Tag Archives: punk

Tim Hinely: THE INSPIRATION BEHIND… Moving Targets’ “Faith” (1986)

Kenny Chambers discusses the key track from his band’s Burning in Water LP.

BY TIM HINELY

Ed note: We continue our series devoted to tunes that hold special places in our hearts and in our collective experience as devotees to and lovers of timeless indie rock. To kick the series off, we asked Eric Matthews, of both solo and Cardinal fame, to talk about his classic number “Fanfare,” from his 1995 Sub Pop hit It’s Heavy in Here. Next was Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom pulling back the curtain on one of his early gems: “Taillights Fade,” from 1992’s Let Me Come Over, cut with fellow bandmembers Chris Colbourn (bass) and Tom Maginnis (drums). After that we dipped way back to 1970 for the proto-power pop of Crabby Appleton’s “Go Back,” penned by frontman Michael Fennelly, and then fast-forwarded to 2000 for John Conley talking about his band the California Oranges and their pop gem “John Hughes.” Then it was back to the ‘90s courtesy Allen Clapp, who talked about “Something Strange Happens.” Now we drop in to 1986 and the Boston punk scene….

As far as I know Boston’s Moving Targets, led by main songwriter Kenny Chambers, had only cut a handful of songs before recording their massive debut, Burning in Water (Taang Records, 1986). Though they’d been bouncing around in one form or another since the early ‘80s—they emerged from the ashes of a band called Smash Pattern—the only recorded output they had was a few songs on the Conflict Records compilation Bands That Could Be God. I have to say, I was completely blown away the first time I heard Burning in Water. At the time, I was moving away from hardcore and listening to more mid-tempo, melodic stuff, and this record just hit that sweet spot. The band got a lot of comparisons to Husker Du, which I do hear as an influence, but I like Burning in Water more than any Husker Du record, which is saying something as I love Husker Du.

It was tough to only pick out one song, but I decided to ask Kenny Chambers about the soaring and powerful “Faith.” Kenny was more than happy to hit me back and tell me about the origins of the song and the recording of it. The band: Chambers on guitar and vocals, Pat Leonard on bass, Pat Brady on drums.

What was the initial inspiration for the song?
“Faith” was born during my time in the band Smash Pattern (Chuck Freeman on drums) in 1984. I’m sure there was some Mission of Burma influence coupled with a case of Old Milwaukee that we consumed at every practice. When the ‘targets came together again 1985 we started playing it.

Did it take long to finish writing it?
The song took a short while to put together. I wrote it whole then added a couple more parts on the following couple of weeks.

Any idea how your long time fans feel about it (i.e.: would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?)
I think any fan of the band likes that tune.

Was it a staple of your live sets even years later?
The Moving Targets had “Faith” on most set lists from 1985 to 2007. I don’t think that we ever got tired of playing it.

Is there anything about the song you’d change?
I wouldn’t change anything about it. The band played it well and Lou Giordano did a fine job of recording it and coaxing a good performance out of us.

Tell me a little about the recording of it – where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.?
Recording the Burning in Water album was kind of a blur. We were so excited and it went so quickly (all of the basic tracks in a day and a half) that I personally don’t remember recording most of the songs. I know it sounded great in the studio with Lou and Carl Plaster and we were happy with everything. The only problem with recording was trying to adapt to a cleaner amp sound. Lou pushed the cleaner sound and I was used to total distortion. In hindsight, Lou was right on the money. The record sounds sharp.

How do you feel about it now?
I still think it holds up today.

