Monday, 9 December 2019
Spanish combo Hela arguably made one of the best albums of 2017 with their highly acclaimed release "Death May Die" however triumph soon turned to disappointment when vocalist/guitarist/lyricist Mireira Porto announced she was departing from the band soon after its release. Fast forward to 2019 and Hela return to the sonic arena with a new vocalist, Ayla-Mae Coghlan, and a brand new album "Vegvisir" (Tormo Records) so let's see if dynamics have altered or directions have changed.
First impressions, as first song "Holy Hell" wafts from Desert Psychlist's battered speakers on a wave of dark imposing heavy doomic groove, is that not much has altered regarding Hela's sonic signature but then Ms Coughlan's vocals enter the fray and those first impressions are totally turned on their head. Coughlan brings a whole new dynamic to Hela's sound, her voice does lacks some of the gravelly edginess of her predecessors but she more than makes up for this with her smoother ethereal, almost symphonic, vocal approach. "Drowned By Myself" follows and finds the band experimenting with a little lysergic colouring and texture, Julián Velasco teasing reverberating arpeggios from his guitar over a backdrop of deep liquid bass (Tano Giménez) and solid steady percussion (Miguel Fernández) while Coughlan sings of "cold waves" and "sorrow" in haunting velvet tones. "Golden Snake" then enters and all thoughts of comparison with Hela's former vocalist are forgotten, Coughlan's smoother tones bringing a more chilled and mystic vibe to Hela's doomic tomes. Hela round up "Vegvisir" with two massive tracks the first of which, "Decaying Sky", shows off Hela's ability to create atmosphere without going overboard or reverting to tired clichés and the second, "Sleepless Nights" is a slow burning doomic lament that builds in intensity yet cleverly never quite explodes into wanton heaviness, both songs serving as a glowing testament to Hela's growing maturity as both songsmiths and musicians..
"Vegvisir" is not a heavy album neither, despite some of its lyrical content, is it an overly dark album, there is a warmth about Hela's new album, in both its musical grooves and vocal performances, that wraps around the listener like a an unexpected but very welcome embrace making it a very rewarding and totally satisfying listen
Check it out ….
© 2019 Frazer Jones
Monday, 2 December 2019
Want something with more hooks than a butchers storeroom, more crunch than a head on collision and is grittier than a wet fish on sand dune well look no further Desert Psychlist has the answer to all your needs. Dave Russell (vocals), Woogie Maggard (guitar), Anthony Belluto (guitar), Gabe Fonseca (bass) and Ben McDowell (drums) are Desert Suns a five piece combo from San Diego who, much like their hometown contemporaries Red Wizard and The Great Electric Quest, jam grooves that combine elements of old school 70's rock. blues and metal with those of today's stoner/desert and psych scene. Desert Suns first came to Desert Psychlist's attention with their self titled debut "Desert Suns" but then seemed to slip off our radar until suddenly reappearing on chapter 5 of Ripple Music's "Second Coming of Heavy" EP series sharing the bill with Chiefs (now known as King Chiefs). The band return this year with a brand new album "Carry On" (Electric Valley Records) so hopefully they will remain a little longer on our radar this time around.
Title track "Carry On" kicks things into gear with a song that mashes Kyuss' generator party type desert grooviness with the proto-doomic swagger of Black Sabbath, Russell telling us of "chasing despair" and about "the voices in your head" in strong clean, slightly weary, vocal tones. The band dive deep into blues territory for following track "Sinking Like A Stone", Fonseca laying down deep booming bass lines complimented by McDowell's slightly restrained but highly effective percussion and guitarists Maggard and Belluto's mix of crunching chords and soaring solo's, the track also sees a guest appearance from Red Wizard's Travis Baucum on harmonica his wailing blues harp the perfect foil for Russell's impassioned vocal. Next up is"Slip of the Tongue" an upbeat blues rocker with an infectious vocal melody and a recurring guitar hook you could hang a coat on. "Right This Way" then finds the band easing back on the throttle and getting a little laid back, lysergic and genteel while "Wish It Away" sees the band taking the lysergic elements of the previous track and mixing them up with some old fashioned heavy blues swagger. "Judgement Day" revisits the proto-doomic elements of the albums title track both musically and lyrically before the band brings things to a close with "Feast of Flesh", a song that sees guitarists Maggard and Belluto trading licks, riffs and solo's over and around a grainy heavy doomic voodoo blues groove expertly anchored by Fonseca's thundering bass and McDowell's powerful drums, Russell singing of the beast hidden within us with a knowing clarity and passion.
