With a track record that dates all the way back to 1993, it’s a testament to perseverance and dedication that T. Roy,the only and founding member of Sourvein,has continued to fuel his project through record label instability and periods of severe depression. It’s no wonder he has earned such a respected reputation in the world of sludge and doom, right up along side the fellow North Carolina lords of Buzzov*en.
With a new home on Metal BladeRecords, Sourvein releases their fourth full-length album Aquatic Occult featuring an impressive array of helping hands including, but not limited to, Randy Blythe of Lamb of God, Dean Berry of Iron Monkey and Stig Miller of Amebix.
As the name implies, Aquatic Occult is musically conceptualized around the theme of water, with samplings clearly heard in the opening track ‘Tempest (Of Desire)’ and closing track ‘Oceanic Procession’. A clear homage to their coastal origin Cape Fear NC, all the tracks are given aquatic names and the track names themselves can be an indicator of what kind of intensity to expect upon listening.
For example, the first single ‘Occypus’ (featuring Randy Blythe), with it’s maximally distorted riffage and aggressively thickened growls, represents fierceness and unpredictability – which is an accurate interpretation of an octopus. As opposed to the out-of-the-box track ‘Mermaids’ with its clean reverb-inflected vocals and whiny drawn out riffs, it can be interpreted to represent the mystical creature although this track is the weakest on this album.
However, it’s quite apparent throughout the album that the ability to memorably heavy guitar riffs comes easily to T. Roy. If you are as heavily into sludge as myself, you know how important it is for a slow chugging riff to be as blood curdling as possible. The heavy hitters on this album are ‘Hymn to Poseidon’, ‘In The Wind’ and ‘Urchins,’ featuring the most soul-crushing riffs so far this year. The more pensive doom tracks on this album lie within ‘Cape Fearian’, channeling the Judgement-era Anathema with its dark celtic melody, and ‘Bermuda Showdown’, channeling Neurosis-style minimalistic grooves with hesitant military drums marching alongside it.
The entire album is infested with T. Roy’s yells of his true realities and misfortunes, but he makes it clear that there is a light at the end of his tunnel. And although this honest album does have a few questionable lapses in production, Sourvein’s Aquatic Occult is a great fourth LP release and you’d be crazy to not look forward to more.
Sourvein is currently recording at SSP Studio in Raleigh, NC with Corrosion of Conformity bassist/vocalist Mike Dean recording their forthcoming full length Aquatic Occult, out later in 2015 via Metal Blade. Band vocalist Troy “T-Roy” Medlin and guitarist “Stig” Miller of UK crust punk icons Amebix will be included on a two track collaboration. More info will be coming shortly.
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.
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…
While the UK may lack the swamps or deserts that inspire our fellow Sabbath-worshipping cousins across the pond, we more than make up for it in grim urban sprawl, which is more than depressing enough to fuel our own fertile sludge scene. So what better time to take a look at a new split release (on Future Noise Recordings) from two homegrown lurking horrors that dwell down in the deep?
First up we have Blackburn trio Bastard of the Skies who have been knocking around for a good eight years or so now. While adhering fairly rigidly to the well-defined sludge template with the plodding, mid-paced rumble-along that is opening track ‘Yarn’, there is a pleasing undercurrent of menace and violence in the riffs and delivery which is just quite nasty sounding, frankly. This is exacerbated by vocalist Matt Richardson’s strained and haggard vocals which appear to have been recorded in some grimy cellar bereft of light and hope. ‘Bao Fu’ continues the trend, adding in a few Sourvein style anti-grooves before the brief curveball of ‘Wounder’ increases the pace. Closing number ‘Old Vessels’ veers into doom territory and makes good use of quiet/loud dynamics before locking into a monstrous groove to finish things off. Lovely stuff.
Erdington trio Grimpen Mire have also been doing the rounds for a similar length of time and their experience on the toilet circuit has clearly paid dividends for they have evolved into a tight and thoroughly abrasive unit with an appreciation for Black Flag at their most unpleasant. ‘The Hollow Wreck’ coils and slithers menacingly like a venomous serpent while ‘Vermin Hive’ does its best to wear the listener down with waves of monolithic misery. Eight minute closer ‘Fragments of Forgotten Craft’ starts slowly but then adopts some Wounded Kings-esque Hammer Horror vibes that go down a treat, ending things in suitably sinister style.
A cracking release that shows just how healthy (or should that be fetid?) the UK sludge scene currently is. Well worth a look.
