Reviews Coming Soon

Album Review: TBA

Monday, July 29, 2013

EP Review: Baroness – Live At Maida Vale

Nearly a year has passed since that fateful day when the Baroness tour bus plunged 30ft off a viaduct in Bath, England. Nine folks were transported to hospital that day, all with severe injuries. Some suffered more than others and during the lengthy recovery period that followed Allen Blickle and Matt Maggioni sadly announced their departure from the band. With Pete Adams and John Baizley carrying on, this latest recording sees a changed line-up performing at the famous BBC Studios in Maida Vale.

With the songs all coming from the double-album they were touring that day, there is a special significance placed on each track. It is almost unavoidable that the lyrics are now burdened with different interpretations. Just the title of “Take My Bones Away” is enough to trigger a lump in the throat. It wouldn’t be right if they didn’t come across differently, being a live EP, so I am pleased to report only improvements to songs that felt a little too much like repetitious pop songs the first time around.

There is no doubt that any kind of muddy, under-produced mix brings out the best in Baroness and this one brings them a bit closer to their powerful early work and their true live sound. Their warm, fuzzed tone has been brought to the fore and this has captured the dark emotion-soaked undercurrent (that melancholy they wear like a comforter) so much better than in the studio mixes. The clean harmonies are still there too, but their levels are now more on a par with the guitars. Consequently, they sound more integral and don’t stick out like sore thumbs (excuse the pun).

The portentous intros are excellent additions (the building cymbals on “Take My Bones Away”, the echoing strums on “March To The Sea”), driving the listener into each track. The biggest winner here though is “Cocainium”. With a subtle warping invoked and the sustain dial notched up, the flow is so much gentler and you’ll find yourself really tripping out. It’s true that the songs can still be viewed as a departure for them; their hands stretching out to the revolving, melodic, space rock that Torche have made their own in recent years. Also, there’s a mere four tracks, none of which haven’t been released already in some form, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s just great to see them back recording and playing their music with new impetus, doing the songs justice and producing a record that die-hard fans will truly cherish.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =

Friday, July 26, 2013

EP Review: Black Tusk – Tend No Wounds

Black Tusk have always had that “spur of the moment” feel about them. From the minute guitarist Andrew Fidler and bassist Jonathan Athon knocked on their neighbour’s door and asked if he wanted to be in their band, there has been this sense of freedom about the way they operate. Their music is the same. It is almost flippant in its design – oozing simplicity; laughing in the face of their Savannah brethren’s experimentalism. Consequently, they have very rapidly built up a consistent catalogue of thrash-streaked punk n’ sludge that, when performed, can lay waste to any venue.

This latest EP is more of the same. It rolls its way into town like an unwanted tumbleweed and will inevitably depart with a trail of running, screaming, laughing fans behind it. It is essentially another big call to arms and its two-minute instrumental opener ‘A Cold Embrace’ is the no frills ringleader. Of course, they’ve gone for nothing more than a thundering drum roll and a scampering riff to start snapping necks – they simply aren’t a band who ever over-eggs their pudding. From here, they quickly lay their cards on the table and like some messed-up cross between Hatchet and Black Cobra they proceed to trample over any resistance you might have left. Immersed in this crushing sludge, you get a feeling for the force and the fury they are capable of producing. Being such a straight-up blueprint, the only guide you have along this journey, is the hollow, ambiguous vocal of Fidler – the semi-crazed lunatic laughing at you from atop this impenetrable wall of scrawl. He has a trick or two, but he’s no magician; there is no puzzles to be solved here.

As with all their releases, there are those moments when you know the band are merely toying with you – do listen out for these mind-bending anomalies that seem to pop up from out of nowhere. Here, they come in the form of elegantly-bowed violins on the curiously anomalous intro to ‘The Weak And The Wise’, and in the dense, slothful majesty of the Mastodonic two-guitar, two-chord riff that jump-starts and powers ‘In Days Of Woe’. When they throw in things like these it seems to matter not that the bulk of their EP is unlikely to be committed to memory. Their faster, punkier material is music written to be played live anyway – they are the songs that will get you banging your heads. These other standout curios are the songs that will strike the match that lights the moshpit touchpaper.

