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Michael Toland: Rockin’ Is Ma Business Pt. 3

ht_edu

And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, and HERE for Pt. 2. Above: No, that’s not the Runaways ya dummy – it’s Heavy Tiger, gettin’ ready for some heavy pettin’. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

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Wyldlife smartly has a boot in two camps. Based in NYC, the band has a firm grounding in the glammy proto punk and roughhewn power pop that emanated from its city back in the ‘70s. When it came time to record its second full-length, however, the group decamped to Atlanta, home of rising pop & roll saviors Biters and their brethren, and the joie de vivre of recording in a sympathetic environment certainly makes its impression. Out On Your Block (Wicked Cool) doesn’t so much veer from one stylistic variation to another so much as cram them together, powering the singalong choruses of “Keepsake” and “Bandita” with the reckless energy of a Mercer Arts Center freakout. The band zooms through the tracks like its members mistook amphetamines for sugar pills in their morning coffee, but never sound out of control – tight but loose in the grand rock & roll tradition. Sounding for all the world like a mind meld of the New York Dolls and the Plimsouls, Out On Your Block reeks with the pure joy of taking smartly crafted tunes and making a big-ass racket.

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Seattle’s Cheap Cassettes apply similar makeup to their boyish faces on their debut LP All Anxious, All the Time (Rum Bar). As leader of the long-gone Dimestore Haloes, frontguy Charles Matthews has a long history of banging out tuneful constructions with bullshit-free flair, and he continues his good work on pleasure-button mashing popsters “Get Low,” “Big Dumb Town” and “My Little Twin.” Maine-to-Spain transplant Kurt Baker adds a bit of Detroit power and L.A. flash to a similar recipe on Shot Through the Heart(Rum Bar), the first full-length from Bullet Proof Lovers. That doesn’t mean power pop hero Baker (joined here by various Spanish r’n’r luminaries) has suddenly gone hard ‘n’ heavy, but it does give “On Overdrive” and “Heart of Stone” a fist-pumping, lighter-waving rush and “All I Want” and “Take It or Leave It” a punky, street rock attack. Unusually for bands like this, the second half of the record is actually stronger than the first.

Heavy Tiger - Glitter - Artwork

With a sly grin and blazing attack, power trio Heavy Tiger blasts out of Stockholm with Glitter (Wild Kingdom). The colorful hooks of ‘70s glam rock entwine with the no-nonsense charge of mid-’70s hard rock, before being violated by late ‘70s punk. Riding Maja Linn’s gritty vocals (not unlike Muffs’ leader Kim Shattuck’s) as much as the big-ass guitars, “I Go For the Cheap Ones” and “Feline Feeling” deliver an irresistible opening one-two punch. But the band keeps the hits a-comin’, whether it’s more burning rockers like “Keeper of the Flame,” rousing glam rock like “Devil May Care” (written for the band by the Ark’s Ola Soma) or loud power pop a la “Starshaped Badge and Gun Shy.” The glitter in the album’s title dusts denim vests and ripped jeans.

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Back in the bad old days of the late ‘80s, glammed-up quartet Enuff Z’nuff got shoved into the hair metal ghetto, which might’ve been fine had the band gotten the same hits and success as its West Coast peers. (Indeed, it’s an association the band has never shunned.) Unlike its mousse-abused pals, though, the Chicago band fell more heavily on the Cheap Trick and Sweet side of the pop metal street than on the Aerosmith/Starz side. Clowns Lounge (Frontiers) has a few squealing guitar solos, but otherwise leans on vocal harmonies, glittery melodies and big power pop hooks. “Rockabye Dreamland” resembles Jellyfish more than Def Leppard, while “Back in Time” and “Radio” sound more like homeboys Urge Overkill than Aerosmith. It hearkens back to the band’s first couple of albums, which is no surprise, given that it consists of songs reworked from the days before EZ’s 1989 debut LP. That means most of the songs feature original vocalist Donnie Vie, which will set OG fans’ rods a-twirl. Then there’s “The Devil of Shakespeare,” which features, as guests, late Warrant singer Jani Lane, Styx guitarist James Young and – as a ringer? – 20/20 co-leader Ron Flynt. Go figure.

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Covers collections usually denote a lack of new material on an artist’s part, regardless of the official line. That said, the Connection has been awfully prolific the past few years and can be forgiven if the urge to hit the studio overtook the effort to write new songs. On Just For Fun! (Rum Bar), the Boston boppers bash through a batch of obvious influences (the Dictators’ “Stay With Me,” Cheap Trick’s “Southern Girls,” Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ “I Can Read Between the Lines,” Dave Edmunds’ “Other Guys Girls”) and left-fielders (George Thorogood’s “Get a Haircut,” the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations,” Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver,” “Streets of Baltimore,” the Harlan Howard song recorded by Bobby Bare and Gram Parsons). The band’s reverence for pre-21st century pop reaches its effervescent apex on a faithfully executed take on Syl Sylvain’s timeless “Teenage News,” its ‘billy and bubblegum delirium right in the Connection’s wheelhouse. A stone hoot, Just For Fun! lives up to its title.

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The Jigsaw Seen draw from many of the same ‘60s and ‘70s touchstones as the Connection, though they’re filtered through such a personal vision that the L.A. act has always sounded unmoored from time itself. That applies even to For the Discriminating Completist (Burger), a collection of singles, EP tracks and alternate mixes of tunes from across the band’s nearly 30-year career. Echoes of the Who, the Creation, the Kinks and the Move resound, but on “Jim is the Devil,” “My Name is Tom” and “Celebrity Interview,” the Seen always sounds most like itself. That applies even to covers of the Bee Gees, Love, Henry Mancini and the Frank Sinatra/Tony Bennett standard “The Best is Yet to Come.”

Stoneage Hearts

The Stoneage Hearts take many of those same influences and beat them with a Nuggets stick, as found on Turn On With (Off the Hip), a reissue of the band’s 2002 debut. The Australian trio’s sugar ‘n’ spice mix of grinning power pop and rough-hewn R&B-flavored garage rock cuts any hint of crap in order to get down to the business of hooks, harmonies and tunes as good as “So Glad (That You’re Gone)” and “Stranded On a Dateless Night.”

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Australia’s Little Murders have prowled the Melbourne underground for nearly 30 years in various incarnations. The product of the longest-lived version, Hi-Fab! (Off the Hip) distills the quintet’s virtues – simple melodies, ragged harmonies, a nice mix of jangle and crunch – in 33 minutes of power pop rush. Still led by plainspoken singer/songwriter Rob Griffiths, the Murders sound comfortable and confident on the sprightly “She’s the Real Thing,” sweet “Merry Go Round” and driving “Out of Time.”

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Perth’s Manikins predated Little Murders, evolving out of the Cheap Nasties, one of Australia’s first punk outfits. (The Nasties also gave us international treasure Kim Salmon of the Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon and Surrealists fame.) From Broadway to Blazes (Manufactured Recordings) collects the band’s entire oeuvre, from demos to singles to self-released cassettes, on two slabs of vinyl, and it’s ninety minutes of power pop perfection. The quartet deftly beats the hell out of melodic sweetness like Bruce Lee fighting a cheerleader, making the winsome “Love at Second Sight” (in two versions), the raw “Street Treat,” the brittle “Losing Touch” and the blazing “Girl Friday” sharp lessons in how to do it right. Melbourne’s Baudelaires keep the Australian garage rock wave flowing with Musk Hill (Off the Hip), a psychedelicized take on three chords and a bunch of youthful angst. Alternating thumping rockers like “Scrapbooker” and “Foxglove” with trippier concoctions like “Whet Denim” and “Snapper Steve” (not to mention a quick dip into the surf music pool with “Life’s Too Short For Longboards”), the young quartet puts the roll back in psych rock.

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Manufactured has also taken it upon itself to rescue a couple more early power pop outfits from obscurity. Smart Remarks may have been the house band at the infamous City Gardens in the early ‘80s, but that was as far as the trio’s notoriety ever got. Too bad – the single and EP sides collected on Foreign Fields: 1982-1984 (Manufactured Recordings) are a delight for fans of the form. The band’s new wavey guitar pop reaches catchy potency on the sparkling “Falling Apart (As It Seems)” and “Mary’s Got Her Eye On Me.” New Jersey’s Modulators hail from the same time period, but let ‘60s/’70s roots like the Hollies and the Raspberries show through any new wave colorization on Tomorrow’s Coming (Manufactured Recordings). That 1984 platter was the trio’s sole LP, but here it’s augmented with a ton of demos, singles and unreleased tracks to grow into a 28-track monster of jangly pop glory.

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The Muffs’ first two albums are masterclasses on melodipunk, and, while not the runaway successes so many of their peers’ records were, still put the L.A. trio on the map. So what happened with Happy Birthday to Me (Omnivore), the band’s third album? Creatively, nothing – the record is, cut for cut, the Muffs’ strongest, a consistently catchy, beautifully recorded and enthusiastically performed set that should have been the apex of the band’s upward arc. Alas, its then-record company Reprise decided to put their resources elsewhere, and the Muffs were dropped right as the album came out. (Despite this, it has never fallen out of print.) Fortunately, it’s back, all the better to enjoy the spice cake rush of “That Awful Man,” “Outer Space” and “Honeymoon,” the winsome midtempo power pop of “The Best Time Around,” “Keep Holding Me” and “Upside Down,” the 6/8 mania of “All Blue Baby,” the raging snot rock of “Nothing” and the snide country rock (?!) of “Pennywhore.” Plus a rare cover of the Amps’ “Pacer,” a batch of demos and the bandmembers’ informative and entertaining liner notes, including leader Kim Shattuck’s song-by-song commentary.

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British guitarist John Hoyles has, to generally excellent results, toiled in the fields of Swedish rock, slinging strings for prog/doom outfit Witchcraft, boogieing spinoff Troubled Horse and glam/power rockers Spiders. For his solo LP Night Flight (Crusher), however, takes more inspiration from punk and pub rock, with no-nonsense songs and maximum production clarity. Outside of the acid folk of “In the Garden” and overtly psychedelic title track, tunes like “Talking About You,” “Before I Leave” and “Minefield” rock righteously and unselfconsciously. Bonus: a cover of former Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis’ “Police Car” that makes Hoyles’ self-professed love of Stiff Records pretty blatant.

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Mark “Porkchop” Holder did time in both blues punk act Black Diamond Heavies (of which he was a founding member) and in the arms of addiction. Free of both, the singer/slide guitarist returns to his hometown of Chattanooga, TN, for Let It Slide (Alive Naturalsound), a set of rocking blues that could only come from someone who’s lived a life on the underside. As such Holder wastes no time with virtuosity or fancy production – he and his rhythm section just crank it up and get down to business with a clearly articulated focus a lot of cracker blues slingers could use. Holder’s lack of illusions about where he’s been and how he got there power the snarling choogle of “Disappearing” and menacing country rock of “Stranger” as much as his raw bottleneck work, and his plainspoken vocals sell every syllable. Rough-and-tumble rambles through “Stagger Lee” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” also prove Holder knows how irreverently to treat a couple of pieces of well-traveled (read: overused) classics without losing touch with their essential spirit. “I’ve got no one but myself to blame!” he shouts during the titanic “My Black Name,” the song most likely to be his “Jumping Jack Flash.” That lack of sentimentality gives Let It Slide the conviction to put it in a different category than the usual flash blues slop.

