Maybe on the next few records, I might want to explore even more with dynamics. And I would love to have more of that in the future, more things that are there to polarize to people even more. It’s all really just different sides of the same coin.”
Savage Gold is the first album with Garrett Bussanick and Ben Brand in the band. We weren’t sure how much the guys contributed to creating the new music, based on the timeline of when they joined.
“Oh absolutely, they did contribute quite a bit. The main ideas: the riffs and song structures are all stuff I wrote and always come from me. Andrew (Hernandez II) helps refine them.”
“Let’s take a look at each guy. We’ll start with Ben first: Ben’s bass playing style is a real departure in style to what we’ve had in the band in the past. Carson (James) was a really awesome, solid, tone-orientated straight ahead player and Ben is more busy. His position in the rhythm section definitely helped the band improve dynamically. And Garrett’s parts and solos definitely added a lot to to the atmosphere of the songs. All of his parts and overdubs added a lot to the sound. That is how each guy contributes to the dynamic flow in the band and on this album.”
We also asked Mike about his vocal contributions to the much talked about debut solo album from Karyn Crisis, The Gospel of The Witches:
“It’s great! Crisis was a legendary band here in New York. I really enjoyed their music and I thought they were very unique, especially during the time period when they existed in this city. I always admired Karyn’s artwork, but I never really got to know her until this project. The forces of the universe just aligned and allowed us to work together on this music. It’s been a real honor working with Davide (Tiso) and Karyn. Everything I have heard is great! So far I have only done backing vocals on two songs, but I am really looking forward to hearing the finished project when it’s all mixed and mastered and finished.”
That this gig even went ahead, given the steady stream of disaster befalling so many of its protagonists, was a miracle. Some weeks before the event, rising Liverpool-based doom trio Coltsblood had agreed to step in for the original headliners; while on the eve of the onslaught, Huddersfield swamp monsters Wort were forced to withdraw also.
A sequencer arrived as if from nowhere, and Peter Callaghan soon began to add his psychedelic bleeps and squiggles to the heavy as hell, occasionally funereal sludge of Stoke’s Space Witch. Bassist Ian Hickton, a less hirsute version of Lord of the Rings’ grumpy dwarf Gimley, rumbled his weapon so deeply I was fooled into thinking I was shitting myself: doubtless aided by the venue, around eighteen inches taller than me and about twice the size of my living room. Initmate? You betcha. At times the sound and weight felt like a train crash but despite the bleeding horror there’s a languid bliss in the audience, mirroring the brutal ease with which Dan Mansfield abused his kit.
The hypnotic, groove-laden sludge of Blackburn’s Bastard Of The Skies led to myriad knees and hips being displaced during an incendiary set. A Punch in the Fucking Lungs saw front man Matt Richardson roar his usual spoken verse and begin to flush like Rooney at a World Cup: his scathingly sarcastic lyrics delivered with a malevolence which belied the ease the trio undertook its task. Despite Matt Aldred breaking sticks to the apron, he and bassist Claire Horrocks laid waste on the pounding Yarn and the brooding, darkly portentous Bao Fu, both from their recent split with tonight’s original co-headliners Grimpen Mire; whilst the explosion from the lull within …Dicknose? was executed with the synchronised violence of a band at one with each other.
Sadly the night ended prematurely, due to Coltsblood guitarist Jemma McNulty needing hospital treatment after an allergic reaction. Hence four were reduced to two and focus therefore remained on Bastard Of The Skies: arguably the coolest band in the world right now, despite their friendly and unassuming demeanour, this lot demand your whole attention.
WORDS: PAUL QUINN
Since its birth in 2006, there can’t have been many harder-working bands than Lancastrian sludge-groove monster Bastard Of The Skies. After three full-lengths, an EP, and a ‘split’ album, long-time guitarist Rob Beesley stunned its dedicated and growing fanbase by departing the fold earlier this year. Prior to their recent gig with Space Witch, I asked about the effect this had had on the band, plus their recent, incendiary split with fellow Brit sludgers Grimpen Mire. Over the next forty minutes they proved themselves affable, open and disarmingly self-deprecating.
I began by asking how a band from Blackburn, with not much of a metal scene to speak of, were garnering such a name for themselves? The humour is evident straightaway: “When I came for an audition’, says bassist Claire Horrocks, ‘Matt and [Rob] Beesley were sat there with a clipboard and a book entitled ‘How To Be A Successful Rock Band’!!” Rather shame-facedly, vocalist / guitarist and founder member Matt Richardson affirms this fact with a nod. “It’s everything you need’, he jokes. ‘I think my first gig was in Blackburn”, continues Claire, “but the venue closed soon afterwards.” ‘I think Blackburn closed!’, replies Richardson. So how get noticed enough to break out of there? “Despite a couple of early tours in the Midlands I’ve always followed what’s gone on in Manchester, which is now a home-from-home for us”, continues Richardson. ‘I knew a couple of guys here, and had seen a few gigs that Dave at Future Noise (the band’s record label) had put on there, so I hooked up with him.’ Youthful-looking powerhouse drummer Matt Aldred joined later: ‘Matt [Richardson] knew my elder brother and asked me to come down. He initially rejected me the first time around, but I came back successfully a year later. They’d obviously tried all other options!” The thing that sets BotS apart from the majority of sludge bands out there, aside from Richardson’s terrifying roar, is a huge element of groove amidst the ferocity. It’s something the rest of the trio are willing to lay at Aldred’s feet: ‘I’m from a pop-punk background’… ‘but listen to a lot of Tool, Mastodon, Russian Circles, and I find their kind of flow sneaks in to my playing.’
