New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: heavy metal

Lusciously Dark Heavy Psychedelia From Solace

For more than two decades, Solace have bridged the gap between doom metal, art-rock and stoner boogie as well as any other band on the planet. There’s an awful lot going on in their songs, way beyond any kind of simple verse/chorus pattern. Just when things start to look grimmest, they like to pick up the pace, with lots of false endings. Their latest album The Brink is streaming at Bandcamp.

They get off to an epic start with Breaker of the Way, the punchy riff-rock of the verse rising to a macabre peak infused with frontman Justin Goins’ smoky organ on the chorus. The doublespeed interlude midway through is a welcome jolt of extra fight-or-flight.

Desert Coffin is slow and loopy, until the chromatic crush of the chorus kicks in: there’s no predicting Tommy Southard and Justin Daniels’ funny cop/evil cop twin guitar solo midway through. Dead Sailor’s Dream comes across as a cruel riff-rock imitation of a sea chantey, with distant echoes of both Sabbath and Hendrix.

The anti-conformity anthem Waste People is so savagely catchy that you don’t realize that it’s mostly just one chord, until they finally reach a nebulous art-rock chorus. Are they going to to doublespeed for the guitar duel afterward? Not this time.

The whole band – guitars, organ, Rob Hultz’s bass and Tim Schoenleber’s drums – lock in on the big, menacing chromatic riff that anchors The Light Is a Lie, then the stampede finally begins. The twin-guitar attack and sheer catchiness of Crushing Black bring it closer to prime Iron Maiden than most anything else here.

Bird of Ill Omen, built around a chilling Balkan-tinged riff, is their Powerslave. It isn’t just the best song on the album, it’s one of the best songs of the year, capped off with a long, searing twin guitar solo. They go back to sea chantey territory, mashing it up with brooding 19th century gospel, for the mostly acoustic interlude Shadows Fade.

That sets up the album’s title track and its bludgeoning blues riffage: it could be a classic early 70s Blue Oyster Cult epic with crunchier guitars. Finally, five and a half minutes in, we get a scream from Goins! The band take a detour toward brisk vintage Judas Priest with Until the Last Dog Is Hung and reprise Dead Sailor’s Dream with a much more unhinged sway to close the record: the ending is too good to give away. Watch for this on the best albums of the year page if we make it that far.

Epic, Sweeping, Gothic Nocturnes From the Moon and the Nightspirit

Don’t let the Moon and the Nightspirit’s name, or the title of their new album, Aether, lead you to think that this is hippie-dippy new age bullshit. Gothic psychedelia would be a more accurate way to describe the Hungarian band’s sound. They sing in their native language. The record is a suite, more or less; it comes with lyrics and English translations, which have a mystical focus. They like long, hypnotic, slowly crescendoing tableaux with both folk and classical influences.

Stately piano and frontwoman ‘Agnes Toth’s misty vocals blend with a whirl of white noise as the album’s opening, title track gets underway. From there Mihály Szabó takes over the mic, rising from a whisper to a roar as this one-chord jam hits a pummeling, imaginatively orchestrated sway. It comes full circle at the end.

That pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the record – streaming at Bandcamp and available on both purple and black limited-edition vinyl. The second track, Kaputlan Kapukon At (Through the Gateless Gates) has spare, circling twelve-string guitar and eerily tinkling piano over the slowly swaying neoromantic angst.

Toth moves back to lead vocals as the drifting minor-key vamp of Égi Messzeegek (Celestial Distances) gathers force; that bagpipe guitar is a tasty touch. Ringing twelve-string poignancy returns along with graceful, incisive harp above the oscillating loops and disquieting close harmonies in A Szarny (The Wing): it’s the album’s best and most majestic track.

With a deep-space twinkle from the harp and the keys, the album’s most hypnotic soundscape is Logos. The group follow a slow series of layers rich with somberly picked guitars, spare piano, keening microtonal violin and a wash of vocals in A Mindenseg Hivasa (Call of the Infinite). The suite ends with Asha, its Balkan folk illusions and a loop receding to the edge of the universe. Turn on, tune in, you know the rest.

Gale-Force Sonics From Ardours

Ardours’ music is both minimalist and maximalist. Their melodies are hard-hitting and insistent; their sonics are titanically enveloping, a distinctive, densely icy blend of Mogwai postrock and European metal that sometimes drifts into dreampop territory. Their brooding but crushingly kinetic album Last Place on Earth is streaming at youtube.

Kris Laurent’s crunchy guitars anchor swirling, synthesized orchestration in the opening instrumental, What Else Is There: imagine a heavier Eluvium. Catabolic is a considerably louder mashup of sweeping Mogwai grey-sky postrock, anthemic rock and swirly early 90s dreampop. We finally get a rapidfire, spiraling tapped guitar solo midway through the album’s title track, which has more of a straight-up, sludgy metal atmosphere.