Evil Twin

Australia’s Evil Twin also uses the blues as a jumping off point on its debut Broken Blues (Off the Hip). No revivalists, this pair – nor do they pay homage, unintentional or not, to the White Stripes or the Black Keys. Instead guitarist Jared Mattern and drummer Chris Beechey blast off from the music’s 12-bar origins into loud, grungy rock that’s beholden more to bands Dan Auerbach and Jack White don’t listen to – nothing sounds like Zeppelin, in other words. Led more by Mattern’s measured singing than overwhelming instrumental bombast, dirty slide pound like “Look Into My Mind” and the title track, snarling boogie like “Motor City” and soulful power balladry (!) like “Slow Dance” sound fresh and exciting, the way new classic rock should.

POWER LP Jacket

Evil Twin’s country band Power might also argue that the blues is at the heart of its sound, but it’s difficult to tell under the punky crust and general mania on its debut Electric Glitter Boogie (In the Red, though originally released in Australia in 2015; the In The Red LP comes pressed on either red or black vinyl). A deliberate nod to Australia’s legendary hard rock acts Coloured Balls and the Aztecs (names not very familiar to Statesiders, though they might know Aztec leader Billy Thorpe’s later AOR hit “Children of the Sun”), the trio goes over the top with raging riffs, gonzo vocals and an air of barely-contained madness. These boys want to rawk, and when they fire up the wild-eyed boogiepunk of “Slimy’s Chains,” the title track or the band’s eponymous anthem, get with it or get the hell out of the way.

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Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, Heath Green and the Makeshifters holler back to an earlier era, one when British bands like Humble Pie took soul music into harder rock realms than it was logically prepared for. Luckily, the quartet proves itself far less leadfooted than its predecessors on its self-titled debut LP (Alive Naturalsound). Without throwing any accusations of “authenticity” around, it really seems like coming from the American South gives Green a more natural feel for R&B, gospel and the blues, allowing him to fold his pan-seared shout into the Makeshifters’ hard-rocking crash without having to scream to be heard. The fierce pound of “Living On the Good Side,” chunky shuffle of “Secret Sisters” and sanctified soul of “Ain’t Got God” get the balance between tank and testify just right.

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Tom Baker and the Snakes have been one of Boston’s best-kept secrets for a few years now, but with Lookout Tower (Rum Bar), the quintet makes a national splash. Marrying the plainspoken songcraft of heartland rock, the high voltage power of the Motor City and the ramshackle grace of a party-all-night bar band, the Snakes bash out catchy tunes like “High n’ Tight,” “Make It Hurt” and “Needle in the Red” like the Replacements if they’d listened to more classic rock than punk. Three guitars keep the riffs, hooks and jangles churning, and Baker’s ragged-but-oh-so-right voice delivers the exact dose of vulnerable swagger. If you like your rock & roll to worry less about subgenres and more about just getting to the good stuff, Tom Baker is yer man, man.

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The combination of Detroit rock royalty Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman, the Visitors, his various solo bands) and James Williamson (the Stooges, of course) is so fraught with potential it would be almost impossible for it to live up to expectations. On its debut EP Acoustic K.O. (Leopard Lady), the pair neatly sidesteps the ambitions thrust upon them by delivering an acoustic EP of tunes associated with Williamson’s time with Iggy Pop. Tek’s gruff plainspokenness gives “I Need Somebody” and “Penetration” a note of gravitas, and the duo’s take on “No Sense of Crime” pulls out an obscurity that’s right in their wheelhouse. Oddly, though, the highlight is the Tek-less instrumental “Night Theme,” a mothballed tune that scans like the soundtrack to a crime-and-punishment TV show.

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Check out selected audio and video from the records discussed above:

 

Tom Baker & the Snakes – Lookout Tower Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/lookout-tower

 

The Baudelaires – Musk Hill Bandcamp:

https://thebaudelaires.bandcamp.com/album/musk-hill

 

Bullet Proof Lovers – Shot Through the Heart Bandcamp:

https://bulletprooflovers.bandcamp.com/album/shot-through-the-heart

 

The Cheap Cassettes – All Anxious, All the Time Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/all-anxious-all-the-time

 

The Connection – Just For Fun:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/just-for-fun

 

Enuff Z’Nuff – “Dog On a Bone”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEQr0axc4lI

 

Evil Twin – Broken Blues Bandcamp:

https://eviltwinrock.bandcamp.com/album/broken-blues

 

Heath Green and the Makeshifters – “Ain’t It a Shame”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo2CELBHB4s

 

Mark Porkchop Holder – “My Black Name”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS6miti9XHA

 

John Hoyles – “Talking About You”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_d6jcpFoRk

 

The Jigsaw Seen – “Jim is the Devil”:

https://soundcloud.com/burgerrecords/the-jigsaw-seen-jim-is-the-devil-single-version

 

Little Murders – Hi-Fab! Bandcamp:

https://littlemurders.bandcamp.com/album/hi-fab

 

The Manikins – From Broadway to Blazes Bandcamp:

https://manikinsaustralia.bandcamp.com/album/from-broadway-to-blazes

 

The Modulators – Tomorrow’s Coming Bandcamp:

https://themodulators.bandcamp.com/

 

The Muffs – “Outer Space” (live):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY1vwFdKq5I

 

Power – “Electric Glitter Boogie”:

https://soundcloud.com/powower/electric-glitter-boogie-1

 

Smart Remarks – Foreign Fields: 1982-1984 Bandcamp:

https://smartremarks.bandcamp.com/

 

Deniz Tek & James Williamson – “Penetration”:

https://soundcloud.com/pavement-pr/penetration

 

Wyldlife – “Contraband”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4T9BgwCdxU

 

 

Michael Toland: ROCKIN’ IS MA BUSINESS: Blurt’s Rock & Roll Roundup Pt. 2

HOUND GAWD! RECORDS

HOUND GAWD! RECORDS

And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

As leader of the now-legendary Lazy Cowgirls, Pat Todd created a canon of blazing roots/punk rock & roll that should serve as a textbook for anyone who reveres both Johnny Cash and the Ramones. When the Indiana-born longtime Los Angeleno shifted focus (barely) toward the Americana side of his personality with the Rankoutsiders, he stuck to the same standards – four chords, blasting guitars, a kickin’ rhythm section and more soul than a Baptist church on Sunday. Blood and Treasure (Hound Gawd!), the band’s fourth LP, is another stellar example of Todd’s vision. Jolted by the six-string team of Kevin Keller and longtime foil Nick Alexander, the ‘outsiders rip through blues and ballads, C&W and R&R, with an expertise that should be the envy of bands half their age. Todd’s songs eschew clever wordplay and ironic distance to simply channel the man’s heart from his sleeve to yours, whether he’s fighting bad love (“Tell Me Now,” “I Hear You Knockin’”) or working class despair (“This Counterfeit World,” “Just Another Broken Day”). He won’t give in, though, stating his case most effectively in never-surrender anthems “Stand Up and Sass Back” and “Don’t Be Sellin’ Emptiness.” Blood and Treasure shows Todd and the Rankoutsiders once again reinventing ragged but right by being simply unable to do wrong.

Capsula Santa Rosa

Fronting a freewheeling blend of Detroit hard rock, Nuggets garage punk, dirty Cramps-a-billy and grungy surf, all given an acid sheen, Spain’s Capsula have been blasting away for nearly 20 years to a devoted audience far smaller than it should be. But the Argentina-bred power trio have never let that – or anything, really – get them down, and that same joie de vivre infests Santa Rosa (Vicious Circle), the band’s eleventh album. (Twelfth, if you count its stint backing up Ivan Julian on Naked Flame.) Tempering its live energy a tad (note: if this band comes to a club anywhere near you, do not hesitate), Capsula polishes its songwriting to an even more potent shine, balancing full throttle burners like “Tierra Girando” and “Candle Candle” with midtempo psych poppers “Moving Mutants” and “They Are New Models.” The trio even successfully ventures into ballad territory on “Past Lives.” Proof that great bands can keep getting better. Birth of Joy comes from the same spiritual place as Capsula, but, with the bass replaced by keyboards, trucks in a more expansive sound. Get Well (Long Branch/SPV), the Dutch trio’s sixth album, picks up where its last studio LP Prisoner left off, pushing the psychedelic and jamming tendencies to the fore while not losing the band’s intense rock & roll drive. That proves BoJ equally adept at both short/sharp/shocked bangers like “You Got Me Howling” and “Blisters” and drawn-out epics “Numb” and the title track. Perhaps not the revelation Prisoner was, but a progression, for sure.

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With a name like Dr. Boogie, you’d expect a band beholden to John Lee Hooker, or at least ZZ Top and Canned Heat. In this case, though, you’d be wrong – the L.A. quartet owes its soul to the New York Dolls and the heyday of glam and protopunk on Gotta Get Back to New York City (Dead Beat). “Down This Road,” “Queen of the Streets” and the title track rock hard with that ever-so-tricky mix of Chuck Berry and aggression, while “Really Good Feeling” verges on power pop. The biggest surprise is “Together,” which adds a disco beat and “doot-doot” vocals for a dandy variation on the formula. Boasting a clever, “why didn’t anyone think of this before?” name, Indonesian Junk romps straight outta Milwaukee with an impressive self-titled debut album (Rum Bar). Throwing glam rock, protopunk, power pop and R&B-flavored garage rock into a centrifuge, the trio shakes it all down until it comes out as uncomplicated rock & roll. “Black Hole,” “Little Malibu” and “Indonesia” show off a band that rummages through the past, takes what it wants and leaves the rest to rot. Surprise bonus: a cover of Jayne County’s “Fuck Off.”

Ricky Warwick - When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Gu... - Artwork

Though best known for leading U.K. punk & roll band the Almighty and his current frontman position with Black Star Riders (the group that grew out the latter-day revival of Thin Lizzy), Ricky Warwick started banging guitar in imitation of Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. Despite his schedule with the Riders, the Irish native found time to knock out a double album that serves both sides of his personality. When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (and Guy Mitchell Sang the Blues)/Hearts on Trees (Nuclear Blast) ranges from the hard-edged heartland rock of the first half (“Son of the Wind,” “Johnny Ringo’s Last Ride,” “The Road to Damascus Street”) to the mostly acoustic folk rock (“Said Samson to Goliath,” “Disasters,” a cover of Porter Wagoner’s immortal “Psycho”) of the second. Not out of line for a dude whose first professional job was playing second guitar on a New Model Army tour. German singer/songwriter Conny Ochs takes a similar tack on his third solo album Future Fables (Exile On Mainstream), though he prefers to mix his folk and rock rather than segregate them. Fielding melancholy introspection and cautiously optimistic progression, the record sounds like Ochs decided to blend his twin lives as acoustic troubadour and badass rocker, giving “Golden Future,” “Piece of Heaven” and “No Easy Way” a grit most singer/songwriter records rarely achieve.

