Monday 17 February 2020
It could be argued that "doom" as a genre would not have existed if hadn't been for Black Sabbath's decision to explore a darker more heavier dynamic with the iconic song that they took their name from. Whether you agree with that opinion or not it cannot be denied that "doom" has, over the years, evolved into something so much more than a few slowed down rock riffs and a collection of horror movie inspired lyrical themes, the genre has taken a myriad of twists and turns since bands like Pentagram and Candlemass first picked up Sabbath's gore splattered sceptre and ran with it.. These days "doom" is a many headed beast that has begat sub-genres ranging from "traditional doom" to "death doom" with each sub-genre seemingly birthing its own variety of sub-sub- genres. Today however we are discussing one brand of "doom" in particular, a brand the band who play it like to call "cosmic doom metal". The band in question hail from Wellington, New Zealand and go by the name Planet of the Dead, the band have just recently released their debut opus "Fear of a Dead Planet" on an unsuspecting public so let's see how "cosmic" this band really are.
Things get off to a nicely "cosmic" start with first song "The Eternal Void" its electronic effects drenched intro slowly making way for a huge down tuned bass and guitar riff pushed into overdrive by a maelstrom of powerful, punishing percussion. Loud and heavy seems to be the order of the day as the track shifts through a series of big sounding refrains, delivered at a mid-tempo pace, but things get even louder and heavier with the introduction of Mark Mundell's vocals. Mundell has a huge bear-like guttural growl, as a well as an impressive clean gritty tone, that despite occasional slips into harshness possesses a pleasing clarity, his vocals are big, bold and powerful and a force in their own right but then, given the devastatingly loud and raucous doomic grooves Malcom McKenzie (guitar), Kees Hengst (bass) and Dion Harris (drums) surround his voice with, they have to be. Planet of the Dead draw their inspiration from science fiction and classic horror so it's not surprising that much of the bands grooves have a lumbering, bestial quality but unlike many of their contemporaries, who plough a similar sludge/doom furrow, they never let their grooves slip into the realms of dirge -like relentlessness the band constantly varying their musical attack so as not to go down cul-de'sac's they might not escape from. From the already mentioned "The Eternal Void" via the raging "Nashwan", through the crushing "Walk the Earth", to the Sabbathesque "Snake Wizard" not one of "Fear of a Dead Planet's" songs could be considered as filler or a makeweight, each song earns its place on the album due to its musicality and intelligent lyricism and each is a masterclass in how to be heavy without being leaden.
Desert Psychlist is not 100% convinced of Planet of the Dead's claims to be "cosmic" but what we can certainly agree on is that their doom metal credentials are well beyond reproach. "Fear of a Dead Planet" is a superb debut that should appeal to heavy music fans from right across the metal spectrum and quite a few sitting on the fringes too.
Check it out …..
© 2020 Frazer Jones
Sunday 16 February 2020
Cleveland, Ohio's Frayle are not your average doom band , in fact they are not an average band full stop! Frayle began life as a duo, the brainchild of vocalist Gwyn Strang and guitarist Sean Bilovecky but have since transformed into a fully fledged band with the additions of Eric Mzik (bass), Pat Ginley (drums) and Elliot Rosen (rhythm guitar). The band have just released the follow up to their widely acclaimed "The White Witch EP", their first full length album entitled "1692"(Aqualamb-Digital, Lay Bare Recordings -Vinyl)
Frayle call their approach to songwriting as "lullabies over chaos", and although somewhat of a simplification of the sound they create it is an analogy that is actually quite accurate The "lullaby" part of that statement is provided by Strang, her somewhat fragile elfin-like vocals not so much punching their way through the dark doomic grooves that they are surrounded by but more floating above those grooves like mist over water. The "chaos" comes curtesy of Bilovecky's crunching riffs and dark sombre solo's that, along with the immense rhythmic contributions from Mzik, Rosen and Ginley, offset Strang's nursery rhyme(ish) vocal melodies with a dank, dark doomic dynamic that on paper shouldn't work but in reality actually does. Frayle's sound is a hard one to describe accurately but if the push came to the shove then I guess Desert Psychlist would describe the grooves we are hearing on "1692" as sitting somewhere between the riff heavy symphonics of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and the occult rock of Holland's The Devil's Blood, not quite sounding like either yet having elements of the formers mix of sweetness and bluster and an essence of the latter's brooding menace.
