Monthly Archives: January 2015

Fred Mills: George Clinton & the Birth of Funkadelic

funkadelic

Once upon a time, in a funky galaxy far far away, there was… Funkadelic. Years later, in April of 2002, a future BLURT editor would talk with the legendary founding member, George Clinton, about how the group came to be and the circumstances surrounding debut album Funkadelic, released in 1970. The interview was conducted via telephone from Denver one evening following a Clinton recording session and was subsequently published in Detroit’s Metro Times newspaper. What follows below is an extended version with additional interview content never before published.

BY FRED MILLS

“If you will suck my soul

I will lick your funky emotions…” (- from “Mommy, What’s A Funkadelic?”)

On the eighty day God inhaled deeply and, amid a bloozy haze of Hendrixian goo, fuck-throb bass, nappy harp gulps and lysergically altered vocals, created Funkadelic.

By 1970 the age of Aquarius had been machine-gunned by Manson, Altamont, ghetto riots and the squirrelly little cocksucker they called Tricky Dick. That year would generate its share of not-insubstantial missives — Band of Gypsys, Morrison Hotel, Fun House, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, etc. — but perhaps no other LP captured the underground vibe quite so perfectly as Funkadelic’s self-titled debut.

Funkadelic was the brainchild of George Clinton, a North Carolina-born, New Jersey-bred leader of doo-wop outfit The Parliaments who’d moved to Detroit in ’64 to work for Motown’s songwriting factory while trying to land a deal for his group. Eventually the Parliaments did taste success with their 1967 soul hit “(I Wanna) Testify,” but ironically, Clinton was about to get his consciousness raised. Scarred by the New Jersey and Detroit riots of ’67, seared by Jimi Hendrix’s super spade psychedelia, and smarter by at least a barrel-hit or two of orange sunshine, he began plotting a musical agenda that was uncompromising, asymmetrical, and thoroughly freaky.

“Yeah, it was all of that,” says Clinton now, with a knowing chuckle. “See, we was leaving Motown. ‘I Wanna Testify,’ you know, after having been singing for years, just about the time we got our first hit record the whole industry was changing. So we had to make a quick turnabout ‘cos the rock ‘n’ roll was coming out again – which was the music I had listened to in school. Blues was my parents’ music. So I had to go through that again, you know? We just said, well, we’ll do the music that was the nasty music I listened to in school. We’ll do that funky music, we’ll do that nasty music!”

This was born Funkadelic. Recruited into the fold – the Parliaments at the time included vocalists Clinton, Fuzzy Haskins, Grady Thomas, Calvin Simon and Ray Davis, plus guitarist William Nelson – were guitarists Eddie Hazel and Tawl Ross (changing instruments, Nelson became “Billy Bass”), organist Mikey Atkins and drummer Tiki Fulwood. Nelson came up with the dead-on descriptive name “Funkadelic” for their so-called “nasty music,” and soon enough the band had its mojo working in earnest on the Detroit scene, sharing management and concert bills with the Amboy Dukes, Stooges and MC5. (Clinton: “We all had the same agency, Diversified Management Agency, DMA. It was called ‘The Bad Boys Of Ann Arbor.’ We all played, tried to get John Sinclair out of jail…”)

Although the group’s original home Motown was still pretty conservative at this point, Detroit circa ’69 was decidedly not. Clinton recalls having “the best of both worlds” for the band, booking the Parliaments one night in a soul palace like the Twenty Grand and Funkadelic the next night into the rock venues of the day – the Birmingham, the Palladium, Grande Ballroom. (In fact, a powerful document of the era exists by way of ’96 CD Funkadelic Live, recorded in Rochester, Michigan, on Sept. 12, 1971.)

Soon enough the newly-christened Funkadelic went into the studio to record for upstart label Westbound Records, founded by Detroit record distributor Armen Boladian. Prior contractual problems, in fact, actually prevented the Parliaments from recording under their name at the time. As Clinton explains it, “We couldn’t record as Parliament so we started freakin’ out as Funkadelic, dropping acid. The first album, two days, really, just went in the studio and stayed in there for two whole days. We took all the vamps and things we did on the stage and just went from vamp to vamp, did everything we could think of.”

The debut Funkadelic single “Music For My Mother” was released that summer, followed by “I’ll Bet You” (an old Parliaments track funked-up and rerecorded) with both 45s doing respectably on the R&B charts. But early the following year Funkadelic appeared in stores as Westbound #2000, and the group became an underground sensation.

Clinton, operating in a songwriting and production capacity (he also sang lead vocals on two cuts), had marshaled his funkateers along with several moonlighting Motown session players to commence broadcasting directly from the freak zone. Any doubts as to whether the Clinton crew had turned on and tuned in were dispelled by Funkadelic‘s opening cut “Mommy, What’s A Funkadelic?,” all nine bluesy, sensual, LSD-gobbling minutes of it:

“I am Funkadelic, dedicated to the feeling of good

Let me play with your emotions, for nothing is good unless you play with it

Fly on baby

It’s called Funkadelic music

It will blow your funky mind.”

Funkadelic early 3

Explains Clinton, “The concept would become ‘free your mind and your ass will follow,’ like the second album says. Because we were late in the psychedelic thing, we had to do it twice as much as anybody else had did it. We had to overdo it because we was late! Because, you know, Jimi Hendrix, when he was Jimmy James and the Flames, with King Curtis, the Isley Brothers – once we heard those things [with him], we said, ‘Aw shit. We’s late. Let’s catch up!’ When we played with the Vanilla Fudge one time, we heard the sound: ‘Okay, that’s what it is!’ Went out and bought a whole ton of amps and just turned ‘em up and played the blues, played funky grooves, and talked shit! [laughs]

“Eddie had learned guitar pretty good, the blues. And [as the main songwriter] I was just humming in the microphone and they would play, following basically whatever I was humming. [Goes “mmmm-muuumm-hmmmm”] We’d just let ‘em trip, and the engineers would freak it out. People like Martha and the Vandellas would come by and we’d have them in the background singing, and they didn’t know what they was singing! They was like, ‘What the hell are y’all doing?’ We were playing our ass off!”

The man ain’t kidding. From the aforementioned “Mommy…” and the jazz-blues psychedelic chain-gang grooves of “Music For My Mother” to the freaked-up soul of “I Bet You” and the wigged-out sassy funk template “I Got A Thing, You Got A Thing, Everybody Got A Thing,” Funkadelic broke significant new ground. By today’s digital standards it may sound primitive, yet its raw immediacy and head-warping sonics outweighs any technical considerations. (Clinton: “One [radio station] said, ‘If you would take the airplanes out of your songs we could play ‘em!’ You know, all the tape loops and [mimics weird sound] ‘mmwwhhmm’!”)

