Monday, November 30, 2015

Review of All Them Witches' Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

It becomes clear right off the bat that the third full-length album by Nashville’s All Them Witches is much more mellow than the spaced out Zeppelin rock of their previous efforts. The ever-present Americana atmosphere opts for a more singer-songwriter angle this time around as tracks like the opening “Call Me Star” and “Open Passageways” feature a slew of acoustic guitar, marching drum beats that invoke bleak farmlands, and dabs of harmonica for good measure. The results generally play out like something Mark Lanegan would put together.

Of course, the band hasn’t forsaken their association with the stoner rock scene. The fuzzy guitar and Bonham-inspired drum pounding on tracks like “El Centro” and “Blood And Sand/Milk And Endless Waters” seem to be cut from the same cloth as the tangents that made up A Sweet Release earlier this year. Lead single “Dirt Preachers” similarly stands out as it builds on a couple bass driven riffs before drawing things back out towards the end.

With these two sides to consider, it is a relief that they never feel at odds with one another. On the contrary, they have a symbiotic operation and flow in and out of each other smoothly. The heavier moments allow things to build dynamically and the more contemplative atmosphere gives the music a conceptual outlook that would be otherwise absent in a sea of wankery.
 Unfortunately, the looseness can also mean that the actual songwriting sometimes isn’t as developed as it could be. This isn’t the sort of music that calls for catchy hooks but the free flowing nature isn’t as conductive to truly monumental riffs as something more straightforward. The gripping musicianship makes this observation easy to overlook but the album would highly benefit from a greater statement of purpose.

Overall, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker may be the most interesting effort that All Them Witches has offered thus far. The Americana elements set them apart from most of their stoner rock peers and the fusing of heavy and mellow sounds is tailor-made for zoning out. One can hope for greater attention to songwriting on future efforts but this could very well be a grower.

“Call Me Star”
“This Is Where It Falls Apart”
“Open Passageways”

“Blood And Sand/Milk And Endless Waters”

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Local Love: Review of Whiskey Supercharger

Whiskey Supercharger has had its share of notoriety since their formation around 2011 but they’ve also had their setbacks due to a series of revolving lineups. While the band’s debut EP feels especially short with their history in mind, it does make for an enjoyably heavy listen.

 While Whiskey Supercharger is firmly set in the field of groove metal in the vein of Pantera and Lamb of God, there is more going on than a mere five songs would suggest. The speedy “Until Morale Improves” and the breakdown heavy “Sylvia” each show hardcore influence while a degree of melodic death metal can be heard on “Fuck Don’t Breed” and “Unnatural Ways.” The slower paced “Worship Nothing” is also worth noting as the jumps between clean verses and percussive choruses aren’t as stilted as they could’ve been.

The strong musicianship present also keeps the band from falling into insufferable bro metal trappings. Drummer Travis Manning puts on the most powerful performance on here with “Fuck Don’t Breed” in particular starting off with an effective series of blasts. Vocalist Jim Dismal’s aggressive approach also works well as he is somewhere between hardcore shout and death growl without fully committing to either and offers an interesting drawl on the spoken verses of “Worship Nothing.”

As someone who generally avoids groove metal and related subgenres, Whiskey Supercharger subverts many of its associated trends on their debut EP. While the riffs are pretty simplistic, the writing keeps them from sounding dull and the inspired performances elevate this above your typical tough guys posturing. Here’s hoping they keep the momentum going and continue to impress in the near future.

“Until Morale Improves”
“Fuck Don’t Breed”


Friday, November 27, 2015

Review of Avatarium's Girl With The Raven Mask

Avatarium may be masterminded by Candlemass bassist Leif Elding but their second full-length album continues to prove their worth as more than a mere offshoot. While the opening title track has a chug reminiscent of “Black Dwarf” and songs like “January Sea” and “Ghostlight” have their share of massive riffs, they generally avoid traditional doom structures. The songs’ quieter segments tend to feature sparser percussion, the vocal lines feature quirkier phrasing, and the mood is based on disorientation rather than melancholy.

In addition, the band appears to be taking as many cues from 70s prog rock as it is from their doom brethren. The competition between Carl Westholm’s keyboards and Marcus Jidell’s guitars channels the classic Lord/Blackmore dynamic when they aren’t giving the material a psychedelic touch. “Pearls And Coffins” also stands out for its folk balladry while “Hypnotized” and “The Master Thief” showcase smooth jazz swings.

But like the bulk of Leif Elding’s projects, the vocals are what give Avatarium its strong character. Jennie-Ann Smith’s performance shows more personality than any of her peers in the doom scene as she offers sophistication,“Immigrant Song” style wails on the title track, and even some ham when the situation calls for it. It is especially impressive when one considers her lack of previous experience and makes one wonder where she was when Nightwish was holding auditions…

Overall, The Girl With The Raven Mask is an album that is tricky to pinpoint but ultimately rewards a patient listener. The slowness may put off prog fans and its borderline carnival atmosphere is atypical for doom, but the songwriting talent comes through with multiple listens and the vocals make for an enjoyable companion. The band may reach a little further to pull that true classic out of them but there’s no telling how much stronger this one will turn out to be in time.