Early Chambers photo by David Henry / via Wikimedia

Current Chambers photo from Versus the Goat podcast page

 

 

Michael Toland: Rockin’ Is Ma Business Pt. 3

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Pt. 666.9

Cobalt

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 Cobalt (above), Melvins, Death Angel, Candlemass, Dust Moth, Lord Mantis, 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, here for 666.7 and here for 666.8—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

As cult as cult can be, Colorado’s Cobalt records infrequently and tours even less, so the metal community can be forgiven for forgetting the duo still exists. But records like Eater of Birds and Gin are prized by fans like slivers of the true cross (and are about as rare at this point), so any new release comes with the kind of reverential anticipation usually reserved for a Tom Waits album. Slow Forever (Profound Lore), the band’s fourth LP, comes with its own black cloud – singer and founding member Phil McSorley was fired after using racist slurs in an interview, then replaced with Charlie Fell, whose own lyrics with his previous band Lord Mantis have been accused of racial insensitivity. (If you want to know the full tit-for-tat story, Google is your friend.) Regardless of one’s feelings for its creators’ past actions, the album is an exceptional piece of work. Multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder paints an ugly picture, but not one without appeal. Thanks to a tight grasp on arrangements and just enough melody to focus the violence, he spreads the band’s doom-ridden progressive black metal over two disks with no listener fatigue. Fell brings his bloodthirsty A-game to the mic, slashing his larynx with ferocity and slotting into songs intended for McSorley as if the latter had never been present. Psychedelic, dynamic and brutal, “Hunt the Buffalo,” “Slow Forever” and the massive “King Rust” and “Final Will” smash and burn with the best extreme metal of the past decade. Expect Slow Forever to top a lot of 2016 best-of lists.

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Speaking of Lord Mantis, the band’s latest EP Nice Teeth Whore (New Density) is also the debut of its latest iteration, with Indian’s Dylan O’Toole and Will Lindsay joining Mantis’ Andrew Markuszewski and Bill Baumgardner. (The drama surrounding this particular mind-meld, which also tangentially involves Abigail Williams and the disgraced Nachtmystium, is worthy of a soap opera, but we’ll skip it – Google that shit if you gotta know.) Given that both outfits indulged in some of the most angry, hateful and nihilistic death metal ever made by anyone anywhere, it’s not a shock that the four songs here are the same, but moreso. The grinding closer “Final Division” isn’t just the key track on the EP, but practically a primer on this poisonous strain of Chi-town extreme metal.

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Undoubtedly one of the best metal acts going, Tombs follows up 2014’s masterful Savage Gold with the all-too-brief EP All Empires Fall (Relapse). The Brooklyn quintet ostensibly plays black metal, but happily incorporates wild-eyed acid doom, spooky gothic drama and Neurosis-like poundcrunch into its violent aesthetic, always layering in just enough melody to keep from being mere cacophony. Synthesist Fade Kainer adds a new touch to the band’s usual deathcrush, but it’s still visionary Mike Hill’s show via the brilliant, eccentric “Last Days of Sunlight” and “V.” Former Emperor leader Ihsahn has long used black metal merely as a jumping off point – his last album found him hitting a new peak in that regard, and his latest Arktis (Candlelight/Spinefarm) keeps that momentum going. Few artists incorporate prog and psych into extreme metal as well as this Norwegian genius – he effortlessly makes “Pressure,” “My Heart is in the North” and “Mass Darkness” sweeping, jagged, melodic, dissonant and beautiful all at once. Though it has no toes in the extreme metal pool, Canadian duo Sierra also ranges all over the map on its new EP 72 (self-released). The difference is that singer/guitarist Jason Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Robbie Carvalho (plus drummer Sam Hill) hop from 70s metal to prog to psych to folk and back within a single beautifully written, arranged and performed 22-minute song.

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The Cavern, the last album from Inter Arma, was also a single( 45-minute) song.The Richmond quintet doesn’t revisit that idea on its new record Paradise Gallows (Relapse), but it throws all its others into this 70-minute epic. IA carefully and considerately combines black metal dissonance, death metal brutality, doom metal dynamics and psychedelic sonic fuckery into lumbering constructions of artful agony and dark power. The band knows when to leaven the mood, via the ethereal arpeggios of “Nomini,” the gothic drama of “Primordial Wound,”the acoustic shimmer of “When the Earth Meets the Sky,” the prog rock majesty of “Potomac.” But that just makes the noise noisier and the loathing more potent – the eclectic journeys of the title track, “Transfiguration” and “The Summer Drones” blaze loudly with horror at humanity’s inhumanity to, well, everything. That the band hits the low points and does it in an artful way puts Inter Arma on its way to rewrite the rules of extreme metal someday. Seattle’s Dust Moth gets just as eclectic, if not as heavy on its first full-length album Scale (The Mylene Sheath). The band’s tricky blend of shimmering gauze pop, melancholy post-prog and psychedelic doom reaches full, expressive flower on the darkly flowing “Up Into Blackness,” the powerful “Corrections” and the enigmatically unwinding “Lift.”

