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Tag: heavy psych

Radical Reinventions and Faithful Facsimiles of Black Sabbath Classics

Why on earth would anyone want to hear an album of Black Sabbath covers? If you play heavy music, sure. The new Best of Black Sabbath [Redux] vinyl compilation – streaming at Bandcamp – underscores how imaginatively a good band can reinvent songs that half the world knows by heart more than it serves as a cautionary tale about musical hubris.

A handful of the covers here faithfully replicate the bludgeoning riffs, macabre chromatics and Middle Eastern allusions of the alltime foundational heavy metal band. Take Hippie Death Cult‘s Fairies Wear Boots. It’s perfect. Maybe a little extra drum roll, a little extra digital sustain on the guitars, but otherwise it could really be Sabbath. As anyone who spent their formative years learning this material will tell you, it’s deliriously fun to play. And beyond the fun this band are obviously having with it, what’s the point?

Likewise, Caustic Casanova‘s version of Wicked World is musically spot-on: they absolutely nail the long jam that quickly goes doublespeed, then quadruplespeed. The B-52s vocals are, um, original.

Other versions on the record are subtly altered. Leather Lung give Hole in the Sky a haphazard, wide-angle swing beat, screaming punk rock vocals and a hint of goofy tremolo on the big riffs. Summoner‘s lithely jagged take of A National Acrobat suggests that Tony Iommi might have been listening to P-Funk or Rare Earth before he came up with this one.

Sweet Leaf is what it is – Black Electric’s version sounds even more dense and stoned, and just as funny as the original. A great pickup group consisting of CKY’s Chad Ginsburg, Fireball Ministry guitarist James Rota and bassist Scott Reeder, and drummer Jess Margera do a no-BS take of N.I.B. with another funny moment: they put a talkbox on the bass as they fade it up.

But music that was game-changing at the time tends to reward those who dare change the game even more. Case in point: the version of The Wizard here is a revelation. Mooner completely remake it as heavy latin psychedelia with deliciously trebly bass, sultry vocals and a flute in place of Ozzy’s hyperventilating harmonica.

Similarly, Solace’s Electric Funeral has a bone-chilling, whispery, Doors/Frank Flight Band vibe fueled by tremolo organ and jangly guitar, although they can’t resist bringing in the heavy artillery here and there. Howling Giant‘s Lord of This World also has a little organ, smartly shifting textures and clever references to another Sabbath classic (which isn’t included on the album, maybe because it was covered, awfully, by Blondie).

Slowly developing their cover of Solitude out of minimalist cello-driven art-rock works hauntingly for Brume. Elephant Tree‘s decision to remake Paranoid as bizarrely atmospheric sludgecore also pays off heavily. Building their version of Sleeping Village around a hypnotically cantering, opiated groove turns out to be a big score for Saint Karloff.

Rwit is an unexpected and solid choice of cover tune; Rwake‘s practically ten-minute version has a bizarre contrast between expertly layered, understatedly menacing guitars and screamo vocals.

There are a couple of duds here. The idea to make Kristin Hersh-style dreampop out of Planet Caravan was brave, but it never rises above the level of generic. And Never Say Die is an awful song that sounds like Thin Lizzy and shouldn’t have made the cut.

Beware of Greeks Bearing Loud Guitar Amps

Balothizer are among the most recent heavy psychedelic bands to realize how delicious haunting old Greek folk tunes sound when you crank up the volume and hit the distortion pedal. The obvious comparison is New York’s own Greek Judas, who, like Batholizer, are one of the few rock acts releasing new material these days. Check out the Brooklynites’ latest single, Snakey Song, which is probably the most succinct number in their repertoire of heavy metal versions of hash-smoking and protest songs from the 1920s and 30s..

Balothizer have a whole new album, Cretan Smash, streaming at Bandcamp. The eerie Arabic-influenced chromatics and fearless pro-freedom content of music from Crete are everywhere here, starting with the epic, defiant first track, Jegaman, kicking off with a slashing cadenza from guest violinist Stratos Skarakis. Frontman Nikos Ziarkas multitracks sizzling electric lute riffs over Pav Mav’s gritty, galloping bass and Steve J. Payne’s pummeling drums as the song veers between speedmetal and a slow, relentlessly doomy sway.