Lyrically, too, there was an undeniable cohesiveness afoot that, intended or not, marked Funkadelic as a concept album whose signifiers planted open-minded listeners squarely at the intersection of Woodstock Ave. and Watts Blvd. Clinton’s proto-raps in both “Mommy…” and its album-closing counterpart “What Is Soul” were both slyly subversive and funny as a muhfuh, particularly the former’s autobiographical thrust (“I recall when I left a little town in North Carolina/ I tried to escape this music… But I had no groove, hehhehheh…”) and the latter’s itemizing of what exactly constitutes “soul” (“a hamhock in your cornflakes… a joint rolled in toilet paper… rusty ankles and ashy kneecaps… Soul is you, big mama!”).

Meanwhile, “Music For My Mother” is a narrative about consciousness raising in which the protagonist hears “something like raw funk” while traveling down South and, in the aftermath of this revelation, is left triumphantly and defiantly chanting, James Brown-style, “Say it loud! I’m funky and I’m proud!” And in “I Got A Thing” the combined counterculture/black power interface is made explicit: “You don’t drink what I drink/ You don’t smoke what I smoke/ You don’t think like I think/ You don’t joke like I joke/ Everybody got a thing/ When we get together, doin’ our thing/ In order to help each other/ In order to help your brother.”

Funkadelic early 4

Clinton acknowledges that his early schooling as a songwriter for Motown came in handy when it came time to craft his conceptual piece. “In the very beginning, yeah, I was writing at Motown first and they was like very strict of how lyrics had to be, to make sense and tell stories and things. By the time we started doing [Funkadelic] it was puns and nonsensical, stream of consciousness – we’d do all of that and it was very intentional. Even if a song started off like that, I would make it general, with the population, into our people or a very feeling type thing, where you could emotionally feel it. We did a few of ‘em like that, you know, love songs. But mostly it was like – just funkin’! We was in love with the funk at the time. Very stream of consciousness. A lot of it had to do with the fact that we was stuck on ‘stupid’ and we would try trickery! [laughs]

“Basically, I was talking about doing a concept that would last from then on, you know, right ‘til now, today. That we was gonna embrace the funk the way rock ‘n’ roll had been embraced, and we was never gonna change it. No matter what the industry, which was always changing the names – R&B, to ‘urban,’ all of that. We did funk and we kept it that way! Right through to the Parliaments, the Mother Ship and all of that. But right from the very beginning, we started off – because Jamerson and them, you know, Motown, they called us ‘The Young Funk Brothers’ – Billy, Eddie, Tiki, Bernie, Tawl… you know what I’m saying? The Young Funk Brothers. So we kept it like that. The concept of funky music as the thing.

(Concept or not, some of the folks involved with the first couple of Funkadelic albums didn’t necessarily get with it, for as Clinton points out engineers Russ and Ralph Terrana didn’t want their names listed on the records and would soon move over to the presumably saner territory of Motown where they became the label’s main engineers. Likewise with some of the studio musicians the group enlisted: “They didn’t want to be connected with it because it was so crazy! They was going on out and saying, ‘I hate that!’”)

Just to place the album in its proper context: it would be another year before Marvin Gaye released What’s Going On or Sly & the Family Stone issued There’s A Riot Goin’ On. In short, the revolution wasn’t gonna be televised – it was about to be funkadelicized.

Funk book

In his 2001 consumer-guide encyclopedia Funk, journalist Dave Thompson rates Funkadelic a “10” and describes it as “a shattering blend of R&B sensibilities and acid soaked rock effects. The production treats the studio like one giant toy box and the feedback is a living creature. Play it loud.” Likewise, author and noted funk deejay Rickey Vincent, in his 1996 book also called Funk (which contains a foreword penned by Clinton), calls the album “a blues-rock classic that serves to introduce the Funkadelic concept with perfect clarity… [It captures] the gritty realism and urban blight of black rock in 1970.”

It didn’t matter if you purchased your albums from a shiny suburban record mart or out of a dusty bin tucked away in the corner of some urban wig store. Funkadelic, from the mysterious record sleeve depicting a lone black face kaleidoscoped into eight stoned stares to the brain-waffling, stanky matrix of sound within, made the connection regardless of race, creed, size of bellbottoms or kink of hair. Yours truly, an aspiring young teenage hippie exiled deep in the redneck south, was so seared by the album that I can still conjure up every telltale ka-chunk of the eight-track tape’s channel changes as I listened to it over and over while sprawled across the front seat of my mom’s old blue Buick.

As both the Thompson and Vincent funk books point out, the album also extended its reach into the hip-hop era. While most observers are quick to cite Parliament or solo Clinton tracks (say “woof!” if you haven’t heard an “Atomic Dog” sample) as rap DNA, Funkadelic’s influence is undeniable. The Beastie Boys and Ice-T sampled “I Bet You”; De La Soul and Kool G. Rap tagged “Mommy…”; and a zillion rappers including 2 Pac, The D.O.C. and Ice Cube have leaned heavily on “Good Old Music.”

It’s the equivalent of a classic jazz album, providing inspiration to generation after generation of musicians who find themselves (not just) knee-deep in its hypnotic grooves, irresistible beats, whacked-out vocals and expansive arrangements. It’s also every bit as classic a soul record as platters cut a half-decade earlier, telling a story via edgy, athletic vocal performances. And like the most groundbreaking psychedelic tomes, it has the capacity to peel back one’s inner eyelid, shove the listener through the looking glass and allow one to view the world through altered-state refraction.

Funkadelic_free_your_mind_g

George Clinton’s subsequent, estimable exploits and accomplishments aside, this album was a genuine vehicle towards enlightenment. Funkadelic might’ve titled its next album Free Your Mind… And Your Ass Will Follow, but anyone who heard Funkadelic first had already been delivered.

 

 

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns 666.5

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.5

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the fifth installment in our latest genre study, with Dawnbringer, Electric Wizard, King Diamond, Atriarch, At The Gates, Godflesh and more. Go here to read the hellish first episode, Pt. 666.1, or the second, Pt. 666.2, or the third, Pt. 666.3, or the fourth, Pt. 666.4—if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

2014 was a good year for metal, with a ton of strong records from artists young and old. Rather than sum up the best of the best, we’ve elected to keep on with the latest releases, which, considering how good most of these LPs are, still gives you new goodies to add to your last-minute shopping list.

