New York Music Daily

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Tag: heavy metal

Whirlwind Violin Metal at a Favorite Uptown Spot Tonight

“Your prism is just a prison,” Stratospheerius frontman/violinist Joe Deninzon sings on the band’s latest single, Prism – streaming at Bandcamp – which they recorded live at the Progstock festival in New Jersey in 2019 . It’s surprisingly mellow for such a ferocious band, who dance through the tricky rhythms of this characteristically ambitious blend of 70s stadium rock and artsy metal with Andalucian violin flourishes. They survived the lockdown intact and are back tonight, May 12 at 11 PM at a favorite Manhattan spot, Shrine. The Harlem venue is a scruffy little place which is not known for being particularly organized. Considering the location, it’s highly unlikely that there are any apartheid door restrictions.

The band have another single from the Progstock show, Game of Chicken, which is also up at Bandcamp. Moving through clustering minor-key riffs, the band build to a ferocious guitar/violin duel on the way out. “Drowning in the false alarmers…Chicken Little is hungry for you, on your way to your alley of doom,” Deninzon sings: a prophetic statement from right around the time the Gates Foundation and Johns Hopkins were staging Event 201, the final rehearsal for the 2020 plandemic.

A third single, Cognitive Dissonance, could be the Alan Parsons Project at their heaviest and most complicated.

The last time this blog was in the house at a Stratospheerius show, it was in late May, 2018 at Gold Sounds in Bushwick on a killer twinbill with another tyrannosaurus of a band, Book of Harmony. Tragically, there is no field recording of the show in the archive here, although Book of Harmony did have the presence of mind to put several songs from a Drom show earlier that year up at youtube. Their band’s lone album is still up at Soundcloud: serendipitously, the oceanic first track is titled Echoes of Freedom. Less serendipitously, the band did not survive the lockdown.

That album features the band’s original singer, Leah Martin. By the time the group reached Bushwick, they had a new singer, an Asian woman with a dramatic intensity that may have been influenced by pansori or kabuki theatre. Bandleader/lead guitarist Anupam Shobhakar is also an accomplished sarod player and has a background in Indian music, which translated less in terms of riffage than long, labyrinthine, rhythmically impossible tone poems that seemed to go on for fifteen minutes at a clip.

If memory serves right, Stratospheerius headlined (the master concert list here isn’t clear on that). Deninzon was a whirlwind onstage, leaping down into the crowd and firing off lightning, Romany-flavored cascades of notes while the band pounced and roared behind him. The metal intensity grew as the show went on, the guitarist’s flurries of tapping entwined with Deninzon’s shivery, supersonic volleys. The crowd grew slowly, to the point where Deninzon actually had to dodge audience members as he spun across the floor in front of the stage. He may have to stay put at Shrine where there is less room for those kind of shenanigans.

Slomo Sapiens Bring Their Ominous Heavy Psych and Metal Attack to Brooklyn

Philadelphia power trio Slomo Sapiens play a no-nonsense blend of stoner boogie, doom metal and heavy psychedelia. Their latest limited edition cassette, Slomos Volume 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re bringing their disquieting intensity to a Bushwick gig on April 24 at around 9 PM at Our Wicked Lady. There’s a techy opening act and then a couple of similar acts afterward: none of them are worth seeing. The venue’s webpage says cover is $13.60: it’s probably safe to say that the door person is unlikely to be making change with dimes and nickels, so bring fourteen bucks if you’re going. Things are getting weirder and weirder everywhere we look!

The first track on the album is Sandpounder, a catchy bumpa-bumpa-bumpa fuzztone stoner boogie tune. Frontwoman/guitarist Ceallaigh Corbishley brings surprising angst and nuance to the second track, There’s Nothing More Evil in This World Than Time, shifting from bassist Greg Geiger and drummer Jon Pritchard’s ominous gallop to a toxically swirling ambience and then back.

Slurry hammer-ons, dystopic vocoder sonics and macabre chromatics fuel the next tune, Spook the Prince, up to a dizzying, dissociative rhythmic interweave. Salem is a surreal mashup of twangy surf rock, sludgy slowcore grit and skin-peeling wah-wah riffage. They wind up the cassette (pun intended) with Chi, an echoey sound collage with some tantalizing twin guitar leads half-buried in the mix.

