Monday, October 26, 2015

Local Love: Review of Void King's Zep Tepi

The style of doom played on Void King's debut EP Zep Tepi (Yeah, not sure what it means either) is tricky to pinpoint. It only has three songs but each one opts for  different direction. "Release The Hawks" starts things off in a slow, grandiose fashion before opting for a faster tempo, "Raise The Flags On Fire" features the heaviest riffs and a stirring vocal, and "DFI (That Was Not An Owl)" scales things back with a bass heavy, slow burn groove.

Each of these songs is united by a consistent band dynamic. Those familiar with vocalist Jason Kindred's work with So Sayeth will know what to expect and his husky drawl gives the EP a grounded feel that wouldn't have happened with a more refined approach. Tommy Miller's fuzzy guitar tone recalls the doom album that Hank Williams III released in 2011 but the songwriting here is much more compact.

Three songs does make for a guaranteed lack of filler but it also makes Zep Tepi seem more like a mere sampler rather than its own release. This is most evident with "DFI;" it is a strong track but its pacing wants to flow into a fourth track rather than close things out. It's a minor nitpick as this is definitely designed to make one want more.

Length aside, Void King's debut EP offers strong tracks and promises the rise of a new titan in the Indiana doom scene. Its sprawling sequences keep it from being more of the same stoner metal and the blue collar execution prevents it from being another Candlemass clone. One can only hope their full-lengths will have the same preoccupation with bird-themed song titles...

"Raise The Flags On Fire"
"DFI (That Was Not An Owl)"

Friday, October 23, 2015

Review of With The Dead

Serving as both a supergroup and a reunion, With The Dead was formed by Electric Wizard/Rameses comrades Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening in conjunction with Lee Dorrian of the recently disbanded Cathedral. The resulting debut was recorded and released in a hasty yet secretive fashion, seemingly fueled by grievances with the almighty Wizard. Many supergroups are formed when someone puts a bunch of musicians in a room together to see what happens; With The Dead's debut was born with the intent of venting rage and spreading doom laden despair.

Those fantasizing about a Dopethrone-Forest of Equilibrium hybrid may not be too far off from the truth. The vocals have the same character of The Last Spire but the raw production puts the instruments at a fuzzy distance, the pacing never goes beyond the vague energy of "I Am Your Virus," and Bagshaw proves to be a competent guitarist though the sparse leads are simple and the melodies are driven by pounding chords rather than outright riffs.
But there is a decent amount of variety even with the slow tempos and six song duration. Things start off a little rocky with "The Cross" in particular feeling somewhat stilted. Fortunately, the album picks up as "Nephthys" offers a mournful refrain most reminiscent of Equilibrium while "Living With The Dead" unleashes a hard groove after the album's quirkiest sample.

With The Dead's debut feels hastily put together but that rawness combined with the names involved will be the reason why doom fans love it in the first place. It may be one of the darkest albums that any of these musicians has been involved with may be closer to the spirit of primal Cathedral than that band's last efforts. It'd be great to see this lineup expanded with a worthy guitarist but it works well as an unrehearsed blast of cathartic doom.

"Living With The Dead"
"I Am Your Virus"

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Look Back at Pride & Glory

Now that guitar god Zakk Wylde has become a living cartoon character not unlike his mentor Ozzy Osbourne, it's easy to forget how ambitious he was back in the day. His fiery performances on No Rest For The Wicked and No More Tears made those the Ozzman's most energetic records to date and a growing interest in southern rock led him to form Pride & Glory with bassist James Lomenzo and drummer Brian Tichy in 1994. The music on their sole album predicts every project Wylde led from that point onward and while a few of those effort match its quality, none of them are as creative.

Those already acquainted with Black Label Society will have an idea of what to expect here, but Pride & Glory is more than just a southern rock version of it. The songs do alternate between chuggy sludge rockers and sentimental ballads but the compositions aren't as straightforward as Wylde's recent fodder. The structures are generally looser as "Horse Called War" and "Toe'n The Line" have solid jamming segments while "Harvester Of Pain" and "The Chosen One" mix some moodiness in with the heavier riffs. There is also more instrumentation beyond the trio as "The Chosen One" brings in a nice string section while a banjo dominates lead single "Losin' Your Mind" and the laid back "Hate Your Guts."