Ethereal and fey yet at the same time dark and brooding Frayle's "1692" is an album full of contradictions yet one that ultimately works because of those contradictions.
Check it out ….
© 2020 Frazer Jones
Friday 14 February 2020
There have been quite a few bands over the last few years that have tried to capture that authentic hard rock/metal sound of the mid to late 70's, some have been successful, some have failed miserably, Many of those bands have tended to go down the Sabbath route, a few have dallied with the heavy blues that propelled Led Zeppelin towards rock-god status but not too many have tried to emulate the unique hard rock swagger and drive of Deep Purple.
Shadow Witch, a four piece band from Kingston, NY, do not try to cut and paste from Deep Purple's hard rock blueprint but even so the bands soulful heavy rock grooves, packed with old school values like swing and melody, do bear an uncanny resemblance to those that were once explored by Deep Purple's Mk III line up , something their third album "Under the Shadow of a Witch" (Argonauta Records) more than testifies to.
It would be unfair to say Shadow Witch go out of their way to capture that elusive Purple sound but they do, whether intentionally or not, carry an "essence" of the UK rock giants in their sonic attack and musical make up as well as the occasional "whiff "of, Purple offshoots, Whitesnake and Rainbow. What we are talking here is big meaty grooves decorated with blistering guitar solo's and the odd wash of orchestral mellotron fronted by the type of vocals that you, sadly, just don't hear in this day an age anymore. Earl Walker Lundy's vocals would not sound too far out of place fronting any of the bands already mentioned, his vocals are soulful, full bodied and strong as well as possessing an earthiness that many vocalist would trade their right arms for. However one man does not make a band and Lundy has surrounded himself with some top notch musicians, guitarist Jeremy Hall brings both technical virtuosity and feel to songs like "Demon's Hook" and "Witches of Aendor", his thick toned riffs and scorching lead work proving the perfect foil for Lundy's impassioned wailings, while bassist David Pannullo and drummer Doug Beans (who has since been replaced by Justin Zipperle) provide a rhythmic backdrop that swaggers and struts one minute and is laid back and loose the next , the pair framing Lundy and Hall's more flamboyant contributions with an array of groove that needs to be heard to be believed. Desert Psychlist has read terms like "grunge metal", "stoner" and "stoner metal" as descriptions for what Shadow Witch bring to the table on "Under the Shadow of a Witch", what we are hearing however is a style of hard/heavy rock that those of a certain age thought they might not hear again outside of their dog-eared 70's record collections. As Pete Townshend once wrote "rock is dead they say, LONG LIVE ROCK"
Desert Psychlist has avoided going into an in depth, track by track, breakdown of the songs on "Under the Shadow of a Witch", or delved into its conceptual themes of caution and love, the reason being we feel that this is an album that should be enjoyed from start to finish without any preconceived notions of what you, the listener, might be about to hear. What we will say though is from the moment the needle/laser drops and the raucous "Spearfinger" explodes out of your speakers/headphones you will not want to do anything else BUT listen!
Check it out ….
© 2020 Frazer Jones
Thursday 13 February 2020
In 2015 an album promo arrived in Desert Psychlist's in-box that proceeded to blow our minds to smithereens, the album came from a three piece combo working under the collective name of Rosy Finch, that album was called "Witchboro". "Witchboro" was an intriguing mix of ethereal occult rock and stoner(ish) sludge that impressed us so much at Desert Psychlist that we made it our #1 album of 2015!