The wry motorik synth-disco intro to Design doesn’t hint at the dense wall of guitars it’s going to hit. “We will comprehend the design of the end, remember tomorrow what scene is around the bend,” frontwoman Mariangela Demurtas (also of Tristania) intones soberly. The band work that same dynamic a little later on, opening The Mist with a desolate but lush string theme before the guitars explode.

They build the hammering Lost Moment out of an insistently elegant twin-guitar riff to a towering neoromantic angst. Then they construct a wall of guitar and keyboard resonance around a catchy anthem in Therefore I Am: “Don’t swallow the bait,” Demurtas warns. Truths is much the same: grimly enigmatic verse, anthemic chorus.

The most straight-up rock anthem here is the swaying, guardedly optimistic No One Is Listening. The group wind up the album with Totally, a pulsing, minor-key new wave hit in heavy disguise. In a demimonde where so many bands ape the most popular ones, it’s freshing to discover an act as individualistic as Ardours.

Iron Rider Play Sludgy Sounds to Get Lost In

Stoner metal band Iron Rider’s album Wondering If You’re in Hell By Now is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s basically a heavy metal sonata, a simple, crushing theme and variations. It’s also especially sludgy: the bass will rattle your walls if you have something other than a phone to play this on and you turn it up loud enough.

Julian Agneta’s distorted, downtuned bass pushes the opening instrumental, I’ll Find You, from sludgy, hypnotic riff-rock to a hazy boogie. They don’t bother to budge out of that same key until the slowly swaying Drifter is more than half over: nice long scream from frontman/guitarist Mark Grillo after the first verse!

He takes the distortion off for the forlorn intro to An Old Low, then brings it back when the crackling bass enters the picture and completely dominates the lows: the momentary sheets of guitar distortion that rip the sound from an unexpectedly quiet, stygian interlude are a sweet touch.

They segue from there into the ominous instrumental Bonfire. Then they pick up the pace with drummer Michael Livathinopoulos’ surprisingly spring-loaded groove in Beg, its doomy interludes and Iommi-ish guitar multitracks. There’s another segue into the album’s final, best and most gloomily chromatic cut, Justice. In a style where players sometimes noodle aimlessly, this band’s incisive riffage and interesting textures – what the hell is that wah they’re running the guitar through, for example? – are a breath of fresh air.

Perchta Mash Up Ancient Brooding Tyrolean Themes With a Heavy Rock Assault

Austrian band Perchta sound like no other group in the world, blending haunting, otherworldly, ancient Tyrolean folk themes into their heavy, mysterious assault, part art-rock, part black metal, part thrash. Their frontwoman takes her name, and the band’s, from a Juno-like pagan goddess revered in antiquity as a protector of the group’s home turf in the rugged, mountainous northern part of the country. Boomy standup drum, wood flute and a rippling zither-like instrument are just as likely to appear in their songs along with crushing, multitracked guitars and co-leader Fabio D’Amore’s growling bass. Their latest album Utang – streaming at Bandcamp – is available on both black and white vinyl.

The album’s instrumental intro sets the stage: spare, ominous bits of melody from the zither mingle within hovering, static-flicked electronic ambience. The first track, Erdn is a blast of thrash with icy, swirling dreampop-inflected guitar (uncredited at the Bandcamp page) and a trio of brief acoustic interludes over gritty, trebly bass.

The band’s frontwoman whispers in Tyrolean dialect over sparse, rainy-day zither in Långs, then the band work tensely pulsing chromatics in Åtem, which comes across as an amped-up take on a medieval peasant work song.

The band follow Summa, a brief, anguished zither-infused invocation with Gluat, juxtaposing a rainswept folk theme with pounding, atmospheric, menacing chromatic guitar crunch.

They revert to skeletal, ominous zither folk with Herest, a good launching pad for the album’s epic centerpiece, Wåssa. It’s the only track on the album where the intricately fingerpicked acoustic intro carries over into the raging electric rock that follows, in this case a slow, menacing, practically ten-minute anthem.

From there they segue into Winta, another invocation whose enveloping outro brings the album full circle. The bonus cd package includes acoustic versions of Gluat and Wåssa, neither of which came with the promo for the record. The world needs more disquietingly individualistic bands like this.

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.

The New Women of Doom Compilation Salutes Females Playing Dark, Heavy Music

One of the most promising developments in heavy music over the last few years is the increasing prominence of women, and not just as lead vocalists. The new compilation lp Women of Doom – streaming at Desert Records’ Bandcamp page – celebrates that diversity with a lineup that transcends any kind of typecasting. While there’s first-class doom metal here, there’s also art-rock, postrock and cinematic tableaux.

