Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Horseback/Locrian—New Dominions (Relapse)

Although this album is a bleak listen, it’s still exhilarating to bask in the sonic collisions wrought by Horseback and Locrian. New Dominions is a reissue/compilation of collaborations and individual tracks from a pair of 2011 vinyl releases. Horseback works in a variety of modes, from the blackened Americana riff rock of last year’s Half Blood to the abstract fields of sound found on Forbidden Planet. If it’s branded Horseback, it’s going to freak you out, that’s for certain. Locrian work in the same experimental realm as Horseback, issuing a steady stream of releases on various labels, including Relapse these days. Their 2012 collaboration with Mammifer, Bless Them That Curse You (Profound Lore) is another challenging record that’s well worth steeling your nerves for.

The first two tracks are from a collaborative 12-inch EP originally on Utech Records. On “The Gift,” wind howls, guitars scrape, somebody plucks a piano’s innards, a drum pattern rises from the murk and attempts to impose order before it’s too late. “Our Epitaph” writhes in ecstatic agony for 13 minutes, with bass and tom-toms relentlessly counting out the time. Once the vocals have finished, delicate sheets of guitar and ripples of feedback take over, sounding (I imagine) like the final radio transmissions from a dying planet.

A split 7-inch first released by Turgid Animal Records is next on the program. Horseback’s “Oblivion Eaters” emphasizes the almighty drone, with Jenks Miller’s rasping vocals competing with a squall of guitars that almost sound like massed bagpipes. Locrian’s “In the Absence of Light” is full of deep-throated guitars on the edge of feedback destruction. Piano and ominous voices contribute to the haunted atmosphere. Interestingly, for a genre that often shuns the human voice—there’s no conventional song structure; no verses and choruses, after all—every track on New Dominions features vocals. They provide a human connection amidst the tortured electronics, and make the entire mood all the more despairing. James Plotkin’s remix of “The Gift” (exclusive to this release) sounds like urban demolition rather than the radiation-poisoned windstorms of the original. The remix is thus very much its own thing and an essential addition to the album. It reveals different layers buried within the original track, twisting, inverting and elongating what were already some mesmerizingly daunting sounds. It completes the cycle, ending the album by returning to the beginning, in a way. Balance restored, you’re released to the outside world again; a world that looks a little brighter than it did before.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Difficult 2012—Part Two

Part Two of Five...

Witch Mountain—Cauldron of the Wild (Profound Lore)
2012 was a good year for female vocalists, and none made a stronger impression than Witch Mountain’s Uta Plotkin. What a voice! And how refreshing it was to hear someone sing with such operatic clarity overtop some grungy blues-doom. Singers like Plotkin usually get snapped up by power metal bands, but her voice offers much more than bombast. When she takes it down on “Never Know” there some old-soul Janis Joplin vibes at work too. Cauldron of the Wild was an original brew; a clutch of affecting songs without immediate peer or precedent. Maybe that’s a rash statement—of course there’s decades of moody heavy rock that came before this—but there’s not a single moment on this album that made me go, “Oh, they’re one of those bands.” There’s a loud, proud freak flag flying from the summit of Witch Mountain.

Evoken—Atra Mors (Profound Lore)
Evoken’s fifth album turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Sorry, I mean , it turned out to precipitate a drastic plunge into gloom and despair. But the ultra-doom of Atra Mors does let a bit of light in—there’s a sliver of sunlight leaking into this dungeon. The quintet works with elements of the classic Peaceville sound, evoking Birmingham or damp Yorkshire rather than their New Jersey home. Clean guitars and synths drape the crawling doom riffs, and spoken-word passages provide emotional connection amidst the death growls. Every element enhances the drama and grandeur on the most majestic out-and-out heavy metal album I heard all year.

Six Organs of Admittance—Ascent (Drag City)
Ben Chasny teamed up with his Comets On Fire bandmates for Ascent, and the results are naturally more exuberant while still maintaining the SOoA spirit. There are still some crackling, electric songs that crank up the amps and dial down the acoustic introspection. “Waswasa” in particular is an ecstatic slice of rock ‘n’ roll, with the kind of riff you can jam on all day. The psych gets a little intense on “One Thousand Birds” and “Even If You Knew” as well. These songs are loose and open ended, with wild guitar solos out the wazoo—the sound of a band going for that “hot take.” Amidst all this is “Your Ghost,” just guitar and voice on a song as lovely as you’ll ever hear.