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If Kiss had succumbed to its 70s glam rock tendencies instead of its 80s hair metal fantasies, maybe it would be half as cool as Watts. The Beantown quartet kicks the requisite amount of gluteus maximus on third LP The Black Heart of Rock ‘N Roll (Rum Bar), happily rebooting riffs from the Stones, ZZ Top and the Sweet as it’s the first time anything like it has ever been heard. “She’s Electric’ and “Strut Like a Champ” brandish serious swagger, “Stage Fright” boogies like Marc Bolan if he’s been born in Texas and “Bye & Bye” reveals the bruised heart under the bravado. If the U.S.A. has ever produced a rock & roll band inhabiting the same dimension as the late, great Dogs D’amour, Watts is probably it.

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Led by singer/songwriter Victor Penalosa – younger brother to Hector of the Zeros and Flying Color, cousin to the Escovedo clan, current drummer for the Flamin Groovies – the Phantoms bop all over the map on their self-titled debut (Rum Bar), from power pop (“Baby Loves Her Rock N’ Roll”) and country rock (“One For the Road”) to snotty punk (“Chump Change”) and no-nonsense rock & roll (“Tears Me Up Inside,” “Ditch Digger”). Add the driving heartland rock of “Two Lane Black Top” and Chuck Berry boogie of “The Ballad of Overend Watts” and it’s a party. The band has a solid grasp on anything that requires a backbeat and loud guitars, while Penalosa’s memorable melodies and appealingly plain singing tie it all together. You can probably be forgiven for casting aspersions toward the Two Tens – after all it’s a co-ed duo with a male guitarist and a female drummer, and debut album Volume (Ugly Sugar) was mixed by Detroit super producer Jim Diamond. But the L.A. act is no White Stripes wannabe – the band is far more enamored of 60s garage rock than Zeppelin blues. All the better to rock sweet pop tunes “Sweet as Pie” and “Watching Me” and pounding thrashers “Life” and “Rush Out” into the dirt.

Connectioncover

Despite coming from Portsmouth, New Hampshire (or maybe because of it), the Connection has established itself as one of the best 60s-inspired power pop bands going via Little Steven-endorsed rekkids like Let It Rock and the stupendous Labor of Love. So it’s a good time to reissue the quartet’s debut New England’s Newest Hit Makers (Rum Bar). Fresh-faced and sparkling, the record gets down to business quickly and efficiently via “Stop Talking,” “My Baby Likes to Rock N Roll,” “I Think She Digs Me” and other nuggets analogous to the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night era. Delightful. Seattle’s Navins apply similar energy to power poppy tunes that boast melodies by the jangleful on debut LP Not Yourself Today (Green Monkey). Named after Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk, the band (which includes ex-TAD man Gary Thortensen) certainly exhibits a sense of humor, but is no joke, showing serious craft and heart on the winsome “Oceans,” the jamming “Wallet Full of Signs” and the crunchy “Never Wanted Nothing.”

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Singer/guitarist Eric Knoxx slung strings for rockin’ surf/lounge band the Vice Barons for several years, but finally uncorks his larynx on Saturday Night Shakes (Rum Bar), the debut album from his new outfit the Backseat Angels. With a nod toward the upbeat melodies of old school punk/pop like the Boys and a wink toward the swagger of bubblegum glamsters like the Sweet, Knoxx and co. bang out hard candy delights “Teenage Rock’n’ Roller,” “To Be a Better Man” and “My Baby Wants to Brainwash My Mind.”

LiquidGenerationQtZ

Hailing from Seattle, the town that kicked off the whole garage rock thing back in the 60s with the Sonics, the Wailers and – RIP Jack Ely – the Kingsmen, Liquid Generation takes direct inspiration from its forebears on Quarter to Zen (Green Monkey). Recorded in 1983 and unreleased until now, scrappy snarls like “Hang Up” (a gem from the Wailers’ catalog), “Nothing” (via the Ugly Ducklings) and “¼ to Zen” would’ve landed the band on the Get Hip label and on tour with the Chesterfield Kings had it come out when it should’ve. NYC’s Mystery Lights get even more faithful to the old school on their self-titled debut (Wick) – close your eyes and you’d think this was recorded in 1965. As such, it sounds like a bunch of kids with loud guitars, a handful of chords and a few drugs fueling their rock & roll fantasies. It would almost be too retro for its own good if not for the quality of the songs – the blistering “Melt,” the wide-ranging “Before My Own” and the surprisingly psychedelic “Flowers in My Hair, Demons in My Head” scratch the Nuggets itch as well as anything from the original era.

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The blues is, of course, one of the bigger planks in rock & roll’s platform, and bands will never stop using it as the crux of their raison d’etre. So it is with Jane Lee Hooker. The NYC five-piece takes on everyone from Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf to Ray Charles and Otis Redding on its debut album No B! (Ruf). But since these ladies have backgrounds in punk and hard rock – specifically Nashville Pussy, Bad Wizard, Helldorado and the legendary Wives – they simply can’t help rocking the hell out of the likes of Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” Albert King’s “The Hunter” and Charles’ “I Believe to My Soul.” The band’s rip through Johnny Winters’ “Mean Town Blues” hews far closer to the members’ previous day jobs than anything that came out of Memphis. Whiskey-and-cigs singer Dana “Danger” Athens’ original “In the Valley” fits right in alongside genre classics and deep cuts. Northern Ireland duo the Bonnevilles stick to an original program on Arrow Pierce My Heart (Alive Naturalsound), but also punk up the blues like Chess Records filtered through the Standells. “I’ve Come Too Far For Love to Die,” “The Electric Company” (not a U2 cover) and “The Man With the X Shaped Scar On His Cheek” rock raw and dirty, not a million miles away from what the Black Keys were doing in their early days.

Left Lane Cruiser BIB

For the last decade, Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Left Lane Cruiser has practically defined the idea of punk blues. Beck in Black (Alive Naturalsound), compiled by original drummer Brenn Beck from the albums on which he appears, collects tracks from the then-duo’s earliest days up until right before the band became a trio on last year’s barnburner Dirty Spliff Blues. The Cruiser’s rawboned bottleneck ‘spunk stomps and stammers on “Zombie Blocked,” “Circus” and the mighty “Sausage Paw,” one of six previously unreleased tracks. Shawn James is more of a blues traditionalist than Hooker, Cruiser or the Bonnevilles, but only in the sense of staying acoustic on his latest LP On the Shoulders of Giants (self-released). Wielding a pair of resonator guitars and recording at Sun Studios, the big-voiced Arkansan lays down deep blues like “Back Down” and “When It Rains, It Pours” that would crush boulders if played through a Marshall stack.

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The blues is more of a feel than a form for international (counting members from the States, France and Sweden) quartet Blues Pills. Second full-length Lady in Gold (Nuclear Blast) finds the band folding in flavors of psychedelic soul into its groovy rawk stew, which suits brassy singer Elin Larsson on tunes like “Rejection,” “You Gotta Try” and “Won’t Go Back” (all hidden in the final third, oddly enough). Ultimately, though, the band is still about fairly frill-less rock & roll – check “Bad Talkers,” “Little Boy Preacher” and the especially catchy title track. Bonus: a menacing, rocking take on Tony Joe White’s “Elements and Things.” Hailing from Sudbury, Ontario, Sulfur City plays groovy blues rock with a political edge on Talking Loud (Alive Naturalsound). With an electric washboard, a powerful howl, a 60s sense of social outrage and a thing for the Devil (who appears in “Johnny” and “Sold”), leader Lori Paradis cuts a striking figure. Aided and abetted by guitarist/co-writer Jesse Lagace, she sometimes lets her band lapse into a Grateful Dead choogle that sucks the energy out of the performances. But when she and the band grit their teeth, via the swampy “One Day in June,” stomping “Tie My Hand to the Floor” and fiery “You Don’t Know Me,” they show a lot of promise.

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Remember when alt.country meant more than folk singers with tasteful bands backing them up? The Right Here does. Sounding on debut LP Stick to the Plan (Rum Bar) like the Old 97’s if they’d just come off a particularly debauched tour with Motörhead, the Minneapolis (of course) quartet takes two-stepping melodies and C&W progressions and thrashes the hell out of them while keeping the songcraft intact. From blazing cowpunkers “Til the Wheels Come Off” (which sounds like a classic set-closer) and “Judge Me When I’m Sober” to the tear-in-your-spilled-beer ballads “Drunk and Rolling Around” and “Fall Asleep, Hate Yourself, or Leave,” the Right Here rips and tears at your heartstrings as often as your ears (and your air guitar). Austin’s New Mystery Girl also fields a rootsy vibe on Crawl Through Your Hair! (Gutsy Dame), but calling them just another band of that ilk is a mistake. Singer/songwriter Chrissie Flatt and guitarist Eric Hisaw have deep roots in country and Americana music, but also a smart pop sense and a raw attack, while rhythm section Bobby Daniel and Hector Muñoz did many years with Alejandro Escovedo. Add quality songs like “Stepping On My Toes” and “I’m Not Ready to Let Go” and a rollicking rip through the New York Dolls’ “Subway Train” and you’ve got something more developed than just roots rock.

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The Kingbees were contemporaries of the Stray Cats, but never hit the same heights. That’s partly because the trio simply wasn’t as stylized as Brian Setzer’s crew, and partly because the group’s neorockabilly wasn’t as flashy about its retro stylings. That’s especially evident on second LP The Big Rock (Omnivore), originally released in 1981. Singer/guitarist Jamie James and co. worry less about 50s trappings than in simply continuing the tradition, making streamlined confections of the title track, “She Can’t ‘Make-up’ Her Mind” and covers of Charlie Rich, Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins.

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On the way to recording their second LP, the Muffs lost rhythm guitarist Melanie Vammen and traded drummer Criss Crass for ex-Redd Kross basher Roy McDonald. The changes did the band good, however, as evidenced by Blonder and Blonder (Omnivore). Originally released in 1995, the record reflected no radical departures from the self-titled debut. Instead the band refined its melodic punk & roll, with sharper hooks, wittier lyrics and a more aggressive attack. (Credit McDonald, whose spirit animal is clearly Keith Moon, at least in part for the latter.) “Ethyl My Love,” “Oh Nina” and “Laying On a Bed of Roses” rock recklessly without ever losing their grip on the hooks, while “Sad Tomorrow” and the waltz-time “Funny Face” demonstrate growing lyrical sophistication. The Doug Sahmish “Red Eyed Troll” and mostly acoustic “Just a Game” show a group growing beyond its self-imposed boundaries. Blonder and Blonder represents the Muff growing from strength to strength. As with last year’s reissue of The Muffs, this edition adds a gaggle of bonus tracks (including the album-worthy “Become Undone” and “Born Today”), informative liner notes from bassist Ronnie Barnett and Shattucks’ song-by-song commentary.