“Girl With The Raven Mask”
“Pearls And Coffins”
“The Master Thief”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Local Love: Review of Archarus's Render Unto Archarus

Right from the moment the speedy riff kicks in on the opening "Sea Wolf," it quickly becomes apparent that Archarus of Indianapolis isn't as chill as your average doom group. The guitar tone is a dead ringer for Sleep's Holy Mountain and an appreciation for bands like The Sword is made loud and clear, but there is also a subtle hint of thrash influence. The drums have a technical tightness that differs from the usual swing, the vocals have a harsh edge that seems to mix Steve Sousa of Exodus and Orange Goblin's Ben Ward, and even the comparably loose "Tower Of The Wizard" is executed in an aggressively rigid fashion.

With this in mind, the fastest songs predictably end up being the album's best. In addition to "Sea Wolf," "Under A Tattered Banner" and "The Last Of The Giant" match aggressive riffs with catchy as hell choruses. That said, the slower songs have a fair amount to offer as well. "Snow Hammer" is the best of these tracks due to the more ominous instrumentation though "Fire Blade" holds up with strong vocal lines and a more elaborate structure.
But while the rigid approach helps Archarus feel more composed than most doom groups, there are times where they may be a bit too stilted. This is most apparent on the slower tracks such as "Lizardfish" where the vocal lines aren't meant to be as prominent but still threaten to overpower the rest of the band. In addition, some may find the production to be a bit too clean and running the risk of the Loudness War tropes, but it generally works in the album's favor.

Redundant title aside, Render Unto Archarus is a strong debut that offers a few quirks while respectfully adhering to the tenets of stoner doom. While the slower songs could afford to be more powerful, the emphasis on faster tempos and thrashy vocals more than make up for it. It may even serve as a nice alternative to those put off by the drones of Electric Wizard and their ilk. One can wonder how these sounds will be mingled further but this makes for a fun ride.

"Sea Wolf"
"Under A Tattered Banner"
"Tower Of The Wizard"
"The Last Of The Giants"

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Local Love: Review of God Am

As indicated by their name, God Am of Indianapolis draws a lot of influence from Alice In Chains on their debut EP. Their brand of grungy alternative metal doesn't have the melancholy of Dirt or Alice's self-titled album but its dark, aggressive sound isn't too far off from the more straightforward Facelift. One could also find Tool aspiration during the quieter numbers and the vocal delivery seems to take cues more from Dax Riggs or Wednesday 13 than dear old Layne.

There is a good amount of variety with there being eight songs in under a half hour. Most of them alternate hard hitting tracks like "Die Away From Me" and "Get Off!" and building numbers like the bookending "Zed Is Dead" and "Livestock." The contrast is best demonstrated by "Keeper's Diary" and "Itchy, Tasty" as the flow between them is accentuated by the vocals operating at their most brooding.

But with everything going on, there are moments that feel like they could've developed further. The bookending tracks are the best of the lot but they would be even more effective with longing run times. There is also hope for more fluctuating tempos and a wider emotional range, but that would likely come with a full-length effort.

Overall, God Am's debut EP is a solid sample of alternative metal with signs of promise. The influences are obvious but don't feel ripped off and the EP's contrasts never feel too jarring. One can hope that their future full-lengths will have even more to offer.

"Zed Is Dead"
"Die Away From Me"
"Get Off!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review of Queensryche's Condition Human

There’s no denying that Queensryche’s 2013 album was a strong comeback for a band in serious need of revival. However, subsequent listens and knowing the outcome of their infamous legal drama makes one wonder if it set a high standard for future efforts or if it should’ve been a swansong signaling the debut of a brand new enterprise. Condition Human is certainly worthy of the Queensryche name but it has a different feel compared to everything before it.

Certain songs on here recall Rage For Order and Promised Land, but Condition Human sounds like a band influenced by Queensryche rather than the actual ensemble is performing it. The songwriting isn’t dramatically different but the quirks that made them unique such as Scott Rockenfield’s intricate drumming and the guitars’ melodic interplay aren’t as prominent. On the flip side, this can only mean good things for Todd LaTorre as the already talented singer comes into his own after experiencing pressure to live up to his successor.
Those who hoped for a speedy power metal album after hearing the energetic “Arrow of Time” and the triumphant “Guardian” may also be in for a shock. A burst of speed comes up toward the end with “All There Was,” but the bulk of the album consists of ballads and other mid-tempo tracks. Fortunately, these tracks never feel too monotonous with "Selfish Lives" offering a memorable hook, the bass heavy “Eye9” showing Tool influence and the Eastern flavors of “Just Us” channeling mid-era Zeppelin.

As a Queensryche album, Condition Human may rank towards the middle of their discography. It falls a bit short of their classics and even the self-titled album but it’s a hell of a lot better than anything they released after the mid-90s. Much like Promised Land, the style is worthy with adjusted expectations and the songs have a lot of growing potential. Personally, I don’t care what group calls itself as long as the music stays this solid.