This also feels more sincere than anything Wylde has done since. The melodic tracks feel more organic with "Machine Gun Man" having a smooth twang and "Cry Me A River" playing out like a more pleasant version of Alice In Chains' "No Excuses." The lyrics aren't brilliant but they're more real than the mindless doom and gloom peddled by Black Label. This point is enhanced by the vocal performance as the Rickey Medlocke impression is surprisingly soulful for a guy born and raised in New Jersey...
Alas, the album isn't entirely perfect. Like many CDs that came out in the mid to late 90s, there are a few too many tracks on here. None of them are below average but the ballads towards the end probably could've been cut without raising too much of a fuss. Some may also still find the vocals nerve grating even if they aren't as demanding as the nasal Ozzy aping that defined Black Label in their post-Hangover Music era.

Overall, Pride & Glory's sole album is a southern metal classic that shows Zakk Wylde at the most interesting phase of his career. A few of his subsequent efforts came close to its sound but nothing could ever capture its atmosphere. A sequel is being planned to Book Of Shadows for next year so it's worth wondering if a similar fate could be planned for this...

"Losin' Your Mind"
"Troubled Wine"
"Cry Me A River"
"Toe'n The Line"
"Hate Your Guts"

Monday, October 19, 2015

Review of Tvsk's From The Ashes

When a doom group consists of a bassist and a drummer, it is tempting to compare them to the Sleep offshoot Om. The same could be said for Tvsk of Alameda, California but they don't sound like a clone band on their debut EP. The sound is dominated by a spacy atmosphere but there is a degree of accessibility that isn't seen often with these particular setups.

While the music here is more trippy than spiritual or meditative, the songs flow in a way that gives From The Ashes a narrative of sorts. "Sacred Kind/Awake The Plague" and "Dead Womb" are the most aggressive and straightforward tracks, the smooth but upbeat swings on "Blooze/The Peregrination of the Nomad" help it live up to its somewhat awkward title, the swells on the title track recall Shrinebuilder's sole studio effort, and the closing "The 'All'/Transcendence" brings it all home with its more subtle heaviness. I imagine the sequence is enhanced when driving out in the California desert.
And through it all, the duo never sounds limited and the performances work well with the compositions. The vocals are gruff but have plenty of memorable lines, Nick Baumgartner's drums roll with the punches well, and Justin Dimig's bass leads the way with mellow builds, aggressive riffs, and even a few distorted leads here and there. A bit of bass layering could be seen as cheating but the effect never makes one lament the absence of a guitarist.

Overall, Tvsk's debut EP should appeal to fans of all things Al Cisneros but solid writing and performances make this a highlight in its own right. The songs' variety keeps the listener's attention and the natural track order makes it even better. One of the more interesting finds in 2015 and it'll be interesting to see where the California duo goes from here.

"Sacred Kind/Awake The Plague"
"Blooze/The Peregrination Of The Nomad"
"From The Ashes"

Friday, October 16, 2015

Review of Denner/Shermann's Satan's Tomb

From the influential Mercyful Fate to the lesser known Force of Evil and Zoser Mez, guitarist Hank Shermann and Michael Denner have a long history of collaboration. Their latest venture aspires to the sound established by their most famous project as the lineup is rounded out by occasional Fate drummer Snowy Shaw, Demonica bassist Marc Grabowski, and Cage vocalist/King Diamond protégé Sean Peck. The results of Denner/Shermann’s debut EP ultimately don’t reach the heights of Mercyful Fate but they do make for solid power metal.

If going by the production and band performances, Satan’s Host lacks the raw darkness that gave Melissa and Don’t Break The Oath their signature character. The tone is noticeably brighter, the guitars are rather polished, the drums are more active, and the vocal delivery has more in common with Rob Halford’s prototype than King Diamond’s sinister hamminess. This is best demonstrated by “War Witch,” which sounds more like a Cage song than anything Denner or Shermann had done anything before.

Fortunately, the compositions are closer to the spirit than the performances. “New Gods” is a step in the right direction but “Seven Skulls” excels due to the guitars frequently chiming in ghostly melodies and a wider vocal palette fueling the deal with the devil lyrics. One can almost imagine the King himself giving this one a whirl…

Denner/Shermann’s debut EP won’t be making waves in the greater metal community but it’s a promising look at what could be a fun project. The modern production keeps it from hitting the same aesthetic as Mercyful Fate’s best efforts but the songwriting makes it worth checking out for power metal fans. At the very least, it’s good company to keep while you’re holding out hope for that reunion.