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Careening out of control like a bus driven by a tweaker, Sleeping Beauties reclaim punk rock bash ‘n’ crash for a younger generation with their self-titled debut (In the Red). Slavering meat-eaters “Meth,” “Hands” and “Bobby & Suzie” filter garage rock through the prism of ADHD-addled high school dropouts; “Slumber Party” adds a shit-kicking (if barely recognizable) C&W beat. “Merchants of Glue” and “Addicted to Drugs” pass for ballads, with pretty melodies rolled in the dirt and left to dry in the sun – “South Eugene” even goes full on acoustic. The Pacific Northwestern quintet lays claim to real songwriting chops, which means even the most crazed numbers hold up beyond the initial energy rush. Like the long-gone Squirrel Bait drowning in the Johnny Thunders side of its personality, Sleeping Beauties buries a sensitive soul under a nightmare of squalling guitars, blaring vocals and chemically-assisted insanity, and may very well be what rock & roll is all about.

***

Michael Toland also writes about metal for BLURT. Go HERE to read the latest installment of his blog, “Throwing Horns,” in which he covers himself in goat’s blood and genuflects before the likes of Cobalt, Melvins, Death Angel, Candlemass, Dust Moth, Lord Mantis, and more.

 

————-AUDIO/VIDEO———————

 

The Backseat Angels – Saturday Night Shakes bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/saturday-night-shakes

 

Birth of Joy – “You Got Me Howling”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6F2WG5bos8c

 

Blues Pills – “Lady in Gold”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-1hn87q9_8

 

The Bonnevilles – “I’ve Come Too Far For Love to Die”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBFEQnIG79Q

 

Capsula – “Dali’s Face”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOS_X7rIjmc

 

The Connection – New England’s Newest Hitmakers bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/new-englands-newest-hit-makers-rum-bar-edition

 

Dr. Boogie – “Get Back to New York City”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEZbidRpyLc

 

Indonesian Junk – s/t bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/indonesian-junk

 

Shawn James – “Hellhound”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1KzScW87ZE

 

Jane Lee Hooker – “Mannish Boy”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnRiiJMN3B0

 

The Kingbees – The Big Rock trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYDXwTWPYDc

 

Liquid Generation – Quarter to Zen bandcamp:

http://greenmonkeyrecords.bandcamp.com/album/quarter-to-zen

 

The Muffs – Sad Tomorrow”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsxyaZhdW1s

 

The Mystery Lights – s/t bandcamp:

https://themysterylights.bandcamp.com/

 

The Navins – Not Yourself Today bandcamp:

https://greenmonkeyrecords.bandcamp.com/album/not-yourself-today

 

New Mystery Girl – Crawl Through Your Hair stream:

http://newmysterygirl.com/?page_id=20

 

Conny Ochs – “Killer”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMQbWFYY21o

 

The Phantoms – s/t bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-phantoms

 

The Right Here – Stick to the Plan bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/stick-to-the-plan

 

Sleeping Beauties – “Meth” (live):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNKHvBMljFo

 

Sulfur City – “Ride With Me”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk9jZYKXNW0

 

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders – “Just Another Broken Day”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfM6N5v2f_I

 

The Two Tens – Volume bandcamp:

https://thetwotens.bandcamp.com/album/volume

 

Ricky Warwick – “The Road to Damascus Street”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npqBrRDEKEs

 

Watts – The Black Heart of Rock-N-Roll bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-black-heart-of-rock-n-roll-2

 

 

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns 666.8

Kylesa

 

Hard rock! Stoner metal! Crustcore! Psychedelia! Grunge! Thrash! Skronk! Black metal! Trash punk! Bad boy boogie! (huh?) Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids, it’s the seventh installment in our latest genre study, with Kylesa (above), Killing Joke, Clutch, Baroness, Locrian, Sunn O))), Children of Bodom, Panopticon and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4, here for Pt. 666.5, here for 666.6 and here for 666.7—if you dare. Incidentally, following the text are links to audio and video of the bands discussed, so check ’em out.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

Already respected as a leader in the fertile Savannah, GA metal scene, Kylesa has also stepped up as a forward thinker in the national metal scene – its last two records Ultraviolet and Spiral Shadow found the band moving way beyond its sludge/death roots into new realms of doom, prog, noise and psych. Exhausting Fire (Retro Futurist/Season of Mist) keeps the band on that path. Now reduced to the trio of drummer Carl McGinley and co-leaders Philip Cope and Laura Pleasants, Kylesa streamlines its eclectic approach, making the dreaminess dreamier and the boogie boogier. Alternating psychedelic singalong choruses with mystic jangle and heads-down riffage, “Growing Roots,” “Inward Debate,” “Shaping the Southern Sky” and a strange, acid-fried cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” artfully weave shimmer and crunch into brilliant rawk ‘n’ roar nuggets that perfectly capture the retro futurism of its label’s name. If this upward swing sustains, Kylesa may very well change the face of metal.

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Far weirder, though, is Know How to Carry a Whip (Neurot), the second album from experimental metal supergroup Corrections House. The follow-up to eyebrow-raising debut Last City Zero, Whip delves deeply into the same seething mix of doom, industrial and avant-wackiness, from blasted mindgames like “Crossing My One Good Finger” to artfucked folk like “Visions Divide” and urban hellscapes like “When Push Comes to Shank.” The difference is that somehow Mike IX Williams (Eyehategod), Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Bruce Lamont (Yakuza) and Sanford Parker (Minsk, etc.) manage to make all this ugliness melodic, even catchy at times, which just makes it more insidiously essential.

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Chicago trio Locrian artfully plunders various elements of black metal, noise rock, drone, electronica and other left-of-center sonics on its sixth LP Infinite Dissolution (Relapse). Grinding guitars, majestic keyboards, rhythms that run from languid to pounding and vocals roared more for texture than clarity conjure a mood of almost grand desolation – “An Index of Air” and “The Great Dying” wallow in a suffering so lush it’s nearly sensual. Also on the odder side of heavy comes BigǀBrave, a Montreal trio that alternates betwixt ethereal drones and heavy crunch on its second album Au de La (Southern Lord). Though fronted by Robin Wattie’s blurred-vision coo, the band ain’t afraid to drill holes in the substrata – the 12-minute “Look at How the World Has Made a Change” sounds like Steve Albini whipping an orgy involving Sonic Youth, Bjork and Neurosis into shape.

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Whore Paint prefer the noisier side of the avant-garde on Ultra Sound (Translation Loss) – cf. the seethingly rocking “Dogs” and “Maiden.” In truth, metal is only one part of this Providence trio’s worldview, especially given Rebecca Mitchell’s keening croonhowl, but axeperson Hilary Jones’ grunged-out riffage betrays enough headbanger chops to attract heshers as well as hipsters. Pigs jump even further into chaos theory on second LP Wronger (Solar Flare). Laying paint-peeling swathes of speaker-shredding guitar scree and distorted ranting atop pounding rock rhythms, the band throttles “The Life in Pink,” “Mope” and the dignity-defying “Amateur Hour in Dick City” like a meth-addled punk metal act at the bottom of the bill. But what do you expect from members of Unsane, Cutthroats 9 and JJ Paradise Players Club? Carpenters covers?

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The king daddy of experimental metal/noise bands, Sunn 0))) finally returns with its first “solo” album since 2009’s Monoliths & Dimensions. (Collaborative LPs with Ulver and Scott Walker have appeared in the interim.) Kannon (Southern Lord) allegedly adapts the “goddess of mercy” aspect of the Buddha to music, supported by an essay by critical theorist Aliza Shvartz and graphics by Swiss artist Angela LaFont Bollinger. Buy into or don’t, but the sounds surrounding the philosophy go back to the band’s core sound. Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson harness feedback and drone for waves of undulating grunge, while vocalist Attila Csihar moans, shrieks and chants in the background. Longtime cohorts Oren Ambarchi, Steve Moore (the member of Earth, not the member of Zombi) and Rex Ritter add their two cents, but the focus is on the core trio. It’s a simple plan, but executed to make maximum meditative beauty out of distorted drone, spiralling deeply into realms as spiritual as they are tactile. Regardless of whether or not you connect with the ideas, the music does exactly what Sunn 0))) does best.

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Sometimes the most metal thing an act can do isn’t metal at all. Thus Autumn Eternal (Lost Forty/Bindrune), the latest album from Panopticon, begins with “Tamaract’s Gold Returns,” an acoustic fiddle/dobro instrumental that sounds like it hails from MCA Records’ late 80s Master Series. Kentucky-bred/Minnesota-based multi-instrumentalist Austin Lunn returns to blazing black metal soon enough, as “Into the North Moods” and the title track rip through anthemic melodies and thrashing backbeats with the energy of a forest fire. An ironic comparison, actually, as the intense libretto and panoramic sweep of “Oaks Ablaze,” “Pale Ghosts” and the massive “Sleep to the Sound of the Waves Crashing” – not to mention the quotation-heavy liner notes – indicate a deep respect for Mother Nature and concern for the suffering she endures as human hands. Matched to music as impressive in its deliberate aggression as its tuneful majesty, Lunn’s themes burrow into your subconscious while your head bangs. Not the groundbreaker that last year’s Roads to the North was, but Autumn Eternal is still a stunner.

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Following an announced breakup that never quite occurred, Abigail Williams erupts on record once again with The Accuser (Candlelight). Given the involvement from members of hatemongering death mutants Indian and Lord Mantis, it’s no surprise that the Olympia, Washington-based black metal troop assaults its instruments with a roaring blend of clinical precision and brutal savagery, letting no melody go unmolested. Leader Ken Sorceron sounds possessed by demons with emotional problems on raging anthems “The Cold Lines” and “Of the Outer Darkness.” Even when traces of the band’s original symphonic style start creeping in on “Godhead” and “Nuummite,” the fury never lets up. An ear bleeder, but you’ll savor blotting every drop.

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The demise of USBM supergroup Twilight signals sort of a passing of the torch, as the original wave of depressive black metal folks make way for the new generation. A collaboration betwixt highly acclaimed USBM weirdos and brothers of different mothers K. Morgan of Ash Borer and Michael Rekevics of Fell Voices, Vanum rages through flamethrowing black metal on Realm of Sacrifice (Profound Lore). Four long tracks of wall-of-shit guitars, psychotic growls and hurricane drums – check out “Convergence” for some rockingly oppressive pound. Also a side project from pals in other bands, Vhöl pretty much swirls all of its members’ influences together on sophomore non-slump Deeper Than Sky (Profound Lore). Guitarist John Cobbett formerly led San Fran black metal troop Ludicra, leads prog metal band Hammers of Misfortune and did time in trad metal troop Slough Feg, while singer Mike Scheidt leads doomcrusher YOB and bassist Sigrid Sheie and drummer Aesop Dekker have both been in Cobbett’s various acts. Bits of all of it pop up here, though the primary aesthetic for songs like “The Desolate Damned” and “Red Chaos” seems to be a punk-infused thrash. Regardless, everybody sounds like they’re having a grand old time headbanging their brains out – or not, as on the piano-pounding pallette-cleanser “Paino.”

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One of the world’s most popular extreme metal acts, Children of Bodom doesn’t fuck around on I Worship Chaos (Nuclear Blast), the Finnish outfit’s ninth record. With the band suddenly shorn a guitarist, bandleader and sole six-stringer Alexi Laiho tightens up its blackened power metal until it’s a coiled cobra, ready to strike the moment a needle disturbs its sleep. The lighter-waving arrangements and Laiho’s blood vessel-popping shriek keep the mood on a constant steroid high, with only the interplay between he and keyboardist Janne Wirman offering any respite. Taken as a whole, Chaos can be exhausting, but individual tracks – particularly “Morrigan” and “Hold Your Tongue” – hit harder than a hammer in Oh Dae-su’s hands.