Check it out ….
© 2019 Frazer Jones
Saturday, 30 November 2019
On the uppermost floor of Stonerking Towers is a room we call the "listening post", it's walls are decorated with lovingly framed pictures of 70's rock gods and old dog eared concert posters stuck to the cream painted walls with blu-tack.. This room, with it's guitars and basses leaning against cabinets overflowing with vinyl, cd's and cassettes, is where we at Desert Psychlist write our reviews and do the majority of our listening. Today this fairly small space is unusually full, not because this is the warmest room in the place but because the grooves, currently exploding from the battered speakers of the rooms solitary PC, is drawing both family and friends in like bees to a flower. That flower is a five track opus entitled "Sonic Cure" ( Polderrecords) from a five piece Belgian combo going by the collective name of Wheel of Smoke.
Progressive, complex music is probably a fair description of what Wheel of Smoke are currently bringing to the table with their new album"Sonic Cure" however that is not the whole story, there is plenty of good old fashioned rock'n'roll to be found among the five tracks on offer here as well as good helpings of heavy psych and desert flavoured space-rock. The introduction of synthesiser maestro Johan Overloop to the bands ranks has given the band a whole new lease of life and seemingly inspired the bands original core of Erik Heyns (guitar/vocals) Tristan Michiels (bass/vocals) Jouk Op De Beeck (drums) and Filip Remans (guitar) to dig that little deeper and reach that little higher to create music, that although in the past has always been highly enjoyable and rewarding, here is a little more cerebral and challenging. There is an intelligence and an intensity to songs like "Brainshaker","Beamed" and "Electric I" that, when combined with the high levels of musicianship, vocal prowess and songcraft on offer throughout "Sonic Cure", elevates Wheel of Smokes's sonic impact to a whole new level of enjoyability.
"Sonic Cure" has finished now and as we look around the "listening post" all that can be seen are huge appreciative grins, not only from the faces of the living inhabitants of the room but also, and we are convinced of this, from those 70's icons looking down from their glass fronted enclosures.
Check it out ….
Friday, 29 November 2019
Oklahoma's Ranbows Are Free are a strange beast but one well wort investing a little time in getting to know. The bands sound is a heady blend of heavy stoner rock and space tinted psych that although might sound a tad normal and par for the course in todays current underground scene is nothing of the such. Desert Psychlist can guarantee you that there is nothing straightforward or run of the mill about what this band bring to the table with their heady mix of theatrics and eclectic grooviness but don't take our word for it, do yourselves a favour and just give their latest opus "Head Pains" (Argonauta Records-CD/Digital and Horton Records - Vinyl) a spin for confirmation.
There is a gothic edge to some of the grooves on "Head Pains" that harks back to that post punk era of the UK music scene, a time that saw the emergence of bands like Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy and The Southern Death Cult (who later shortened their name and leapt into the classic rock arena as The Cult) flying their colours under the banner of Goth Rock. This edge comes not from a musical perspective but from a vocal one and the fact that vocalist Brandon Kistler, when singing in the lower register, channels a croon that blends shades of Bauhaus' Pete Murphy's baritone delivery with that of The Cult's Ian Astbury as well as a little hint of Jim Morrison and Nick Cave too. Musically the band jam high calibre grooves gathered from the full spectrum of western rock music with Floydian heavy psych, Sabbathesque proto-doom and even a little baroque-like acoustic picking getting thrown in to the mix. It is this diversity that makes "Head Pains" such a joy to listen to, the band having no specific signature sound and seemingly just going with what feels right to them at the time, something that results in a delightful mish mash of styles and genres that totally defies categorisation.
Rainbows Are Free have, with "Head Pains", crafted an album that is somewhat like an English stew or a New Orleans gumbo, the band throwing everything that has ever moved or influenced them into one big pot and stirring it all together to make something totally unique, mouthwatering and extremely tasty.
Check it out ….
© 2019 Frazer Jones
Friday, 22 November 2019
Stoner doom with a good helping of psych is something that really floats our boat at Desert Psychlist, there is something about huge heavy leaden riffs blended with a modicum of swirling lysergic texturing and colour that just seems to hit that sweet spot with us. Given this information you can imagine our delight when Australian quartet DROID, Richard Iskov (vocals/guitar); Will Haines (vocals/bass); Tim Wooltorton (guitar) and Jeremy Kaye Simmons (drums), contacted Desert Psychlist enquiring about a review and inviting us to take a sneak preview of their debut album "Hyperreality", not only did it fall into the above category of lysergic laced stonerized doom it also blew our tiny collective minds!
