New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: metal rock

Tantalizingly Heavy Freebies from Riding Easy Records

In 2021, record labels are like video stores were twenty years ago. Riding Easy Records are the rare label who have managed to carve out a successful niche – in all things heavy. Stoner boogie, doom metal, psychedelia, biker rock, they’ve got you covered. Their Xmas 2020 mixtape – a free download at Bandcamp – is an obvious ploy to get you to stock up on their vinyl. And practically everything they put out is worth owning on vinyl, as this playlist confirms.

There’s an insane amount of music here, seventeen tracks. Some of these acts are well known, others less so, and many have received coverage here. Take the Goners, who mash up psychedelic garage rock with metal riffs and whose album Good Mourning recently got the thumbs-up. They’re represented by the album’s most bizarre track, Down and Out, a blend of Ventures and early Iron Maiden with a spacy interlude for horns. Go figure.

Here Lies Man, an Antibalas spinoff who metalize Afrobeat, open the mix with I Told You (You Shall Die), a killer minor-key number that could be a heavier Budos Band with a mellotron. Lake, by Spelljammer, has brisk fuzz-and-wah bookending the surprisingly slinky sludge in between. Warish‘s hammering Say to Please looks back to Queens of the Stone Age, while Deathchant‘s Holy Roller is a surreal mashup of heavy 70s boogie, screamo and hip-hop.

Alator’s Lost and Never Found has vintage Sabbath gloom and catchiness, plus a cool funeral organ solo. Biker rock band the Death Wheelers earned a good Halloween month review with their latest album, whose title track is the chugging faux-bikesploitation theme Divine Filth. Death Is Coming, by R.I.P., is a more 70s-oriented throwback to Bon Scott-era AC/DC and Judas Priest.

Hellfire‘s Victims moves forward in time about seven or eight years to the new wave of British heavy metal and Iron Maiden, whose catchiest, poppiest side they emulate. Headbang, by Rapid Tears, and the Mopptops’ Our lives are pretty standard-issue Nuggets garage nostalgia at slightly higher volume

The ersatz Hendrix of Randy Holden’s Blue My Mind appears on the reissue of the former Blue Cheer guitarist’s extremely rare 1970 vinyl debut, Population II. First State Bank’s lysergically multitracked Mr. Sun and Debb Johnson’s politically volatile heavy soul single Dancing in the Ruin are also 70s rarities digitized and resurrected on the latest volume in the popular Brown Acid compilation series – they’re up to eleven now, just like Spinal Tap. And Gypsy, by Indianapolis psychedelic band Ice, is the strangest rediscovery here, a bizarre riff-rock tune with hints of the Moody Blues and the Move. Riding Easy Records reissued their lone, similarly surreal 1970 album, The Ice Age, last June.

Thomas V. Jager, frontman of Monolord, contributes The Bitter End, a lo-fi gothic ballad evoking a well-known Animals hit. The album’s final cut seems to be a stoner joke: no spoilers. Download and enjoy.

Starkly Haunting, Richly Orchestral Metal From Volur

Volur’s music is stark yet orchestral, relentlessly gloomy yet adrenalizing. They sound like no other band in the world, blending black metal, Nordic folk and psychedelic 70s art-rock. The trio have the starkness of early ELO, the theatrics of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, guy/girl harmonies and grimly mythological lyrics that unwind slowly over terse, purposeful drums and layers of stygian bass. The lead instruments are Lucas Gadke’s bass and Laura C. Bates’ violin, creating a persistently raw, haunting presence no matter how ornate the overdubs grow. They like long songs. Pretty much everything on their killer new album Death Cult – streaming at Bandcamp – is in the eight to twelve minute range.

This is one of those records that’s best experienced as a whole, lying on the floor with a good pair of headphones. The group open hypnotically with Inviolate Grove, rising slowly to a plaintively orchestral sway, hitting a wounded, anthemic riff and then cutting loose with drummer Justin Ruppel’s tricky, math-y rhythm and a thicket of machete picking.

The violin hits a searing peak as the second track, Dead Moon gathers force with a slow, steady, heroic theme, Bates’ avenger-spirit vocals roaring eerily in the depths of the mix. The album’s mightiest epic is the title cut, starting with a menacing tritone and a morose string interlude that could be Bartok. Migthty peaks and muted moments with what sounds like throat-singing by dead monks paired against nimbly melodic bass eventually descend into shrieking disintegration, only to return with a vengeance. The violin solo afterward will rip a hole in your skull.