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London’s Harry Armstrong is one of those long-serving metalheads who does it purely for the love of it, plugging away in numerous bands of varying quality (End of Level Boss, Hangnail, the Earls of Mars) without ever climbing out of deep cult status. While most folks think of Hangnail as his first act of note, his journey actually began in the early 90s with Decomposed. Originally issued in 1993 as one of Candlelight’s first releases, Hope Finally Died ended up as the U.K. quartet’s sole LP. The band’s viscous blend of doom and death metal is pretty standard fare these days, but at the time it was fairly revolutionary, all grinding riffs, molasses rhythms and Armstrong’s unintelligibly guttural roar. Decomposed may have never gained the major cult followings of its peers Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, but the aggressively chunky “Falling Apart” and ambiently strange “(Forever) Lying in State” hold up nicely.

Rivers of Nihil - Monarchy

Since its emergence, Rivers of Nihil has been praised for putting its own distinctive spin on traditionalist death metal. That’s definitely apparent on Monarchy (Metal Blade), the Reading, Pennsylvania quintet’s second LP. Mixing growling riffs with a variable rhythm section and just enough melody to avoid chaos, the band finds a balance between grace and brutality that, despite the inappropriateness of using such a word when describing something this ugly, can only be described as delicate. “Sand Baptism” and “Perpetual Growth Machine” are the perfect cuts to play for both your hipster metal and snobby headbanger friends, while “Terrestria II: Thrive” points to toward the progressive sphere inhabited by pioneers like Atheist and Cynic. Speaking of Atheist, this year sees the second reissue of Unquestionable Presence (Season of Mist), the Florida band’s trailblazing second album. Originally released in 1991, Unquestionable Presence rewrote the rules of death metal, blending elements of jazz, world music and progressive rock with savage riffing and inhuman pummeling to create a vision technical death bands have been trying to catch up to ever since. Last in print in 2005, it’s a brain-frying masterpiece deserved of discovery by open-minded thrashaholics of all stripes.

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The leading light of the current generation of U.K. death-doomers, Indesinence builds on the foundation set by its predecessors with more melody, more atmosphere, surprisingly articulate growling and a whole lotta acid. III (Profound Lore) – the band’s third LP, natch – wallows in its own peculiar blend of Lovecraftian weirdness and dark-corner psychedelia, letting crawling epics “Embryo Limbo,” “Mountains of Mind” and the absolutely massive “Strange Meridian” ebb and flow like hallucinations during a trip. Further telegraphing the trio’s mindset: lush use of Mellotron, the recruitment of Robert Roth, former leader of ’90s Seattle psych/grunge band Truly, as a guest, and a cover of the Third Bardo’s 1967 nugget “I’m Five Years Ahead of My Time.” Though hailing from Detroit, Temple of Void hews to a similar tradition on Of Terror and the Supernatural (Shadow Kingdom), though the psych strains get pushed so far under the covers they’re barely tickling our toes. Still, the relentless quintet knows how to lay down a thick and brutal grunge, vanguarded by Mike Erdody’s unusually articulate yet utterly monstrous groars. Which makes the appearance of acoustic guitars and Mellotron in the otherwise crushing “To Carry This Corpse Evermore” all the more startling and welcome. Finland’s Hooded Menace also lets psychedelia sit as feel rather than form on its new album Darkness Drips Forth (Relapse), four long tracks that channel the horrors running through the minds of the cadaverous Knights Templar from the Spanish Blind Dead film series. Sample the charmingly titled “Elysium of Dripping Death” for a treatise on savage, lugubrious, haunted doomdeath.

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Immortal Bird made a huge, ugly mark with its debut EP Akrasia a couple of years ago, and its five-song/half-hour follow-up Empress/Abscess (Broken Limbs/Manatee Rampage) is no less impressive. Fiercely aggressive yet surprisingly accessible, if such a word can be applied to a band that freely mixes black metal, death metal and grindcore, the Chicago quartet rips a new earhole to anyone within range – “Sycophant” and “Saprophyte” take no prisoners unless it’s to mutilate them later. Singer/drummer Rae Amitay remains a force of nature, in much the same way as a hurricane that’s laying waste to some hapless coastline. Don’t piss her off, folks. And speaking of grind, scene godhead Pig Destroyer celebrates the reissue of its landmark 2001 LP Prowler in the Yard (Relapse). Given a remix and remaster, speed-demon blasts of obscene fury “Pornographic Memory,” “Scatology Homework” and “Strangled With a Halo” are even more efficiently brutal. The 23 tracks (in 37 minutes!) wield chainsaws of thrash/death riffery and scorched lung screams to smear shit over anything shiny and clean. Pig Destroyer is often considered the ultimate grindcore band; this album is the reason why.

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Self-described “gloom metal” trio North (who hail from Arizona, naturally) tease next year’s forthcoming new LP with digital single Through Raven’s Eyes (Prosthetic). “Old Blood” crunches along slowly but heartily via doom dynamics and Evan Leek’s defiant shout, but “Silverfeather” drifts into different territory atop a sea of ambient distortion and melancholy piano. Bringing those two approaches together should yield an interesting full-length. Halfway across the world, Hope Drone isn’t feeling any chippier. The band’s inspired name hints at the contents of the massive Cloak of Ash (Relapse) – tortured, atmospheric, doom-soaked black metal with epic lengths (the entire record is over 75 minutes) and titles like “Unending Grey” and “Every End is Fated in Its Beginning.” The emotionally fragile ought to proceed with caution.

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The forefathers of American doom metal, Pentagram returns after a four-year recording hiatus with Curious Volume (Peaceville), the eighth album in an almost comically checkered 40-year career. Still on a roll following a few years of consistent roadwork, leader Bobby Liebling sounds fired up and refreshed here, his hawk-like voice clear and sharp. Longtime off-and-on partner Victor Griffin, along with veteran bassist Greg Turley and ex-Sixty Watt Shaman skinsman Minnesota Pete Campbell, provide powerhouse backdrops, often packing as many riffs per song as lesser bands would use to construct entire albums. Between Griffin’s absolute mastery of doom metal guitar and Liebling’s compellingly wild-eyed singing, “Earth Flight,” “The Devil’s Playground” and “The Tempter Push” deliver all the power, punch and macho menace you want from an old-fashioned headbanger’s delight. At this point, Liebling is probably best known for the harrowing documentary Last Days Here, but Curious Volume proves he should be lauded for his legendary metal status, not his ability to overcome self-imposed adversity.

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Speaking of doom masters, Lee Dorrian may have put the beloved Cathedral to rest after a couple of decades, but he’s not out of the game. Besides continuing to run the magnificent Rise Above label, the vocalist joins with fellow doom vets Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening (Electric Wizard, Ramsess, Serpentine Path) in With the Dead. Via relentlessly lumbering riffs and Dorrian’s distorted declamation, the trio’s self-titled slab oozes occult nastiness and general bad vibes, aided (not unusually for a Dorrian project) by horror flick samples. Play “I Am Your Virus” or “Screams From My Own Grave” on your porch during Halloween and see how many kids still show up. Former Rise Above rosteree Witchsorrow returns with No Light, Only Fire (Candlelight), harder, meaner and more nihilistic than before. Tracks like “To the Gallows” and “Made of the Void” roar as loudly as they rumble, as leader Necroskull makes plain his disgust with the rest of his fellow hairless apes. Thanks to the trio’s command of form, the warnings of “Negative Utopia” and “Disaster Reality” go down easy.

Orchid - Sign Of The Witch - Artwork

Following the 2013 double-whammy of Mouths of Madness and the reissue of its early work as The Zodiac Sessions, San Francisco’s Orchid return with a new EP. Sign of the Witch (Nuclear Blast) continues the foursome’s bluesy take on Black Sabbath, refining its grasp of melodic riffs and letting charismatic frontdude Theo Mindell shine brighter than ever. “John the Tiger” would be a classic rock staple had it been released 40 years ago. Also on a proto-metal tip, Uncle Acid (without the Deadbeats?) returns with third U.S. release The Night Creeper (Rise Above), which skips the slump of its prior platter for a steaming slab that’s heavier, more melodic and more psychedelic all at once. Check out the roaring “Pusher Man,” the mellow “Yellow Moon” and the epically trippy “Slow Death” (not the Flamin Groovies tune) for some prime acid metal.

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The mighty Snail first blasted into consciousness in 1993 with its self-titled album, resurrecting itself 15 years later. The Seattle trio’s third LP since reuniting, Feral (Small Stone) pulls together several strains of heaviosity for a lush, crunchy odyssey through riff and roil. Leader Mark Johnson (whose diverse c.v. includes stints with Christian hardcore act The Crucified and deathcore beast Blessing the Hogs) spews out tuneful acid metal with the right balance of psychedelic craft and controlled chaos, putting “Born in Captivity,” “Psilocybe” and the titanic “Thou Are That” in rarefied dimensions usually resolved for Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange. Merging the doomy crunge of early Black Sabbath with the mystic smash of Masters of Reality and the melodic thwomp of Failure, Snail whips up a smooth fury that would make dinosaurs dance.

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Vancouver’s We Hunt Buffalo is a bit more traditional when it comes to stoner rock. But that doesn’t make Living Ghosts (Fuzzorama), the trio’s sophomore LP, any less satisfying. Surging rhythms and smooth ‘n’ screamy vocals give the tracks spicy flavors, but, like all good stoner rock, the riffs matter most, and they drive “Prairie Oyster,” “Comatose” and “Ragnarok” like Dean Winchester behind the wheel of his Dodge Charger. Heavier and nastier, Funeral Horse takes many of the same aesthetic markers and beats them unmercifully on Divinity For the Wicked (Artificial Head), the Houston triad’s third album. Thick reams of sperm whale riffery try in vain to bury distorted shouts, like a band of crusty punks climbing their way out of a canyon of the bad acid. Between blazing guitorgies like “Gods of Savages” and stomping nightmares like “Underneath All That Ever Was,” Funeral Horse has the bad trip market all sewn up. Across the pond, Germany’s Bison Machine adds some Detroit power rock to psychedelic stoner boogie on Hoarfrost (Kozmik Artifactz/Bilocation), with might, melody and cool tones charging “Cosmic Ark,” “Speed of Darkness” and “Old Moon.”

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L.A.’s Huntress made a splash a couple of years ago with its sophomore record Starbound Beast and its goofily memorable Lemmy-co-penned single “I Wanna Fuck You to Death.” Nothing on Static (Napalm) is quite that startling, but overall the record is more consistent than its predecessors. The band is in full command of its thrashy street metal, as leader Jill Janus – ex-opera singer, mental disorder sufferer, cancer survivor and full-on metal warrior – brings her A-game to “Flesh,” “Four Blood Moons” and “Harsh Times on Planet Stoked.” Over on the other coast, Pittsburgh’s Carousel made noise with its excellent debut Jeweler’s Daughter, as fine a retro hard rock record as anyone’s recorded in the last few years. Now the quartet – with former Pentagram/current The Skull axebeast Matt Goldsborough in tow – is back with follow-up 2113 (Tee Pee). Sublimating its NWoBHM influences in deference to old-fashioned American hard rock, Carousel keeps the wheels rolling with “Man Like Me,” Photograph“” and “Highway Strut” and the lighters blazing on “Strange Revelation” and a cover of Joe Walsh’s “Turn to Stone.”