Brooding, Incisive, No-Nonsense Heavy Sounds From Eight Bells

The opening track on Eight Bells‘ new album Legacy of Ruin – streaming at Bandcamp – pretty much capsulizes everything the power trio do. Lushly arranged, haunting vocal harmonies and lingering rainy-day melody blend uneasily with dense postrock ambience and passages of hammering black metal. The black metal is front and center on this particular number, Destroyer, frontwoman Melynda Jackson adding drifting guitar leads over her savage tremolo-picking, bassist Matt Solis piercing the surface over drummer Brian Burke’s machinegun attack.

Track two, The Well is the album’s longest dirge, with eerie, Balkan-tinged vocal harmonies wafting over spare, bell-like guitar accents and distant synth orchestration: “Say a prayer to no one,” Jackson suggests. It isn’t long before the storm blasts, then subsides in a return to mournful stateliness.

Jackson mashes up tricky syncopation, enigmatic dreampop and a doom metal menace in Torpid Dreamer. Nadir is not the low point of the album but a steady, swaying anthem that builds to a bleak majesty.

The Crone isn’t particularly witchy: it’s a slow mix of spacerock drift, moody guitar clang and unhinged black metal. There’s more drift but just as much assault in the final cut, Premonition. For people who gravitate to black metal but not the mead-swilling viking cliches….or who like postrock but not mumblemouth indie-ness, this is your cup of bitter herbs.

It’s worth mentioning that the album is also available through the Prophecy Club, where for thirty bucks, subscribers get every new release from Prophecy Productions, in perpetuity, plus 34 back-catalog releases from a consistently strong roster of dark and heavy artists including Eight Bells, Fortid, Empyrium, Negura Bunget and others. In an age when most so-called record labels suck ass, these guys have an enviably good track record. Bottom line: if Prophecy Productions dies now, your total outlay is less than a dollar an album. If Prophecy Productions survives, and let’s hope they do, your cost grows closer and closer to zero with every release.

Punchy, Driving Female-Fronted Sounds From Portugal’s Kandia

Portuguese heavy rock band Kandia take their name from a term for blinding light. Their new album Quaternary – streaming at Spotify – blends punchy intensity with trippy keyboards. The riff-centric attack looks back to European acid rock of the late 70s, with a techy sheen from ten years later.

Ominous suspense-film keys and strings rise through the album’s brooding intro, Anthropocene, then the band launch into Obliterate, a swaying mix of metal crunch and sweeping, gothic-tinged 80s sounds.

Guitarist André Da Cruz builds a brief maze of multitracks before frontwoman Nya Campos Cruz brings in a silky electronic atmosphere that disappears just as quickly in the roaring chorus of The Flood: “How long, how long til it gets here?” Her English is strong, and she seems like a perfectly good singer; too bad that there’s autotune popping up awkwardly when least expected.

Bassist Bernardo Lima and drummer Hugo Ribeiro work a jagged Rage Against the Machine style rhythm in Fight or Flight. Then the band blend gravelly growl and an increasingly dissociative ambience in Until the End.

“We are waking up, we are planting the seed,” Cruz wails over a syncopated, machinegunning kickdrum attack in the defiant Turn of the Tide. The group go back to funkmetal guitar and freeze-dried bass, with flashes of death metal and hip-hop, in the next track, Pbp. They follow that with Deathwish, an ill-fated mashup of gritty riffage and corporate urban pop.

Murderers, featuring saxophonist Jorgen Munkeby, is a more straightforward hip hop-flavored metal hybrid. Other bands might do A New Dawn as a roaring anthem; Kandia switch out big chords for a dust-devil dance. “The green has turned to grey,” Cruz observes over plucky, echoey U2 guitars in the final cut, Holocene. “Is this what we are?”.

Firebreather Return With a Grimly Focused New Record

Swedish metal band Firebreather‘s latest album Dwell in the Fog – streaming at Bandcamp -is much more straightforward and doom-oriented than their previous work. It’s less ornate, more focused, keeping the black metal and NWOBHM influences at a distance this time. Slow tempos, big hooks and a wall of chords rather than solos are the rule this time out.