Things went a little quiet after "Witchboro" with the bands only release being "The Sunset Acoustic Sessions" a delightful collection of unplugged versions of songs culled from "Witchboro" and the bands debut EP "Wolves Waiting". Things seemed to be on the up for Rosy Finch but life has a habit of shifting the goalposts and during the recording of the bands prospective new studio album things took an unexpected turn when bassist/vocalist Elena Garcia and drummer Lluis Mas announced they were leaving the band to pursue other interests. Guitarist/vocalist Mireia Porto was left in somewhat of a quandary, should she call it a day and leave an almost completed album lying in the vaults or take control of her own destiny and finish the album. Thankfully she opted for the latter, with Mas having completed all his parts it was left to Porto to fill in the bass parts Garcia had not quite completed before her departure and to also take on the bulk of the vocal duties. Given all the history surrounding its recording you could well imagine that an album recorded under so much turmoil might come across a little fractured and unfocused but that would be far from the truth, the new album "Scarlet" ( vinyl - Lay Bare Recordings, cd - Discos Macarras / LaRubia Productions
and cassette - Spinda Records) is quite the game-changer.
Much like "Witchboro" "Scarlet" is a conceptual piece but ,unlike "Witchboro", "Scarlet" is not based around some fictional village but around the colour red and the feelings and emotions often associated with that colour, many of the songs alluding to the colours different shades with titles like "Vermillion", "Ruby" and "Dark Cherry" . Another thing that will hit the listener is the harder sludgier edge Rosy Finch bring to the table this time around, the band eschewing much of the ethereal qualities they explored on "Witchboro" for a more extreme metallic sonic attack with danker crunchier guitar tones and vocals that range from harmonious and melodic to abrasive and harsh. Do not however be fooled into thinking that Rosy Finch have abandoned the sunshine and plunged headlong into the darkest pits of hell with their latest opus as there are still instances of the bands more ethereal leanings to be found scattered around the nine tracks that make up "Scarlet"(ten if you include the hidden track "Lady Bug"), it just that they are a little more hidden and balanced out. This "balancing out" is no better exemplified than on the excellent "Gin Fizz" a song that finds Rosy Finch utilising undulating dynamics, the song swaying from soothing and serene to violent and jarring with Porto switching her vocals, from a whisper to a roar, accordingly. The band use this trick to great effect throughout "Scarlet", shifting up and down through the gears so as to maintain continued interest and so ensure a much more rewarding listening experience for their prospective audience.
Mireia Porto promised, in press releases, that the new sound of the band would be "very visceral and heavy" and Desert Psychlist can confirm that, with "Scarlet", Rosy Finch more than delivers on that promise. "Scarlet" is a stunning album that should appeal to not only to those old fans, who loved the bands blend of occult(ish) sludge and ethereal doomic majesty, but also to those who previously might of thought "Witcboro" was a little lightweight and fey for their tastes and were looking for something with a little more bite.
Check it out ….
#For those that might be thinking that Rosy Finch's story has come to and end and that "Scarlet" was the last throw of the dice for this unique and intriguing band will be pleased to learn that, despite the departure of Garcia and Mas, Mireia Porto is determined that Rosy Finch will live on. Porto has recruited to the cause the services of Juanjo Ufarte on drums (The Dry Mouths/ Baläte/ Grajo) and Óscar Soler on bass ( Pyramidal/ Domo) for both upcoming gigs and future recordings.
© 2020 Frazer Jones
Tuesday 11 February 2020
While Sweden and Greece battle it out to see who can turn out the most underground rock bands a little country, with it's reclaimed shores always in danger of slipping into the freezing North Sea, quietly beavers away turning out quality rock music with very little fanfare. In the past Holland/The Netherlands has given us big hitters like The Devil's Blood and Toner Low but also some very impressive lesser known combo's like Dool, Gigatron 2000,and Temple Fang. To that last list we can now add Baardvader, a trio from The Hague, who given the right breaks have the grooves, riffs and tunes that could easily see them one day joining the first list. If you are now thinking that is somewhat of a bold statement then wait until you hear their self-titled debut "Baardvader".