The second track is Peace, a slow, grimly stomping anthem until the shreddy stampede out. You want grim? The third number, Aleppo – a bitter exile’s tale – gets reinvented as sort of Greek Motorhead, but with more of a hypnotically propulsive drive, while the fourth, Ponente Levante, a vengeful chronicle of finding nothing but trouble in the world, has an even faster, circling attack.

Foustalieris, a popular tune with a witheringly metaphorical revolutionary message, has elegantly echoey acoustic twin lutes to kick things off, then the band barrel through to a long wah-wah stoner jam. They close the record with their most epic number here, Anathema, a shoegazy slowcore tune. Watch for this on the best albums of 2020 page at the end of the year.

The Vol. 4 Redux Compilation: Better Than the Black Sabbath Original?

The Vol. 4 album is where Black Sabbath started to go to hell. That was where Sabbath first ventured out of the doom metal they’d singlehandedly invented, toward a bludgeoning take on art-rock and FM radio-oriented heavy pop tunesmithing, with uneven results.

Maybe it was the demands of the record label, a new album every year becoming an impossible task as far as maintaining the insanely high creativity of their first three records. That job proved to be too much for just about every band from the radio-and-records era, so it’s probably not fair to fault the godfathers of heavy metal for dropping off the fourth time around.

So if you’re going to cover a Sabbath album, it makes sense to do this one.

Seriously – does anybody really want to hear somebody like Zakk Wylde put the bite on, and tap, and divebomb his way through a cartoon copy of the iconic first Sabbath record?

That’s why the new vinyl compilation Vol. 4 Redux – streaming at Bandcamp – is worth owning if metal or heavy psychedelia is your thing. it’s better than the original. Ten different bands take turns, some of them completely reinventing these songs, others just adding their own inspired and often amusing touches. Interestingly, pretty much all the vocalists seem to be shooting for Ozzy impersonations, and pretty much every band’s drummer rises to the challenge of nailing the great, underrated Bill Ward’s nimbly swinging attack.

Wheels of Confusion, by Thou  begins as brittle death metal that warms up with the long fuzztone jam at the end. Tomorrow’s Dream, by the Obsessed, is both fuzzier and more haphazard than the original – and closer to the way Sabbath would play it live. On one hand, the sonics of Vol. 4 are luscious: on the other hand, it’s more dense and, let’s admit it, slickly produced than the first three records.

The track that no band in their right mind would want to have to cover, obviously, is Changes. Yet High Reeper defy the odds, reinventing it as gritty doom metal: no keyboards on this one. FX, the dissociative free jazz-scape, gets a wry, quote-filled riff-fest of a remake by Sleep guitar icon Matt Pike.

The closest thing to the original here is Spirit Adrift‘s inspired, straight-up cover of Supernaut, complete with space-bubble sonics before the last verse. Green Lung‘s version of Snowblind takes the original to the next level, thanks to John Wright’s smoky roto organ and guitarist Tom Templar’s lighter, twin lead-fueled touch.

Whores blend sludgy menace and loopy whippit guitar in a slow, tarpit take of Cornucopia: let’s face it, the original was little more than a hodgepodge of riffs. The big surprise here is Mos Generator mastermind Tony Reed’s starkly elegant, baroquely orchestral version of Laguna Sunrise.

Haunt‘s St. Vitus Dance, for what it’s worth, gets a machinegunning attack that sounds a lot like Molly Hatchet. After all this, the macabre chromatics, funereal gallop and surgically unhinged guitars of Zakk Sabbath‘s Under the Sun is a surprisingly serious and mighty payoff.

Yet Another Brain-Warping Brown Acid Compilation

One high point of putting together the annual, monthlong Halloween celebration here every October is that there always seems to be a new edition in the Brown Acid compilation series that’s just out. There are now eleven different playlists, all of them available on vinyl. The series started as a sort of Nuggets for obscure proto-metal singles but quickly branched out to include latin soul and other sounds from across the psychedelic universe, from epic art-rock to novelty songs. The latest in the series is Brown Acid, Volume 11, streaming at Bandcamp.

This is a rare one where you’re going to want to skip the third-rate Hendrix ripoff that opens it. Instead, freak out with I’ll Give You Love, a hard funk tune by the irresistibly named Boston band Grump. It’s a lot closer to James Brown than Rare Earth – and it’s so rare that the compilers can only estimate that it came out around 1969.