The album is well titled: the music is more of an immersive roar than a crush. The opening track, Kiss of Your Blade has gritty distortion on the guitars and the bass, a brooding minor-key hook over a churning 6/8 groove, a few hints of Iron Maiden twin harmonies, and a weirdly syncopated interlude. That sets the stage for the rest of the record.

The album’s title track rises out of an ominous flange bass intro to a grimy, enveloping chromatic dirge, frontman Mattias Nööjd’s guitar in tandem with bassist Nicklas Hellqvist’s stygian chords over drummer Axel Wittbeck’s dynamically shifting attack. Finally, six and a half minutes in, we get a fleeting bluesmetal solo.

Wittbeck’s relentless waves pound the shoreline while the rest of the band work a menacing chromatic growl in Weather the Storm. A brooding intro gives way to a catchy descending riff in Sorrow, which is angrier than it is sad, Wittbeck once again coloring the music with his judiciously placed rolls and volleys. Nööjd finally cuts loose with a steady heavy blues solo.

They pick up the pace a little in The Creed with slurry chords and a hypnotically charging bridge. The band save their heaviest artillery for the album’s final cut, Spirit’s Flown, Nööjd’s machete picking, uneasily resonant leads and guttural roar over the gravel of the bass and increasing agitation from behind the kit. And then suddenly it’s over. It’s early in the year, but in its own bludgeoningly clear way, this is one of the best albums of 2022 so far.

In Memoriam: Gary Brooker

Gary Brooker, the visionary pianist, main songwriter and frontman of pioneering art-rock band Procol Harum, died last Friday after a battle with cancer. He was 76.

If the Beatles invented art-rock, Procol Harum were the world’s first fulltime art-rock band. Blending epic classical grandeur, expansive psychedelia, proto-metal grand guignol and occasional goofy theatrics, they were the first rock band to include two keyboards. Brooker’s piano typically filled the role of rhythm guitar, with Matthew Fisher’s baroque-inflected organ and Robin Trower’s guitar sharing leads.

Procol Harum were also unusual in that lyricist Keith Reid was an official band member, but did not perform with them. Utilizing a flowery, ersatz Byronian vernacular, Reid’s lyrics could be ridiculously over-the-top. Yet they could also be venomously succinct, notably in protest songs like Conquistador or As Strong As Samson.

Brooker developed his signature throaty, expressive, soul-inspired vocal style in the early 60s while fronting British band the Paramounts, who played covers of American R&B hits. He brought along his bandmates, Trower and drummer Barrie Wilson, when he founded Procol Harum in 1967. Although they put out ten frequently brilliant albums in their initial incarnation, their biggest hit single proved to be their first release, A Whiter Shade of Pale, a mashup of Bach and Blonde on Blonde Dylan surrealism. The song is reputedly the UK’s most-played radio single of alltime, as indelibly linked to the decade of the 60s, via innumerable film and tv scores, as Jimi Hendrix’s cover of All Along the Watchtower is here.

Procol Harum were both utterly unique and years ahead of their time: gothic before gothic rock existed, and metal just when that style was sifting out of long-form psychedelia in the early 70s. Although pop acts had made orchestral records as far back as the 1930s, Procol Harum were the first rock band to record a live orchestral album. That 1972 release, Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, remains one of the greatest and most foundational art-rock records ever made. Although their influence has waned in recent decades, they had an enormous impact on their similarly ornate colleagues from the 70s, including Pink Floyd, Supertramp, the Strawbs, Nektar and Jethro Tull.

After what was left of the original Procol Harum broke up in 1977, Brooker served as Eric Clapton’s musical director, sang with the Alan Parsons Project and recorded with Kate Bush as well as putting out a handful of R&B albums under his own name. He regrouped Procol Harum in 1991 as a touring project and ended up recording three studio albums with a new supporting cast, although the music lacked the fire and spontaneity of Brooker’s earlier work.

Beyond the live orchestral record, the group’s best studio album is Shine on Brightly, a commercial flop in 1968 despite being the first rock record to feature a sidelong suite, arguably the band’s deepest plunge into psychedelia.

In the fall of 1991, a future daily New York Music blog owner made the long trip to the Town Hall in Manhattan from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn with his girlfriend to see Procol Harum perform their first American concert since the 70s. With Tim Renwick playing a volcanic recreation of Trower’s leads, it was a transcendent show, most of it captured on an old lo-fi Sony walkman recorder. The recorder disappeared with the girlfriend, but the tape remains in this blog’s archive.

