New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: doom metal

Revisiting a Catchy, Fearless, Kick-Ass Rock Record by the Cleveland Steamers

The Cleveland Steamers’ Best Record Ever – streaming at Spotify– came out a couple of years ago. On one hand, it’s purist, catchy, dynamically shifting guitar rock with metal, garage and psychedelic influences. On the other, it’s incredibly original: nobody blends those styles like this crew. Some of these songs sound straight of 1980-  no doubt since many of the group were around back then – but the band really slay with the unexpected mashups.

The album’s darkest and most adventurous cut, Dream of Me is basically a slow, 6/8 doom metal theme infused with Cullen O’Connor’s creepy tremolo organ and an achingly melismatic Marianne Friend sax break. “Soon to share the cosmos with you,” frontwoman Meredith Rutledge-Borger soberly intones; then she makes a candy bar joke. Monsanto is much the same, from its menacing, flamencoish Nick Summa guitar intro, to drummer Emmett O’Connor’s stalking pulse afterward

Hung Up On You has a swaying garage rock beat and some slinky guitar work behind that keening, swirly organ, while Maple Leaf Girl is more of a straight-up, garagey powerpop number. The long trumpet intro to the vampy Last Love nicks a famous classical theme: “I found love is a good place to hide,” bassist/singer Cheese Borger confides.

The album’s funniest song is My Asshole Cousin, a punk tune: it’s a capsule history of Republican bigotry over the past hundred years. Never Saw You Again has a steady backbeat and a lingering guitar burn, a bitter reminiscence about a really bad choice.

There’s also the punchy powerpop tune, See You Tonight; Shut Up, a screaming, amusing punk song; and Something Bad, which sounds like Blue Oyster Cult taking a very successful stab at new wave.

Slashing, Anthemic, Melodic Metal From Rising Steel

French band Rising Steel play ferociously melodic, shapeshifting mid-80s style European metal. The obvious influence is Iron Maiden. Like that foundational NWOBHM band, these guys typically take a symphonic approach beyond any kind of simple verse/chorus patterns or blues progressions. They like big crushing hooks, their guitar solos have fangs, and nobody in the band wastes notes. Their album Fight Them All is streaming at Spotify.

They open at a machinegunning pace with Mystic Voices, veering back and forth between Motorhead and Maiden, with what sounds like a recurrent Bloodrock reference: these guys obviously know their source material. Frontman Emmanuelson delivers the requisite Viking operatics over the two-guitar attack of Mat Heavy Jones and Tony Steel and the surprisingly lithe rhythm section of bassist Flo Dust and drummer Steel Zard.

The album’s title track has bleak, crunchy chromatic guitars over a catchy, relentlessly galloping pulse. Steel Hammer could be British oi punk legends the UK Subs with more menacing chords, at least until they take the song halfspeed, and then out with a classic Maiden-ish charge.

They slow things down for a little while with Blackheart, but don’t hold back on the doomy chromatics. The stampede continues with Savage and segues with a swirl into the icily macabre Gloomy World, a surreal mashup of Maiden, Sabbath and piledriver postrock.

Malefice has a straightforward vintage Metallica drive, while Metal Nation is the album’s thrashiest number, and also one of its angriest ones, a furious call for unity against repression.

It’s surprising how few bands have ever done a song called Pussy: count Rising Steel among the few and the proud. Turns out that they don’t even use the word in this unexpectedly lighthearted party anthem.

They go back to thrashy punkmetal with Led By Judas and wind up the album on more of a Metallica style note with the steady, rampaging Master Control. Darkly anthemic heavy music doesn’t get much more memorable than this in 2020.

Searing, Fuzzy Doom Metal From Swedish Band Lowrider

Swedish band Lowrider do not play Los Angeleno funk. Hard-riffing stoner metal in a Kyuss/Sleep vein is more their thing. Their album Refractions is streaming at Bandcamp. Strong hum-along hooks and interesting psychedelic textures pervade this – they’re a rare metal band who don’t waste notes.