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Formed by Dirty D from the long-gone B-Movie Rats and Angus Khan, Steven Darrow from the even longer-gone Guns ‘N Roses precursor Hollywood Rose and the rhythm section from Goatsnake, Sonic Medusa tapes into the same boundless source of energy on its debut EP The Sunset Soundhouse Tapes (Ripple), throwing in cups of NWoBHM and doom and a couple tablespoons of early 70s blues metal for killer cuts “Medusa,” “Cold Wind” and “Wolf’s Prayer.” Meat and potatoes and proud of it. Also comprised of components of other bands (Satan’s Wrath, Repulsion, Electric Wizard), Mirror puts one foot almost defiantly into the British end of the pool, while keeping the other firmly on American soil. Recalling precedents set by Americans Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol, Brits Angel Witch and Demon and hybrids Rainbow, epic melodic roars like “Curse of the Gypsy,” “Madness & Magick” and “Cloak of a Thousand Secrets” make Mirror’s self-titled debut LP (Metal Blade) a retro delight.

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Clutch has never fit comfortably under any banner, hopping around from groovy demi-metal to bluesy classic rock over the course of its 25-year career. Of late it’s been on a straightforward hard rock kick, inspired by a Motörhead tour, which in turn inspired career highlight Earth Rocker. While it would be unfair to call Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker) Earth Rocker 2, the follow-up certainly barrels down the same stripped-down road. Produced by longtime cohort Machine and powered, as always, by Tim Sult’s grungy riffs, Jean-Paul Gaster’s danceable grooves and Neil Fallon’s unselfconsciously quirky lyrics, the funky “A Quick Death in Texas,” thrashing “Noble Savage,” soulful “Our Lady of Electric Light” and blazing “X-Ray Visions” are instant Clutch classics and will likely be on the band’s setlists for years to come.

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You can’t get a more credible metal pedigree than Publicist UK – the lineup includes members of Municipal Waste, Revocation and Burnt By the Sun. Yet Forgive Yourself (Relapse) isn’t metal at all, despite a pack of power chords and rampaging rhythms. Instead, “Cowards” and “Levitate the Pentagon” plow a thick, deep postpunk furrow, led by Zachary Lipez’ dramatic baritone. Reminiscent of Killing Joke (at least in the latter’s less apocalyptic moments) and the late, great Beastmilk. Speaking of Beastmilk, the Finnish band’s recent demise sowed the seeds for Grave Pleasures. A veritable cemetery of former notables, the band also contains ex-members of In Solitude and, in guitarist Linnéa Olsson, the mighty but short-lived Oath. Picking up on Dreamcrash (Metal Blade) where Beastmilk left off, GP eases up on the aggression but pumps up the melodrama, sounding like a mid-80s UK guitar band enamored of both the Smiths and U2. For better or worse the father of it all, the aforementioned Killing Joke keeps its boulder rolling on Pylon (Spinefarm), its third LP since reuniting the original lineup. Still driven by Paul Ferguson’s rumbling drums, Geordie’s crunchy chords and Jaz Coleman’s endtime visions, but with an added dose of anthemic melody, the Joke fills “Dawn of the Hive,” “Big Buzz” and “Into the Unknown” with enough jagged futureshock to inspire another generation of postpunk and metal bands.

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Finally, we celebrate the return to action of Baroness. The details of the Savannah quartet’s derailment following the release of 2012’s Yellow & Green are pretty well-known by now; if you’re curious, just Google “Baroness accident” for some harrowing details. Purple (Abraxas Hymns), the band’s first LP on its own label, is informed by the accident but not defined by it. This is no catalog of misery, but a defiant howl of affirmation. Working with producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, etc.), Baroness eschews wallowing in its own pain, instead using it to intensify the feeling that life must and will go on. That energy suffuses every second of the record, from the ambitious epic “Chlorine & Wine” to the blasting rockers “Shock Me” and “Kerosene” to the widescreen ballad “If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain).” Following up the brilliant Yellow & Green would never have been an easy task, but Baroness used its adversity to make Purple another vibrantly rocking, surprisingly beautiful masterpiece.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where a major boulevard was recently rechristened—under the cover of darkness, and without official approval—after the late David Bowie. While no one has been directly accused of vandalism of public property, Toland has remained suspiciously mum about the entire incident. However, his Lone Star State accomplices include media heavy hitters The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV, so draw your own conclusions.

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Audio/Video:

 

Abigail Williams The Accuser bandcamp: https://candlelightrecordsusa.bandcamp.com/album/theaccuser

 

AtheistUnquestionable Presence bandcamp: https://atheist.bandcamp.com/album/unquestionablepresence

 

Baroness – “Shock Me”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hS5osAdTnm0

 

BigǀBrave Au De La bandcamp: https://bigbravesl.bandcamp.com/releases

 

Bison Machine Hoarfrost bandcamp: https://bisonmachine.bandcamp.com/album/hoarfrost

 

Carousel – “Trouble”: https://soundcloud.com/teepeerecords/carouseltrouble

 

Children of Bodom – “I Worship Chaos”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpyrbDjeFs

 

Clutch – “X-Ray Visions”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8cmbmwFAl8

 

Corrections House Know How to Carry a Whip stream: https://soundcloud.com/neurotrecordings/sets/correctionshouseknowhowtocarryawhip

 

DecomposedHope Finally Died bandcamp: https://candlelightrecordsusa.bandcamp.com/album/hopefinallydied

 

Funeral HorseDivinity For the Wicked bandcamp: https://funeralhorse.bandcamp.com/album/divinityforthewicked

 

Grave Pleasures – “New Hip Moon”: https://soundcloud.com/metalbladerecords/gravepleasuresnewhipmoon

 

Hooded MenaceDarkness Drips Forth bandcamp: https://hoodedmenace.bandcamp.com/

 

Hope DroneCloak of Ash bandcamp: https://hopedrone.bandcamp.com/album/cloakofash

 

Huntress – “Flesh”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ghltZ_vcRE

 

Immortal BirdEmpress/Abscess bandcamp: https://immortalbird.bandcamp.com/album/empressabscess

 

IndesinenceIII bandcamp: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/iii-2

 

Killing Joke – “Euphoria”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVf4_aicuHg

 

KylesaExhausting Fire bandcamp: https://kylesasom.bandcamp.com/album/exhaustingfire

 

LocrianInfinite Dissolution bandcamp: https://locrian.bandcamp.com/album/infinitedissolution

 

Mirror – “Heavy King”: https://soundcloud.com/metalbladerecords/mirrorheavyking

 

NorthThrough Raven’s Eyes bandcamp: https://northofficial.bandcamp.com/album/throughravenseyes

 

Orchid – “Sign of the Witch”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lreXQQEPbdY

 

PanopticonAutumn Eternal bandcamp: https://thetruepanopticon.bandcamp.com/album/autumneternal

 

Pentagram – “Misunderstood”: https://soundcloud.com/peaceville/misunderstoodtakenfromnewalbumcuriousvolume

 

Pig DestroyerProwler in the Yard bandcamp:

 

https://pigdestroyer.bandcamp.com/album/prowlerintheyarddeluxereissue

 

PigsWronger stream: http://music.solarflarerds.com/album/wronger

 

Publicist UKForget Yourself bandcamp: https://publicistuk.bandcamp.com/album/forgiveyourself

 

Rivers of Nihil Monarchy bandcamp: https://riversofnihil.bandcamp.com/album/monarchy

 

Shining – “I Won’t Forget”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpyrbDjeFs

 

SnailFeral bandcamp: https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/feral

 

Sonic Medusa The Sunset Soundhouse Tapes stream: https://soundcloud.com/ripplemusic/sets/sonicmedusa

 

Temple of Void Of Terror and the Supernatural bandcamp: https://templeofvoid.bandcamp.com/album/ofterrorandthesupernatural

 

Uncle Acid – “Waiting For Blood”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mbwk228vtkg

 

Vanum Realm of Sacrifice bandcamp: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/realmofsacrifice

 

VhölDeeper Than Sky bandcamp: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/deeperthansky

 

We Hunt BuffaloLiving Ghosts bandcamp: https://fuzzoramarecords1.bandcamp.com/album/wehuntbuffalolivingghosts

 

Whore Paint – “Dogs”: http://www.revolvermag.com/news/whorepaintpremierenewsongdogs.html

 

WitchsorrowNo Light Only Fire bandcamp: https://candlelightrecordsusa.bandcamp.com/album/nolightonlyfire

 

With the Dead – “Living With the Dead”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yN8DbTYANo

 

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns 666.6

Black Star Riders - The Killer Instinct - Artwork

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the sixth installment in our latest genre study, with Black Star Riders, Venom, Raven, Blind Guardian, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4 and here for Pt. 666.5 —if you dare. Incidentally, following the text are links to audio and video of the bands discussed, so check ’em out.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

It’s not rare for the old guard to make a comeback with a second or third wind – Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath stand as bands of a certain age that have undergone respectable resurrections. Less common is an older artist putting him or herself in a new band that continues prior traditions. Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham kept the Lizzy flag flying as a touring act, but when it came time to make new music, he changed the band’s name to Black Star Riders out of respect for Phil Lynott’s memory. BSR debuted a couple of years ago with the solid, if unspectacular, All Hell Breaks Loose, on which Gorham, guitarist Damon Johnson (Alice Cooper, Brother Cane), singer Ricky Warwick (the Almighty), bassist Marco Mendoza (Blue Murder, Ted Nugent) and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (Alice Cooper, Megadeth) tried to expand beyond the classic Lizzy sound. Apparently that approach is out the window for The Killer Instinct (Nuclear Blast), which abandons the more generalist hard rock approach of the debut to hone straight in on what made Lizzy great. Gorham and Johnson make a formidable guitar team, expertly balancing melody and power, while DeGrasso and new bassist Robbie Crane (Ratt, Lynch Mob) juggle anything the riffmeisters throw at them. While he’s no clone, Warwick borrows liberally from Lynott’s conversational vocal style, making the tracks seems like letters from home as much as entertainment. From the Celtic metal of “Soldierstown” and the chugging “Sex, Guns & Gasoline” to the brooding crunch of “Charlie I Gotta Go” and the very Lizzy-like anthems “Finest Hour” and the title track, the band finds the sweet spot between accessibility and aggression that Lynott himself was so adept at exploiting. Phil would be proud.

