Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Nels Cline Singers—Initiate (Cryptogramophone)

The artwork for this double album is dominated by marvellous photos of the CMS detector at the Large Hadron Collider. The images echo the shape of the the CDs within. Collider would have been a good name for the album, actually. The trio of Cline (guitars), Devin Hoff (bass), and Scott Amendola (drums) smashes together a number of styles and influences on this grab bag of rocking jazz noise, with often blinding results.

Their music has as much in common with jazz as it does avant-rock. Let’s call it improvisational rock. Some of these pieces build and climb towards howling climaxes like Godspeed! You Black Emperor or Isis (Aaron Turner, take note if you’re looking for new collaborators!). The Nels Cline Singers also have a lot in common with Southern Lord fringe-metal bands like Earth and SUNN O))) and Eagle Twin, where black metal and drone mix with Bill Frisell, Eyvind Kang, and La Monte Young. I found Initiate in HMV’s Jazz section, but really, it could have been filed anywhere.

Disc two, recorded live in San Francisco, is especially loose and wild—anyone arriving late might have thought they’d come to a Boris concert by mistake. On “Raze,” that’s exactly what they do. “Fly Fly” is an avalanche of glorious noise. “Thurston County” is, as you’d expect, an homage to Sonic Youth. It’s easy to imagine Mr. Moore crooning along with its pounding melodic riffs.
Anyone dismayed by having their earholes singed by all that just has to sit tight, because as I said, the Singers can lay down just about anything with gusto. “Blues, Too” is a delicate tribute to Jim Hall. “Sunken Song” is a rollicking “actual” jazz number. The live set closes with their take on Weather Report’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz.” With a setlist running from the aforementioned face-melters to funky 70s fusion, this must have been quite a gig!

The studio-based disc one has much the same mix of material, captured with a little more restraint. There’s lots to explore in this sonic curiosity shop: the slow-building pulse of “Mercy (Procession),” the spacey sounds in “Red Line to Greenland,” some acoustic folk-jazz on “Grow Closer,” and the kling-klang mechanoid atmosphere of “Scissor/Saw.” I want to say there’s something for everybody on this album, but it’s not a question of wading through the tracks to find something you'll like—it’s all killer. Adventurous and visceral, The Nels Cline Singers make serious music that’s easy to enjoy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Entombed-Left Hand Path (Earache)

Entombed’s debut album, Left Hand Path, was released 20 years ago, and it’s still looking and sounding pretty spry. I clearly remember first seeing the cover, with its menacing Dan Seagrave artwork and “Crushing guitars—Mass death!” sticker. My friend Ken had bought the album based on that boast, and I picked it up soon afterwards. It was one of the first metal albums I bought on CD, purchased on the same day as Rush’s Roll the Bones. You can guess which one struck me as the more vital, exciting record.

The songs are good, of course, in that catchy way of early death metal. The Swedes’ style combined a Discharge-ish approach with chunky, nascent DM riffing of Carcass, Autopsy, and Bolt Thrower. Entombed—just teenagers at this point—had a flair for song introductions that drew you in and for placing memorable choruses within the mayhem. Invisible Oranges (who are much more on the ball with the metal anniversary celebrations than I am) makes a case for the opening title track and “But Life Goes On” as the most noteworthy tracks, which I wouldn’t dispute. "Left Hand Path" is epic, framed by a frantic opening and the legendary Phantasm-inspired outro—the only stretch on the album that’s not bent on flaying you alive.

“But Life Goes On” is a much different song. It’s more direct and catchy, descended from thrash titans Slayer and Kreator and rendered in Entombed’s own sounds of death. My pick for an underdog track is “Supposed to Rot,” the shortest song on the album. From start to finish, it’s pure brutality. It doesn’t waste a split second. The opening riff—all 14 seconds of it—is my favourite part of the album.

Aside from the songs, Left Hand Path’s real legend was built on its guitar sound. The combination of Peavey amp and Boss Heavy Metal pedal has passed into metal folklore by now. The guitars are out of control—so much so that they seem to play themselves. Any trace of human gesture, like pick noise or palm muting, is obliterated by the ooze, giving the impression that the riffs are generated by an unseen, supernatural force. When I think of Left Hand Path, that thick paste of frequencies comes immediately to mind. Crushing Guitars—Mass Death!

Left Hand Path isn’t one of those forgotten or underappreciated classics. It’s earned its share of kudos over the decades. It’s been inducted into the Decibel Hall of Fame and 20 years later people are still discovering it. Long may it rest in festering slime.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Slough Feg with Funeral Circle, May 29 at the Red Room

I wasn’t actually sure this gig would happen. I saw no posters, and found no listing in last week’s Georgia Straight. I had a ticket and some faith, but even the latter deserted me just before I left the house. A call to the club confirmed that The Gates of Slumber (who were to be second on the bill) were crossing the border and the gig was still on.

Mrs. Mule and I met up with Scum at the club, where the doors were closed. The doorman said that they’d be open at 8 (an hour later than scheduled), so rather than loiter around in the rain we went down to Steamworks for a pint.

Returning to the club, the doors were open and some sort of metal show looked to be imminent. The crowd was sparse, but any concerns over the lack of atmosphere went out the window once Funeral Circle took the stage. It took only a minute for me to realize that this band is something special. In fact I’ll say they’re the best local metal band I’ve seen in some time. It’s rare to see a young band—most of the quintet looks barely out of their teens—that has such a strong idea of what they’re all about. Funeral Circle are doom personified! We’re talking pure doom in the Reverend Bizarre, Candlemass and Witchfinder General vein. In fact, they closed with a Witchfinder General cover, before coming back for one final song (as there was additional time available) and dedicating their set to Ronnie James Dio. Performance-wise, they gained confidence as they went. New singer Revenant especially came out of his shell during the last few numbers, with his gestures becoming more dramatic as he hit the high notes with aplomb. I picked up their Sinister Sacrilege EP (released by no less than ultra-doom stronghold The Miskatonic Foundation) for further contemplation.

During their set, they announced between songs that The Gates of Slumber wouldn’t be playing. (According to the promoter after the event, their touring drummer didn’t have a passport, which got them denied at the border.)

Having been blown away by Slough Feg at Noctis III in Calgary last autumn, I expected a good time. I wasn’t disappointed. Mike Scalzi and co. performed with sheer style, skill, and energy. There’s no po-faced posturing, no menace in what they do. Slough Feg simply rock. It’s seamless too, with only the briefest of stage patter (“Thanks for coming out to the Red... What’s this place called? Red Room!”) to interrupt a rapid-fire set list that didn’t favour any one album, as far as I could tell. I know for sure they played a couple tracks from Atavism and Ape Uprising (“Simian Manifesto” and household favourite “Shakedown at the Six”), as well as a new song. They have their material DOWN. There’s no time for uncertain glances and head-nodding cues when they’re busy scurrying across the stage, engaging the crowd, putting on an effing clinic in twin-lead guitar mastery. It was overkill, but that’s what metal’s about, and we loved it.