The first track, Red River has a fat fuzztone riffage from the band’s two guitarists – frontman Ola Hellquist on lead and Niclas Stalfors on rhythm – over drummer Andreas Eriksson’s ba-bump beat, tantalizingly brief wah-wah guitar and a weird, echoey bridge. They do the ba-bump thing a little more artfully in Ode to Ganymede – the funeral-parlor organ, atmospherics and a wry guitar solo that sounds like a talkbox but is probably just Hellquist fiddling with his wah are unexpected touches amid the crunch and sludge.

In the hypnotic, almost nine-minute Semanders Krog, the band shift in and out of a tricky beat, indulge in some minimalist atmospherics and finally rise to a long, sputtering trails of sparks from Hellquist’s wah-wah. Mule Pepe is just as trippy but a lot more straightforward, beatwise and riffwise; finally, three tracks in, we get a few seconds of solo bass and drums, and a classic devil’s-horns salute for an outro.

The instrumental Sun Devil is based around a simple, classic series of variations playing off a low E; Peder Bergstrand’s bass is tuned a whole octave lower. The closing epic, Pipe Rider, has growling guitars in tandem with the organ and unexpectely new wave-tinged synth over Eriksson’s shamanistic drums. On one hand, this sound has been done to death over the years – because every year, another generation of alienated kids discover Black Sabbath and the thousands of bands they influenced. Long may they play this stuff.

A Menacing Heavy Psychedelic Gem From High Priestess

Los Angeles heavy psychedelic power trio High Priestess‘ latest release, Casting the Circle – streaming at Bandcamp – is one of the most understatedly haunting, trippy albums of the year so far. Throughout their slowly unwinding dirges, they use more imaginative sonics than your average doom metal band, from the varied guitar textures to their signature, otherworldly vocal harmonies.

They open it with the gorgeously Middle Eastern-tinged title track. Drummer Megan Mullins holds down a muted, steady suspense beneath guitarist Katie Gilchrest’s clanging, ringing acoustic/electric multitracks. Then Gilchrest hits her distortion pedal, joining voices with bassist/frontwoman Mariana Fiel, hitting a deliciously creepy wah guitar interlude.

The trio nick a riff from the macabre classical canon to open the dirgey, practically ten-minute second track, Erebus. Gilchrest’s many layers here, from crunch to clang to troubled, cautious blues and some noisy string-torturing, are just as lurid as the vocals: something about “blood on the sheets.”

Stately piano lingers behind the web of guitars in The Hourglass: imagine 70s psychedelic rockers Nektar at their slowest, with a pair of women out front. Invocation, one of this year’s longest and mesmerzing epics, is over seventeen minutes of rattling, Indian-tinged chromatics, washes of Black Angels distortion, gritty wah and an unexpected, Patti Smith style spoken-word interlude: New York’s great Desert Flower come to mind. As she does throughout the record, Mullins distinguishes herself as one of the most interesting, coloristic drummers in heavy music.

They close with the enigmatic chorale Ave Satanas, a typical move for this darkly individualistic group. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2020 page at the end of the year if there’s still reason for a music blog to exist at that point.

Deliciously Gloomy, Heavy Epics From Brume

Brume is French for “fog.” How nebulous is their album Rabbits, streaming at Bandcamp? Not particularly. The San Francisco power trio like epic dirges and relentlessly gloomy themes, shifting from distantly devastated minimalism to a grimly majestic roar. Frontwoman/bassist Susie McMullan channels every dark emotion from pensive melancholy to raw rage to full-throttle desperation while Jordan Perkins-Lewis’ drums push the band ominously behind her

The first track, Despondence begins slow and desolate with a spare exchange of echoey guitar figures from axeman Jamie McCathie. There’s absolutely nothing about this sad girl-down-the-well tableau that hints at the deliciously familiar, doomy chromatics the band will finally hit a couple minutes later. This could be a gem of a track from the time Randi Russo was leading a scorching band rather than painting fulltime.