“Arrow Of Time”
"Selfish Lives"
“Just Us”

Monday, November 9, 2015

Local Love: Review of Conjurer's Old World Ritual

Despite hailing from Indianapolis, Conjurer sounds like they would fit in well with the legendary sludge metal scene of New Orleans. The works of Kirk Windstein seem particularly influential as the rough vocals and sharp yet bottom heavy guitar tone recall Crowbar while the pacing and occasional swagger remind one of Down's early days. Things never get too chilled out but there is a melodic consistency and the band is more interested in pounding out riffs than getting too harsh or biting.

In a way similar to Testament and Megadeth scaling back in the early 90s, a rounded approach to sludge can run the risk of dullness. The performance on Old World Ritual are tight and energetic but they can be a bit one-note at times. The guitars usually alternate between chugging patterns and melodic leads and the shouted vocals don't have much of an emotional range.
Fortunately, the songs' various styles keep this from being just another sludge album. "Black Throne" is easily the album's best track thanks to its slamming southern metal riff while songs like "Trudge Down" and "Witch's Hale" show off some faster punk influence. Even the chuggy tracks like the opening "Never Enough" and "Singularity" have catchy vocal lines that help them avoid monotony.

Overall, Conjurer's first full-length album could use more dynamic band performances but the variety of the songs keep this from sounding too typical. It isn't a commercial release by any means but its less aggressive approach may make it worth looking into for those just getting into the heavier side of the NOLA sound. With more adventurous musicianship, they could become another group of Indianapolis legends.

"Never Enough"
"Trudge Down"
"Black Throne"
"Gold Mask"

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review of Windhand's Grief's Infernal Flower

Windhand has gotten wider exposure in the last couple years but not much has changed on their third studio album. The songs are still driven by the fuzz laden guitar drones, the production is still a bassy haze, the vocals sound like the incantation of a swamp witch, and the song lengths are as drawn out as ever. That said, Grief's Infernal Flower serves as a nice improvement of an already solid sound.

As expected, the release of singer Dorthia Cottrell's solo debut earlier this year does rub off on this album. Her voice is much higher in the mix than their first two efforts and there seems to be a greater emphasis on acoustic guitar. Previous albums included a full acoustic song or two, but "Sparrow" and the closing "Aition" feel like direct leftovers and "Crypt Key" features an extended soft intro before the heaviness kicks in. The lyrics are probably more personal and the vocal lines more complex on these songs but considering how the acoustic and electric guitar patterns really aren't that different from one another, it does make one wonder how they decide which format to go with.
And with that, it becomes apparent that Windhand is a dynamic band but still a one-trick pony in terms of tempo. Songs like "Tanngrisnir" and the bass heavy "Hyperion" have more drive and the back-to-back fourteen minute epics "Hesperus" and "Kingfisher" offer more elaborate structures, but they don't stray too far from the ultra-slow approach. Fortunately, the songs have excellent grooves but seventy minutes of music does make one hope for stronger fluctuation.

The power behind Grief's Infernal Flower justifies Windhand's status as a rising staple of modern doom but the songwriting still makes them a challenge for those outside the scene. The band sounds excellent and there are plenty of strong songs on here, but the band could afford to put in more riff variety on future efforts. It may be their most consistent effort to date though I'm pining for another Dorthia Cottrell album just a bit more...

"Crypt Key"

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Local Love: Review of Gorgntherron's Second Sun

Evansville, Indiana's Gorgantherron make their influences quite prominent on their first full-length studio album. Kyuss and Sleep are the strongest presences as the driving riffs on songs like the opening title track recall Josh Homme's patterns while the dark tone and monolithic heaviness on channel Matt Pike's early dirges. Elsewhere, the serpentine guitar lines on "Superluminal" and "Bookbinder" reach for the grimiest Pentagram tunes and one can spot a cute wink at "Black Sabbath" at the end of "The Stone."

Thankfully not coasting by on the inherent listenability of most stoner doom, these songs have pretty strong riffs and the band members exert a lot of energy. The structures stay pretty adventurous and the guitars don't always keep the spotlight. The bass is about as powerful and the gruff vocals never remove the listener from the often catchy choruses at work.
If there's any flaw with Second Sun, it's that some songs do sound similar to one another. There's a decent amount of variety but it feels as though songs of similar tempos were grouped together. It's especially apparent towards the end as "Paranoia" and "Entropy" offer the same swing rhythm as "The Stone." Fortunately, the songs are well executed and the order can always be remedied with a good shuffle.

Those who found Gorgantherron with their 2012 EP will find this to be a strong expansion of their sci-fi stoner sound. New listeners will find an excellent doom album that should work well with just about any taste. It isn't the most unique album in the scene but the enjoyable riffs make such pretentiousness unnecessary.

"Second Sun"
"Seventh Planet"
"The Stone"