Roadburn festival is special, as many who have gone know. It’s one of those festivals where it’s impossible to see everything you wanted to and you end up missing things that were awesome, but you didn’t even know about or seeing things you’d never heard of before but are now suddenly completely addicted to. It debuted bands into the world at large like Goat and Ghost, and manages to pull reform bands that quit ages ago, or pull bands that never perform out of the woodworks. Doing a “proper” festival review of Roadburn is utterly and completely useless. Instead I’m writing an impression. An impression of a magical special place where everyone, except a few bad eggs, is so nice and friendly no-one wants to leave and you’re instantly addicted. A hidden place where the bands stick around to see others play and get just as excited about seeing things as the visitors. A place where all is awesome, so really nothing can be said.
I have the difficult task of squeezing four intense days of not only music, but people and party into a readable format that won’t be too long. I can go on about this festival forever, but I’ll restrict myself.
Day One as always starts a little uneasy. Excited as I was for the past weeks to go back to Roadburn (year four and counting…) I’m mostly reconnecting with friends and bands I’ve not had around for a year. This year I didn’t have the time to properly prepare and listen to all the billing before going, but I had a fair idea of what I wanted and needed to see. I wander into the 013 venue, which has three rooms available for this festival. There’s the main stage (capacity 2100), the greenroom (around 400-500 capacity I believe) and the stage 01 (about 150-200 capacity) across the street, in an old parish building there’s Het Patronaat (capacity around 800) and on the edge of the perfect “beer street”of Tilburg, around the corner of the 013 venue, there is the Cul de Sac (capacity 100-150). All in all the Roadburn crowd take over a major part of the city with their happy blackened hippie vibe. So in we get and hang around the foyer of the completely stuffed Greenroom (the small rooms always get full up) to listen to a bit of Brutus’s set. It’s incredible they’re even here, as just before their tour their studio burned down and they lost all their equipment. The band is hard to YouTube, because of their (rather generic) name, but definitely worth the effort. What I pick up from their set sounds incredible, nice retro stoner blues rock. Their vocalist really reminds of Ozzy in his better days and a few more of the older vocalists. After about 15 minutes I go to catch some of Sourvein in the Mainstage. The sludgey doom these Americans give us just doesn’t quite catch me the way other doom and sludge greats do. Maybe it’s not slow enough for me or maybe it’s the vocals that feel a little forced. So off we merrily wander again to check out the merch street and then catch some 40 Watt Sun. Damn these guys can play. Heavy, slow and oppressive, even though it’s an acoustic set with out the normal bass volumes. Het Patronaat, which has heavy carpeting on the balcony and always gets notoriously hot, adding to the atmosphere. The sound was impeccable. Sadly it’s impossible to finish watching their set if I still wanna see Beastmilk. They’re one of my “need to see” bands this year. While I’ve heard plenty of people be incredibly impressed by them live or even like them better than on record, I was a little disappointed. The music was good and solid, but the second vocals were gone, as was the echo that you get on the record, drowning the vocals. On record they’ve got the more new-wave feel while live they’re more punky. I also expected more show of these guys. The stage looked incredibly empty and while Kvhost played the crowd like the professional he is, it lacked something. The backdrop was just a still of their album cover and the strength from the album just wasn’t there even with songs such as ‘Death Reflects Us’. Good, but not as mind-blowing as I had expected. Then again expectations were very high
Next I try to catch some of Samothrace, but walk in just when their last lengthy notes and ringing through Het Patronaat shaking the rafters. I hear it was good but I really cannot judge on half a minute and two notes. After a brief chat with some friendly people I go on to see some Napalm Death, one of the few Deathmetal bands I almost always enjoy seeing live. Their insane hysterical party energy is just wonderful, and though this time they chose to t a special, slower, doomier Roadburn set, the hysterics were still their in their vocalist who just cannot stay in one spot for more than five seconds. I did miss the exuberant party energy though, but still an incredible set. I caught a little of Goatess, from the back of the room (well outside the doors towards the stage 01 so…) and I remember thinking they rocked, but the wall of people made it hard to really enjoy, so I went to see some of Corrections House. Many people didn’t like them since they’re more in the industrial corner of things, but their dark bleak pounding sound did catch my attention for sometime, and while they were the definite odd duck of the day they were good at what they do. By now I’m in a serious dilemma. I wanted to see AnciientsandTrue Widow, and The great old ones, all playing the same time slot. I also wanted to catch a bit of Crowbar. I ended up mostly shooting and watching a bit of Crowbar, realizing they weren’t getting to me and popping off to True Widow, watching them from the side of the stage. True Widow are amazing live, and I’m kicking myself I forgot to pick some of their stuff up. The interplay between the vocals of both bassist and guitarist, the difference in their voices and the sheer thunder of their music is wonderful. They’re tight and minimal but not simple. The room was packed and everyone loved it. Sadly Anciients was packed so the wait began for Bong to start. How shall I describe the transcendent experience Bong is when you’re already tired yet excited of a day of running from band to band and making room to chat with people and make new friends? After the photo-pit time I snuck upstairs to the relatively calm balcony and just sat there eyes closed letting their atmospheric heavy jam carry me away. Afterwards I did attempt a look at the Heavy Metal Disco in the main foyer, intending not to stay to long. It was 3:30 by the time the lights came on and music turned off and I snapped out of my conversation with a new friend, and sheepishly started the trek home with my bunkee.