Attention turned to their blisteringly heavy, hostile, and rather magnificent new ‘split’ with Birmingham (UK) trio Grimpen Mire, which I seemed to recall being ‘plugged’ at a phenomenal night both bands played in Manchester a year earlier. ‘I’d actually already recorded the Grimps’ side of the ‘split’ before that gig!’, Richardson states matter-of-factly. ‘I’d spoken to Ian (Davis, Grimpen Mire drummer) about the possibility, and Future Noise agreed to fund it. I recorded their part in about three days, and our four tracks in about eight months! Our last album, ‘Tarnation’, had pushed my old desk to its absolute limits: this has been finished on a new desk.’ I opine that their contribution is a slight return to a more pacy, groove-laden nastiness, after an occasional dalliance with drone on ‘Tarnation’: ‘When we set out writing’ begins Aldred, ‘we don’t really have an aim. It kind of…develops. ‘That’s one reason why it took us so long!’ continues Richardson. ‘Nothing ever ends as you think it’s going to. It takes its own little journey and usually goes somewhere else.’ ‘Something will just spark something off’, continues Claire, ‘and before you know it half a song’s re-written. It’s happened to us so many times.’
I wondered, with the preponderance of bands doing splits these days, what the attraction is from a band’s point of view? “It’s just a better way of getting your stuff out there”, says Horrocks. “It’s economical”, Richardson adds, “and good in a geographical sense as people from a different area, the home of the other band involved at least, will hear your stuff. We did a split a couple of years ago with a band called Catatomic. They’re from Wisconsin and, although it didn’t do much for the bank balance, it got us heard in the US”. “In fact, we know we’ve some kind of following in Brazil as we get quite a few downloads of our stuff from there, and we’ve heard that some guys in Afghanistan were playing Tarnation in the humvees as they were out on patrol!”, reveals Aldred. “Yeah: I’m not really sure how I felt about that one…” jokes Richardson.
So does this, and the fact that Tarnation received airplay on some US online stations, mean that things are on the rise internationally for BotS? ‘I don’t know’ sighs Horrocks, ‘we’ll go where it takes us. To be honest we just do what we do, and don’t really expect anything out of it. You can’t get an ego about it: quite often, if you do, the rug gets pulled out from under your feet.’ ‘We got PR in North America for the split’ continues Richardson, “and if you look at their client list, Neurosis are on it, which was like ‘Oh my God!’. But, small fish, big pond. That’s the way we see it. Dave knew the PR guys from other occasions and they actually contacted us to do it, so it’s nice. It’s not like we can get over there anytime soon but it’s fantastic if we go down well over there.”
So how’s the split been received? “Well Terrorizer gave us a great review,” Claire positively enthuses, “so that was a real “t-shirt over the head” moment! It’s generally been really good, and at the moment that’s probably been the highlight.” Some reviews haven’t been so kind in the past, with one rather huffy reviewer taking issue purely because of the many tongue-in-cheek song titles the band produce. This, it seems, is largely the work of Mr. Richardson: ‘Take ‘Bao Fu’ from the split, for instance’ states Horrocks. “There’s no spiritual meaning; it’s the name of a chinese takeaway! I quite like the idea of some people wondering if there’s a deeper meaning behind a song named after a local chippy! We have discovered since that it’s also the name of a film character.’ ‘Also, ‘What Are You Looking At, Dicknose?!’ (from ‘Tarnation’) is taken from a t-shirt in the film ‘Teen Wolf” states Richardson, in no way ashamed of this rather cheesy link.
Actors and actresses do crop up with alarming regularity. I asked what the influence was. “Simple. I watch shit films. I love ’em! I suggest these things and they just stick.’ ‘There’s a new song we’ve written called ‘Tehachapi’, states Horrocks, “which comes from ‘Critters 2.’ ‘Debbie Rochon, the horror film actress, actually had our track named after her (from second album ‘Ichor! Ichor!’) as the theme on her website for a time!’, affirms Aldred. So are the songs about the people? ‘Largely, no!’ confirms Richardson. “They’re more often than not based on scenarios. The titles are just random suggestions that seem like an idea at the time!”
Richardson also has a steadily-growing resumé as a producer. Is word getting around about this string on his bow? I produce anyone who asks! But I’m between premises at present. I’ve had a studio for the last ten years but, at Christmas, I got a call saying it was to be pulled down. So the gear’s in my back room at the moment! ‘He’ll record anything though’, states Horrocks, ‘some bloke across the way chanting Muslim prayers, the Elvis impersonator down the road…anything. But there’s a lot of doom also: The Human Condition, Arkham Witch, Black Magician’...it’s an expanding list which is growing ever-more impressive.