An artfully arranged baroque chorale, a harrowingly circling action film theme of sorts and scorching wah-wah bass all figure into the closing number, Reverend Queen. We need more bands as fearlessly individualistic and unpredictably interesting as Volur.

Blue Oyster Cult on the Highway Out of Hell

The Man and the Boy pushed the shopping cart slowly down the empty Road. Inside, under the two solar panels the Man had found at an abandoned lumber yard, were their clothes and a bunch of canned goods. It was all they had room for. He’d hooked up the panels to his phone, not because there was any phone service anymore, or anyone he knew to call if he could, but for the music on it. He’d found a cable splitter in the burnt-out rubble of a phone store so that each could listen with both ears. The Man didn’t often do that: he had to listen for other people, to be ready on a second’s notice to get off the Road and cover up.

“What does this remind you of?” the Man asked the Boy, hopefully. The song that was playing was This Ain’t the Summer of Love, from the album Blue Oyster Cult Live at Rock of Ages Festival, July 30th 2016. You could stream it at Spotify before the lockdowners had shut that service down. And then the whole web went down. And then most of the world. The Man and the Boy hadn’t seen people in a month.

“The verse sounds like Steve Wynn. The chorus sounds like the Stones,” the Boy replied.

He’d learned well!

The Man cursed himself for not loading more old favorites onto the phone: almost everything was new, or relatively new, from since the time he’d bought it. All the same, he’d tried to construct a history of music from the albums and tracks he had. When the two first hit the Road, he’d made sure to give the Boy a lesson every day. Too bad there wasn’t any Bach organ music. The Boy had suffered in silence through the St. Matthew Passion and the Klavierubung on piano. But he seemed to dig Rachmaninoff, and Shostakovich, especially the String Quartet No. 8 which the Man had forgotten was on the phone. Played by an obscure quartet, but still plenty chilling.

Trouble was, there was hardly any hip-hop, no country, not much blues, and trying to interest the Boy in jazz turned out to be a lost cause.

The Boy liked metal.

Good thing there was plenty of that, starting with a weird bunch of bands playing Sabbath covers and a solid Metallica mix. So far they’d burned through Q5, Black Swan, Wovenhand, Heavy Temple, Solace and Firebreather, and they were on BOC now.

The Man had left all his records, including the first ten BOC albums, behind at the house, and he resolved to fix that after they got off the Road, further south where it was warmer. He’d find another house, hopefully with no decaying corpses in it, another abandoned Home Depot, get some more panels, and rig up a real stereo. And build a still, and find a truck with a stick shift that would start if you pushed it fast enough. And maybe someday they’d go back to the old house, running on alcohol since all of the gas stations were empty now, and collect all the vinyl.

That was down the Road, though. Right now they had to get south enough to where they wouldn’t freeze to death if it snowed. That would take a couple of months, and it was already September.

“What’s up with the can of beer?” the Boy wanted to know. The song was The Golden Age of Leather.

“That’s a toast. And something for the band to engage the crowd with. You remember when we went to see Metallica, how people would raise their lighters? Same deal but with beer.”

“I don’t like this,” the Boy told the Man. “They play the same thing over and over again.”

The Man didn’t tell the Boy how people who were high when they heard this liked it that way. “Wait til you hear the original version, when we get situated and get all my vinyl down with us.”

“What song does this sound like?” the Boy wanted to know. In an off-key falsetto, he sang a famous 60s pop riff: “I love the ‘something, something’ she wears.”

“That’s the Beach Boys,” the Man replied. “You like the Beach Boys?” he asked, quizzically.

“I hate the Beach Boys. The Beach Girls,” the Boy sneered.

The Man was hopeful. The Boy rarely spoke anymore. Any sign of engagement with the world was a good thing. Everything had been looking up until his mother had taken the vaccine, and six months later, the immune deficiency had reared its ugly, inevitable head, and then she was dead.

As the Man and the Boy reached a hill, the blackened shell of a hospital stood stark against the sky, over the trees. First the lockdowners had vaccinated the doctors and the nurses to kill them off so they could use the hospitals as death camps. Because the National Guard had rebelled and refused to vaccinate people, the Australians had been called in. The lockdowners had shut down the food industry there, so the only way an Australian could eat was to join Trace and Track, or the vaccine army and go to the UK or the US. That’s when the Resistance started burning hospitals and liberating everyone who’d been locked up there, accused of carrying the virus. But it was too late. They’d all been vaccinated, at gunpoint, and they died off fast.

Apppropriately enough, the song that was playing was Burning For You. “You like this one?” the Man asked the Boy.