Dawnbringer

Chicago metal master Chris Black already put out one of 2014’s best heavy rock records with High Spirits’ You Are Here, but he apparently wasn’t done. As Dawnbringer, Black ups his game again with Night of the Hammer (Profound Lore) (album cover artwork is above, listen HERE) the fourth LP from his main (or at least best-known) project. Fielding a classic metal sound somewhere between late 70s Sabbath and early Iron Maiden, Black expands his thematic reach beyond the romantic confessionals of his High Spirits work, taking on war (“The Burning of Home”), mythology (the waltz-time “Xiphias”), vengeance (“Damn You”) and isolation (“Alien”). He seems most at home, though, with a series of death-fixated horror stories, riffing his way through the creepiness of the King Diamond tribute “Funeral Child,” “One-Eyed Sister” and the powerhouse “Hands of Death.” Regardless of his obsessions, though, Black always maintains the strength of his tunesmanship, without stinting on the heavy. As filtered through his plainspoken but instantly appealing voice and the triple guitar attack of himself, Bill Palko and Matt Johnsen, there simply may not be a finer melody maker in all of metal. Night of the Hammer isn’t quite the mindblower of Dawnbringer’s masterpiece In the Lair of the Sun God, but it’s the essence of Black’s vision distilled into one amazing album.

ElectricWizard

Doom titan Electric Wizard returns from another one of its (no doubt debauched) sabbaticals with Time to Die (Witchfinder/Spinefarm). Depending on your perspective, this is either a throwback or a return to form, as the band goes back to the slow, pounding, acid-drenched horror of its early days. There’s not a lot of the more uptempo rock & roll tunes the Dorset quartet has been experimenting with the past few records – just bad-trip agony translated into Hammer horror devil worship. Check out “Lucifer’s Slaves,” “Sadio Witch” and the awesome “I am Nothing” (watch video HERE) for some deliciously occult kicks. If song titles like “Sabbath Hex,” “The Devil’s Whip” and “Demon Blues” say anything, Orange Goblin shares a similar taste for B-movie esoterics on its latest album Back From the Abyss (Candlelight) (listen HERE). The London quartet’s cosmic biker doom sounds recharged here, with a bluesier cast than it’s managed since its early days, giving the riffs powering “Mythical Knives,” “Heavy Wears the Crown” and “Bloodzilla” a weight beyond amplifier settings. Also, a tip o’ the tentacle for adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpiece “A Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

 

From its name, you’d expect The Flight of Sleipnir (above) to be obsessed with Norse mythology. But on V (Napalm), the acid doom duo seems less concerned with specific tales of Odin’s eight-legged steed than, as its Facebook page puts it, “a musical interpretation of the writings of poets long since gone.” That leaves the field pretty wide open, a situation the band takes advantage of by moving from ethereal float to shrieking pound with a flick of the mane. “Gullveig,” “Archaic Rites” and “Sidereal Course” soar and crawl, sing and crunch, spiking powerhouse thud with undulating acoustica and casting a cloudy spell that makes it unclear whether it will help or harm.

idesOWNW_cover_screen

Ides of Gemini gets even more enigmatic on Old World New Wave (Neurot), delving into vintage mythology from several cultures in its quest for perfect doom. Both heavier and more psychedelic than singer Sera Timms’ former outfit Black Math Horseman, IoG gets metaphysical on haunted but surprisingly beautiful doomgazers like “Seer of Circassia,” “The Adversary” and “White Hart.” Boston newcomer Wormwood, however, eschews the more psychedelic side of doom on its self-titled debut EP (Magic Bullet) (listen HERE). “Hollow Black Eyes” and “I’d Rather Die” elevate depressive sludge over trippy atmospherics to evil effect.

 

On the more extreme side, veteran death metal act At the Gates (above) has finally released its long-awaited reunion album At War With Reality (Century Media). Perfectly balancing traditional death with the melodic thrash the Swedish quintet exploited so well on its classic Slaughter of the Soul nearly 20 years ago, the band sounds revitalized. Axemen Andreas and Jonas Björler furiously riff off each other, drummer Adrian Erlandsson bashes like an extreme metal Keith Moon and singer Tomas Lindberg wails with the inchoate power of the truly enraged. Even better, the band’s song-authoring mojo is in full flight – “The Circular Ruins,” “Eater of Gods” and “The Head of the Hydra” make all the metalcore and deathcore upstarts who claim the group as inspiration sound like petulant children. As with Carcass last year, At the Gates proves that the old dogs still hunt (and rip and tear flesh).

SpectralLore

On the black metal front, the big news is III (I, Voidhanger), the latest slab from Spectral Lore. Or it would be, if the one-man-band didn’t hail from Greece and release records on the offshoot of an Italian label with no U.S. distribution. Multi-instrumentalist/composer Ayloss owns an ambitious sweep, leavening his mournful aggression with widescreen passages of prog, classic metal, space rock and acoustic work that sounds like a gothic take on James Blackshaw. With a passion for melody as strong as his jones for dissonance, Ayloss swings between savage and serene, raging and rocking, teethgnashingly brutal and startlingly beautiful. The record’s 90 minutes is a true pleasure to get lost in.

Godflesh

The return of Godflesh came as no real surprise, as brain trust Justin Broaderick’s metalgaze project Jesu seemed to have run out of steam. What is somewhat of a shock is how fresh and exciting A World Lit Only By Fire (Avalanche) (listen HERE) is. Broaderick’s six-string shreck and angry bark hit like boxing gloves hiding bricks, while G.C. Green’s ribcage-rattling basslines and the ice-cold drum machine patterns finish the damage. The harsh pummeling dealt out by “Shut Me Down,” “Towers of Emptiness” and “Curse Us All” will feel familiar to victims of ‘flesh classics Streetcleaner and Pure, while “Imperator” and “Forgive Our Fathers” demonstrate that Broaderick hasn’t left the textural explorations of Jesu in the closet. Like Godflesh, Today is the Day is practically a genre unto itself. Animal Mother (Southern Lord), the trio’s tenth helping of discordant anguish (a description, not a value judgment), takes a tiny step toward accessibility, with catchy riffs and easily moshable rhythms supporting leader Steve Austin’s usual clashing dissonance and distorted vocal smears. Anger, spite and flat-out hatred power Austin’s rants, whether they’re short bursts of invective like “Divine Reward” and “Imperfection” or more complex riffers a la “The Last Stand” and “Sick of Your Mouth.” Add the acoustic seether “Outlaw,” the lush instrumental “Bloodwood” and the noisecore acid metal epic “Zodiac” and it’s a party. One for armed, cranky sociopaths, but still. (Watch “Masada” video below.)