Some of the Most Outside-the-Box Sounds in Heavy Rock from the Neptune Power Federation

Australian band the Neptune Power Federation are one of the most original bands around. Just the idea of AC/DC with a woman out front is pretty cool (John Sharples’ New York AC/DC cover project Big Balls, with Anna Copa Cabanna on vocals is an obvious reference point). But as much as the Neptune Power Federation raise their lighters at the altar of Angus Young, they have all kinds of other influences. Their new album Le Demon De L’Amour is streaming at Bandcamp. The concept, heavy metal songs about love, is nothing new – except that these aren’t cheesy hair metal ballads. And they’re more acidic than saccharine.

The first one is Weeping on the Moon, with an intro that reminds of Pink Floyd’s Run Like Hell into a brisk stomp straight out of classic-era Highway to Hell AC/DC. Frontwoman Screaming Loz Sutch brings a little 60s girl-group-via-new-wave to the vocals. Bassist Jaytanic Ritual gets to cut loose on the long outro along with guitarists Search and DesTroy and Inverted CruciFox. Behind the kit – drum roll – is River Sticks, #bestdrummernameever.

Musically, the AC/DC is front and center in My Precious One, with a little Sabbath Paranoid edge, but it’s the lead singer’s unselfconscious angst that hits you upside the head: no cliches in that woman’s voice.

Baby You’re Mine is an unexpected detour into heavy wah-wah funk, with blippy clavinova and an organ swirling in the background. Loz reaches to the top of her wail in Loving You Is Killing Me, a strange, psychedelic mashup of AC/DC, early Santana and 80s metal with a shockingly delicate acoustic interlude before the earth-shaking charge out

The band go back to improbably successful new wave/metal cross-pollination in Stay With Thee. They follow that with Emmaline, a snarling riff-rock tune in an Electric Citizen vein with lush layers of backing vocals and a surreal outer-space interlude.

From the sarcastic intro, to the demolition right afterward, the heavy soul tune Madly in Love is the funniest track on the album. They close with We Beasts of the Night, a wistful acoustic twelve-string intro ceding to a straight-up powerpop anthem straight out of CBGB, 1979. It takes big balls to make music as defiantly individualistic as this – let alone in Australia at any time since March of 2020.

Raise Your Lighters to Freedom and the Ferrymen

The Ferrymens’ new album One More River to Cross – streaming at Spotify – is total 80s. Crunchy guitars mingle with lush electronic orchestration, with salvos from Primal Fear head honcho Magnus Karlsson’s frets flying skyward. This concept album follows a familiar path, a hero’s journey fraught with detours and trouble. Kind of like what’s happening in Canada right now, except that this story is a very old one. The sad reality is that it’s no less relevant than it was in the pagan north two thousand years ago.

The album’s opening track, One Word begins with agitated horror-film piano awash in string synth, setting the stage for pummeling guitar and drums. Frontman Ronnie Romero goes for fullblown Bruce Dickinson operatics while Karlsson throws in boxcutter pickslides before going off into a giant whippit of tapping. “One word can destroy you,” Romero insists.

The survivor’s anthem The Last Wave is a pop song in heavy disguise: switch out the guitars for strings and this could be a Tina Turner ballad from the 80s. Mike Terrana’s drums cascade under the trebly snap of the bass in Shut It Out, Romero telling us it’s time to break away from the noise and get focused. “Let someone else be the hero,” is the message here.

“There’s no place to hide in the City of Hate.” Romero roars, a situation that anyone who “came here to be somebody else” can relate to. The album’s title track kicks off with a big action movie riff: the message is that what doesn’t kill you, etc. Bass comes to the forefront, ushering in toxic washes of sound in the slowly swaying, guardedly hopeful Morning Star.

Hunt Me to the End of the World seems more like a dis to a stalker than a political adversary. Bringers of the Dark refers to the revolutionaries who will not be deterred: they’re going to rampage back every night. “Your kingdom, your prison, it doesn’t really matter…there’s no escape from your own dreams, you can’t run from your fantasy,” Romero tells a nameless Klaus Schwab type.