“It’s ok. What’s a b-side?”

“It’s the flip side of a single. You remember those 45 records your mom had? You know, the ones with the big hole in the middle? Those are singles. The b-side is the song on the other side. It’s not usually as good as the one on the a-side.” The Man kicked himself. Talking about his dead wife was something they’d come to avoid. He hoped the Boy wouldn’t go back into his shell.

“You wait til you hear the album version. Killer guitar solo. That’s Buck Dharma. The rest of the band here is mostly a bunch of replacements, but he’s one of the original guys. Him and the singer. Eric Bloom,” he explained.

And silently resolved to turn the Boy on to the album version of OD’d on Life Itself, too. That was the next song. This version didn’t have that insane peak, where the lead guitar comes spiraling out of the bridge. Here it was haphazard, jagged, not bad, but not something that would rip your face off the first time you heard it.

The Road
Oh, the unwindingness of it all
As if from Barraclough to the pubs of Ulster
A metaphor, yea
A simile
A conundrum

Whoah, stop right there.

Where did that awful Irish poetry come from? Nix that.

Now where were we?

The band were five tracks into their set by now and the song was a relatively new one, Harvest Moon. A backbeat tune. The Boy hummed along with the riff to All Along the Watchtower, then played air guitar when the twin solo kicked in. This kid had good ears, the Man reminded himself.

ME262 was the next song. The Man didn’t say anything about how it was on the slow side, or how the cynicism had been reduced to phony barrelhouse piano and doot-doot backing vocals. Just wait til you hear the original, he promised the Boy, silently.

The Boy did air guitar again for Buck’s Boogie. “It’s kind of like ZZ Top, huh?” he asked.

“Blue Oyster Cult blows away anything ZZ Top ever did,” the Man snorted. Still, this had gotten the kid’s attention. Good thing there was a bunch of BOC on the phone.

The Boy scrunched up his face and bobbed his head for Lips in the Hills. A deep cut with the creepy feel of the band’s classic 70s era, the Man thought. Forty-five years after they started, still going strong. If only I last that long.

Then Came the Last Days of May was next. About halfway through the first verse, a phone rang. The man whipped off his headphones. “Did you hear that? he asked the Boy.

“Yeah,” the Boy said, suddenly energized. “I didn’t think there was phone service anymore.”

The Man picked up the line. No signal. He restarted the song, and sure enough, there was a ringtone on it. Somebody in the band had forgotten to turn his phone off before he went onstage.

The two fell silent, through a weird, spacy Richie Castellano synth solo and the point where drummer Jules Radino and bassist Danny Miranda took the song doublespeed as they always did. The end of the guitar solo, the band really cooking by now, jarred the two road warriors out of their funk.

“Cool solo,” the Boy remarked. “Is this an old song?”

“Really old,” the Man replied. “First album. They always played it this way, real fast, when I used to go see them.”

“Do you think there will ever be concerts again?” the Boy asked.

“Oh yeah,” the Man responded, projecting as much casual confidence as he could. “As soon as we meet other people…”

“…Who aren’t cannibals,” the Boy interrupted.

“Yeah, who aren’t cannibals,” the Man concurred, picturing the headless infant cooked over a spit that they’d stumbled over a couple of weeks before. That was why they had to be careful, to keep one ear on the music and the other on the Road.

On their earbuds, the band had launched into Godzilla. It wasn’t that heavy, the Man told himself; the Boy picked up on the Led Zep quote. The apple obviously hadn’t fallen very far.

Don’t Fear the Reaper was the last song, a long, surprisingly fresh version. “Are you afraid of dying?” the Boy asked the Man.

“Nah,” the Man replied, hoping the blitheless in his voice would rub off. “But we aren’t going to die. We’re going to get off this Road and pick up where we left off. The old normal. No New Abnormal, right?”

“No New Abnormal, yeah,” the Boy replied. On the Boy’s lips, the Man glimpsed a flicker of a smile.

[Apologies to Cormac McCarthy, whose book would have been a lot better without all the extraneous attempts at poetry.]

A Deliciously Venomous, Relevent Metal Epic From Fortid

Icelandic band Fortid play towering, darkly elegant classical-tinged minor-key metal. They love their venomous chromatics, they don’t waste notes – an underrated talent in this kind of music – and they steer clear of cliches. Their new album World Serpent is streaming at Bandcamp. Rebellion against fascists hell-bent on world domination is as ancient as metal themes get, but this one seems to be deeply rooted in the here and now – see track seven.