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The Melvins don’t fit comfortably in any bag (King Buzzo’s distinctive hairstyle would stick out, for one thing) under normal circumstances, and on Basses Loaded (Ipecac) it ain’t normal circumstances. With six different bass players (including Krist Novoselic, JD Pinkus of Honky and the Butthole Surfers and Redd Kross’ Steven McDonald, who’s filling the slot on tour) aiding and abetting the bottom-challenged trio, the band traverses all over its personal heavy rock territory, from spacey doom (“Captain Come Down”) and roiling acid metal (“Phyllis Dillard”) to thick grunge (“War Pussy”) and near-pop (“Choco Plumbing”). New Zealand’s Beastwars spins its own metallic web on third LP The Death of All Things (Destroy), plunging neck-deep into a thick ooze blended from doom, sludge, psych, thrash and biker metal. Guitars and rhythms mind-meld in pursuit of massive riffs; Matt Hyde’s carnivorous vocals rain visions of worldwide apocalypse down from the thunderclouds. “Witches,” “The Devil Took Her” and the mighty “Call of the Mountain” reveal meticulous craft under the nearly overwhelming power.

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The future of doom titan Candlemass has looked uncertain for a few years, with singer Robert Lowe’s dismissal and rumors the band had no plans to record again. Clearly, though, any lingering issues have been sorted, as evidenced by EP Death Thy Lover (Napalm), the Swedish quintet’s first record in four years and first with veteran metal singer Mats Levén. Just in time for its 30th anniversary, the band proves it hasn’t lost a jot of its touch on lumbering blasters “Sleeping Giant” and the title track. Japan’s Church of Misery also could’ve thrown in the towel after losing every member but mastermind Tatsu Mikami following 2013’s Thy Kingdom Scum. The surprising choice to replace his countrymen with Americans (metal vets all) seems to have given the serial killer-obsessed outfit new, uh, life – And Then There Were None… (Rise Above) expertly balances melody and groove with brutality and heaviness for one of the long-running quartet’s most accessible LPs.

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Miss Lava pushes its doomcrunch far out into the space/time continuum on Sonic Debris (Small Stone). The Lisbon trio swirls cosmic trippiness into ribcage-crushing doom, going from cruising speed (“Another Beast is Born”) to warp speed (“The Silent Ghost of Doom”) in a heartbeat, pausing to orbit both groovy (“Symptomatic”) and acoustically (“In a Sonic We Shall Burn”) along the way. Brontosaurus licks meet heavenly melodies, and it’s all shaken down until it burns. Dallas’ Wo Fat continues its blues-inflected, acid-soaked odyssey through the doom metal cosmos with Midnight Cometh (Ripple). The threesome’s seventh LP gets groovy (“Le Dilemme De Detenu”), rockin’ (the appropriately-titled “Riffborn”) and, most of all, smoky (“Nightcomer,” “Of Smoke and Fog”) if you know what we mean. Fresno trio Beastmaker brings together two countries’ worth of doom on its debut album Lusus Naturæ (Rise Above), drawing as much from Stateside pioneer Pentagram as from originator Black Sabbath. “Mask of Satan,” “Eyes Are Watching” and the title track do 70s heavy as well as anybody.