Bassist High Priestess Nighthawk and her band Heavy Temple open the record with Astral Hand, which ends with a melodic series of screams. Getting there is just as much creepy fun, through tricky tempo shifts, hypnotic downtuned lows, Maiden-ish twin guitar riffage and allusions to Middle Eastern modes.

Year of the Cobra bassist Amy Tung Barrysmith takes a turn on keyboards in Broken, a horror-film theme with words. Swedish band Besvarjelsen skulk and gallop slowly through the stormy minor key intensity of A Curse to be Broken, frontwoman Lea Amling Alazam’s vocals half-buried in the mix.

Royal Thunder bassist Mlny Parsonz lends her luridly soulful voice to two tracks here. A Skeleton Is Born is a surreal, psychedelic mashup of oldtimey steel guitar blues, drifting spacerock and stadium bombast. She cuts loose even more on the album’s closing, minimalistic piano ballad Broke an Arrow.

Gwyn Strang’s ethereal vocals contrast with Sean Bilovecky’s hypnotic crunch in Marrow, by her band Frayle. New SubRosa spinoff the Otolith contribute Bone Dust, a wash of ominous violin and guitars hovering above a swaying Frankenstein pulse. Another SubRosa alum, guitarist Rebecca Vernon takes a turn on piano for A Shadow Covers Your Face, a moody, circling solo instrumental from her new project, the Keening.

Doomstress‘ Alexis Hollada contributes Facade, a similarly minimalist number that doesn’t bear much resemblance to her regular band’s relentless, chromatic assault. And Irish vocal powerhouse Lauren Gaynor belts out over an ornate, classically-tinged firestorm in Deathbell‘s Coldclaw.

Randy Holden’s Rare 1970 Heavy Psychedelic Album Rescued From Obscurity

In 1970, fresh off about a year playing with proto-metallers Blue Cheer, guitarist Randy Holden rented a theatre, stood in front of a wall of Sunn amps and recorded an album, Population II, whose few remaining original copies command absurd prices on the collector market. It’s just Holden and Chris Lockheed, a dynamic psychedelic rock drummer who turned out to be the perfect choice for this duo project (hence the album name). Holden would overdub similarly purposeful, imaginative bass and guitar afterward.

It’s a characteristically individualistic moment in the history of stoner music: sometimes drugs inspire people to great heights, ha. For all his love of sheer volume, Holden is not a showoff: texture, tone and tunes are his thing. Some of this you could call minimalist Hendrix. There’s some proto-doom that raises the question of whether Black Sabbath’s debut album had hit the stores by the time Holden made this, or if he was simultaneously inventing the style. Whatever the case, Riding Easy Records has done us all a favor and reissued the record – on vinyl, of course, and streaming at their album site.

The opening track, simply titled Guitar Song, is what might have doomed it to obscurity: lyrics are not Holden’s thing, although his Hendrix-at-quarterspeed heavy blues style is inspired, in a WTF, acid-baked, how-did-this-riff-just-fall-into-my-hand kind of way. On one hand, the second track, Fruit Icebergs is total Sabbath – on the other, Holden’s fat, thick, yet spare bent-note chromatics are completely different from Tony Iommi’s blistering volleys of multitracks.

Between Time is another track that would be better off as an instrumental, Holden picking an odd moment to go back to the doom of Fruit Icebergs to wind it up with a shriek. Then again, odd moments are what we love about this kind of music.

Blue My Mind, a return to leaden Hendrix, finally gets the kind of multitracks everybody’s been waiting for, Holden’s raging blues panned hard in each channel. The final song is Keeper of My Flame. The lyrics are pure Spinal Tap, but the duo build a tightly burning attack, with flaring leads that echo Hendrix and foreshadow Ron Asheton, over some bizarrely amusing, faux-Indian drumming. It’s medical marijuana in a cardboard gatefold sleeve.

Iconic Heavy Psychedelic Band Revisit Deep Cuts With Surprising Results

Can you imagine if Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper made its debut on corporate radio in 2020? The politically correct crowd would crash Instagram with all their outraged selfie vids. “I can’t believe you’d be so irresponsible as to play a song that ADVOCATES TEEN SUICIDE!!!!!”

The band, of course, leave it open to multiple interpretations: it could just as easily be about drugs..or a love song, heh heh heh. And it’s a far cry from their best work: for that, you need to dig into their first four records. Over that initial span of releases, there is no other act in the history of rock music who were better.