 

Giant Squid, too, avoids obvious genre affiliations, folding in progressive rock, gothic pop, experimental ambience and anything else it favors into its epic doom. Minoans (Translation Loss) (listen HERE), the San Francisco band’s latest album, comes off as both mournful and majestic, as “Minoans,” “Sixty Foot Waves” and “The Pearl and the Parthenon” move in waves of grungy guitar, plangent cello, shimmering vocals and naked emotion.

randomcosmicviolence_1500

Up the coast from Giant Squid, Portland’s Usnea translates the sight of a deep-sea leviathan rising slowing from the depths to wreak havoc on the nearest city on its big label debut Random Cosmic Violence (Relapse). Moving from melancholy to malicious to monstrous, eardrum-multilators “Healing Through Death” and the title cut pour on the blackened sludge/doom, leaving no cochlea undefiled as they flow. Splitting the destinational difference, Wizard Rifle – born in Portland, based in L.A. – swirls punk and noise rock nougats into its doom metal ice cream on its second album Here in the Deadlights (Seventh Rule). From the rattling pogo of “Psychodynamo” to the thudding roar of “Crystal Witch and the stomping grunge of “Beastwhores,” the duo wreaks havoc across the fields like an invading army of hyperactive goblins.

Atriarch (above) goes even further out onto the fringes on An Unending Pathway (Relapse). Not that combining gothic death rock with blackened doom requires a genius level intellect to bring forth, but the Nashville (yes, you read that right) band’s third record wallows in gloom and doom with both widescreen sorrow and malevolent aggression. Like Christian Death in an orgy with Emperor, “Bereavement” and “Allfather” maintain melancholy melodics while still crushing bricks with bare claws, going completely off the rails on the cathartic closing track “Veil.” Brooklyn’s Occultation mines a similar black hole on its second LP Silence in the Ancestral House (Profound Lore), dropping the black metal vokills and incorporating majestic prog rock and galloping NWoBHM into gothic epics like “The Place Behind the Sky,” “The Dream Tide” and “Laughter in the Halls of Madness.” Over the top? Sure, but the band’s inherent melodicism (credit guitarist E.M.) and singer V.B.’s icy dignity sell it without guilt.

London’s Hang the Bastard puts rumbling doom, savage black metal, spacy psychedelia and beefy death metal into a blender and pour out a spiked, bitter smoothie with Sex in the Seventh Circle (SOAR/Century Media). Few bands can shift as easily from thrashing boogie (“Absorption”) to beastly extremity (“Hornfel”) to evil acid rock (“Mist of Albion”) and not grind the gears, but HtB makes it work.

Primordial - Where Greater Men Have Fallen

Veteran Irish horde Primordial has blown way past its black metal origins with a smorgasbord of styles on its latest Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade). Channel everything from black metal to folk to goth to NWoBHM, the quintet gallops across the windy fields of Celtic myth to the tune of burly epics “Comes the Flood,” “The Alchemist’s Head” and “Wield Lightning to Split the Sun.” Like its U.K. brethren, Austin’s Dead Earth Politics doesn’t bother showing genre loyalty on its latest EP The Queen of Steel (selfreleased). Death metal, thrash, NWOBHM, doom – it’s all the same to them. That makes the galloping title cut, the chugging “Madness of the Wanderer” and the blazing anthem “Redneck Dragonslayer” brutal, dissonant and catchy all at once – great metal, in other words.

SS-152cover

From Columbus with power: Lo-Pan’s fourth LP Colossus (Small Stone) (listen HERE) fulfills the Ohio quartet’s promise and then some. Perfectly balancing ‘70s boogiegrunge with ‘90s artcrunch, the band makes an epic noise that grooves even as it stomps. Singer Jeff Martin, with his clear, muscular keen, is the star, but his bandmates give him the perfect backdrop over which to soar. Check out “Eastern Seas,” “Black Top Revelation” and the highway-cruising “Marathon Man” and alternate between banging your head in abandon and nodding it in appreciation.

 

After nearly 35 years as the pre-eminent corpsepaint-wearing LaVeyan Satanist in the headbanging business, King Diamond (above) can lay claim to legendary status. Temporarily felled by major bypass surgery, the Denmark-born, Dallas-based horror metal auteur just finished a triumphant comeback tour that found him not only in fine voice (amazing what finally quitting smoking can do for you) but with a new lease on life. Given his work’s obsession with death – more specifically what happens after, in the form of ghosts, demons and revenge from beyond the grave – that could be seen as ironic, we suppose. Regardless, the old devil is back to full power, celebrating his vast catalog of fright-soaked power/prog/black metal with the two-disk best-of Dreams of Horror (Metal Blade). Personally curated by King and his longtime guitarist Andy LaRocque, who also remastered the tracks for depth and clarity instead of volume, Dreams covers both the Roadrunner and Metal Blade eras and stands as the definitive collection so far. Whether you’re a diehard looking for a refresher course or a newcomer wanting to sample one of underground metal’s most flamboyant and imaginative characters, this is absolutely the place to start.

***

Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a series of mysterious upside-down crucifix crop circles have been turning up in the nearby soybean fields. We at BLURT have no spare time to look into any of this, however, because we spend all our time spellchecking the band names in his blog entries. Toland’s Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

Fred Mills: A Marty Stuart Story

Marty bw

Won’t you please take me along for a ride: From the editor’s archives, a dip back to ’05: the Byrds, a Mule, a holiday celebration, and the power of the internet. Sometimes those dang rock critics can be useful.

BY FRED MILLS

Country music superstar, scholar, collector and archivist Marty Stuart is so obviously outgoing and gregarious that I have no doubt everyone he’s met over his long, luminous career, starting in the early ‘70s with Lester Flatt’s band, has a pretty colorful anecdote to relate. As you might imagine from the title here, I’ve got one too.

First things first: listening to his new (released: Sept. 30, Superlatone Records) 2-disc album Saturday Night / Sunday Morning with his band the Fabulous Superlatives, I’m not only knocked out by the pure, as in pure, country tones therein — the kind of stuff that real-life country artists made back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and which latterday emulators discovered and tried to emulate and/or pay tribute to in the ‘90s and ‘00s — I’m also struck by how reactionary the record sounds, within the contemporary context of ‘mersh Music Row country and mealy-mouthed post-alt.country wannabes. Without devolving into an actual review of the album, let me just say that you could do far worse than to add this to your collection and then spend the rest of your 2014 shopping sprees collecting Norwegian black metal, ‘cos there ain’t gonna be nothing else that even comes close to hitting your required roots-rock twang, gospel harmony, and alt-grass strum quota for the annum.