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Speaking of that oft-maligned decade, airbrush that Ford Econoline and strap your mane down with a headband, because La Chinga hits town with second record Freewheelin’ (Small Stone). The Vancouver trio giddily grooves up its Me Decade riff rock – while nothing here goes full-on disco (it’s not that 70s), it’s not hard to imagine booties getting shaken during “War Cry” and “Gone Gypsy.” Guitarist Ben Yardley sparks fire with tough but melodic riffs and economic solos, while bassist Carl Spackler keeps the party rolling with beer-and-reefer vocal performances. Song titles “Mother of All Snakeheads” and “White Witchy Black Magic” (that’s the chorus!) nod to a certain self-aware sense of humor, but you’ll be too busy rawking out to acknowledge it.

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Death Angel rose during the original wave of Bay Area thrash in the early 80s, but tends to be overlooked, possibly because the quintet didn’t release an album until 1987. If The Evil Divide (Nuclear Blast) is any indication, it’s also because the band doesn’t much care for the word “compromise.” Death Angel’s eighth album rarely bothers with anthemic hooks, catchy choruses or any of the commercial concessions peers like Metallica and Megadeth eventually traded in. With the exception of the incongruous lighter waver “Lost,” stalwarts Mark Osgueda (vox) and Rob Cavestany (guit) and their current cohorts thrash their fornicating brains out, spraying more squealing solos, savage singing and chuggachug guitar over the landscape than their pals have in twenty years. “The Electric Cell,” “Cause For Alarm” and “Hell to Pay” deftly mix precision strikes and blunt force trauma for old-school thrash that doesn’t sound nostalgic.

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Though it doesn’t have the history that Death Angel does, the Australia-borne/Europe-based Destroyer 666 is no spring chicken, having released its first album in 1997. Wildfire (Season of Mist), the fearsome foursome’s fifth LP and first in seven years, blends fist-pumping melody, charred vokills and whipcrack thrash into a most impressive wall of glaargh on “Live and Burn” and “Hymn to Dionysus.” Philadelphia’s Vektor is even younger, but no less accomplished. Indeed, Terminal Redux (Earache), the quartet’s third record, shows off an impressive level of sheer musicianship without compromising tonnage. Leader Daniel DiSanto’s black metal screech conveys a science fiction story of some sort, but his and Erik Nelson’s python coils-tight six-string work remains the primary attraction.

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A key influence on the early thrash bands, particularly Metallica, England’s Diamond Head has let long periods of inactivity shape its legend, so when it makes yet another comeback, it’s an event. Only the band’s seventh album since its 1979 recorded debut (the “Shoot Out the Lights” single), the quintet’s self-titled LP (Dissonance Productions) keeps the faith with its primary virtues: strong riffs, clear vocals (by Danish-born newcomer Rasmus Bom Anderson) and melodies for miles. Leader Brian Tatler still has the fleetest of fingers and a bottomless bag of licks, but it’s his dedication to hummable tunes that has made the band stand out all these years – of their peers, only Iron Maiden boasts the same devotion. “See You Rise,” “Diamonds” and “Shout at the Devil” boast catchy hooks as well as epic power,while the chugging “Our Time is Now” and “Wizard Sleeve” crank the headbanging energy while still keeping tunesmithery alive. Some might consider Diamond Head old-fashioned, but we prefer the word timeless.

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Grand Magus waves a familiar flag on Sword Songs (Nuclear Blast), the Swedish trio’s eighth album. “We are warriors,” roars singer/guitarist JB on “Varangian,” “defenders of steel!” The band continues the quest exemplified by its last LP Triumph and Power, raising its blades high and conquering all who cross its path. The macho battlelust would be ridiculous if not for Magus’ burly riffology and relentless energy – “Last One to Fall” and “Forged in Iron – Crowned in Steel” would rampage even if the lyrics were about kittens and angels. “Every Day There’s a Battle to Fight” even works up a nice lighter-waving head of steam.