The second track, Scurry does anything but that: it’s almost as epic and more enveloping. Hypnotically quavery cello and macabre piano mingle as Blue Jay gets underway; it’s the most plaintive, classically flavored track here.

Lingering deep-space guitar over staggering drums introduce the eleven-minute Lament: it could be the great lost track from Siouxie & the Banshees’ Join Hands album. The final cut is the only slightly less vast Autocrat’s Foot. “Carry your bones to the throne, prop up the king who rules in misery,” McMullan intones over desolately rumbling Joy Division ambience, then the crush of the guitar and bass raise the horror. One of the most interesting and individualistic albums of recent months.

A Relentless Gothic Postrock/Metal Hybrid from Alltar

Portland, Oregon’s Alltar bridge the gap between gloomy, dystopic Mogwai postrock and doom metal. Their new album Hallowed is streaming at Bandcamp. No shredding, no stoner blues, no boogie, just slow-baked, grimly swaying grey-sky vistas punctuated by the occasional upward drive. Interestingly, 80s gothic rock is a big influence along with the requisite Sabbath references.

The opening track, Horology starts out as a watery, spare chromatic bass-driven vamp and then explodes with a firestorm from guitarists Tim Burke and Colin Hill. The vocals are buried in the mix: if the dark early 80s Boston bands like Mission of Burma played metal, they would have sounded like this. Likewise, if the Cure were a metal band, they would have built War Altar as this band does here, taking a morose, drippy stalactite theme, finally making snarling doom metal out of it with a long series of distorted 6/8 guitar riffs and disembodied vocals. There’s also a sarcastic cynicism to the lyrics.

The most epic track here is Induction, opening with a clanging, bell-like, slowly syncopated art-rock sway. “Society has lost its connection to humanity, and I can’t understand why,” keyboardist/frontman Juan Carlos Caceres ponders. “If chosen, what would you say?” Drummer Nate Wright’s careful accents foreshadow grinding doom metal crush: again, It’s rare that you hear a guy behind the kit who’s as dynamic as he is here.

Hailstorm tremolo-picking and a slow, evil chromatic riff open Spoils before the relentless crush and lo-res distortion kick in, with a final rise from super-slow, to just plain slow and ceaselessly grim. The band seem to care more about vocals than most metal acts: the apocalypse seems awfully close. Four solid tracks to smoke up to and contemplate the end.

A Classic Reissue and a Rare Williamsburg Gig from Heavy Psychedelic Legends Acid King

More about that killer triplebill on Sept 30 starting at 8 PM at the Knitting Factory. The New York music scene is in serious trouble if the best available venue for pummeling horror punkmetal band Warish, the epic Wizard Rifle and heavy psych legends Acid King is this undersized if sonically excellent Williamsburg bar. OK, maybe the show was a last-minue addition to the tour, but it’s safe to say – or at least it used to be safe to say – that there are more fans of heavy stoner sounds in New York than can fit into that space. Cover is $20; because of the L-pocalypse, you’ll either have to take the G to Lorimer St., or take the J/M to Marcy and take a ten-minute walk up Havemeyer to the venue. Desperate times, desperate measures.

Over the past two decades, headliners Acid King have validated that hubristic name, to the point where Riding Easy Records is banking on the hope that there’s money in a vinyl reissue of their classic 1999 debut album Busse Woods, streaming at Bandcamp. And why not? Who ever would have thought that we’d come to the point where we could replace those cold, digital cds with good quality vinyl?

The album is a suite, more or less, centered around Brian Hill’s spare, menacing minor-key basslines. The first track is Electric Machine, with its slow, sludgy, fuzztone chromatics, singer/guitarist Lori S’s voice floating ethereally over the crawling dirge underneath. Ozzy had the voice to do this with Sabbath but was apparently too wasted to figure it out until after the fact. Hill rumbles around the gravel in tandem with drummer Joey Osbourne as Lori finally goes up the scale. How rare is it to find a metal band who play so few notes and make all of them count?