“Satan’s Tomb”

“Seven Skulls”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review of Clutch's Psychic Warfare

When a veteran band becomes famous for having a signature sound, there's a fine line between praising them for sticking to their guns and kissing their asses for merely existing. Clutch hasn't changed in their twenty-five year history but their cult following keeps growing thanks to the band knowing what they're good at and finding clever ways to effortlessly exercising their formula. Their eleventh studio album is no exception to the rule. It's pure rock comfort food but damn it all if this isn't some of the best comfort food you've ever tasted!

As indicated by the short time between releases and an identical production job courtesy of returning producer Machine, Psychic Warfare is pretty much Earth Rocker Part 2. It has the same raw sound and fast pacing and a bunch of songs feel like direct counterparts to the songs off that effort. The high speeds on the opening "X-Ray Visions" and "Firebirds" match the punches of "Earth Rocker" and "Crucial Velocity," the bluesy swing of "D.C. Sound Attack!" lives on with "A Quick Death In Texas," and "Behold the Colossus" has a building gallop in the vein of "The Face." They even reach back a little further as the acoustic-driven closer "Son of Virginia" is a pretty cool rewrite of "The Regulator."
Thankfully none of the songs ever feel like lazy retreads. While songs have similar templates as past tracks, each one has a nice quirk or two that allows them to stand out. This is best illustrated by "Our Lady of Electric Light;" the scaled back instrumentation makes it seem like the album's answer to "Gone Cold" but the transition from "The Doom Saloon" and the percussive shuffle make it a highlight on its own merits. It also helps that the band members' performances are as enthusiastic as ever and that Neil Fallon still delivers plenty of the one liners that are so rarely replicated by their legion of imitators.

In an era where bands like AC/DC and Motorhead make the same album over and over with all of the memorable riffs left behind, it is enlightening to see Clutch continuing to impress listeners by doing the same thing. It not only avoids sounding like a pale imitation of Earth Rocker but may actually be more consistent. Old fans will count this as another classic to add to the Clutch canon and newbies are recommended to try this as their first listen. The bands of their generation and older who are currently riding the nostalgia circuit have a lot to learn.

"X-Ray Visions"
"A Quick Death In Texas"
"Our Lady of Electric Light"
"Behold The Colossus"
"Son of Virginia"

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review of Satan's Host Pre-dating god Part 2

To be perfectly honest, I’m still not sure why Satan’s Host decided to split their latest album into two parts. The style doesn’t change too much between the discs and the runtime is just under eighty minutes when you put them together. It could be argued that it keeps the listener from getting too overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material. Thankfully the quality is high and the second half of Pre-dating god hits as hard as the first.

With that in mind, it isn’t too surprising to see this album be cut from the same cloth as its counterpart. The guitars and drums still operate at a near constant blast, the vocals jump between the growls and high pitched wails, and the song structures aim to be elaborate and ominous. It could be argued that this half is slightly more melodic with “Fanning the Flames of Hell” daring you to match Conklin’s cries during the choruses and “Descending In The Shadow of Osiris” takes the balladry a step further than “After The End” did on part 1.
The hooks also manage to still be pretty memorable. The chorus on “As The Dead They Sleep” comes dangerously close to grating on the nerves but the building verses keep it strong and the appropriately serpentine grooves on “Lady ‘n The Snake” provide a nice mid-tempo contrast before returning to faster grounds in the second half. There are times when certain songs feel a bit too long or venture too far from their original ideas, but the tangents are rarely unwelcome.

With it having a couple more songs to work with, Pre-dating god Part 1 may be the better half but the strong songs on Part 2 make it impossible to have a truly satisfying experience without it. It is refreshing to see a band that’s been around as long as Satan’s Host still releasing consistent material at such a fast rate. One hopes they won’t burn themselves out too soon but one could still imagine them going out gloriously in such a scenario.

“Fanning The Flames of Hell”
“Soul Wrent”

“Lady n' The Snake"

Monday, October 12, 2015

Review of Satan's Host Pre-dating god Part 1

Whether they’re playing power metal, black metal, or something in between, there’s no denying that Satan’s Host has been pretty ambitious for a band their age. Now on the latest phase of the reunion with original vocalist Harry Conklin, the band has taken the Use Your Illusion route by producing an album split into two halves. The results aren’t exactly distinct from one another but there’s still high quality to be found.