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Speaking of the old guard, Venom, the band that gave the black metal genre its name, crawls back From the Very Depths (Spinefarm). Still led by bassist/singer Cronos, the trio doesn’t make much progress on its 14th album, but why should it? No one does the Satanic punk/metal thing as well as the originator – cf. “Grinding Teeth,” “Mephistopheles” and “Smoke” – and if the band sometimes resembles Motorhead (complete with Phil Campbell-like axeslinger Rage), more Motorhead emulators in the world ain’t ever a bad thing. A fellow power trio of similar vintage, Raven also comes blazing out of the gate with its thirteenth album Extermination (Steamhammer/SPV). Though associated with thrash and speed metal, due to early patronage of Metallica and Anthrax, in truth the British band deals out fairly styleless beatdowns, ignoring genre in favor of riffs and sheer energy on “Feeding the Monster” and “Destroy All Monsters.” Frankly, the 62-minute record would have been more effective at half the length, but in short bursts it’s damned exhilarating.

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While elder statesmen like Raven prove they’ve dropped no gauntlets to be picked up, young guns still pop up to keep the trad metal fire burning. On the Swedish quartet’s second album From Beyond (Nuclear Blast), Enforcer parties like it’s 1984, complete with monsters, magic, demons and evil deeds afoot. Fortunately, “Mask of Red Death,” “The Banshee” and the title track are the kind of gleefully over-the-top, riff-chugging anthems that require no understanding of lyrics in order to appreciate.

Visigoth - The Revenant King

Visigoth, hailing from the would-be metal Mecca of Salt Lake City, mines the same rich vein of fantasy-driven mania on its debut The Revenant King (Metal Blade). Whether due to its heightened melodic sense or the burly charisma of singer Jake Rogers, the quintet takes battleaxe metal to another level, lighting “Dungeon Master,” “Creature of Desire” and the title ditty on fire with chest-thrusting power. Coming in from the West Coast, Night Demon have faced charges of copycatting older, better bands (Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Angel Witch) on its full-length debut Curse of the Damned (Century Media). Clearly in thrall to the more melodic of the early NWoBHM bruisers, the Ventura, CA trio certainly won’t win any originality awards. But the band clearly loves playing with these toys, and “Screams in the Night,” “Livin’ Dangerously” and “The Howling Man” satisfy too well to worry about stylistic pilfering.

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The menacing sludge strangling the self-titled debut (Neurot) by Brothers of the Sonic Cloth hints at its creator: Tad Doyle, late of namesake Tad and Hog Molly. The Seattle singer/guitarist/producer molds BotSC into a far heavier and dissonant entity than any he’s led before. “Unnamed,” “Empires of Dust” and “I Am” lumber forward like dinosaurs before their coffee, with Doyle’s harsh roars and growls urging them on. The LP reaches a monstrous apex of sorts with the massive “La Mano Poderosa,” a multi-pronged shaft of blackened acid doom. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth may be the pinnacle of Doyle’s heavy rock obsessions. Also getting meaner and noisier in his old age, Aaron Turner – leader of late prog metal iconoclasts Isis and doom pranksters Old Man Gloom – launches Sumac with The Deal (Profound Lore). Clashing chords bat the melody around like a cat torturing a chipmunk, Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) pummels the kit while somehow maintaining swing and Turner growls in a voice so guttural you want to get him a cough drop. The trio creates a visceral brand of atmospheric art doom that expands boundaries while still staying true to form – cf. “Blight End’s Angel” and the title track.

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Portland’s Lord Dying, meanwhile, follows up its promising debut Summon the Faithless with Poisoned Altars (Relapse) maintaining its balance of roaring thud and ripping crunch. The title ditty, the mighty epic “Darkness Remains” and the delightfully titled “Sucking at the Teat of a She-Beast” wield chunky riffs like bloody hammers, softening you up for Erik Olson’s hellish drill sergeant bark.

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Less avant doom abounds as the ever-elegant Torche continues its practice of injecting gobs of singalong melody into savory crunch on Restarter (Relapse). Leader Steve Brooks grafts catchy vocal lines from early 90s alt.rock records to 70s-style doom, leading to accessible, ass-kicking tunes like “Bishop in Arms,” “Believe It” and “Loose Men.” Not to mention the title track, nearly nine minutes of amp-frying, synapse-abusing cosmic doom of a classically heavy stripe. The career of Sorcerer, meanwhile, dates back to the late 80s, though the Swedish quintet never released an album during their original lifespan. A couple of decades later, the band finally releases In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross (Metal Blade), its debut slab of epic doom. Like fellow countrybeast Candlemass, Sorcerer plays to the seats behind the cheap seats, thanks to singer Anders Engberg’s sweeping clarity and guitarists Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren’s mighty riffs. “Prayers For a King” and “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer” keep the melancholy melodies vibrating with dark atmosphere and electric power.

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On its self-titled second LP (RidingEasy), Brooklyn’s Blackout dives deeper into the same acid pool that soaked its first album, letting “Nightmare” and “Cross” ooze with psychedelic doom. The trio’s New York neighbor Geezer goes for a similar vibe on Gage (Ripple Music), putting a bluesy spin on “Thorny” and “Ghost Rider Solar Plexus” and going full space rock on “Tales of Murder and Unkindness.” It ain’t all new faces, though, since As Heaven Turns to Ash (Southern Lord), the debut and sole LP by long-defunct Massachusetts trio Warhorse, has been re-unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The band’s brand of psych-tinged sludge/doom is common currency these days, but back in 2001 it made (ugly) waves amongst aficionados of black lights, bongs and the devil. Beside bruisers like “Black Acid Prophecy” and “Lysergic Communion,” the reissue also features the songs from the band’s final 7-inch EP I Am Dying.

Melechesh - Enki - Artwork

A forward-thinking black metal act looking at twenty years of existence, Amsterdam-based Melechesh weaves threads reflecting its Assyrian, Armenian and Israeli heritage into thrashing savagery on Enki (Nuclear Blast). Keeping the blast beats to a minimum and the riffs (many of them played on 12-string for an extra six strings of oomph) to a maximum, Melechesh downloads Jewish, Christian and Muslim lore into robust files of Middle Eastern-frosted melody and take-no-prisoners brutality, brought into focus by leader Ashmedi’s otherworldly shriek. Parsing the band’s complex theology challenges and the epic prog metal of “The Outsiders” and acoustic ambience of “Doorways to Irkala” stun, but the sheer headbanging rush of “Multiple Truths,” “The Pendulum Speaks” and “Metatron and Man” satisfies most sweetly. In Times (Nuclear Blast) is the latest slab o’ grandeur from the mighty Enslaved, Norway’s best-known purveyors of progressive black metal and another twenty-year vet. Like fellow traveler Opeth, the Haugesund quintet freely moves between sweet and sour, countering harsh roars and a rampaging attack with mellifluous singing and accessible melody. After two decades of practice, the form verges on formula, but the band’s enthusiasm for its chosen path keeps “One Thousand Years of Rain,” “Building With Fire” and the title track on message.

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It doesn’t get much publicity even in these days of vinyl fetishism, but metal and hard rock bands like to be cool and put out seven-inch singles as much as punks and indie rockers. Johanna Sadonis, former singer of the great but sadly short-lived duo The Oath, debuts her new outfit Lucifer on “Anubis” b/w “Morningstar” (Rise Above), a pair of delightfully eerie and broodily melodic doom monsters that show off her haunting pipes. Lucifer’s labelmate Horisont also teases some kickass times ahead with “Break the Limit” b/w “Yellow Blues” (Rise Above). The A-side chugs with beer-fueled bravado, like a 70s opening act that knows better than the headliner, while the flip spices its widescreen roil with burbling Moog and duelling guitars.

Blind Guardian - Twilight Of The Gods - Artwork - Copy

Germany’s Blind Guardian also teases its latest opus with “Twilight of the Gods” b/w “Time Stands Still – At the Iron Hill (live at Wacken 2011)” (Nuclear Blast), the former a rampaging slice of Queenly power metal and the latter a majestic live track recorded at Germany’s premier heavy music festival. Finally, Ides of Gemini resurrect a song recorded during the sessions for but not included on its most recent LP Old World New Wave – “Carthage” b/w “Strange Fruit” (Magic Bullet) puts a brooding acoustic/electric slice of heaviness on the A-side and a haunting psych metal version of the Billie Holiday standard on the flip. (Be advised that the meatspace version of the single goes out of print following Record Store Day.)

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Miscellaneous: Karma to Burn returns to action with the mighty Arch Stanton (FABA), a rampaging collection of psychedelic dinosaur killers and scorched earth boogie. Powered by a swingin’ rhythm section and layered with guitar tones so thick they’d withstand a rhinoceros charge, “23,” “57” and “54” don’t just rock – they roll, over the hills, through the woods and on up to your doorstep, collecting heads along the way. Portugal’s Moonspell reasserts itself as South America’s paragon of gothic metal on Extinct (Napalm), a hard-rocking LP that may appeal as much to fans of Sisters of Mercy as to those of H.I.M.. Check out anthems “The Last of Us” and “Medusalem” to sample both the band’s inherent tunefulness and singer Fernando Ribeiro’s ability to go from croon to bawl to blargh without dissociative personality disorder. Fulgora consists of members of grindcore/extreme metal royalty Pig Destroyer, Misery Index and Agoraphoric Nosebleed; Stratagem (Housecore) collects the four songs from the trio’s Dischord singles, plus three. “Splinter” “Merdian” and “Artifice” smash shins with chugging noisecore, with hard rock riffery and articulate shouting distinguishing them from grindcore’s usual inchoate rage blur.

A Forest of Stars - BtSYCS

Hailing from Leeds, England, A Forest of Stars emerges from its ancient castle with Beware the Sword You Cannot See (Prophecy), a weird and wonderful melange of black metal, prog, Celtic folk and quirky British sensibilities. As blackened vokills sidling up to arch spoken word passages and dreamy violin swells duel with crunching guitars, “A Blaze of Hammers,” “An Automaton Adrift” (part V of an inexplicable song cycle) and “Drawing Down the Rain” should border on batshit insane. But the septet (led by vocalist Mister Curse, violinist/singer Katherine, Queen of the Ghosts and keyboardist the Gentleman) values craft over chaos, keeping on track and letting each ingredient in the stew get a chance to shine. Best song title, maybe ever: “Proboscis Master Versus the Powdered Seraphs.” Similarly eclectic, though more concerned with emotional power, is Pyramids, a Denton, Texas ensemble that conflates prog rock, shoegaze, black metal and doom into the remarkable ball of earwax A Northern Meadow (Profound Lore). Though burdened with titles like “I Have Four Sons, All Named For Men We Lost to War” and “The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes Like the Mouths of Whales,” the record nearly perfectly balances beauty and brutality, not so much shifting between moods as indulging in them all at once. Thus a melancholy croon floats above harsh guitar grind, and a majestic melody emerges from brooding dissonance – a difficult meld to mold, but Pyramids get it right.

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Cheerily starting its second LP with a lovely acoustic ditty called “Suicide Note,” eclectic extremists Voices slither and blast all over the map on London (Candlelight), named for the quartet’s hometown. With roots in adventurous black metal troop Akercocke, it’s no surprise Voices veers between melancholy melody and savage brutality – or, for that matter, the egomania and alternative sexuality celebrated in “Last Train Victoria Line,” “The Ultimate Narcissist” and the charming “The Fuck Trance.” The frequent narration indicates a storyline of some sort.