That relentlessness serves them well throughout the rest of the record. They build Silent Circle around a familiar descending blues riff. Likewise, the icy solo bass intro to Drive Fast, Take Chances – the slowest song ever written about drunk driving – is the cornerstone for some unexpectedly subtle variations.

Hypnotic funeral-bell bass chords introduce 39 Lashes, a sick, macabre countdown to a mutedly twisted peak you can see comimg a mile away – although the outro is a surprise. The band move in tight, glacially slow formation in Carve the 5, disembodied vocals eventually giving way to a cleverly doubletracked bassline and uneasy fuzztone guitar. They close with the menacingly atmospheric instrumental title track. On the album cover, they still look like the alienated, angry kids who would escape to the outskirts of Chicago to get high, crank their car stereos and get away from the ugliness around them. It’s only gotten uglier since.

Another Savagely Brilliant Album and a Williamsburg Gig from Expertly Feral Guitarist Ava Mendoza’s Power Trio

Word on the street is that Ava Mendoza is the best guitarist in Brooklyn – and might have been for a long time. Her show with creepy, organ-and-sax-fueled quasi-surf instrumentalists Hearing Things at Barbes at the end of last month was mind-blowing. Mendoza has become that band’s secret weapon: through two sardonic sets, she had her reverb turned way up, slashing and clanging and often roaring through the group’s allusive changes. With her, they’re more Doors than Stranglers, but without any of the 60s cliches, Mendoza’s next gig is August 10 at around 10 PM leading her  epic noisemetal power trio Unnatural Ways on a triplebill in between the math-iest doom band ever, Skryptor, and shapeshiftingly surrealistic Chicago art-rockers Cheer Accident at Ceremony, 224 Manhattan Ave. (off Maujer) in Williamsburg. The venue doesn’t have a website, so it’s anybody’s guess what the cover is. To avoid hourlong-plus waits for the L train, your best bet is to take the G to Broadway and walk from there

Unnatural Ways’ new album The Paranoia Party is streaming at Bandcamp. True to form, it’s a relentlessly dark concept album, more or less, centered around a disturbing encounter with alien beings. Mendoza and bassist Tim Dahl shift between warpy sci-fi sonics and machete riffery in the opening track, Go Back to Space: it’s the missing link between Thalia Zedek’s legendary 90s band Come and Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth.

The Runaway Song is a savage mashup of Syd Barrett, Diamond Dogs-era Bowie and 70s Zappa. Most of All We Love to Spy is nine sometimes skronky, sometimes crushingly ornate minutes of chromatics over drummer Sam Ospovat’s precise but relentlessly thumping syncopation.

Mendoza fires off volley after volley of casually sinister Dick Dale tremolo-picking over a squiggly backdrop in Trying to Pass. The band shift from machinegunning hardcore to a doomy sway centered around a surprisingly glammy guitar riff in Draw That Line, Mendoza and Dahl each hitting their chorus pedals for icy ominousness. They machete their way through the fragmentary Soft Electric Rays, which leads into the final cut, Cosmic Border Cop, a deliciously acidic pool of close harmonies, macabre chromatics and distorted scorch over a constantly shifting rhythmic skeleton. Easily one of the ten best, most adrenalizing rock albums released in 2019 so far.

Deliciously Dark Heavy Psych Sounds in Gowanus Saturday Night

This Saturday night, June 23 starting at 8ish there’s a monster heavy rock triplebill at Lucky 13 Saloon in Gowanus. Deliciously dirgey, hypnotic Brooklyn doom metal band Neither God Nor Master open the night, followed by darkly artsy boogie band Hogan’s Goat and then haunting heavy psych band Matte Black. The venue’s calendar page doesn’t list a cover charge, but it’s usually ten bucks here. 