Not the Stones, who weren’t ready for prime time. Not the Beatles, although they get an asterisk because their manager and record label held them back. Not the Dream Syndicate (who got screwed even worse by their label), the Velvets (who couldn’t pull their shit together, basically), the Stooges (who learned on the fly), Pink Floyd (who had to regroup after their bandleader self-destructed), the Dead Kennedys (whose second album was awful), David Bowie (who got off to a bad start) or Richard Thompson (ever try listening to Henry the Human Fly?). And as revolutionary and brilliant as the first four albums by Elvis Costello, the Jam, the Clash, X, Parliament/Funkadelic and several others are, Blue Oyster Cult’s classic early stuff is just as strong, and smart, and sometimes a lot funnier.

So why would this blog cover something as crazy as the band’s new recording, a 40th anniversary celebration of their uneven 1976 Agents of Fortune album, recorded live in concert in 2016 and streaming at Spotify? Because it’s just plain preposterous. Right off the bat, this isn’t even the same band that made the original: the Bouchard brothers’ rhythm section disintegrated back in the 80s, and we lost the great Allen Lanier a couple of decades later. Still, this is actually an improvement on the original!

Frontman/guitarist Eric Bloom, once a fine, clear-voice singer, doesn’t do much more than rasp these days. But lead guitarist Buck Dharma still has his chops here, and the replacements are clearly psyched to play a lot of material that these days falls into the deep-cuts category. There’s snap to the bass, a leadfoot groove but a groove nonetheless from the drums, and a lot of swirly organ.

They open with This Ain’t the Summer of Love, a riffy anti-hippie anthem that isn’t much more than rehashed Stones….but they seem to be having fun with it. They can’t do much with True Confessions, an ill-advised attempt at mashing up that sound with doo-woppy soul. Although Bloom can’t hit the high notes in the ominously circling hit single, and the band must be sick to death of it, they manage not to phone it in. “Forty thousand men and women coming every day!” State of the world, 2020, huh?

This edition of the band’s take of the “classic rock” radio staple E.T.I. (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) isn’t as quite as offhandedly macabre as the original, but it still has a gleefully sinister ring. The Revenge of Vera Gemini – which original keyboardist Lanier co-wrote with his girlfriend at the time, Patti Smith – is heavier and a lot more menacing.

Dharma’s icy chromatics can’t quite elevate Sinful Love above the level of generically strutting powerpop. Likewise, Tattoo Vampire is a second-rate Led Zep ripoff. Morning Final, a haphazard attempt to blend Lou Reed urban noir and latin soul as the Stones did it on Sticky Fingers, is so bizarre it’s pretty cool.

From there the band segue into Tenderloin: disco-pop was not their forte. They wind up the record, and the show, with Debbie Denise: what an understatedly bittersweet, profoundly Lynchian pop song! A sparse audience cheer enthusiastically afterward.

A Killer Heavy Psych Quadruplebill on the Lower East on the 18th

EDITOR’S NOTE – THIS SHOW IS NOW CANCELLED

The doomy heavy psychedelic quadruplebill at Arlene’s on March 18 starting at 8 PM might be the best lineup to ever play that venue – and that includes the club’s glory days in the late 90s as the place where bands built a following, then moved up to the Mercury and the Knitting Factory. Sleeping Village, Grass, Grandpa Jack and finally Shadow Witch all work the same creepy, bludgeoning, gloomy turf, with more or less psychedelic results: it’s a lot of music, but it’s all worth hearing. Cover is ten bucks.

The smartest one of these acts, businesswise anyway, is Grass, the 9 PM band. Their debut album Fresh Grass is up at Bandcamp as a free download. Those downloads don’t last, so if you like heavy music, snag it now. This Brooklyn trio are closer to heavy blues than straight-up doom metal; they like hooks and don’t waste notes.

The album’s opening two-parter, Amnesia/My Wall starts out as a ponderous, loopy heavy blues tune, then the band pick it up with more of a stoner boogie feel. About three and a half minutes in, we get a jugular-slicing pickslide, then a fragmentary guitar solo. The guitarist (uncredited on the Bandcamp page) throws in some paint-peeling wah-wah a little later on.

The second track, Black Clouds is a variation on the opening theme: flangy bass intro, catchy hard-hitting riffage, refreshingly unpretentious vocals and totally 80s goth lyrics. After that, Fire comes across as Sabbath in midtempo heavy blues mode – especially with that classic quote toward the end.

The heavy funereal drums come up in the mix in Runaway; finally we get a tantalizingly screechy wah guitar solo before the band bring it way down to the bass and drums. The last track, Easy Rider could be a Syd Barrett proto-metal tune, at least in the beginning before the bass starts bubbling like a tarpit and another hazy, hallucinatory wah guitar solo appears. There are probably a million bands out there who sounds like this – and that’s a good thing. What a great time to be alive.