Tend No Wounds isn’t an essential purchase, yet this unspectacular EP serves its purpose as a nice little stop-gap between albums. Certainly with tracks like ‘In Days Of Woe’ and the vicious, call-and-response bludgeon of ‘Enemy Of Reason’, it does have material that will ignite their future set-lists – fans take note. It looks like further proof that Black Tusk do always write the music that they want to write. It matters not that, over the years, they have played second fiddle to the majority of other sludge metal bands out there. They aren’t ambiguous, they don’t do pretentiousness. What you see is what you get and most see an outfit rapidly becoming a much-loved institution.

Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy =

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Festival Review: TechFest, near Peterborough, 13 July 2013

7309_576514012392745_638705919_nThe Cambridgeshire Fens are certainly an interesting choice of venue for a festival. It’s not going to disturb the neighbours because there aren’t any, but it’s also nigh on impossible to get to other than by bike or car. This terminally flat countryside is captured best by the mighty band Fen whose name and music are influenced by the surroundings as they “draw the listener into a windswept landscape, bereft of hope”. And then there’s the brutal death grindcore scene in nearby Wisbech, epitomized by the delightful Beef Conspiracy whose seminal album “Hung, Drawn and Quarterpoundered” is the stuff of inspiration. But there are none of these esoteric offerings here this weekend. This is the place for progressive metal, metalcore and generally music with a technical and djenty slant, so if you thought that TechFest was some geek’s convention about computers, it’s probably best that you go back to your laptop and die prosaically.

With the boiling hot weather and the main and second stage situated next to each other for the purposes of continuity – as one set ended, another started in the tent next door – it all meant no respite for the spectators but endless metal on tap. This was typical of the excellent organization by promoter Simon, who rightly received accolades throughout the day from spectators and band members for the quality of organization and attention to detail at this friendly festival.

The first band to be hot and sweaty was Colours To Shame. The Glaswegians worked their way through unfamiliar climactic conditions and dished up the expected diet of technical prog djent. Constantly transforming, the changeovers were deliberately irregular but the control in the sections themselves was tight. The set ended well with “In Search of Sasquatch” which featured plenty of drama and passion to match all the technicality. The first victim of the weather was the drummer who blacked out for two minutes during the set, so credit to the band for getting through it. From what I heard here, Colours To Shame are a band worth investigating further. (AD)

I had looked forward to seeing Kartikeya from Russia as a fan of fellow Vedic metal band Rudra, with whom I learnt afterwards they have collaborated in the past. The look wasn’t Vedic metal – a distinctly Russian-looking drummer with a spoof McDo t-shirt, a hard case tom-tom player who had the air of a punk tattoo artist and a more conventional square-faced vocalist / guitar player. It transpired that there was no bass player, the vocalist was a stand-in, the tom-toms were inaudible and much reliance was placed on samples which, short of engaging an army of people, were necessary to generate the Eastern elements.

Kartikeya threw away all the obstacles and to the sounds of Indian restaurants and a mantra, the full forces of darkness were presented to us with “Sarva Mangalam”. An exotic energy flowed through the music. Deep and growly vocals and hypnotic drum runs led us into a series of exciting and dangerous patterns. Indian passages were never far away but, even with the carefully-controlled prog sections, the dominating factors were acrid power and crushing movement. I was as if we spectators had to be put in our place. The only bizarre aspect was the exaggerated gestures of the tom-tom player who reminded me of one of those backing artists who draw disproportionate attention to themselves in the Eurovision song contest. “Horrors of Home” was delivered with deliberate intent, each layer adding a further substructure and new sounds and imaginary smells. The clean vocal sections weren’t so convincing but when the vocalist screamed, he sounded like an angry god. The set ended with “Neverborn”. Finally the tom-toms became audible. The instrumental passages as ever were magical. Although there were too many vocal variations for me, Kartikeya’s performance was compelling and no-one was left in any doubt that they had brought war and dark atmospheres into our miserable lives. (AD)