The split is the first product the band have released without the beloved guitarist Beesley. I asked the reason for his departure, and how he’s missed: the response ‘Well, Claire now has to drive!…’ immediately dispels any suspicion of a fallout, and shows the band still love their absent colleague. ‘One of us may have to learn now’…continues Aldred. ‘Basically, he now has family responsibilities, and can’t commit to the band.’ ‘We miss that big grin’ laments Horrocks, ‘and the fact that, when ‘the dictator’ [Richardson] got going in the past, he’d go over and rub himself up against him, which diffused any situations.’ ‘So he had to go!’ declares Richardson in mock-tyrannical fashion. The teasing of Richardson’s status as leader reaffirms how well they get on with each other. Horrocks later opines that this is the most important thing about being in a band, whilst Aldred suggests that not living in each others’ pockets, a mistake that results in so many bands losing members these days, creates the breathing space necessary to reinforce the bond between them.
One of the most unassuming, funny, approachable units I’ve ever met, it’s almost paradoxical that the violent noise Bastard of the Skies creates is so brutal, crater-creating and downright irresistible. With their portion of the new split sounding as vital and powerful as ever, they are surely one of the greatest, coolest outfits around right now. You know what to do…
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Most people in the current generation never got to see or hear Pantera live. Even if you did, it’s sadly been over a decade since that band played it’s final notes. Even though their surviving members have continued to make music, some of it excellent, nothing will ever quite duplicate that fury and fun for a lot of people who remember them. Phil Anselmo has continued to make music with the likes of Down and other projects, but outside of some his recent work in the metal masters, fans haven’t had the chance to him cut loose and get back to his brutal musical past. With his recent album Walk Through Exits Only (Housecore) and his new backing band, The Illegals, Phil is back to doing arguably what his does best: crushing stages and having fun on the ‘The Technicians of Distortion Tour’.
Upstairs there was some good support from local bands such as Black Mass and Vivsepulture. Downstairs in the main room, Author & Punisher was up first and you could just feel the “wtf?” in the room with groans and sighs. I love it when an artist challenges a crowd just by being there. A one man sonic and multimedia experience, the room that was waiting for some thrash and groove, guitars and screaming, and they just couldn’t handle it. Tristan Shone is the man behind A&P and you have to give him his props, based on impassioned performance and dgaf attitude. This was an inspired choice to open the show even if barely anybody in the building “got it”. Warbeast was up next and fell more in line with the expectations of the swelling crowd. Playing some Texas sized thrash metal songs, hot off of their recent Anselmo produced Destroy (Housecore) album, the band woke the droopy crowd up with a bang. Playing songs such as ‘Nightmares In the Sky’, ‘Birth of A Psycho’, and ‘Scorched Earth Policy’ really activated the pit. Front man Bruce Corbitt stalked the stage and sang his balls off as usual. Guitarists Scott Shelby and Bobby Tilotson provided the firepower shred-wise. Of course, Phil watched their entire set from the side of the stage and even came out to sing for a few songs, including some old Rigor Mortis jams which was terrific.
Finally, Phil and troupe left the stage, only long enough for them to clear the gear and show a very sparse stage of gear. A massive, simple banner hung as a backdrop: Phil’s visage in a silhouette of his face and head with his band name only. They could tell tonight was going to be a special show. After jamming a bit of ‘Black Houses’ by Portal, the band launched into ‘Battalion of Zero’. It was great to hear Phil just growl it out as he hasn’t really done in years on stage much. He just let it fly and he sounded flawless. ‘Betrayed’ was next and the crowd was just whipped in a frenzy with a chaotic pit happening. It was also cool to hear people had the new album, and were singing along too. His band was as killer as advertised, especially Marzi Montazeri on guitar. The band ended up playing the entire record over the course of the night and Phil gave little explanations of what the thought was behind each song. Phil chatted it up, but thankfully kept his banter short, or short for him. There were also some epic surprises all night long, the first being the late-era Pantera classic ‘Death Rattle’. It was just sick to hear this song live, which has closely followed by Superjoint Ritual‘s ‘Fuck Your Enemy’. Later in the set the band messed around with the opening of Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Dazed and Confused’, which sounded so doomy and sludged out. I appreciated the notion, even if I giggled at the delivery. Even though people cried out for his more popular songs, it was cool to hear most of Phil’s stops in his musical journey represented, such as the Arson Anthem killer ‘Wrecked Like Clockwork’. After playing a nice mash-up of Pantera treasures like ‘Domination/Hollow’ with a little ‘By Demons Be Driven’, and for a second I caught myself thinking it was 1998 again. Closing with Agnostic Front’s ‘United and Strong’, Phil and his band definitely delivered a fun show of new music, old hits and some influences.
Words: Keith Chachkes
Photos: Echoes In The Well