When considering how prolific Satan’s Host has become in recent years, it isn’t too surprising to see them slide into a set style. The blackened power metal of the last couple efforts is at full force as Patrick Evil's guitars utilize tremolo picking and other extreme techniques, Evil Little Hobbit's drums constantly blast, and the vocals cover everything from Conklin’s signature bellows to King Diamond style wails. However, this album and part 2 are more melodic and the harsher vocals aren’t used as often.

Both parts of Pre-dating god go through the same songwriting tropes and are about even in quality, but Part 1 may be the stronger installment. “Embers Of Will” is the strongest track thanks to an ominous middle section reminiscent of Mercyful Fate while the choruses on songs like “Hell’s Disciples” and the title track help keep the elaborate structures memorable. The closing take on Grim Reaper’s “See You In Hell” is also worth noting. It might not have the same evil aesthetic but the amped approach makes it sound as good as it does on paper and you can tell they had a lot of fun with it.

I fail to see how one could only get one of the two, but Pre-dating god Part 1 may be the one to go for in such a situation. It doesn’t stray too far from the band’s recent efforts and has a good mix of melody and aggression for established fans. The two parts aren’t a bad recommendation for newer fans but one may want to go for one of their more solid efforts first.

“Embers of Will”
"Valley of Blood"
“Pre-Dating God”
“See You In Hell”

Friday, October 9, 2015

Review of Dopethrone's Hochelaga

It can be tricky to determine the long-term fate of a clone band. Most of them fade into oblivion after a few releases but a few may outgrow the dependency on their influences and come into their own sound. Four albums into their career, Montreal’s Dopethrone doesn’t stray too far from bottom heavy stoner doom but may be performing it better than the band who inspired them are nowadays.

As expected from the name, Dopethrone is about as close as one can get to the old school Electric Wizard sound. The riffs are slow and sludgy, the structures are long and meandering, and the occult and drug lyrical themes are topped with a constant array of old movie samples. These elements are best exemplified by “Vagabong,” a slow burn that revolves around a riff progression not unlike that of “Funeralopolis.”

But even with the obvious homages and occasional lifts, I’m not sure if Electric Wizard ever sounded this harsh. The psychedelic influences are nowhere near as prominent and the shrieking vocals have more in common with Dixie Collins of Weedeater than Jus Oborn’s mournful drones. The riffs are also not quite as catchy though segments such as the bass driven breakdown on “Dry Hitter” are pretty memorable.

Overall, Dopethrone’s fourth album is a solid alternative for fans that have grown weary of the recent efforts by the old guard. Their songwriting isn’t as definitive as those bands’ best but the rougher sound gives these tracks a satisfying edge. I haven’t heard any of the band’s other records yet but I imagine there isn’t too much reason to stray from the course they’re on.

“Scumfuck Blues”
“Dry Hitter”


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Review of Lucifer's Lucifer I

When doom legends Cathedral disbanded in 2013, it was a tragic but understandable move as it ept the band from running its course like so many of their peers. Fortunately, its members are finding ways to stay creative in the aftermath. Guitarist Gaz Jennings in particular has kept busy playing with Death Penalty and recently forming Lucifer with The Oath's vocalist Johanna Sadonis. Thankfully the music here is much stronger than the generic moniker would imply.

Stylistically, Lucifer has a fair amount in common with Cathedral and seems to operate as a spiritual successor. The presentation isn't quite as gritty but the riffs have a similarly heavy tone and are just as groove friendly. The songwriting doesn't get as off the wall either but Lucifer preserves Cathedral's penchant for variety quite nicely. The opening "Abracadabra" and "White Mountain" have driving riffs and upbeat vocal lines, "Sabbath" and "Morning Star" are packed with sprawling doom riffs, and the verses of "Izrael" are scaled back in a way that reminds one of Pentagram's more mellow moments. It might be playing it safe at times but nothing feels watered down by any means.

Predictably, the vocals do work to make this group distinct from its predecessor. While Sadonis's voice can feel a little stilted at times, she has a mystical tone that works well in every environment presented. Fortunately it never feels too gimmicky and the guitars feel just as prominent and arguably more versatile.