One short hop next door took me from the world of Vedic warfare to the altogether cleaner progressive melodies of Shattered Skies from Ireland. It was evidently “no bassist” day today as Sean and his colleagues launched into “The End and the Rebirth” without one. Sean himself was looking more well-scrubbed than I remember – due perhaps to on-stage alcohol deprivation – but, superficial considerations apart, something wasn’t working. I wondered if it was the effect of going from the thundersome dark clouds of Kartikeya to this decidedly more commercial sound. The prog vocals didn’t harmonise with the steady rock-metal beat. Sean explained it: “I apologise for sounding completely flat”.

All was ok after that but what I witnessed overall was a softer and more polished performance than the 110% livewire energy I had seen before from the band. The ante was upped with “15 Minutes”; always an audience-friendly song mixing prog emotion and rhythmic punchiness. The crowd moved, and continued to do so when the band played a rocking version of the Pendulum track “Propane Nightmares” (thanks to Sean for identifying it to me afterwards). The rumbling and rolling flavour continued with “Saviours”. Again very commercial, it sounded a little tinny and lacked emotional depth, but did feature a splendid guitar solo. Sean’s cheeky smile at the end captured the audience-friendliness of this band. An overly long intro to “As The Sea Divides” created a mixed expectation of suspense and the concern that the set was going to finish with a whimper. In the end, it was both as the heavy framework built up the intensity while Sean struggled to pull at our heartstrings. Today it was a case of heatstrings. As always, this was an interesting performance from this talented prog metal band. (AD)

As the quartet of Red Seas Fire rolled onto the stage, the dry ice was pumped up another notch drowning the guitarist. The fact that he sported a beard as vast as something out of Norse mythology and a high-strapped guitar meant there was little left of him to spot. They quickly settled into a cajoling rhythm of Safety Fire-esque jack-hammering bass threaded with feisty chugs. On top of this backline, there was plenty of screams with some occasional quiet patches and cleans to allow for the builds back into more screaming. They did struggle to serve it all up with any real venom or intensity, but the stifling heat can’t have helped matters. Vocalist Robin Adams deep, scarred roars were excellent, but his singing was often a little over-emotional. Still, he had the frontman patter down a treat and was constantly pepping up his audience, all of which elicited a decent reaction from those pogoing in the centre. (JS)
Red Seas Fire

I was drawn into the room like a magnetic attraction. A set had just started. Unbeknown to me until afterwards, Neosis had pulled out and had been replaced by Aeolist from Norwich on the second stage. This was a revelation. What I heard was utterly heavy but tightly controlled, riff-driven prog metal. 5 young men were in front of me. There were two guitarists, a bassist, drummer and a vocalist who showed the capability to rip our throats out. Their progress was smooth but the band was clearly not averse to going into multi-coloured technical passages. This was compelling and fun too. The bassist looked like he was practicing for a gurning competition. Such was the technicality that I too felt my mouth and eyebrows move. There was no widdling or wastage here. Mountainous passages swept through the room. The vocals were utterly hardcore and harsh amongst this progressive finery. But my goodness, it held together in perfect fusion.