The narrative hits fever pirch in The Other Side: who’s going to survive the inevitable confrontation? The band pick up the pace in The Last Ship: it looks like all hope is not lost. The story comes to a close with The Passenger (an original, not the Iggy Pop classic) – where there’s a surprise revelation. Or maybe not. Some people will hear this and say, good grief, didn’t we leave this stuff behind thirty-five years ago? Nope. And with the state of the world right now, maybe we shouldn’t.

Original Heavy, Slow Psychedelic Sounds From Blue Heron

Albuquerque metal band Blue Heron have influences as diverse as Fu Manchu, Kyuss and Acid King, but ultimately they don’t sound like any of the other many stoner metal bands kicking around the desert, metaphorically or otherwise. From their debut single – streaming at Bandcamp – it’s clear they go for slow tempos and let the songs breathe: no wasted notes here.

In the seven-minute A-side, Black Blood of the Earth, the band slowly and imperceptibly bring up the doomy chromatics out of slurry hypnotic riffs as bassist Steve Schmidlapp holds the center and drummer Ricardo Sanchez adds imaginative fills and flourishes. The second part of the song is a slowly drifting heavy psych jam, frontman Jadd Shickler whispering about a “cross-collateralized matrix” and other mysterious things as guitarist Mike Chavez prowls through acid blues.

With growly downtuned bass along with fuzztone and wah-wah grit from Chavez, the B-side, A Sunken Place is closer to Sleep. Fun fact: in addition to fronting the band, Shickler – who back in the day fronted popular mid-zeros stoner metal band Spiritu – runs Blues Funeral Recordings as well as Red Lead PR, devoted exclusively to promoting metal acts. Anyone wondering what his cred is should hear the single: the guy obviously lives for heavy sounds. It’s always tempting to plagiarize his press releases since the invariably nail what a band is all about.

Legendary, Prophetic Heavy Psych Band Winterhawk’s Albums Are Back in Print on Vinyl

San Francisco band Winterhawk were years ahead of their time. They’re best remembered for frontman/guitarist Nik Alexander’s distinctive mashups of 70s acid rock and Cree Indian folk music. Alexander was fiercely proud of his heritage, and that connection to the land resonates potently in the band’s many politically-oriented songs. In addition to rocking out ancient folk melodies, they sometimes employed indigenous instruments like shakers and wood flute. Drummer Alfonso Kolb would frequently diverge into native rhythms as well.

Their first two albums were 1979’s Electric Warriors, which was more psychedelic, and Dog Soldier, a considerably harder-rocking effort from the following year which is more erratic. Both have been newly digitized and are back in print. Electric Warriors is streaming at youtube, and Dog Soldier is there as well.

Electric Warriors is the better of the two. The songs are longer, more overtly political, and the band’s sound is unmistakably original: it’s impossible to think of another act from the era who sounded anything like this. The first track, Prayer, builds from a delicate Cree melody to a burst of riff-heavy rock and then a return, with native flute over Alexander’s acoustic guitar textures.

The band follow with Got to Save It, a stomping, Stonesy eco-disaster cautionary anthem punctuated by Alexander’s unhinged, bluesy guitar breaks and savage pickslides. Black Whiskey is not a good-time drinking song but an indictment of the alcoholism which after all these years still plagues the Indian population.

Restaurant is over-the-top hilarious: this girl is a chocolate sundae with a cherry on top, yeah! The band return to potently relevant, Cree-flavored acid rock with the anti-nuclear power broadside Selfish Man. The band rise to a triumphant war cry as they gallop through Custer’s Dyin’ and close the record with Fight, a haphazardly heavy, redemptive epic which is all over the place stylistically and must have been a huge concert crowd-pleaser back in the day.

On Dog Soldier, the group are tighter, but they’re also trying to sound like .38 Special a lot of the time. The ever-present chorus pedal gives much of the material a dated feel, and they hardly distinguish themselves by aping the pop side of Blue Oyster Cult or acoustic Led Zep. But the quality rises as the album moves along. We Are the People is a towering, defiantly timeless reminder of how much more civilized the North American natives were, compared to the imperialist invaders. There’s also Crazy, shifting between hammering riffage and a spare, cantering native rhythm; We’re Still Here, a surreal attempt at politically-fueled disco; Warriors Road, a subdued acoustic freedom-fighter anthem; and I Will Remember. a stark, mystical folk tune. Good to have this distinctive band back in print.