Prepare yourself well before spinning "Baardvader", if standing; position yourself with a wall pressed firmly against your back, if sitting then ensure you are sat on a chair/sofa with a very strong backrest because after the short period of wailing feedback and thrumming bass that introduces first track "The Great Escape" a riff kicks in that is so loud, so thick with fuzz and distortion it will leave you in real danger of being blown into an altogether other neighbourhood. Thankfully Baardvader temper this masonry shifting onslaught with moments that are a little more restrained and subtle, the band using the old loud/quiet/loud trick to add depth to their sound and allow guitarist/vocalist J. Aron a little space to relax his vocal muscles and add a few subtle guitar textures into the mix without having to constantly compete with the full force of J.P's earthshaking bass and Koen's powerhouse percussion. Shifting, undulating dynamics is nothing new in rock music, let's face it many of the grunge era bands built their reputations and careers doing exactly the same thing, what separates Baardvader is the amount of musicality they manage to squeeze into the briefest of quieter passages , on songs like "Walking On The Moon", "Toxins" and "Rewind" you are pounded,, pummelled by heavy hard driven bass and drum rhythms, screaming lead breaks and full on angsty vocals but just as you start thinking you can't possibly take any more the cacophony suddenly subsides and you are briefly surrounded by gently swept arpeggios, shimmering percussion and liquid bottom end before, just as suddenly, the hammer goes down and it's all aboard the heavy stoner express again. It's an old tried and tested trick but one Baardvader use to great effect and one that makes this album such a joy to listen to.
Superb from start to finish "Baardvader" is a gem of a debut, it is angry, confrontational and heavy yet in brief moments is also soothing, tranquil and easy on the ear. The fact that the band keep those moments to a minimum is strangely its greatest asset.
Check it out ….
© 2020 Frazer Jones
Monday 10 February 2020
On a personnel level there is not much we can tell you about the subject of this review other than that they hail from Cypress, California, that they prefer to use their initials, JJ (vocals/guitar); RG (bass) and JG (guitar/drums/percussions), rather than their full names and that their collective name is Stone Emperor. What we can tell you however is that they have made a stonking blues flecked hard /stoner rock album entitled "Planet Ruin" and that it is now available on the hallowed pages of Bandcamp!
Although we did mention the terms "blues flecked" and "hard/stoner" in our intro piece for Stone Emperor's "Planet Ruin" we maybe also should have mentioned its alt-rock/grunge qualities also as this collection of seven riff heavy musical pieces owes as much to Seattle's grunge explosion as it does to the heavy blues rock of the 70's and the stoner/psych and doom grooves of today's underground scene. Those alt-rock grunge qualities present themselves partly in Stone Emperor's musical attack but mostly they come from JJ's vocals which are strong clean and tinted with an edgy weariness, which although not immediately apparent on the stoner(ish) first track "Winter Light" does give songs like the excellent "The Majestic Desert" and the superbly schizophrenic "Echoes of Existence" an edge that would not sound out of place on an alt-rock/grunge compilation album and that's despite both songs having heavy doomic musical backdrops. Stone Emperor's bluesier side also gets an airing on "If I Bleed" a mid tempo old school torch song driven by RG and JG's booming bass lines and tub thumping drum patterns, JJ's impassioned sultry vocal and swirling guitar bringing an air of blues rock authenticity to the proceedings. The band finish things up with "Where I'm Going", a song that has a an almost radio friendly vibe, it is a bit of a departure from the bands heavier material but nonetheless an enjoyable one.
"Planet Ruin" is quite a unique in that it refuses to be penned into any one style, an album that blurs the lines that are drawn between genres and sub-genres and says this is what it is, either love it or leave it.