“Raise your hands!” proposed hardcore man before he threw himself around the stage, whipping up anger and hysteria. This was just musical magnificence. A post-metal element emerged. A carefully executed dark, heavy and chunky musical display was being laid out before us. A little guitar-driven jazzy number introduced a fresh aspect. The drum beat featured funky mosaic-like patterns. The vocalist had his back to the audience, looking like he was throwing up in front of the drummer. The build-up of this un-named track was like the dawn rising. The sun came out – a dark one, mind – in all its glory. Hardcore man was now post-metal man. Instead of launching himself at us, he channeled his anguish and anger at us in an entirely emotional, gripping and powerful way. “Bang your fucking head”, he exhorted. This colourful explosion made me think of another UK band – Heights. Aeolist exhibited perfect musical and vocal harmony. The musicianship was exquisite in a progressive, post-metal and hardcore way. Sections could be moving, and even a little jazzy. The music came from the ether but also suggested a story of life and its realities. The drums tapped like the sound of impending battle. The set ended with one final progressive hardcore blast. There was such subtlety. I had witnessed a performance packed with intelligence and creativity. Aeolist came, conquered and disappeared into the night. I’m glad they came and would very much like to see them again. (AD)

A portly, geeky-looking type from the USA appeared on stage. It was time for Drewsif Stalin. After a bit of banter about poo and “glam flow”, Mr Stalin, as we shall call him, started and stopped. “Look at the person next to you. Would you be prepared to go to war with that person?” The person next to me was my eldest son. I’m not sure what the point of the question was as Mr Stalin fired off a monster riff … and stopped. “This one’s dedicated to those who say “that’s not metal””, he announced. “Deadly Serious” was a large, meaty chunk of irregular, hard and screwed-up metal. Great chorus: “de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de-de”. Taking the mickey maybe, but it was a laugh and the crowd loved it. Actually, what followed was some serious, deep and intensive heavy metal. Heads swung. The set went downhill when the lead vocalist from Red Seas Fire joined in for a couple of tracks. It wasn’t that fantastic to begin with but it had entertainment value. Now it got more progressive and serious. It also became anonymous. There was an attempt to restore the energy. The drummer told some jokes which no-one got. Mr Stalin’s wild eyes and his gestures outdid the music which was as heavy as hell but not overwhelming. Even then he didn’t win my unofficial “Facial Contortions” contest, which went to the bassist from Aeolist. At least Mr Stalin and friends didn’t play their One Direction cover song. (AD)

It looked like it was fancy dress time but no-one told us. The guitarist of Serbian pop-metallers Destiny Potato, who had swapped days to be here today, was wearing a crumpled old-fashioned Victorian-style top hat. Why? Do they have Dr Who in Serbia? Still more enigmatically, he stuck a potato in his mouth. I suppose the music had a ghostly flavour to it. I liked the music which had a progressive djent slant of course but interestingly it had Eastern rhythms running through it and even featured techno-pop. The petite female vocalist, Aleksandra Djelmas, looked about 15 but, more importantly, had a great, effortless voice which was well supported by the instrumental department. There was a good balance. Passages were smooth. The songs, especially in the vocals, had a child-like and eccentric quality but always returned to prog metal and solid ground. The singer seemed a little nervous spending her time apparently looking down at the lyrics in front of her. All of this belied her commanding performance. The range was good. Sometimes there was emotion, sometimes the singer belted out her words, sometimes it was very pop-orientated and then in the middle of it she would demonstrate an impressive set of lungs with awesome screams.
Destiny Potato

The band played nicely with all this and the music moved and grooved as their rock delivery, mixed with occasional rapping, expanded into heaviness and catchy choruses. But although this band didn’t smile very much, there was a fun element about it. I could liken this to In This Moment or Tristania even, but the mix here was special. Amid the depth of Meshuggah, Aleksandre moved across the stage mysteriously, reflecting the Eastern side of it. Thunderous progressions and big screams were countered by hypnotic and impressive rhythms. I know that Destiny Potato were not everyone’s cup of tea and were a bit pop-orientated for some, but I thought they were very interesting and I enjoyed what I heard and saw. (AD)