A diversion: go HERE to listen to a hugely entertaining interview between Stuart and Teri Gross on a recent episode of her NPR program “Fresh Air.” You won’t learn all you need to know about Stuart, but it’ll work nicely as a primer if you aren’t intimately familiar with the dude.

Marty Stuart CD

***

On December 16, 2005, I wandered into Asheville (rhymes with Nashville) venue the Orange Peel, primed and pumped for that year’s Warren Haynes Christmas Jam pre-Jam, part of the annual Haynes Jam ritual; I faithfully attended every one of those events during the 10 years I lived in Asheville, from 2002 through 2011, and I was honored to be a member of the attending media for most of those years at the pre-Jam festivities held at the Peel the night before the official event at the Asheville Civic Center. (Important note: I faithfully purchased my Jam ticket each and every year as it was a benefit for the local Habitat For Humanity chapter, which I felt strongly about supporting.)

Marty Stuart was to be among the special guests for the ’05 Haynes Jam, and as these things tended to work out, he arrived a day early in order to participate in the pre-Jam. The evening unfolded on schedule, with friends and associates of Haynes, along with already scheduled Jam (proper) artists who were in town, getting up onstage at the Orange Peel for a kind of preview-and-icing-on-the-cake of the Jam (proper); the concert was also broadcast, as per tradition, over local public radio station WNCW-FM (Spindale, NC), and listeners were encouraged to make donations to Habitat. Pretty soon Stuart was up there with Haynes, members of Gov’t Mule, Widespread Panic and others, steaming through a ragged-but-right version of the Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman.”

Not long afterward, during a break in the festivities, I was backstage talking to Haynes as Stuart himself came wandering up. Warren introduced us, and I congratulated him on the Byrds song, long one of my favorites, and that if he heard anyone singing loud and out of tune from the audience during it, that was probably me. I added that I’d always loved the version from the Untitled album era, and that he’d hit some pretty mean guitar licks while performing it.

“I really appreciate that,” Stuart replied. “And since you mentioned Untitled, you might like to know that I was playing Clarence White’s old guitar during the song.”

Well, damn. Clarence is one of my heroes, I tell him. He was one of the giants. To which Stuart nods vigorously. “I picked that guitar up a few years ago. When I play it I can really feel something special.”

“But,” he continued, “I really screwed up the lyrics on that song. Just couldn’t remember ‘em off the top of my head. We’re thinking we might do it again [at the Jam] and I need to figure ‘em out so I don’t embarrass myself.”

I mentioned it would be easy enough to get the lyrics off the internet, and at that he quickly shot back, “You think you could print them out and get them to me in time for tomorrow night?”

That I could indeed do, Marty. I will be backstage and downstairs at the Jam tomorrow night and can bring ‘em with me. “Oh wow, if you could, I thank you in advance. Just come find me.” Stuart then turns to Haynes, nodding at me: “You can always count on a journalist when you need something like that.” This may be the first and last time a superstar musician has endorsed the career known as “rock critic,” considering the general legacy of tension that exists between artists and writers, but I’ll still take the endorsement.

Marty live

***

Saturday morning: log onto computer; find “Mr. Spaceman” lyrics; print out.

Saturday evening: head to the Asheville Civic Center for the 2005 Warren Haynes Christmas Jam; present my ticket plus backstage pass to Civic Center security; head downstairs to the artist area.

Sure enough, it’s not long before I spot Stuart wandering around, talking to folks and availing himself of the buffet. He spots me heading his way and turns in my direction, smiling. I smile back, produce the page of lyrics, and simply say “As promised.”

Stuart scans the paper, grinned a Cheshire Cat-worthy grin, then grabs my hand and pumps it hard. “Man, how can I thank you?” he says. “Well,” I reply, “How about signing this for me,” showing him my CD cover to his ’99 album The Pilgrim.”

He snatches it plus the Sharpie pen I’d smartly thought to bring from me and, as he inscribes the booklet, asks if I have his latest album Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota, which had come out about a month and a half earlier.“Listen,” he says, “c’mon over here with me to my tour bus so I can get you a copy of it.

***

So I’m walking through the bottom of the Asheville Civic Center, Marty Stuart’s arm around my shoulder, leading me to his tour bus, talking about how cool it is to be playing the Haynes Jam (“Everybody I know who’s played it says they had the best damn time of their lives!”), and then ushering me into the bus and sitting me down while he gets a copy of Badlands for me.

“You said you were a fan of Clarence last night—you wanna see his guitar?”

Holy shit. Here I am, sitting on Marty Stuart’s tour bus, and he’s handing me one of Clarence White’s guitars, and I’m somehow managing to form a “D” chord then a “G” chord then an “E” chord on it without shaking uncontrollably. Meanwhile, Marty Stuart is telling me about his guitar collection, and his country music memorabilia collection, and how awhile back he decided somebody had to start collecting all this stuff in one place and could be archived carefully so it didn’t all wind up in places like eBay and the Hard Rock Café. He shows me a few other guitars, although if he tells me they belonged to famous people, I don’t hear him because…

Holy shit. Here I am, holding Clarence White’s guitar and strumming chords on it in front of Marty Stuart.

Luckily I come down to Planet Earth before I take an interstellar piss in my pants, and I make some kind of semi-intelligent comments in Stuart’s direction. (Memo to music fans: this is where being a rock critic comes in handy. You can dredge up all manner of semi-intelligent music comments on command, even when you’re essentially speechless.)

Well, soon enough I am getting up and thanking Stuart for his autograph, the CD, and the hospitality, and descending down the stairs of the bus back into the bottom of the Asheville Civic Center and, it seems, to the real world. Stuart thanks me one last time for the “Mr. Spaceman” lyrics, then stays behind on the bus to stow the guitars away.

***

A couple of hours later, onstage for his Haynes Jam set, Stuart plays a tune or two then is joined by Haynes plus Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools on bass and Gov’t Mule’s Matt Abts and Danny Louis (on drums and keys). They do rousing versions of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” then as set-closer, you guessed it, “Mr. Spaceman.” Stuart nails the lyrics this time—no doubt having closely scanned a certain piece of paper before his set—and the Civic Center crowd roars its approval while singing along. As the song comes to its anthemic conclusion, Stuart steps to the edge of the stage to nod and wave a thank-you to the audience. (As it turns out, he’ll be back next year for the 2006 Jam, this time with his band The Fabulous Superlatives in tow.)