We love it, we hope you will too.
Check it out ….
© 2020 Frazer Jones
Sunday 2 February 2020
An important factor, often overlooked, in a musical piece are its atmospherics and dynamics, it is all very well writing dark, macabre lyrical content but if you are unable to frame those lyrics within a suitably complimentary musical framework well its just won't work, just imagine Ozzy singing the lyrics to "Black Sabbath" against a bright poppy backdrop or a soulful brass arrangement, it would be almost laughable!
Poland's Tortuga understand atmospherics and their place in a musical context, the band combine a traditional set up of guitars, vocals, bass and drums with a heady mix of samples and synthesised effects to create a dark angular backdrop for their Lovecraftian themed tomes , a themes they explore in depth on their second full length album "Deities".
"Deities" begins it's assault on the senses with "Shining Sphere" a brooding dark instrumental underpinned by deep rumbling bass and tight solid percussion over which a mixture of shimmering arpeggios and thick guitar riffage compete with orchestral sounding synths. It's eerie, dark and "atmospheric" and sets the listener up nicely for what the rest of the album has to offer. "Esoteric Order" follows and like its predecessor starts off brooding and moody with Heszu's booming bass and Marmur's drums (no surnames here) laying down a jazzy doomic groove behind a short but highly effective vocal from guitarist/vocalist Bablo telling of Dagon the amphibious deity of the Deep Ones. The song then shifts through the gears and kicks into a Sabbathesque proto-doom groove with Bablo, joined by fellow guitarist Klosu, trading off Iommi flavoured licks and wah drenched solo's over a groove that shifts back and forth between slow and mid-tempo and is further enhanced by the clever use of movie/radio sound-bytes. Let it not be said that Tortuga are without a sense of humour, the band have their tongues firmly pressed into cheek for next track "For Elizard" a song sang from the perspective of a deity named Yig, the King of the Snakes, the vocals take on a suitable serpentine tone as "Yig" tells us of his hatred of Godzilla, going as far as saying "fuck Godzilla" and imparting the fact that "he's just a sleazy mutant" that "basically sucks" against a backdrop of fractured groove that's a mixture of heavy psych and theatrical stoner doom. "Defective Mind Transfer" and "Black Pharaoh II" follow, the first a schizophrenic instrumental embellished with synthesised swirls and short bursts of sampled narrative the second a heavy doomic tome tinted with bluesy undertones and boasting another suitably apt theatrical vocal. Listeners could be fooled into thinking that Tortuga have slightly dropped the ball on hearing the intro into "Trip", its slightly twee beginning meanders without actually going anywhere but then comes to vivid life when suddenly out of the blue it erupts into a galloping proto metal groove that finds Bablo and Klosu telling us in harmonised tones of a meeting with, another of Lovecraft's deities, Azathoth while tripping on acid, the attached soundbyte that accompanies the music proving just as entertaining as the songs lyrics. "Galeón de Manila" closes "Deities" and although Desert Psychlist is unsure of its connection with Lovecraft or its place within the album concept it is nonetheless a striking piece of doomic delight that begins with the sound of a howling wind behind spoken narrative,(Spanish), and ends in a seemingly unending swirl of synthesised noise. its middle section a full on stoner doom assault on the senses driven by pounding percussion, growling bass and crunching guitar riffage over which a strong, slightly gothic, vocal melody is perfectly executed (also in Spanish), the perfect end to a perfectly rewarding listening experience.
Desert Psychlist came to this album a little later than most, we have already read glowing reviews extoling the virtues of this stunning album and we have to say we agree with everything that's been written about it. "Deities" is a triumphant blending of conceptual songwritting and storytelling soundtracked to a backdrop of dark atmospheric doom. As we wrote on the bands Bandcamp page.... "Tortuga use atmosphere as if it were an instrument in its own right and they play the fuck out of it!"
Check it out ….
© 2020 Frazer Jones