Bagshot Row, from the heavy rock mecca of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, contribute Turtle Wax Blues, a tightly sizzling blast of acid rock riffage from 1973. Fifty years after he released the fuzztone riff-rock single Diamond Lady, Milwaukee’s Larry Lynn is still active – or was, anyway, before the lockdown.

Renaissance Fair hailed from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where in 1968 they recorded the bludgeoning avant garde garage song In Wyrd. Wyrd is an understatement – it sounds like a heavier version of the Fugs.

One of the best of the rediscovered bands in the Brown Acid series is fiery, politically-inspired Chicago band Zendik. The witheringly sarcastic Mom’s Apple Pie Boy, with echoes of the MC5, is the high point of this particular playlist. Just Can’t Stay, released in 1977 by San Mateo, California’s Daybreak is a AC/DC homage, while Fort Dodge, Iowa’s West Minist’r are represented by the Blue Oyster Cult-influenced 1975 boogie I Want You.

Debb Johnson, from Saint Louis Park, Minnesota is not a singer-songwriter but a seven-piece band with a horn section. Their 1969 single Dancing in the Ruin is a politically-fueled, Rare Earth-inspired heavy funk tune. The album comes full circle with the woozy, coyly amusing faux-Hendrix of New York guitarist Jerry Ciccone f.k.a. Crazy Jerry’s Every Girl Gets One.

Obscure Heavy Psychedelia Rescued From Vietnam War-Era Obscurity – For the Tenth Time

The great thing about the Brown Acid compilations is that there are a ton of unbelievable rare treasures amid the obscure singles by marginally talented bands who did their best to imitate Cream, Led Zep, the MC5 or Uriah Heep. Yet while pretty much all these bands rescured from obscurity over the course of the series’ ten volumes sound high on one thing or another, ultimately they have one thing in common: they embraced freedom.

All but one of the songs on the new anthology Brown Acid: The Tenth Trip – streaming at Riding Easy Records – were made in the US during the Vietnam War. The privileged kids whose parents could afford to put them through college to escape the draft weren’t making music that sounded much like this. Acid rock was a working-class subculture, created by musicians who were in danger of being drafted into a war that virtually all of them opposed. There’s only one overtly political song on this record, but let’s not forget that songs which openly endorsed drug use identifed their makers as subversive. This music was more radical than most people today realize.

The first track, Tensions, is by Flint, Michigan band Sounds Synonymous. With slinky organ and fuzztone guitar, it’s basically a one-chord jam  til the chorus. The haphazard doublespeed outro is a classic 1969 stoner touch.

Instead of accelerating, Louisville’s Conception follow a similar pattern with their 1969 single Babylon, with cheap amps, a phaser and a slow blues jam that appears out of nowhere. California band Ralph Williams and the Wright Brothers’ Never Again is a hard blues recorded in mono – three years later.

Atlanta band Bitter Creek’s 1970 recording Plastic Thunder has MC5 snarl and ominous lyrics that reflect the turbulence of the era: it’s one of the album’s best songs. New Orleans group Rubber Memory’s All Together – a ramshackle Vietnam War plea for solidarity – is one of the longscale gems these anthologies are best know for, slinking along with fuzztone bass, wah-wah scratch guitar, and a bridge from nowhere to basically nowhere as well.

First State Bank put out the impressively multitracked, scampering riff-rocker Mr. Sun in that same year. The album’s lone novelty song, Brothers and One’s Hard On Me is a pretty obvious dirty joke (say the title slowly and you’ll get it).

Tucson’s Frozen Sun contribute a Hendrix ripoff with super-spacy lyrics, followed by the album’s most hilarious song, The Roach, a 1969 stoner classic by Alabama band the Brood. “Leave him around for when you begin to come down,” their singer rasps over wahs and organ and a weird white noise loop: is that supposed to be somebody toking hard?.

The album’s final cut is Tabernash’s Head Collect, a surreal 1969 mashup of the Beatles and mid-60s Pretty Things.

It’s unthinkable that any of the bands in the ten-album series could have made this music while wearing masks and standing six feet from each other. Folks, this lockdown bullshit is never going to end unless we put an end to it. It’s time to mobilize.

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.

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.