Goat—World Music (Rocket Recordings)
Where did these people come from and what are they on? The sleeve is patterned like a tribal blanket, offering no clues to the devilry/revelry within, save for the olde English “GOAT” typeface, which hinted that there was a bit of evil going on. Goat originated in Sweden, apparently, where someone thought it’d be a good idea to get a band together to make some kind of psychedelic afrobeat music. That must have been a strange, compelling Musicians Wanted ad. They sound out of time, beyond any instantly grasped genre. Yet they were instantly liked by anyone who heard them, and became a real breakout act for Rocket Recordings.

Mares of Thrace—The Pilgrimage (Sonic Unyon)
This spindly, twitching Brundlefly of a record improved on their promising debut in every aspect. Reviewed in full here.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

April Gig Roundup

April brought a deluge of unmissable shows to town. There’s no way I could review them all in full, but here are some notes on what I saw last month.

Clutch with Orange Goblin, April 3 at the Commodore Ballroom
I honestly wasn’t that familiar with Orange Goblin, despite having read about them for years. They turned out to be a rowdy lot, riling up the crowd with their Motörhead-calibre attack. Clutch had it pretty easy after that. Vancouver sure loves them. They played a punchy set very much in the vein of Earth Rocker. That jam band they’d been transforming into was nowhere to be seen this night.

Black Wizard with War Baby and Astrakhan, April 5 at the Interurban Gallery
Two things I learned, or had confirmed, watching my buddy Kyle Harcott DJ this show. One, old records sound the best. The tone coming off that copy of Killer was amazing. Two, people will come up and high five you when you play Sabbath. All the bands were amazing at this show. Black Wizard are getting to be too big a band for the Interurban. Which is good; they should be huge. When they played “Jesus,” people went insane.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, April 6 at the Vogue Theatre
I finally got to see Nick Cave, and it was worth the wait. The band was flawless (and loud!) and the set list could not be quibbled with. What I did find interesting as a first-timer was that Cave played exclusively to the first three rows of people—those who were within his physical reach. Apart from acknowledging the balcony once or twice, he didn’t exactly bring the whole room together, or transform the theatre into an intimate space. Still, Nick Cave. Phwoar.

Yob, April 6 at the Interurban Gallery
After Nick Cave, I dashed across to the DTES in time to catch Yob’s entire set. I could not have a better life. Trying to describe Yob at the Interurban and do it justice would be impossible. If you know Yob, you know the deal—they really were crushing and transcendent. They played a big chunk of Atma and a sick, gilding-the-lily encore of “Quantum Mystic.” Mike Scheidt is one of the best guitarists I have ever seen. I’m glad I had almost two weeks to recover from that night.

La Chinga with No Sinner, Three Wolf Moon and Harma White, April 19 at the Rickshaw Theatre
This was La Chinga’s album release show (and what an album it is). No Sinner drew the biggest crowd. Three Wolf Moon are always a pleasure to see/hear. I just saw enough of Harma White to realize I was foolish for missing most of their set.

Subrosa with Eight Bells, Astrakhan and Dungeons, April 20 at the Astoria
The two local openers played on the Astoria floor. The consistently impressive Astrakhan are really pushing themselves with their epic songs. They’re reminding me of a certain other local band who’ve broken internationally this year. Portland trio Eight Bells made superb use of effects to enhance their alternately blackened and cosmic compositions. Guitarist Melynda Jackson looked so anxious up there, like it was all going to collapse at any moment; I was rooting for them. Subrosa were unexpectedly brutal in a live setting. With twin violins squalling away and guitar/bass/drums pounding with full force, it was a bulldozer of sound. This gig had an enjoyable “no-goofs” vibe. Ted was there, too, and he took some incredible pictures.

Absu with Auroch, Terrifier, and Xul, April 24 at the Biltmore Cabaret
Wow, Absu actually played the Biltmore. I caught most of Xul’s set and thought they were solid. Terrifier’s speed/thrash attack really impressed me. The always-deadly Auroch were a quartet for this gig, with Shawn from Mitochondrion on bass. The floor filled up for Absu, thus I could barely see them. I eventually found one spot where I could see Proscriptor at work, headset mic and all. Quite the masterclass.

Device with The Twitch, April 26 at the Princeton Pub
Device drummer Kyle Harcott might humbly scoff at his band’s inclusion on this list, but I was really looking forward to this show. Device represent an alternate universe where my own weekend band learns to play its own songs properly, gets a singer, and plays gigs. Good on them for getting out there and doing it. Their original material is way cool meat-and-potatoes metal (or bacon-and-eggs metal, if you prefer Metal For Breakfast), free from trends and “extreme” bollocks. And they encored with “Snowblind” and “Wrathchild.” What more could I want? A raucous yet relaxing way to end an action-packed, sleep-deprived month.