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NYC legend Prong keeps blasting away from its own unique corner of the metal universe with X: No Absolutes (Steamhammer/SPV). For the most part it follows the usual Prong pattern of headbanging up 80s New Yawk hardcore – “Ultimate Authority,” “Worth Pursuing” and “Belief System” hit as hard and deadly as ever. But attempts to make the trio’s bashcore singalong friendly on songs like “No Absolutes” lead it to resemble Helmet, while “Do Nothing” and “With Dignity” sound like attempts to slot in late 90s radio alongside Breaking Benjamin and Shinedown. Artistic development should always be encouraged, but maybe Prong should just sound like Prong. Further down the East Coast, Miami’s Wrong has more than a little Prong (and Helmet) in ‘em, thanks to hardcore-influenced breakdowns and steely chunkachunk. But on its self-titled debut (Relapse), the quartet – made up of former members of Kylesa, Torche and Capsule – also wallows in drillbit noise metal in the Unsane tradition. The combo of teeth-gritting riffcrack and grinding screeblast reaches maximum potency on the pounding “Boil” and “Stasis” and the blazing “Entourage” and “Turn In.”

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None more black: Savannah powerhouse Black Tusk had a major obstacle to overcome on the way to releasing Pillars of Ash (Relapse) – the death of bassist/vocalist/co-founder Jonathan Athon. Fortunately for band and fans its fifth album was finished before Athon’s untimely motorcycle accident, and it’s a ripper. The trio’s distinctive blend of steely thrash and shoutalong punk – sort of a Southern re-imagining of what Prong does – sets fire to the landscape via blazers “ Beyond the Divide,” “Still Not Well” and “God’s On Vacation.” Out on the other coast, Black Cobra kicks up a sludge-covered ruckus on Imperium Simulacra (Season of Mist) that wouldn’t sound out of place in Tusk’s hometown. The San Fran duo of guitarist/vocalist Jason Landeman and drummer Rafael Martinez digs deep into rifftastic rumblers “Challenger Deep” and “Dark Shine.” Rolling out of Vancouver,

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Black Wizard goes straight for the doom jugular with New Waste (Listenable), leaving no power chord unstroked nor bong unsmoked on “Eliminator,” “Harsh Time” and “The Priest.” Though it didn’t get the chromatic memo, Red Wizard might be Black Wizard’s California cousins, and not just for being similarly inclined toward sorcery. The San Diego quintet’s debut Cosmosis (Ripple) sinks even deeper into the sticky grass of Sabbath worship – check the mighty “Temple of Tennitus” and the monstrous title tune.

NORTH_LTW_VINYL_1500x1500

Tucson, Arizona may be best known for eccentric root rock & roll, but a darker power lurks underneath the surface. Or so it seems with North, who slowly and painfully unleash Light the Way (Prosthetic). The trio’s follow-up to its “Through Raven’s Eyes” single imagines the epic progressive doom of Neurosis as post rock, roaring hoarsely over waves of riff that are almost symphonic in their grandeur. Tunes like “Weight of All Thoughts,” “Primal Bloom” and the powerhouse “From This Soil” come off kind of like Isis as interpreted by Explosions in the Sky, all furrowed-brow power and ugly beauty. Speaking of Isis, former leader of that band Aaron Turner returns swiftly with What One Becomes (Thrill Jockey) from his new outfit Sumac. The sequel to last year’s debut The Deal, the hour-long monsterpiece pushes Turner, bassist Brian Cook (also of Russian Circles) and drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) into uglier, meaner territory – the leader in particular sounds nearly livid with rage and loathing. But the trio does it without losing the experimental edge and melodic undercurrent that Turner carries with him to all his projects. “Rigid Man” and the 18-minute, nearly overwhelming “Blackout” prove that art, atmosphere and blackened doom can mix.