Me, I’m out there in that Civic Center crowd too, and while I’m in no way vain enough to think for one moment that he was up there waving at me, well… rock ‘n’ roll’s always been a little about dreaming and wish fulfillment, so….

Thanks, Marty. You are the real deal.

Marty Stuart autograph 2005

 

John B. Moore: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up w/The Moms

Mons

“We’re just getting started”: With a badass new punk album in stores and a high-profile trip to Japan, the Jersey boys are in the driver’s seat.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

So two pizza delivery guys and a plumber from Jersey decide to start a band… No punchline, that’s actually the origin story for the band The Moms, a trio inspired by punk that play a pretty inspired set of straight-ahead American rock.

With an EP already under their belt, the band caught the attention of Less Than Jake drummer/songwriter Vinnie Fiorello – a record label kingpin at this point, having co-founded and sold Fueled By Ramen before starting Paper + Plastick. Fiorello offered to put out the band’s debut full length, Buy American.

The trio, who may or may not like the booze… a lot, made the drive to New York to record the record over two weeks.

Drummer Donny Saraceno—who’s joined in the band by Jon Stolpe and Joey Nester—spoke recently about making the record, the group’s founding and what’s next.

BLURT: Let’s start out with how the band first got together?

SARACENO: We have been friends for quite some time now through one avenue or another and played together in another band prior to The Moms. In a lull of our personal engagements with other things, we hung out together on the weekends at Joey’s Rutgers apartment. Each weekend the partying kind of turned into making noise and at a certain point in that process we kicked it up a notch and decided we better hop back on that hobby horse. So we decided to put out the Viva! record, get in the van and be on the road as much as possible.

A couple off the songs on the full length were on the EP and 7″. Are most of the other songs on Buy American new or had you been working on them for a while?

It’s split pretty much down the middle between old and new. Some songs on Buy American are older than songs on Viva! (“VII,” “Dwyer’s in the Navy Now”) whereas songs such as “Back Pocket” or “Wasn’t Bothered” are quite fresh.

You guys are described in the press materials as being drunk punks and reveling in dark humor. So I expected just a bunch of goofy songs, but you touch on some deep political and social matters with this record. Do you guys feel closer to bands like The Ramones and Dead Milkmen or to political punks like The Clash? Or do you draw influences from both?

Yea, there’s nothing intended to be “goofy” here. I would never say that we draw inspiration from any of those bands. Those names have not crossed any of our minds. Also, the press might be taking some liberties with our drinking habits but I couldn’t deny the statements 100%.

How did you first connect with the guys at Paper + Plastick?

Vinnie (Fiorello, label founder) had heard that we were trying to make a badass American rock album that brought music back to and older phase of punk rock or grunge or post hardcore, whatever you want to call it. Going back and forth between us we realized that Vinnie really understood where the band is coming from and those are the people we really want and like to work with.

Moms CD

How much time did you have to record this one?

The recording process went down in a matter of two weeks and even some of those 14 days were only half days. We went back up maybe two or three times to tie up some loose ends like percussion or some vocal re-do’s.

Did you work with a producer?

We had John Collura producing the record at his studio in Pine Island, New York.

What was the experience like compared to working on the EP?

Recording Buy American was incredibly similar to recording the EP actually. We worked at the same studio with the same people, (John Collura, Mike Menocker). A few things were different though. Something I thought was awesome was that their friend makes these “Fink” tube preamps that we used on almost everything. I am a nerd though. And we did more camping and drinking in the studio. Viva! was done in four days whereas we took two weeks or more for Buy American.

You guys are about to start a 30-date tour later this month. Is it tough to find the time to tour or have you had to quit your jobs at this point?

Nah, I wish man. We all agreed in the beginning we were going to have to get shit jobs and make shit money so we can get through the shit tours. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we have the “luxury” of being able to take time off from work and return to our jobs. Jon (Stolpe) and I are pizza delivery boys, and Joey (Nester) is a plumber. We work 40-plus hour work weeks and rehearse a few times a week late at night. Sometimes ask the studio space to stay open later for us. Then we bail out for a few weeks and have the time of our lives.

Aside from the tour, what’s next for the band?

The Moms are headed to Japan in December for some shows with Alternative Medicine. After that our spring is wide open at the moment but we are hoping to start demos for a new record. We’re finally just getting started.

 

John B. Moore: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up w/Smith Street Band

Smith Street 2

Weathering the vicissitudes of a never-ending touring/recording cycle, the Aussie rockers wound up delivering the album of their lives with Throw Me in the River.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Don’t be fooled by the innocuous moniker. Australia’s Smith Street Band may just be the best thing going in punk music right now. Through blistering, distorted guitars and the thunder of heavy drumming, Wil Wagner somehow manages to make his striking, often personal lyrics heard over the noise, like a modern day Joe Strummer forcing a message of defiance and perseverance in sweaty basements and crammed theaters.

The band may have held down the opening slot on a recent run of Frank Turner shows across continents, but they managed to convert his crowd about two songs in, night after night, city after city. They seem to be on a never-ending touring and recording cycle, having put out three full lengths and an EP since 2011, and are just about to turn in their latest album, Throw Me in the River, arguably their finest moment in the studio yet.

The record was produced by friend, labelmate and longtime DIY punk staple Jeff Rosenstock (best known for Bomb the Music Industry). It also marks their move from Asian Man Records to SideOneDummy.

Wagner spoke recently about the new record, writing on the road and future plans for world takeover.

BLURT: How did the move from Asian Man to SideOneDummy happen?

WIL WAGNER: Before we came to the States with Frank Turner we looked around for someone to put out our record and all wanted Asian Man to do it. I still remember the first time I saw an Asian Man logo on one of our records as one of the proudest moments of my life! Mike [Park, founder] at Asian Man always said they’ll put out our stuff but would be 100 percent supportive if someone bigger came along. He still helps us out with lots of stuff and we ended up being able to release two albums and an EP through them which I’m so happy about. Him and Bob who do everything there are two of the most fucking amazing people. But we ended up speaking to a few other labels for Throw Me in the River and we’re all totally enamored with SideOneDummy already because so many bands we love have done stuff with them and it was a pretty easy decision.

You worked with Jeff Rosenstock for this record. Did you know him from Asian Man?