Disperse plunged straight into their set without ado. Their style of deep and chunky progressive metal recalled their fellow Polish progsters Riverside. Unfortunately the ambience wasn’t as intensive or mesmerising as that of Riverside. The keyboards were under-utilised and the vocalist struggled in the higher ranges. Was this an expression of vulnerability or just a case of a vocalist operating outside of his limits? This spoiled the “ambidjent” feel which accompanied the traditional prog fare which was on offer. Instrumentally it was another matter. The guitarist saved the day time after time with his dexterity and imagination. It was all a bit self-indulgent as Disperse just seemed to be going through a set of motions. The last song “Message From Atlantis” proved to be one last chance for the guitarist, who was the star of this performance, to thrill us with another spectacular solo. (AD)

As the second stage closed shop for the night, it really felt like we’d reached a turning point. As the fans had travelled from across Europe and, no doubt, beyond to be stood in this small field near Peterborough, these next three bands had journeyed hundreds of miles to play to them. The crowd swelled and excitement began to peak.  – they were all in now. First up, from France, Matthieu Romarin and his five chums from Uneven Structure. The setlist comprised the whole of the recently released EP “8” followed by a selection from their debut album, “Februus”. Displaying typical Gallic flair the band oozed enormity and breadth. “8”, as expected, proved darker and more complex with the bass sticking the bottom-end; defining the sound with a driven depth. With the three guitars interweaving over the top and the drummer pumping his legs it proved to be a truly powerful experience.

As emotion began to rule the performance, either raging or drifting, an electrifying sound began to ran through the background like a constant charge. It was “Februus”, a work defined by its backing soundtrack; the music contantly returning, often mid-song, to a singluar, specific tone. Here too was where much of the metalcore action lay, the parts where the charismatic Matthieu simply shined. The beats were flying as were the dreads of guitarist AurĂ©lien Perreira. The music shifted and began to tell a developing story. As it did, so did Matthieu, moved seamlessly between plaintive cleans and fearsome growls; laying bare his impressive range. He became our guide, occasionally moving forward to touch the crowd while the operators of the giant switchgear continued their work behind him. As they hit their groove, the necksnapping crowd reaction was insane. One passage melted in the next. This was a gripping story. It was one not be missed. Impec, mes amis! (AD/JS)

Follow that Skyharbor. Having travelled all the way from India, and having spent £400+ solely on taxi fares, there was no chance that this lot weren’t going to hit the ground running. Their bass-driven angst and contrasting tones proved to be just the ticket on a sultry evening such as this. The whole project masterminded by guitarist/composer Keshav Dhar had been making waves ever since they brought ex-TesseracT UK vocalist Dan Tompkins on board and there were plenty of smiles in the crowd when that particular face stormed onto stage. He has proved to be the final piece Keshav needed to complete his wonderful puzzle and a UK show without him would have been exasperating. Sporting a dapper button-down waistcoat he set about blowing us away. The sound-desk finally got one right here as his vocal range vibrated when he hit his top-end, sending shivers down spines, and his deep booms hit you straight in the chest like a punch. His style of long notes coupled with his melodic tones, at times, were simply beautiful and, often, strangely effeminate. Alongside him, the stringwork of Keshav and Devesh Dayal covered both elegance and scathing power as they flicked between threaded, cascading riffs and tight, angry shreds. Nikhil Rufus, lightning strap and all, hit his funk button when he wasn’t thundering away, snapping his neck off with jerking thrusts.