All manner of weird and wonderful noises greet the listener as first track "Mind Collapse" begins but those noises slowly dissipate and make way for a thundering bass heavy refrain, tinted with the faintest hint of eastern promise. Suddenly, just about when you are ready to throw those devils horns in the air and prepare for some vigorous head nodding, everything changes and the vocals kick in, executed in clean but hazy tones, against a groove that although still quite heavy as an almost alt/post rock feel. This fractured alternative take on what is at its deepest root a stoner doom sound is something that runs right through "Hyperreality", the band utilising heavy distorted riffage and thundering powerful rhythms as the foundation for their sound but weaving into that sound elements of psych, space and basically anything they can land their hands to challenge the listener and keep things interesting, To successfully pull this off you need to have musicians in your band who can adapt to sudden changes in time, dynamic and tempo and be able to flow through those changes without sounding mechanical, in Iskov, Haines, Wooltorton and Simmonds DROID have those musicians. Iskav and Wooltorton wrench a huge range of tones and effects sounds from their guitars while still maintaining enough crunch and swirl to please even the most ardent stoner loving doomer while Haines' growling bass and Simmons' thundering drums lay down a groove that never stays in one place long enough to become tedious or one dimensional. Add to this lysergic laced mix of heaviness and off kilter quirkiness vocals that shift from smooth and hazy to punkish and angsty and you arrive at a sound that is familiar yet at the same time unlike anything you may have ever heard before.
Stoner metal/doom has been getting a little thick around the waist belt of late with many bands content to sit back and rely on the strength of their riffs and leaden heaviness to pull them through however this is not the case with DROID, those riffs and that heaviness are unarguably still part of DROID'S overall sound but they are mixed with an undefinable something that makes them stand way out from the crowd, and that is something to be both applauded and celebrated.
Check it out …..
© 2019 Frazer Jones
Thursday, 21 November 2019
Portugal is not a country that we tend to mention too much when talking about the underground rock scene on an international level, but the Mediterranean country, clinging on at the western borders of Spain, is not without its share of very good bands happily flying the underground flag. Dollar Llama, and more recently, Heavy Cross of Flowers have both made sizable splashes on the international scene and there are many more waiting in the wings hoping for their chance to shine. One Portuguese band hoping for their moment in the spotlight are a little combo from Lisbon going by the name of Desert Smoke. Desert Smoke, André Pedroso Rocha on guitar, João Romao on guitar, João Nogueira on bass and Claudio 'Pidgeon' Aurélio on drums, jam grooves that weave together elements of swirling space rock and lysergic laced heavy psych to create a sound that takes the listener to places they didn't know they could go to, so why not grab a bag and the bands new album "Karakum" and allow Desert Smoke to take you with them on a one way trip to instrumental heaven.
Without doubt the first thing that will come to mind, as intro "Smoke One" billows out of your speakers/headphones on a wave of swirling swooping sound effects, will be Hawkwind but although there are plenty of Hawkwind-esque moments on "Karakum" it cannot be said that Desert Smoke are in anyway attempting to emulate those space rock grooves of yesteryear. Desert Smoke's grooves come from a much deeper, heavier and trippier place than those of Dave Brock's space cowboys something that following track "Darvaz" more than testifies too."Darvaz" erupts out of the speakers with muscular riffs fuzzed and crunching then proceeds to go everywhere all at once with the two guitarists laying down a scorching array of screaming, screeching solo's, expertly steered from beneath by some outstanding deep growling bass work and industrious thundering percussion. "Solar Jam" follows and begins with chilled and hazy sounding guitar tones floating over shimmering percussion and deep liquid bass lines, the song slowly building in momentum until taking off into the cosmos on wave after wave of lysergic laced guitar pyrotechnics, the band gradually easing off the throttle and bringing the listener back to earth by reverting once again to the humble relaxed fusion groove of its beginnings. "Mystic Lunar" opens with a superbly executed circular bass motif that is then joined by the guitars and drums in a groove that is part desert rock, part Ozric Tentacles style progressive rave rock and 100% breathtaking instrumental grooviness.. Desert Smoke close out the album with "Gate of Karakum" a scintillating heady tour-de-force that ebbs and flows between hazy ambience and full on lysergic heaviness.