We had actually toured with Jeff twice in Australia, once with his iPod and once with Bomb The Music Industry, and became really close over that time. We all really love his music, especially the way he creates soundscapes and layers instruments. He also has an amazing sense of melody. It wasn’t really that we wanted someone to “produce” the album, if Jeff hadn’t have been able to do it we probably wouldn’t have got anyone, but we just wanted Jeff and his ideas around while we wrote and he had a massive influence on the record.

He’s done some very cool things for DIY punk over the years. Did you guys ever talk about the current state of the punk and music industries or discuss philosophies?

Not really. We both have similar morals and ideas but those conversations tend to happen at three in the morning after a show rather than in the studio. We just spoke about music pretty much constantly, we spent five weeks living together first at a house in a tiny town called Forrest outside of Melbourne where we recorded and then at Miner Street Studios where we mixed the album and we were always just playing each other bands and talking about the songs we were making. We did lots of 10-12 hour days so when we were finally done it would just be dumb jokes and beers.

What was he like to work with compared to your other times in the studio?

Really amazing. I didn’t even really know what a producer was until we started working with Jeff, but now I want him to be there for everything we record. His ideas for the songs were fantastic and we were all super comfortable with each other after touring together so much. He also wrote lots of the strings, piano and harmonies on the record, he’s a fucking genius really!

I saw you guys tour with Frank Turner in the U.S. earlier this year and then you headed back home and toured some more. Was it tough to find time to write and record for this album?

I basically do all of my writing on the road now. I tend to just find myself a corner in the band room and scribble stuff down, try and record little bits and pieces as much as I can so I can work on stuff in the van and then do a bunch of demos when there’s an acoustic guitar around for everyone to listen to. Even for the next record I think I have 12 new demos to play the other guys on this tour and even if we can’t practice at least have the songs in our heads. We normally do our writing in big chunks before we record, like work on songs at rehearsals and sound checks then all bunker down for a few weeks and jam every day and finely tune everything.

There was a pretty strong theme of perseverance in last year’s Don’t Fuck with Our Dreams. Is there a general theme that runs through the songs on Throw Me in the River?

It’s probably a bit more of a break up record than the last two and that theme runs pretty strong. I guess lots of stuff about missing people and being alone, a fair bit about touring. I think this album is maybe a bit more internal than the others if that makes sense? A bit less about partying and a bit more about self-reflection and watching yourself and other people change.

What’s next for the band?

We have just started a European tour with The Menzingers and the Holy Mess, then head to the states for Fest and a quick east coast run with Restorations, then back home for our Australian album launch tour with The Front Bottoms and Apologies, I Have None. We’re booking a long tour through February ‘til May-ish next year that will see us go pretty much everywhere as well.

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns Pt. 666.4

Panopticon Roads to the North

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the fourth installment in our latest genre study, with Witch Mountain, Khold, Myrkur, Panopticon, The Skull, Black Trip and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, or the second, Pt. 666.2, or the third, Pt. 666.3 —if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

With its image of lo-fi primitivism, cartoonish Satanism and anti-everything rhetoric, black metal makes itself hard to take seriously, especially as any kind of musical art. Not that there’s anything wrong with the cruder strain of black metal, mind you – noisy, nihilist screeds can often be a bracing tonic to a shittastic day, and many of its purveyors give good RRAWRRGGGH. But plenty of black metal maniacs maintain actual honest-to-Baal artistic values, making music that’s not just for chronic thrashaholics with anger management issues. Chief among them, at least to our ears, is Panopticon, whose latest album Roads to the North (artwork pictured above; released by Nordvis/Bindrune;) finds the acclaimed one-man-USBM-band reaching a new peak. Kentucky-to-Minnesota (with an inspirational sidetrip through Norway, where black metal as we know it was born) maverick Austin Lunn gained fame outside of underground headbanger circles with Panopticon’s previous platter Kentucky, which somehow managed to combine sweeping black metal with Appalachian folk music and pro-union sentiments to amazing effect. Roads takes the same mix and expands it even further, injecting more sweep into the melodies, more traditionalism into the folk atmospheres and a finely honed sense of craft.

Multi-instrumentalist Lunn (guitars, drums, dobro, keys, flute – everything but the fiddle) clearly takes the precision and skill with which he conjures tunes like the blazing “…In Silence,” the lovely “Norwegian Nights” and the epic “Where Mountains Pierce the Sky” very seriously, and producer Colin Marston (Dysrhythmia, Krallice) captures the orgy of banjos, Mellotrons, power chords and eviscerating shrieks with perfect clarity. Look no further than the madly ambitious multi-parter “The Long Road,” where Lunn puts all his metal/prog/folk/etc. eggs into one pan and cooks the richest black metal epic you’ve ever tasted. Roads to the North is the sound of an artist truly coming into his own, and it’s magnificent.

 

Nachtmystium TWWLB

Speaking of artistic black metal, one of the veteran flag-fliers for that notion is Blake Judd, who’s released a series of strong, boundary-pushing LPs under the name Nachtmystium. The World We Left Behind (CenturyMedia) may or may not be the final Nachtmystium album – the Chicagoan’s well-publicized struggles with smack and the attendant personal and professional fallout tend to make getting reliable information a challenge. Regardless, it’s a solid album, heavy on melodic riffs, loping rhythms, personal (if occasionally awkward) lyrics and even, on “On the Other Side,” some straightforward rock & roll – well worth hearing unless you’re sick of Judd’s alleged junksick shenanigans. Trading under the band name Krieg, Judd’s former Twilight cohort Imperial (Neill Jameson to his mom) also has a new record, his first in four years.

Outside of the mysterious spoken word/ambient/folk track “Home,” Transient (Candlelight) bathes in the old school black metal sound, with a smoky atmosphere laid over a mid-fi aggressive attack that’s all riff and roar. Check the thundering “Return Fire” and “Order of the Solitary Road” and the galloping “Walk With Them Unnoticed” for some righteous fistpumping action. And speaking of black metal comebacks, Khold suddenly resurfaces after a half-dozen years with the fang-grinding Til Endes (Peaceville).

Khold Til Endes front 12cm CMYK

The Norwegian duo has always eschewed both the proggy symphonic elements and the low-fi crud their peers on either side of the fence embrace, preferring a straightforward and brutal but highly crafted and clearly recorded sonic hurricane that owes as much to ‘80s hard rock and ‘90s groove metal as to the usual Nordic shitstorms. (They’re also in possession of some of the genre’s creepiest corpsepaint designs.) “Skogens úye,” “Dommens Arme” and “Det Dunkle Dyp” blast in the most grinding but graceful way.