With the moody backing track setting up the songs, we were soon being treated to the scathing “Catharsis”, then the floaty, super-emotional “Night”. Soon Dan was cautiously announcing the band’s tight time slot – “Time is so precious, so thankyou. Here’s Aurora”. Then, with a flourish and a run through the photo-pit for our frontman, we were onto the finishing straight with “Celestial” – their “song about freedom”. It hit to huge roars and featured an impressive fan singalong for each chorus. With the award-winning “Meava” to finish, during which Dan ended up wigging out, face-to-face with his fans, the band hit a euphoric peak even we didn’t think they could reach. Considering how little practice time together they must have had pre-show it had been an unqualified success. And the best news? The new album they’re working on is “insanely good” – and that’s from the mouth of the mastermind himself. (JS)

The massive hour-long wait for Chicago’s Veil Of Maya (huge in the US, about to be huge in the UK) was explained away once they hit the stage by the long-haired frontman Brandon Butler – “Our bassist nearly missed the show”. All eyes flicked right and there he stood, pretty-boy image, and my first thought was “too much time spent in the mirror?”. No matter. This quartet soon made up for lost time tossing out a series of battered, scathing vocals like they were going out of fashion. Their main selling point was immediately apparent – the unstoppable force of their unique, ceaseless, polyrhythmic underscore. Badda-bad-badda-badda, badda-bad-badda-ba-ba-bad-badda-badda…

Essentially, what they boiled down to was a ridiculously effective line in tight tech with strong death elements. Everything that had gone before was simply blown away by their lack of emotional complexity. This was just pure vitriol combined with devastating rhythmic intensity. The recorded underscore only popped up to briefly link between the songs. All our other senses were directed towards Brandon; focussing on his caged animal stage-pacing and his urgent demands for more crowd action. Eventually his audience conceded and the first circle-pit of the night opened up. Before long we were all slicked in sweat, the tent walls dripped and the air became unbearably clammy. Brandon became more yeti than man, as his hair began to stick to his face and body. He responded by sticking his tongue out and allowing a dastardly smirk to cross his lips – “I love you guys”. A bottle of whisky was passed around the band and then onwards backstage, presumably for the crew to begin the party. Quick as a flash, the cascading lead of “It’s Not Safe To Swim Today” indicated the final song and in response the pit doubled and the crowd went batshit crazy. Oh yes, Veil Of Maya proved to be the perfect band to finish the night. (JS)

We simply can’t remember having more fun in a field. Room for another 3-500 bodies maybe, but it did make for a roomier and more relaxing atmosphere. With security operating a hands-off approach and bands operating a hands-on approach (whole days spent intermingling with fans), it proved to be a set-up that could have withstood rain, hail, fire and brimstone and still gone ahead as planned. It all made for a large helping of excitement with lashes of freedom and plenty of cool beer on tap. I believe the word de rigueur is “epic”. Roll on TechFest 2014!

Words: Andrew Doherty + John Skibeat
Photos: John Skibeat

Also online @ Ave Noctum =

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Album Review: Phantom Glue – A War Of Light Cones

Kurt Ballou gets around. When he’s not blazing a trail with Converge, he’s hunkered down in his own studio at God City, working the sound-desk for various noise-making machines who’ve all requested his producing expertise. This is where he could be found during the months of April and August 2011, twiddling the knobs for Boston, MA’s Phantom Glue. The result of those sessions has taken two whole years to see the light of day, but now Black Market Activities have stepped in to save A War Of Light Cones from staying buried from view.

Phantom Glue are a band who, very much like the now defunct These Arms Are Snakes, sound like two different forces welded together. One half is pure punk — all fast snarling bile and sharp bites of anguish. The other is a heavy-lidded twin guitar stoner — all loping chugs with evocative, interlocking riffery laid over the top. On top of this, there is something darker tucked away in the music and lyrics. It’s interesting to note then, that vocalist/guitarist Matt Oakes describes this edgy album as “a nightmare/occult alternate history of Colonial America”. Here, there is very much the sense of a band wanting to have their cake and eat it.