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Blurring the lines between genres even further, Karyn Crisis debuts her new project Gospel of the Witches with Salem’s Wounds (Century Media). Death metal, goth, grunge and the occult fuse in the former Crisis leader’s new vision, with “The Secret,” “Goddess of Light” and “Mother” giving her plenty of room to growl and howl as sidefolk drawn from Ephel Duath, Immolation, Tombs and Vaura attempt to keep up.

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Finally, metal wouldn’t be metal without royalty asserting itself, and thus we have debut EPs from a pair of Kings. Fronted by Kristina Esfandiari, late of shoegaze rockers Whirr, King Woman lowers itself into a molten vat of doom on the four-song Doubt (The Flenser). “King of Swords” and “Candescent Soul” blend the singer’s former and current projects, allowing her to mix her voice in as texture, rather than lead instrument. King Hitter, on the other hand, prefers chugging boogie metal to dreamy doomgaze on its self-titled five-songer (Restricted Release). Led by ex-Leadfoot members Scott Little and Karl Agell, who also sang for Corrosion of Conformity on Blind, King Hitter lays down the pound on “The End,” “Feel No Pain” and its eponymous theme song, kicking out the kind of jams that require a convertible with the top down and a long stretch of highway.

King Hitter_RES013CD

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, during the recent SXSW festival, it was reported that an RV transporting young Swedish attendees was seen in the vicinity of several area Baptist churches that later burned to the ground. Toland, however, claims to have no knowledge of any of this. His Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

Below are links to audio and video of most of the artists detailed above. Be sure you surf anonymously, however, because government officials will be monitoring them….

Black Star Riders – “Finest Hour”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRZa-qf7haw

Venom – “Grinding Teeth”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHMC-llcnJw

Raven – “Destroy All Monsters”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skb0oN1GftI

Enforcer – “Destroyer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4785h6JSqNc

Visigoth – “The Revenant King”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqc1yNuFrps

Night Demon – “Screams in the Night”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-nozJQfqE0

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth – video teaser:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UUVHQ8u0HZeyKXRieHNneaGA&v=hDk96GQKTWU

Sumac – “Blight End’s Angel”

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Sumac

Lord Dying – “Poisoned Altars”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOjubYcJjFA

Torche – album stream:

https://torche.bandcamp.com/album/restarter

Sorcerer – “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxAJ6i_jKkY

Blackout – album stream:

http://blackout666.bandcamp.com/album/blackout-2

Geezer – album stream:

https://geezertown.bandcamp.com/album/gage

Warhorse – album stream:

http://warhorsesl.bandcamp.com/releases

Enslaved – “One Thousand Years of Rain”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O7GhZBpDCk

Melechesh – “Multiple Truths”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euzd-Om57vM

Lucifer – Anubis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEV_7XVu3U0

Horisont – “Break the Limit”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OS8RxNRLsRI

Blind Guardian – “Twilight of the Gods”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ep1B_aIFPDE

Karma to Burn – “55”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=De-zrgA3o0g

Moonspell – “The Last of Us”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QlabIp__44

Fulgora – “Splinter”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7IyRjlVubE

Voices – “The Fuck Trance”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuEI6y8itS8

Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches – “Mother”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1AIUdaHT_k

Pyramids – album stream:

https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/a-northern-meadow

A Forest of Stars – album stream:

https://a-forest-of-stars.bandcamp.com/album/beware-the-sword-you-cannot-see

King Woman – “King of Swords”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bnsfccgbC0

King Hitter – “King Hitter”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgsBE5iHWec

 

 

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns Pt. 666.3 – The Blurt Metal Roundup

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.3

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the third installment in our latest genre study, with Prong, Serpentine Path, Lord Mantis, The Oath and the eye-poppingly-monikered Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, or here for the second, Pt. 666.2 — if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

 

Prong - Ruining Lives

One of the most perennially underrated metal acts around, Prong may not release albums as often as it used to, but when it does, ears should perk up. The hardcore-infused NYC troop scored a real return to form with its last record Carved Into Stone; new slab Ruining Lives (Steamhammer/SPV) consolidates its musical gains with even more potent songwriting. Bandleader Tommy Victor (who played nearly every note here) is an expert at adding just enough melody to keep tracks earworm-worthy, while still maintaining the band’s brutal strength and martial rhythms. New metal anthems “Absence of Light,” “Remove, Separate Self” and the thrashing “The Book of Change” raise the bar not only for the band but modern metal in general. Prong’s precision-riff blend of thrash, classic metal and hardcore has been tremendously influential on the metalcore and nü-metal hordes, but don’t blame Victor for that. Ruining Lives shows the no-longer-young bucks of the last couple of decades how to do that shit right. (Album stream here.)

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Sweden’s Portrait takes inspiration from the galloping-down-the-mountain style of 80s metal warcries, blazing away like neither hair metal nor grunge ever happened. Crossroads (Metal Blade), the band’s third album, tones the Mercyful Fate worship down (though singer Per Karlsson’s abrupt pitchshifting still pays tribute to Fate’s King Diamond), but still proudly waves the flag for spread-legged, denim-wearing air guitarists everywhere. Old-fashioned? Sure – nostalgic, even. But the Scandinavians have an amazing ability to make the hoariest clichés sound fresh and exciting, and Portrait’s combination of skillful bombast and naked enthusiasm on “Black Easter,” “We Are Not Alone” and the epic “Lily” gives Crossroads a shiny new coat of crimson.

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High Spirits You Are Here

Chicago’s prolific Chris Black (Dawnbringer, Superchrist, Pharaoh, Nachtmystium) knows a thing or two about 80s metal as well – check out You Are Here (Hells Headbangers), the third record from his one-man-band project High Spirits for a set of supremely melodic, lusciously rifftastic, shockingly lovelorn hard rock in a style pretty nobody plays anymore. Beautifully produced, plainspokenly sung and catchy as a cold, “I Need Your Love,” “The Last Night” and “When the Lights Go Down” would’ve ruled AOR radio in the Reagan Years. (Album stream here.) The dudes in The Skull, meanwhile, actually hail from that decade – the band consists of ex-members of the long-running doom institution Trouble. Unsurprisingly, the band’s debut 7-inch “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” b/w “The Last Judgment” (Tee Pee) sounds like vintage Trouble (though not Vintage Trouble) – roaring riff-boom with a shot of NWoBHM majesty and psychedelic atmosphere. Which makes it doubly odd that Skull singer Eric Wagner left Trouble because he wanted to expand his musical horizons.

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SerpentinePath

Though named Serpentine Path and including ex-Electric Wizard bassist Tim Bagshaw (here on guitar), the band that’s created the magnificently ugly Emanations (Relapse) is essentially an Unearthly Trance reunion. The blackened doom of that highly underrated outfit roils in full effect here: leader Ryan Lipynsky grinds sorcerous sludge from his six-string and growls like a boulder-chewing troll stewing in hatred, while the rest of the quartet rumbles forward like a tank spewing oil smoke. “Torment,” “Disfigured Colossus,” “Systematic Extinction” – these ain’t ditties with which to sing your child to sleep. Speaking of nightmares, Sweden’s Vampire comes blasting out of the graveyard like a ravenous ghoul with its self-titled debut (Century Media). With a smidge of Motörhead, a soupçon of early Metallica and a whole lotta old school black metal, the fearsome foursome flails the hell into “Cellar Grave Vampire,” “At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse” (nice Coffin Joe reference) and, of course, “The Bestial Abyss” with all the subtlety of an ax to the skull. This band must be a faceripper live. And speaking of leaving bloody skulls in its wake, Chicago’s Lord Mantis unleashes more angry demons from hell on its third album Death Mark (Profound Lore). Imagine an army of nihilistic locusts consuming the outer layer of the earth while pissing xenomorphic acid on the remainder and you have a vague grasp of the shrieking death sludge powering “Body Choke,” “Possession Prayer” and the beastly “Three Crosses.” It takes a lot of blackened hate to get noticed in the same year that fellow travelers Eyehategod and Indian (whose Dylan O’Toole guests) released definitive statements, but Lord Mantis leaves enough flesh between the teeth to hang with the big boys.

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On its self-titled debut (Rise Above), Euro duo The Oath revels in two of heavy metal’s most essential concepts: the mysterious spirit world and the almighty riff. With a rhythm section borrowed from Kadavar and Angel Witch and assistance from Swedish luminaries In Solitude and Watain, Swedish guitarist Linnea Olsson and German singer Johanna Sadonis kick out the occult metal jams with a bluesy psychedelic edge, like Dio-era Black Sabbath recording in 1969. Click “Black Rainbow” and “Night Child” for some nicely fried, gracefully bludgeoning kicks – drag that the band has already split. Olsson’s fellow Swedes in The Tower travel even further back into the Retroverse on Hic Abundant Leones (Bad Omen/Prosthetic). The quartet’s blues-rocking proto-metal pares down to the basics of riff and rhythm, rattling “Adrenalawine” and “Lions at the Gate” straight into the stratosphere. (Audio stream here.) The ridiculously named Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell rides a similar hog on its second LP Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em (Rise Above), subtracting a bit of Chicago and adding a smidge more Detroit. Shorter, sharper jabs a la “Happiness Begins,” “Do It Now” and, erm, “The Thicker the Better” play better to ASCS’s strengths, but longer slogs like “Returning From Home” and “Late Night Mornings” give guitarist Johnny Gorilla (ex-Gorilla, natch) more room to stomp.

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WoFat

From the ancient lands of Ireland cometh Dread Sovereign, its thundering tread trampling the earth like a giant exploring his new territory after sliding down the beanstalk. On All Hell’s Martyrs (Vån), the Dublin trio errs on the mystical side of heavy-as-hell doom grunge, its tall tales oozing from some other, fouler dimension. “Thirteen Clergy,” “Pray to the Devil in Man” and “Cathars to Their Doom” give explicit nods to Old Scratch, but the deeper, creepier epic “Cthulu Opiate Haze” draws from the same disturbed mind that conceived the Necronomicon. Dread Sovereign’s dream evil thud aims to haunt your dreams as much as pound your heart. Dallas trio Wo Fat’s doom, meanwhile, comes in a far more psilocybin-soaked container. The band’s fifth album The Conjuring (Small Stone) picks up where its stellar previous LP The Black Code left off, as the catchy “Read the Omen” and the blue whale-sized “Dreamwalker” shoot bowel-rumbling heaviness through the heart of an exploding star. (Album stream here.)

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On the appropriately titled Deafen (Domestic Genocide), Black Tar Prophet strips doom down to its thong underwear and dips it in the radioactive slime leaking from a nuclear power plant. Consisting of nobody but bassist Greg Swinehart and drummer Eric Dever, the band sounds like it’s lifting every classic slow burn Sabbath rhythm section track and cranking the amps past 11. Seriously, if you ever thought the first Sabs record would have been great without that annoying Ozzy and mix-hogging Tony Iommi, Deafen will tweak your fantasies hard – “Ring of Buzzards,” “Hypomania” and the magnificent monstrosity “Back On the Nod” grimly revel in the sonic torture of helpless bass amps while a drum kit keeps up the snappy patter. Loud at any volume, Black Tar Prophet bass tones its way through your ribcage on its way to shattering your spine.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a serious 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.