 

Black metal ain’t all grizzled vets these days, though – check out Myrkur, a one-woman-band from Denmark whose self-titled debut EP (Relapse) fields an expert blend of ghostly ethereality and monstrous bash ‘n’ crash. As with Panopticon above, Myrkur (AKA Amalie Bruun of Ex-Cops) flourishes in studio solitude – “Nattens Barn,” “Dybt i Skoven” and “Må Du Brænde i Helvede” paint vast landscapes of twilight skies, scorched landscapes and phantom Nordic gods watching over it all with mournful bloodthirst. She covers a lot of ground in less than 25 minutes, making a strong statement while still leaving us slavering for more. [She also makes it tough on this magazine’s spellchecking program too, Toland! –Frazzled SpellCheck Ed.]

Vocalist Eric Wagner, bassist Ron Holzner and drummer Jeff Olson were mainstays of Chicago metal godhead Trouble for decades; now, with ex-Pentagram guitarist Matt Goldsborough and Sacred Dawn axeman Lothar Keller, they’ve formed The Skull, picking up on debut LP For Those Which Are Asleep (TeePee) where they feel Trouble left off. (We covered The Skull’s debut 7-inch here.)

The combo of the pickers’ thick riffing, the rhythm section’s powerhouse propulsion and the singer’s distinctive moaning wail will flick the switch of any headbanger missing that classic Trouble sound since Wagner quit. “A New Generation,” “The Door” and the title track slash and pound with the winning combination of menacing doom, brash NWoBHM and bad acid psychedelia that Trouble did so very well back in the 80s and 90s. To be frank, For Those Which Are Asleep beats the feces out of Trouble’s recent Wagner-less comebackrecord, and while music isn’t a competition, it’s telling that the singer holds the keys to such a classic sound tighter than the latest incarnation of the original band.

 

Another new outfit led by a veteran, Death Penalty strikes a similar balance betwixt fistpumping metal anthemry and ribcage-crushing grunge on its self-titled debut album (RiseAbove). Though primarily a Belgian outfit, the prime mover here is Cathedral axewielder Gaz Jennings, whose concrete-chewing tone has risen from his former band’s ashes intact. That said, his riffstrangling shares the frontline with singer Michelle Nocon, who more than holds her own on chugging blasters “Golden Tide,” “Immortal By Your Hand” and “Howling at the Throne of Decadence.” Nocon and Jennings equal a one-two punch you’ll be happy to be beaten by. Another new band of old dogs, The Dagger puts members of extreme metallers Dismember, Grave and Necronaut through a tradmetal sieve on the Swedish quartet’s self-titled debut (CenturyMedia). The presence of Nordic superproducer Fred Estby ensures superb sonics, but it’s the swooping melodies and the clarity in Jani Kataja’s larynx that make “Call of 9,” “Nocturnal Triumph” and “1978” stand out from the retro metal pack.

 

Not to be outdone, Black Trip (SWE) also boasts a membership drawn from the Swedish extreme scene, including Entombed, Enforcer, Nifelheim and, yes, Dismember. Guess the Swedes are getting tired of the werewolf vocals. Either way, Goin’ Under (Prosthetic) also dips into the anthemic hard rock/metal pool up to its knees. Frontdude Joseph Tholl has a grittier, more working class style than the usual clear-voiced bellowers in this genre, but it’s the quality of the writing that carries “Putting Out the Fire,” “The Bells” and “Voodoo Queen” to glory.

 

A1003_SYNKA_MED_EUCD

While also hailing from Sweden, Saturn doesn’t claim an august lineage. It does pack plenty of riffs on its debut Ascending (Live in Space) (Rise Above), however, as well as a street metal vibe that keeps “Rokktori,” “Peasant” and “So, You Have Chosen Death” lean, mean and masterful. A touch of psychedelia adorns “Last Man in Space” in order to justify the album title. Norway’s puzzlingly named Lonely Kamel dials even further back on Shit City (Napalm), adding bolts of punky aggression, bluesy boogie and growling doom. Less psychedelic than Kadavar but also less NWoBHM than its Scandinavian fellow travelers, LK swings riffcrunch and attitude in equal doses on “I Feel Sick,” “BFD” and the title track.

 

For those who prefer their metal slowed down to a crawl, YOB continues its quest for the ultimate doom sound on its latest record Clearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot). Mike Scheidt’s Eugene, Oregon trio has arguably been working toward this four-song hour of power its entire career, throwing every downtuned chord, spacey interlude, dinosaur drum stomp, roar, growl and moan into textural earthquakes “Nothing to Win,” “Marrow” and “Unmask the Spectre.”

 

Interestingly enough, another Oregon troop of doommongers is also hitting its peak – Portland’s Witch Mountain. The quartet’s new LP Mobile of Angels (ProfoundLore) rumbles and roils like Lucifer on an acid trip, vocalist Uta Plotkin overlaying her brash tenor over the magma-thick flow of enigmatic crunge like glaze over a cake donut. “Psycho Animundi,” “Can’t Settle” and “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn)” drill deep into the substrata with barely repressed fury, only to mine the shining diamond that is closing track “The Shape Truth Takes.” A shame that, after this peak, Plotkin chose to leave the band. Cranking the psychedelia even further than Witch Mountain, Megaton Leviathan goes for full-on mournful metalgaze on its second record Past 21 Beyond the Arctic Cell (SeventhRule). “Past 21” starts things off with a dose of sweetness (for 13 undulating minutes), but when we get to “Arctic Cell” the mask comes off, the power chords pummel and depression sets in. By the time “Here Come the Tears” gently ends the proceedings, there’s no hope left.

Inter Arma released one of last year’s most interesting, diverse albums in Sky Burial, a marvelously odd mix of psychedelic textures and extreme metal brutality. The Cavern (Relapse), the one-song follow-up, strips away most of the death and black metal elements, honing in on a pounding strain of acid doom. The influence of Neurosis is difficult to deny, but interlocking harmony licks, ambient prog interludes and indie rock melancholy give it a spin all the Richmond quintet’s own. At 45 minutes, “The Cavern” is no mere placeholding scrap, but a work of metallic art in its own right.

***

Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a series of mysterious upside-down crucifix crop circles have been turning up in the nearby soybean fields. We at BLURT have no spare time to look into any of this, however, because we spend all our time spellchecking the band names in his blog entries. Toland’s Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.