When they are not battering you with violent crushers like the fiery opener ‘Perils’ or the ear-damaging, High On Fire-esque rip ‘Bow In The Dust’, they are seeking out an effervescent top-end to stir things up. This latter styling brings them more into line with the kind of thrilling post-rock-cum-sludge material that Steak Number Eight and Mastodon are keen on putting out there. ‘Biocult’, for instance, spends less time bawling at you and languishes longer in the musical combination of bubbling top-end bass and deep, sludge-flinging stringwork. When it does shift, it is into a dynamic, cleaner phase that does feel a little tacked on. One track that follows this and the more-driven ‘Arboreal‘ to a fine conclusion is ‘Test Pattern’. It’s a song which wastes no time digging out a sloth-like groove onto which is built a network of memorable riffs. In these lighter places, they seem happiest; free enough to throw in clean-heeled arpeggios and solos to their hearts content.

Having been left rotting on the backburner for all this time, you’d imagine the band to be a bit more generous, but they still only seem willing to stretch themselves to 6 tracks and 28 minutes. That’s a pretty paltry return when parts of what is here simply passes you by. It’s also true that, in those two years they have spent trying to secure that label release, various riff-loving scaremongers have stepped forward with fine albums – bands like Black Cobra, Burning Love and High On Fire (all Ballou’s other projects) and others like Steak Number Eight, Saviours and Family (US, not UK). The void that was there, following These Arms Are Snakes (and, to an extent, Isis‘) sad demise, has now well and truly been filled. Now, it all feels a little crowded in this space and Phantom Glue’s somewhat muddled second album is going to struggle for air amongst some of those monster releases.

Also online @ Heavy Blog Is Heavy =

Monday, July 8, 2013

Album Review: Goatess – Goatess

With a cover reminiscent of something out of Hellboy, Goatess’ self-titled debut certainly stands out. Titled The Birth Of Pan it features what looks like an unborn faun in the womb; strangely beautiful and pretty hard to ignore. What lurks within is similarly tough to forget.

Stockholm’s Goatess set their stall out splitting their efforts between throwing out weighty Sabbathian doom and gloom, driving, sludge-packed rock and exploding, cosmic psychedelia that threatens true enlightenment. If you recognise the hauntingly melancholic, resonant vocal and are thinking it might be Ozzy Osbourne himself (“I never say die-e-e!”), you’d be understandably mistaken. It belongs to none other than cult vocalist Chritus Linderson (Lord Vicar, ex-Count Raven, ex-Saint Vitus). Originally named Weekend Beast, the band was born of Chritus and guitarist Niklas’ desire to play less-structured doom metal; something with atmosphere centred around their worship of the heavy riff.

Opener “Know Your Animal” turns out to be an excellent diversion from their stock material, coming through a lot cleaner and feistier than it’s mucky brethren. The overdrive does kick in for the chorus, but compared to the blues-soaked stomp of “Alpha Omega” it’s full of positivity and life. From here its a slow descent into the sludge pit where the Sleep-esque rotational, trance-inducing single-chord plod rules all. The 10-minute “King One” is the finest of these dissonant soul-suckers, finding numerous ways to re-ignite the joys in mastering the lengthy one-riff song. If the ear-to-ear phase doesn’t do it for you, it could be the game-changing dropout, the tweaks toward Soundgarden-like grunge, the trilling top-end or the heavy use of the drum fill, but most likely it’ll be the sum of those parts. Basically it’s got all the things that “Ripe” and “Oracle, Part 2″ haven’t.

Inside this network of repetitive bludgeoning, there lies the axis point of the album. It lurks in the middle of the startlingly experimental “Full Moon At Noon”. The dominant, forceful riffing and sudden crisp, loud breaks suddenly give way and the track collapses into swathes of mind-expanding experimentalism. It continues on through “Oracle, Part 1″ and the incredible “Tentacles Of Zen”. This 12-minute denouement features eye-opening sound clips from a scene from the 1976 BBC dramatisation of I, Claudius where Mnester (Nicholas Amer) theatrically suggests that Messalina (Sheila White) take part in a tournament of sex. His lascivious imagining of “copulation on a cosmic scale” provides the perfect introduction for the mesmeric sonic orgy that follows – be sure to have your bong at the ready for the magnificent section of tribal drums and ethnic strings.