Purson-DesiresMagicTheatre_1500px

Funny how some bands find favor mainly with metal audiences, despite a relationship with the genre that’s tangential at best. Thus it is with Great Britain’s Purson. The quintet released its head-turning debut on Cathedral/With the Dead singer Lee Dorrian’s Rise Above label, which seems to have cemented its standing with headbanger audiences. Desire’s Magic Theatre (Spinefarm), the long-awaited follow-up, deftly swirls the same distinctive blend of psych rock, prog, electric folk and boogie as its prior platter, but with an even keener edge. Leader Rosalie Cunningham has clearly been honing her songcraft, and it shows on eccentric delights “Dead Dodo Down,” The Window Cleaner” and the striking single “Electric Landlady.” Toronto’s Blood Ceremony connects a bit more firmly to the metal tradition via harder rocking performances and an obsessive interest in the occult. But fourth LP Lord of Misrule (Rise Above) still portrays a band not easily categorized, with progressive rock elements (including frequent use of singer/keyboardist Alia O’Brien’s flute) and a 70s classic rock vibe that puts the heaviness on the lyrics. Regardless, “Flower Phantoms,” “Half Moon Street” and “The Devil’s Widow” rule.

********

Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where he acts “somewhat suspiciously at times,” according to his Lone Star State accomplices, which include media heavy hitters The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV. Coincidentally or not, the BLURT editor once lived in Tucson, which is a kind of sister city to Austin, where similarly strange happenings have taken place over the years. Note that a Tucson metal band is profiled in Toland’s latest column. Perhaps the work of the Illuminati? You be the judge…. Toland can be reached at michael.toland@gmail.com.


Audio/Video:

Beastmaker – “Mask of Satan”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPGzqslFVm4

 

Beastwars – The Death of All Things bandcamp:

https://beastwars.bandcamp.com/

 

Black Cobra – Imperium Simulacra bandcamp:

https://blackcobra.bandcamp.com/album/imperium-simulacra

 

Black Tusk – Pillars of Ash bandcamp:

https://blacktusk.bandcamp.com/album/pillars-of-ash

 

Black Wizard – New Waste bandcamp:

http://blackwizard.bandcamp.com/album/new-waste

 

Candlemass – “Death Thy Lover”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKXP0RIDf6g

 

Cobalt – Slow Forever bandcamp:

https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/slow-forever

 

Death Angel – “Cause For Alarm”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N0UcnswlUQ

 

Destroyer 666 Wildfire bandcamp:

https://destroyer666.bandcamp.com/album/wildfire

 

Diamond Head preview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFmFG9b0Jjs

 

Dust Moth – Scale bandcamp:

http://dustmoth.bandcamp.com/album/scale

 

Grand Magus – “Varangian”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_9jrowMBz0

 

Ihsahn – “Pressure”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHx2ryUzDx4

 

Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows bandcamp:

https://interarma.bandcamp.com/album/paradise-gallows-2

 

La Chinga – Freewheelin’ bandcamp:

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/freewheelin

 

Lord Mantis – Nice Teeth Whore preview:

https://lordmantis.bandcamp.com/

 

The Melvins – “Hideous Woman”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w7yVR27RHA

 

Miss Lava – Sonic Debris bandcamp:

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/sonic-debris

 

North – Light the Way bandcamp:

https://north-official.bandcamp.com/album/light-the-way

 

Prong – X: No Absolutes teaser:

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

 

Purson – “Electric Landlady”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boscR_9EE5Q

 

Red Wizard – Cosmosis bandcamp:

http://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com/album/cosmosis

 

Sierra – 72 bandcamp:

https://sierrariff.bandcamp.com/album/72

 

Sumac – “Rigid Man”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIBZi7G-sSU

 

Tombs – All Empires Fall bandcamp:

https://tombsbklyn.bandcamp.com/album/all-empires-fall

 

Vektor – “Charging the Void”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4e5Jw9T5Zk

 

Wrong – “Boil”:

https://soundcloud.com/relapserecords/wrong-boil

 

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

Motobunny

Making music babies one gig at a time, the L.A./Phoenix quartet, on their self-titled debut, combines hi-nrg rawk, distorted guitars and synth/keytar melodies. Co-vocalists Christa Collins and Nicole Laurenne explain.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

With two vocalists, a keytar and a shared love of classic Iggy Pop, MotoBunny have just turned in a truly original take on pop punk.