Overall, Lucifer's debut is a strong first impression that gets better with every listen. The callbacks to classic doom make it a safe purchase for seasoned fans but the song variety helps it stand out on its own merits. One can hope for future evolution on future efforts and I may need to give The Oath's album an attentive listen.

"Morning Star"

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Look Back at Black Sabbath's Headless Cross

Though it was barely acknowledged when first released in 1989, it's hard to emphasize just how significant Headless Cross is in the grand scheme of Black Sabbath's career. The Eternal Idol had previously explored a darker sound and introduced what was left of the fanbase to singer Tony Martin, but Headless Cross perfected the style and pushed its strongest elements to even further heights. It wasn't a monolith statement but it could be regarded as the first true Sabbath album since the early 80s.

For starters, there hadn't been a Sabbath lineup that showed off this much talent and chemistry since The Mob Rules. The production is clearer than The Eternal Idol's had been, giving Goeff Nicholls's keyboards room to provide some admittedly dated atmosphere and allowing drummer Cozy Powell's hard hitting barrages to give extra aggression to Iommi's signature riffs and solos. Tony Martin also seems to be more comfortable this time around, showing off a wide range and dramatic character that was previously limited by a need to match Ray Gillen. Bassist Lawrence Cottle also manages to stand out on the title track despite only playing on this as a session member.

The band's doomy power glam template also allows for varied songwriting. The title track and "When Death Calls" are easily the album's strongest tracks as the former recycles the anthemic march of "Heaven And Hell" to great effect while the latter has some climactic tempo changes and soaring vocals. Elsewhere, "Devil And Daughter" borders on speed metal, "Black Moon" effortlessly alternates between blues and power metal, and the closing "Nightwing" serves as a grand but ominous ballad.

The lyrics also opt for a darker tone though this has become a point of contention for some listeners. In contrast to the occult warnings of Sabbath's classic era, Headless Cross is much less subtle and takes cues from King Diamond. The results are about as campy and may be too cheesy for those used to grimmer insights. If anything, pointing out all the times Martin ad libs and references Satan would probably make for a fun drinking game...

Like any good 80s slasher flick, Headless Cross is a little too dated to have the scare factor it may have once had but its excellent performances give it a timeless appeal. Black Sabbath feels renewed here and the album has its share of classics even if they are frequently dwarfed by the band's more famous ventures. It's a shame that this didn't put them back into mainstream relevance but subsequent releases were enough to prove the band's staying power.

"Headless Cross"
"When Death Calls"
"Black Moon"
"Night Wing"

Friday, October 2, 2015

Review of Witchdoctor's Moon Watcher

2001: A Space Odyssey is an undeniable staple of pop culture but it is rather rare to ever see it be referenced in the world of heavy metal. The prologue's tale of the apes and the monolith is particularly iconic and has provided much food for thought over the years. While the scene is the subject of only one song on their debut studio effort, it does a pretty good job of describing the band's overall sound and intentions.

While Witchdoctor is best classified as epic doom metal but there is more to the Indianapolis group than mere Candlemass worship. The performances are melodic and sophisticated but there is a savage undercurrent that shows influence from such groups as High On Fire. The guitar riffs play like rallying battle cries when they aren't bludgeoning you to death, the loose structures utilize different tempos, the lyrics speak of fantasy and uncivilized warfare, and the contrasts between operatic wails and vicious shouts sound like a caveman that has just learned to sing but is still trying to control it. The album basically sounds like what would happen if the monolith made the apes play doom metal after killing each other...
And with Moon Watcher being thirty-five minutes and six songs long, one of which being a two and a half minute instrumental, there isn't any room for filler. The first three songs may be the best on display as "The Gathering" shows off some hair raising guitar leads after a building introduction and the title track has a series of intricate yet catchy riffs. The second half can't be denied either as "DMLKT" offers a particularly epic refrain. It would've been great to see another track or two but nothing here feels underdeveloped.

Overall, Witchdoctor's debut just may be one of the most promising to be seen in the doom community. The more subtle incorporation of their influences make them tricky to stylistically pinpoint than most and the balance of class and aggression should endear them to just about any doom fan out there. One can only wonder which path they will choose on future efforts.

"The Gathering"
"Moon Watcher"