Goatess’ constant shape-shifting, some might say unbalanced, sound is a feature that crops up quite a lot. Whether it is an effect they wanted during recording or is merely an unintentional post-production anomaly is unclear, but it certainly adds to the overall disorientating effect. Svart Records are building up quite a special roster of bands right now and these mind-bending Swedes have slotted in like a charm.

Also online @ Ave Noctum =

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Album Review: High On Fire – Spitting Fire Live, Vols. 1 + 2

As a band that relies on their music might alone, Oakland, CA’s own force of nature, High On Fire, have to be one of the most entertaining live trios out there. There’s no gimmicky crowd interaction, fancy lighting rigs or schmaltzy backdrops with this lot; it’s just a blizzard of hissing, crushing metal; a sonic typhoon that hits with enough force to flatten any and all sizes of crowd. If you haven’t been lucky to feel that cacophonous wall-of-sound yet, then the aptly named Spitting Fire Live is your chance to stand up, grab hold of your vitals and feel its impact.

Recorded over two nights it contains concert performances from their New York City and Brooklyn shows at the end of last year. There are 15 tracks to delve into, a solid mixture with all albums featuring, and it would be petty to lament the omission of stonking fan-favourites like “Silver Back”, the title-track from Death Is This Communion or “Bastard Samurai”. What you do get is four songs from last year’s De Vermis Mysteriis, three of them littering Volume 1, and three consecutive songs from 2007′s Death Is This Communion opening Volume 2. This leaves enough room for the big-hitters, “Frost Hammer” and the title-track, from 2010′s Snakes For The Divine to do the most damage.

One thing to consider, as with many live recordings, is the sound quality. Here, Kurt Ballou and Greg Wilkinson have done their best, but it is still a little too distorted with the vocal hollow and the strings muffled. To some degree, of course, this suits the band’s style and it is consistent, with a nice balance presented across the two sets. Where applicable, the cotton-wool crowd noise has been clipped and kept to a minimum which, considering the shortage of stage interaction, presents a bit of a problem, leaving you struggling at times to feel a part of the show. On the plus side, High On Fire’s notorious full-bodied wallop comes across with enough dynamic range for each part – bass, drums, vocals and Matt Pike’s almighty custom 9-string Lola – to be heard as separate components.

Our frontman, unsurprisingly, utters little beyond the odd song introduction (we do get an incendiary “Let’s whip things up here” and an appreciative but seemingly rhetorical “Alright, New York? It’s good to be out here!”), so instead we just get a barrel of feedback and a whole world of pain. With little distractions, you will simply glory in the pounding throb and vocal squall (perfect mosh material) of “Frost Hammer”, the hammering kick pedal and gritty churn of the punked-up “Devilution” and the glorious tumbling triplet that powers the noise-maker “Fury Whip”. In between these speeding goliaths of sludge metal there’s the stoner comedown; the neck-snapping swagger of “10,000 Nights” and “DII” – both tracks where Jeff Matz’ twanged bass comes to the fore like bubbles of oxygen in the vast lakes of mud-slicked distortion.

The mesmeric duo, “Madness Of An Architect” and “Face Of Oblivion”, played one after the other, present the blitzed-out brain of High On Fire. The howling, cosmic chug that will get your synapses snapping like trapped wasps in a jar. Naturally, in Pike, they have the perfect frontman to drag you back to Earth and his stunning guitar solos (particularly his incredible part-mnemonic, part-vibrato effort that lurks in “Fertile Green”) and his enigmatic riff that powers the band’s finishing flourish, “Snakes For The Divine”, demand your full attention.

All told, the sound quality, though bearable, may put you off. Ardent fans of the band will still lap this up; others may want to tune in first. Either way, the music is as badass as ever – seriously scary, force of nature stuff. Earthquake, volcano, tornado, tsunami, High On Fire, quicksand. I believe that’s the order.

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