Ominous string synth orchestration builds to a gloomy waltz, the the spiky guitars kick in and the band launch into Awakening, over a slow, crunchy, brooding 6/8 sway with icy, watery vocals from frontman/guitarist Einar Eldur Thorberg. After an orchestral lull, there’s a tightly maniacal tremolo-picked assault with Kristján Einar Guðmundsson’s doublebass drums going full steam. Are we having fun yet?

The second track is Controlled Patterned Mental Process – sound familiar? A symphony of guitars tap and hammer furiously over a series of creepy chromatic riffs as this dystopic scenario unfolds. “We’re lost to self-destruction, infected humankind,” Thorberg bellows. As the music descends to a plaintive art-rock interlude, bass rises to the surface, then Thorberg builds a tantalizingly aching solo before the crush returns.

The chords reach condor-wing proportions and resonate throughout the vengeful anthem Insignificant is the Wormking’s Throne – metalspeak for “Microsoft, GAVI and Facebook are doomed.” Them the smoke from the battlefield grows denser and the rhythms get trickier in Supressed Opposition.

Son of a Barren Land has more contrast, between a dark folk theme in heavy disguise, an anvil chorus and a forlorn cinematic interlude peppered with machinegun fire. The obvious hit here is Pandemic, a grimly gleeful, steady, brisk doom metal number.

Beyond the Grips of Odium is a viking stampede with a chilly postrock edge and some of the album’s most haunting, unexpected changes. With its twin guitar leads and fist-pumping vocals, Perfect Annihilation is the big stadium singalong here. They bring the album full circle with Last Line of Defense – it’s not clear how this battle ends.

You’ll see this on the best albums of 2021 page here once we get to December. And we will – we’re going to win this one.

Ferocious Dreampop and Metal From Imha Tarikat

Imha Tarikat play a venomously, envelopingly melodic, reverb-drenched blend of black metal, punk and dark dreampop. Frontman/guitarist Kerem Yilmaz bellows in German; he doesn’t go for the pigsnorting cliches so many other bands fall into. If immersive, full-throttle minor-key guitar is your thing, this is your jam. The group’s new album Sternenberster is streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track is titled Ende, appropriately enough. It sets the stage for the rest of the record: a wall of guitars, machete tremolo-picking, machinegunning rhythms and a dreampop influence that reflects the gritty, assaultive swirl of My Bloody Valentine instead of the icy delicacy of Lush.

The stampede, the punch of the bass and the tremolo-picking get even faster in Sturm der Erlösung. By saying they slow things down a little for the punk anthem Kreuzpunkt der Schicksale says a lot about how hard this crew usually hit – and they take it doublespeed at the end.

Wailing up and down on the guitar strings relentlessly – Yilmaz must melt a lot of picks – they segue into Brand am Firmament, a vortex of dreampop and black metal with a southwestern gothic theme buried in the mix. The New Order outro is a trip.

They shift between MVB maelstrom and pretty straight-ahead punk in Klimax Downpour, with a rare, wailing guitar solo. The wall of tremolo-picking gets denser and more hypnotic in Aufstieg, built around a catchy ascending riff. They go back to thrash-punk stomp and torrential atmosphere in the album’s title track and close the record with a brisk, arpeggio-fueled classical piano theme.

Elephant Tree’s Stygian, Smoldering Set in Brooklyn Last Year Immortalized on a New Album

The Day of Doom Live series – featuring the bands who played last year’s festival of dark psychedelic rock at St. Vitus in Greenpoint – continues today with a crushing set by Elephant Tree, streaming at Bandcamp. The British four-piece have more of a sense of humor than most of the bands who play dead-serious heavy psychedelic sounds: listen closely for a couple of great WTF moments.  Said it before, time to say it again: more bands should make live albums, and this is a prime example why.

The groups on the bill weren’t all doom metal acts, either, although Elephant Tree’s stygian fuzztone attack is more evilly chromatic than, say, Horsehunter. They open with Aphotic Blues, which isn’t particularly bluesy but it is anthemic and and hypnotic, the twin guitars of Jack Townley and John Slattery over the heavy sway of bassist Peter Holland and drummer Sam Hart.

The band follow a similar pattern – octaves and simple, sharp blues riffs – in Dawn, with a couple of fat, sustained guitar solos and a goofy wah bass break. The riffage gets slurrier and the guitar strings bend achingly in Wither, down to a bass-and-drums interlude that could be Joy Division at halfspeed.

The textures get fuzzier and denser in Surma, with its downtuned bass intro. Then the group roar and shriek but also get surprisingly quiet for a minimalist bass solo midway through In Suffering.