After a night of far too little sleep and a heady breakfast, the track back to the festival arrived. For me this isn’t too massive an affair: about 10 minutes in the buss or 20-30 walking, but there are people staying all over the south of the Netherlands and the camping itself is a good 30 minutes cycling away.
When I get to the venue the restaurants and bars are filled with the flock off bearded black-shirted Roadburners settled on the city. Today Opeth’sMikaël Åkerfeldt got to plan in the main stage. Roadburn always has a fair amount of proggy bands on her billing, but with Åkerfeldt curating and his band playing, the spread of them is even more. Today starts with the phenomenal Magma, French prog ancients with a jazzy 60’s psychedelic style that confuses the masses. Some people flee after about half a song, the rest stays, entranced but confused, trying to figure out what is going on while really liking what they hear. While it’s sort of like listening to five songs at the same time, the music itself is impeccable and the unique operetta vocal style (no not the high waily kind but the proper male low sound) wielded by the male baritone of the group is refreshing and highly impressive.
While others run to see the heavy duo The Body, I decided to have a peek at the vintage Caravan, new kids on the block playing the stage 01, but definitely buzzing. Sadly it’s impossible to get into the room, it even took the ban 5 minutes to get to the stage through the throng. People are latterly packed against the wall opposing the stage 01 doors. And all of this is justified. These kids can play. They play a delightful retro 70s style rock, very listenable and done so well you ‘d swear they lived through the period. They play again on Saturday but after this thunderous set they’ll be more impossible to see. Up on the mainstage Comus is getting set up. This is proper 60’s feeling, acoustic, gentle more formal prog, impeccable harmonies and very quiet. The show is a little static as everyone is either sitting or has a steady place on stage surrounded by monitors but all in all the music is impeccable. The static feeling of the show doesn’t mater, it’s not a band you watch it’s a band you dream away to.
In the greenroom Änglagärd are setting up to play their set. You cannot avoid the massive, huge sound starting up in the main room as Goblin starts to play. While not where near as abrasive and “loud’ as some Roadburn bands their sound is so massive and so well layered that it envelopes you and take you with them on a journey through the musical movie themes they composed. The level of balance is incredibly, while the bass notes are heavy and deep, earth shatteringly so, you can literally hear any sounds in the lighter higher registers, and their bassist sound is at times more funky than doom. Incredible set and so engaging it will drag you back for more time and time again. For a while I try to go see the jam sessions Åkerfeldt set up in the stage 01, which were almost deserted while very good musically, the Goblin set kept dragging me back again and again.
Candlemass know how to get a party going. I think this may be the best and biggest response and interplay between band and crowd I’ve ever seen at the usually quite mellow and movement reserved Roadburn crowd. And they were good, exceptional, with vocalist Máts Leven shaking his wild curls around with fever. As Candlemas have been playing switcharoo with their vocalists so often I had a bit of a pickle finding out who the wild-haired curlyman playing the crowd so well was. His voice was impeccable too, and combined with the excellence of the music surrounding him, he took it upon himself to entertain besides singing.
Opeth, what can be said about them that hasn’t been showered on them already/ praise for their immaculate sound? Criticism for not being rough enough? Reverence for their musicality? I’d like to talk about Åkerfeldt’s sense of humor. The set begins with a heartfelt tale about how impressed he is with Roadburn and it’s welcome not only of his band, but also of the strange bands he programmed instead of the more traditional Roadburny taste. Their set was surprisingly heavy, much to the joy of the crowd, as they switched lighter, proggy songs off with heavy grunting old stuff. Eventually of course people start yelling requests, to which Åkerfeldt had a great solution, he asked if the one guy yelling ‘Freebird’ would yell so now, and after a chorus of replies, they did play ‘Freebird’, ignoring all other requests. At the end, instead of leaving and making the audience shout for them to come back and play one more song, they stayed on stage and made the crowd ask for their encore as if hey wren;t there, and then launched into the massive song everyone had been waiting for since forever: ‘Black Water Park’. I’ve never seen so many people pleased, even mentioning it was their best show in ages for playing the heavier stuff. The intense and amazing day of proggy rollercoaster tired me out to such a point I didn’t even go to the afterparty and went straight home to sleep, longing for something heavier and more traditional Roadburn fare.