Much as the night’s two later bands are excellent, the most intriguing act could be Brooklyn’s own Neither God Nor Master. When’s the last time you heard a doomy heavy psych band with a cello and a woman out front? Their debut release – you could call its two epic tracks either an ep or a maxi-single – is up at Bandcamp as a free download.

As the nine-minute dirge The Weedeologue gets underway, guitarist Mike Calabrese looms ominously, throws bloodsplatters of blues in between his chords a la Tony Iommi and lets the feedback grow and then recede over the slow, unstoppable wave motion of bassist Paul Atreides and drummer Angela Tornello. Singer Valerie Russo walks a steady line between echoey clarity and mystery, a somber, distant presence.

The second song is Who Placates the Fire. The rhythm section sway along, driven by Atreides’ Electric Funeral chromatics and cellist Chelsea Shugert’s creepy fuzztones, Russo’s voice slowly sliding around the midrange. Calabrese eventually hits his wah pedal and channels Ron Asheton at halfspeed. Fans of classic and newschool doom, from Sabbath and Sleep to Electric Citizen, will love this band. If they get a chance to hit the road, they have a global audience waiting for them, lighters raised, reeking of weed.

Hauntingly Atmospheric Art-Rock Instrumentals from Brilliant Bassist Dana Schechter’s Insect Ark

Dana Schechter is one of this era’s great bass players. Her sinewy, biting low-register lines brought an unexpected elegant and grace to Michael Gira’s Angels of Light. After that, she led the hauntingly cinematic Bee & Flower. Her latest project, the richly atmospheric art-rock instrumental band Insect Ark with Taurus drummer Ashley Spungin, might well be her darkest yet. They’re headlining at St. Vitus on July 2 at 11 PM; cover is $10. Dead Kennedys-influenced Pennnslvania hardcore/punk band the Abandos open the night at 8 followed by Pawns – good luck finding them on the web – and then keyboardist Shari Vari’s 80s-tinged darkwave pop project Void Vision.

It’s amazing how much density, and mighty majesty, and how many cumulo-nimbus textures Schechter gets out of just lapsteel, keys, bass and drums on the new album, Portal/Well. What’s most impressive is that Schechter plays all of the instruments herself. The title track sets the tone, a steady, ominously atmospheric dirge, dark washes of lapsteel and keys shifting through the picture, distorted chords lingering and then rising in a dense, grey mist, aching to break free.

The Collector builds from a creepy tritone synth loop with a minimalist bassline that brings to mind early Wire, picking up steam as it bends and sways, and ends up back where it started. Lowlands is a miniature, awash in sustain from slow-burning lapsteel. The album’s most epic track, Octavia, opens as an opaque, Richard Wright-like minimalist-yet-maximalist mood piece and takes on a deep-space grandeur as layers and layers of lapsteel cut through the mist, then create their own. The miniature that follows, Crater Lake, is the most straight-up Eno-esque atmospheric piece here.

Taalith – a reference to an eerily portentous Isabelle Eberbardt short story about a drowning – could be described as slowcore spacerock, anchored on the low end by growling bass and at the top by drifting sheets from the lapsteel: the Friends of Dean Martinez taking a slow, syncopated stroll on Pluto. Parallel Twin, with its doppler effects and unexpected drum accents, is the most cinematic and suspenseful, picking up with some tasty, chromatic bass chords: it’s the closest thing to Bee & Flower here. The final cut, Low Moon is the droniest and most surreal, its stygian waves contrasting with almost droll, lo-fi synth oscilations. Only one of the tracks – The Collector – is up at Insect Ark’s Bandcamp page, but there are a handful of similarly brooding, intense singles there, and more stuff at Soundcloud as well. And it almost goes without saying that Schechter is the rare artist whose work is always worth owning. If you want more info on this, one of the few reliably good music blogs, The Obelisk did a good piece on the band.