Likewise, they shift from fuzztone crunch to spare, gloomy folk noir and finally some icy spacerock in the longest song of the set, Attack of the Altaica. They drift through the end of the set with the windswept art-rock waltz Circles, Slattery’s piano awash in a haze of reverb. Much as this is plenty enjoyable to listen to on headphones, wouldn’t it be great to be able to actually be at St. Vitus to feel the bass rattling the roof? In that sweet spot about ten feet past the sound booth, along the wall where the bands stash their gear? Are we really going to resign ourselves to raising a generation of kids who will never experience a blissful moment like that?

Get Lost in Domkraft’s Day of Doom Live Album

The latest in the Day of Doom Live series – immortalizing the performances at last year’s festival of dark psychedelic rock at St. Vitus in Greenpoint – is Domkraft’s searing set, streaming at Bandcamp. This what separates real musicians from wannabes. Anybody can sound like a million bucks in the studio, but onstage, you have to bring it, and Domkraft don’t disappoint. As with the other bands who played the festival, their influences range beyond metal to sledgehammering postrock and swirilng dreampop.

They get epic right from the start with The Rift, a hypnotic, mostly one-chord jam punctuated by hypnotic, insistent upward waves, guitarist Martin Widholm slowly dialing in the wah to make things even trippier. Bassist/frontman Martin Wegeland’s downtuned axe buzzes behind Widholm’s uneasy resonance as they launch into Through the Ashes, which is more doomy and chromatic, with a gloomy interlude where the guitar drops out midway through.

The tasty, evil riff that opens the studio version of Watchers gets lost here: this is more about dense head-bobbing atmospherics as drummer Anders Dahlgren drives it into doublespeed. But the version of Flood here has more menace and textural bite than the original.

Meltdown of the Orb is the set’s most hypnotic moment, like the early Black Angels at their loudest. They close with Landslide, slowly bringing up the eerie opening riff and then hitting a vikings-in-space groove in 6/8 time.

It should go without saying that nobody wants to live in a world where shows like this are against the law: just ask Domkraft, who come from Sweden, which never locked down this past year. Time to get busy, people: the US Supreme Court handed down a temporary injunction overturning New York dictator Andrew Cuomo’s ban on religious gatherings. Concerts – the kind outside of houses of worship – should be our next order of business!

Horsehunter’s Crushingly Psychedelic Set at Last Year’s Day of Doom Festival Immortalized on a New Live Album

In a stroke of genius, the organizers of the Day of Doom Festival at St. Vitus in Brooklyn last year decided to record it. They’re now releasing the recordings; the first was a wickedly psychedelic set by Summoner. The latest one in the series is Horsehunter’s Day of Doom Live, streaming at Bandcamp. These albums’ sound quality is consistently excellent, no surprise considering the venue’s tremendous PA system.

As these records remind, not all the bands at the festival were straight-up doom metal: the loosely connecting thread was dark psychedelia. Horsehunter have throat-shredding vocals and build immersive, dynamically shifting atmospheres that brings to mind early 80s no wave bands like the Ex and the dreampop of My Bloody Valentine as much as any kind of metal. For a band who can be dangerously loud, they’re sometimes shockingly quiet.

There are only four tracks here: only their first number, Witchery, is less than ten minutes long. They open that one with feedback shrieking from guitarists’ Michael Harutyunyan and Dan Harris’ Flying V and Les Paul, bassist Himi Stringer and drummer Nick Cron building to a hypnotic, enveloping gallop and then a series of bludgeoningly tricky rhythms.

Bring Out Yer Dead, the first of the epics, shifts from a spare, funereal, circling riff to a long series of variations on gritty, thick cinderblock chords. They bring it full circle, hauntingly.

Nuclear Rapture has allusive Sabbath chromatics over an undulating mathrock-tinged sway, an unexpectedly minimalist, low-key funeral march midway through, a tantalizingly brief thicket of machete tremolo-picking and finally a big payoff with a completely haphazard guitar solo.

Decaying for a bit to more sheets of feedback, they segue from there into a practically seventeen-minute version of Stoned to Death to close the set. This is where the doom wafts in, from a syncopated Electric Funeral riff, to a spine-pounding doublespeed break, crazed exchanges of guitar shredding and tarpit atmospherics.

This blog has been agitating for years for artists to release more live albums, considering that it’s infinitely cheaper to record a show than rent studio time. Who else had the presence of mind to record a live set at St. Vitus, or any other good metal venue? Let’s hear it.

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.

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.