Saturday, March 08, 2014

A Difficult 2013—Part One

As I said, I wasn't feeling acquisitive or inquisitive during 2013, so I'm doing 20 albums this time out. Here are the first five...

Necromonkey—Necroplex (Exergy Music)
I reviewed the madcap adventures of these Swedish boffins running wild in the analog wonderland of Rothhandle Studio here. Looks like they’ve been beavering away lately, so there’ll be more on Necromonkey here in 2014, mark my words.

Windhand—Soma (Relapse)
I love it when an album creeps up on you after making an underwhelming first impression. Soma started haunting me after the third or fourth listen. My initial thoughts were, “Well, anyone can do that.” That being super-slow, super-downtuned doom with riffs built from a handful of power chords. However, the atmosphere and, most importantly, the songs started to invade my consciousness. With Dorthia Cottrell’s distant voice providing a fragile human element wailing against the massed wattage burning through the mix, Windhand do have something special going on. To me, Soma’s combination of power and intrigue signals they’re on the verge of making a real masterpiece. I found myself wanting them to integrate their acoustic side more with the doom metal within the same song—on Soma, the lovely “Evergreen” stands on its own sandwiched between the heavy epics—but no doubt this would restrict what they could pull off live. There is one track that does pull everything Windhand does all together, and that is “Boleskine.” Half an hour in length, and equally loved and disparaged by various critics, it feels less like a song than a Beckett radio play (with guitar chords in place of dialogue), considering its feeling of dread and hopelessness and eventually an all-consuming anticipation for the end.

Earthless—From the Ages (Tee Pee)
It’s a long-running joke in my weekend basement band: whenever we decide to “just jam,” we have almost exactly 12 minutes worth of ideas and licks before the proceedings come to a sorry end. Earthless don’t have this problem—14 minutes is about the right length for them, and they have no trouble keeping the momentum up. In fact, on the title track of this all-instrumental rockfest, they smash through that time barrier and rock out for a full half hour. Eddie Glass can do incredible things on the guitar. It’s amazing that the rhythm section can keep up with him. It’s sort of a marriage between Robin Trower and electric Miles—it’s all about pushing it, prolonging the ecstatic moment and achieving hypnotic bliss. Earthless do it through Glass’s prolific (to say the least) soloing or the cavalcade of cycling riffs on “Violence of the Red Sea.”

Locrian—Return to Annihilation (Relapse)
Last year’s split with Horseback pointed me towards the new one from Chicago duo Locrian. Return to Annihilation is as bleak as its cover, a landscape scoured by washes of keening guitar, pulsing synths and screamed (and, I feel, expendable) vocals. It’s admirable in its scope and insistence in dragging you along for the ride. The 15-minute title suite is a tripartite wonder, traversing Agalloch-like dark folk, a Mellotron and Moog-dominated Italian horror soundtrack section, and a patient buildup towards a cacophonous finale. Although it’s tough to embrace something so intended to disturb, long passages and sometimes entire tracks are unequivocally enjoyable. I like the album more every time I hear it. Locrian’s alchemy of sounds bristles with invention—nobody else sounded like this in 2013.

Burning Ghats—Something Other Than Yourself
This local hardcore quartet weren’t messing around when they recorded this jarring and grim 12-inch debut. The record spins at 45 RPM; the music churns at a number of velocities, all of them pulverising. Reviewed in full here.

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