Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We’re Gonna Rise Above (Some More)

Hawkwind are one of the great unsung influences in rock, especially from the North American perspective. Monster Magnet is the only stateside band I can think of that’s copped to their influence. Back in England, the entire “space rock” genre can be traced back to them, and Litmus are definitely carrying on Hawkwind’s tradition of blissed-out, cosmic hard rock. Aurora features the requisite pounding beats, whooshing noises and time-stretching jam interludes. Refreshingly, they also incorporate their forefathers’ passion for strong melodies and hooks. Hawkwind may have been hyper-conceptual space cadets, but they also had hits. When Litmus kick in the afterburners, as on “In the Burning Light” or “Stars” they sound like an ultra-polite Motorhead (go figure). But for every supernova there’s a cloud of cosmic dust: “Kings of Infinite Space” is a drone-based anthem, and “Ma:55°N Rift” is a scorching instrumental that fills the black hole that Porcupine Tree left when they went to a major label and moved away from their style on Signify and Stupid Dream. Very English, very fun. When on “Red Skies” the guitarist lets loose with his Keith Richards-style licks, the bass growls like an angry thing and everything else goes “whoosh!” you’d be forgiven for thinking the Mother Ship’s about to land.

The Gates of Slumber—Hymns of Blood and Thunder
This well-seasoned Indianapolis trio arrived last year with their third full-length, the loud-and-proud Conqueror on Profound Lore. Hymns of Blood and Thunder delivers more of the same, but with more intensity and better songs. TGoS play proper doom metal, as Odin intended. You know the deal: “For fans of St. Vitus, Trouble, and Black Sabbath.” Like a less dour Reverend Bizarre, their approach is untainted by death growls or double bass. Their songs breathe; the main riffs are substantive and the melodically powerful vocal lines play off of hanging guitar chords. Songwriters Karl Simon and Jason McCash provide informative notes explaining the stories behind each song, which is cool. However, you don't need any of that behind-the-scenes stuff to realize that “The Bringer of War” is totally badass. “Descent Into Madness” (based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, readers) is the epic, highlighting some new elements to their sound in the form of synths, and a David Gilmour influence, manifested by Karl Simon’s guitar solo. They lob another curveball with “The Mist in the Mourning,” a medieval/folk lament based on words that Simon wrote in a "drug-induced haze in a London hotel at 4 in the morning." True to Rise Above's roster of talent, The Gates of Slumber have style, taste, and imagination, even within the smoke-filled, sweaty, despair-ridden, resin-caked, beer-soaked confines of dooooooom.

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