Desert Psychlist hates using that tired old cliché "journey" when describing music but its damn hard to think of another word when trying to put into words the experience of listening to Desert Smoke's "Karakum", it is without a doubt "a journey" and it is one you will want to revisit again and again.
Check it out ….
© 2019 Frazer Jones
Monday, 11 November 2019
After a run of outstanding occult tinted doom albums Birmingham's Alunah's upward trajectory almost came to a shuddering halt when founding member vocalist/guitarist Sophie Day announced her retirement from the band, Day was the bands main lyricist and with her distinctive voice she was very much the focal point of the bands live shows. Replacing Day was going to be a big ask but thankfully the band found the perfect replacement in, former Bear Legs, vocalist/guitarist Sian Greenaway, not only did Greenaway possess similar vocal tones to Day she had just as strong a stage prescence. The band soon got down to writing for their new line up and soon discovered that Greenaway was not only a powerful vocalist but she was also an accomplished lyricist, the new member was proving to be quite the asset. After testing the waters on the live circuit Alunah decamped to the studio to record "Amber & Gold" a four song EP that included three new songs and a stunning cover of Chris Issak's "Wicked Game", the EP garnered good reviews from all the right quarters and things were looking promising for the Birmingham combo. This year, and quite out of the blue, Alunah announced that founding guitarist David Day was leaving to pursue a life outside of music, for any other band losing another founding member would be a disaster but the band hardly missed a stride and the news that he was leaving was almost immediately followed by the news that Dean Ashton, who had previously been plying his trade with metal legends Diamond Head, was his replacement. Fast forward a few months and the revised line up of the band who had been working on new songs, headed into the studio to record their new album "Violet Hour".Will the loss of two original members have had a huge impact on Alunah's core sound, we'll let you make your own minds up.
Things get off to promising start with opening track " Trapped and Bound", old fans will be pleased to hear that Alunah's hallmark sound of huge resounding refrains driven by thunderous rhythms are all still in place but may be intrigued by the slightly more commercial feel of Greenaway's vocal melodies. For some older fans this ever so slight shift towards a more mainstream sound maybe the straw that breaks the camels back however we at Desert Psychlist find the fact that there are still bands out there writing songs that are satisfyingly heavy and intense yet still pleasingly hummable to be quite refreshing. "Dance of Deceit" follows in much the same vein as its predecessor, Ashton's heavily distorted and fuzzed guitar crunching out thrumming powerchords and dark swirling solo's over and around a backdrop of growling bass and crushing percussion, expertly supplied by Dan Burchmore (bass) and Jake Mason (drums).It is Greenaway's vocals however that will stay the longest in the listeners memory, her vocal range,slightly wider than her predecessors, possess enough tonal similarities to Day's to ensure that Alunah's core sound. which is the reason why we all came here, has not been compromised. "Hunt" follows and jams a slightly more atmospheric and brooding groove, Greenaway's vocal, occasionally backed by Ashton, sounds huge here and combined with the songs dark menacing refrains and pulsating rhythmic groove gives the song an epic almost grandiose feel. "Hypnotized" finds Greenaway employing a clipped, almost Germanic inflection to her vocal totally suited to the songs throbbing groove while title track "Violet Hour" is built around an encapsulating stop start refrain that splutters and stutters beneath clean clear vocal melodies."Unholy Disease" is up next and mixes old school doomics with new school occult melody to create a delightful blend of both dynamics.Things get a little ethereal on " Velvet" Greenaway's vocals taking on waifish tones, her vocal a little higher and a little sweeter sounding while beneath her the band lay down an intriguing mix of heavy doomic nastiness and chilled bluesy swagger. "Lake of Fire" brings the album to a close with a wonderful blend of lilting melody and atmospheric heaviness, Greenaway's note perfect soaring vocals drifting gracefully over thick swathes of dark, dank prog tinted bluesiness, Ashton ripping brief but tasteful solos from his guitar superbly supported by Burchmore's deep liquid bass lines and Mason's solid and on point percussion.
Like we said in our intro we will let you decide if the new line up of Alunah meets your high expectations however we will say that for us, at Desert Psychlist, this latest version of Alunah have, with "Violet Hour", upheld the legacy of the original Alunah and have gone some way in enhancing that legacy. Long live Alunah!
Check it out ….
© 2019 Frazer Jones