The group formed in 2013 by merging members of The Love Me Nots and The Wooly Bandits and just came out with their debut, Motobunny, on the Rusty Knuckles label. Combined, the group — co-frontwomen Christa Collins (synth) and Nicole Laurenne (keytar), plus Michael Johnny Walker (guitar) and Rik Collins (bass) — have shared stages with everyone from X and Nirvana to The Damned and Pearl Jam.

Christa and Laurenne spoke recently about how the band first came together, their shared love of Iggy and being a contestant on The X Factor. (Go HERE to read our review of the new album.)

BLURT: Let’s start out with an easy one first—how did the band first come together?

CHRISTA COLLINS: I think it was inevitable that Motobunny would happen! Nicole and Michael are in a band called The Love Me Nots and Rik and I are in a band called The Woolly Bandits. Both are garage rock in their own right. So after several years of sharing bills and dressing rooms, I don’t remember who said it first, but the general consensus was “we should do some music together”. Not too much longer after that The Woolly Bandits were asked to play the Ink & Iron Festival with Iggy Pop as the headliner, “YES Please!” Being that it was outdoors and a large stage we really wanted to fill out our sound, so we asked Nicole to play Farfisa and Michael to do a guest guitar spot. We pretty much wanted to be on stage together all the time after that! Rick and I trekked out to Phoenix one weekend and we pretty much had the entire album sketched out over the course of two weekends. Thus MotoBunny was born, and off to Detroit we went to record with Jim Diamond. There has been an ease about this band from the beginning where things seem to naturally fall into place. That’s a great feeling, like perhaps you’re on to something!

 

There aren’t a ton of bands out there nowadays with co-lead singers. Was there a discussion at first about who would handle the singing in the band?

COLLINS: I think Nicole was the one who brought it up? To be honest at first I wasn’t sure if it would work given that we had both been our own lead for so long, but I am a sucker for harmonies, and I had been plotting a girl side project for a while, so this was a perfect outlet for me. Nicole is the easiest person to get along with so that makes collaborating fruitful!

 

Christa, what’s the toughest perception you have had to overcome as a musician over the years, having started out with Disney?

COLLINS: I think I’ve had to overcome more perceptions as a petite female than I’ve had to as an ex- Disney artist. Not a lot of people know about my past or that I was a professional dancer. It feels like a separate lifetime ago in many ways. I was forced into retirement at 16 and there was such a large gap between then and when I had started singing again. I had completely different experiences, and in truth done some hard living. If anything it made me a better more well-rounded performer. I will forever be grateful to Rik Collins for finding me, putting me back on a stage, and giving me my voice back!

 

You also were on the first season on The X Factor. Musicians have said good things and bad things about shows like this and American Idol. Given your experience, do you ultimately think it’s a good thing for musicians getting started?

COLLINS: I don’t think it’s for me to answer that question for someone else. I suppose in part it just depends on what type and what level of artist you want to be? I will say that this business is brutal and heartless at times, so if you don’t have a burning desire to perform, and I mean you want it like air ‘cause life makes no sense when you try and do anything else, than I might not recommend it. For me there was very personal reasons why I did… Before my Aunt Judy passed from cancer she made me promise I would try out for American Idol. So I went and I was 10 days too old.

Years later, Rik’s dad comes bursting through the door touting “Simon Cowell’s got a new singing show and you have to try out”. Two thoughts crossed my mind as I looked into it: 1. I can honor my Aunt’s dying wish; 2. I got nothing to lose! So I auditioned, and did very well. I met some very talented people and made a couple friendships for life. I really got to test what I was made of as Boot Camp was brutal! Sleep deprivation, starvation, temptations, isolation, stress, emotional rollercoasters. I realized at that moment that my time in The Seeds and The Woolly Bandits was training. People around me were dropping like flies and some would ask me how I was staying so calm and focused. “It’s not that different from being on a DIY tour” – Oh the stories we can tell! I really got to see my resourcefulness, I gained new perspective on my performance. It was a cathartic experience for me and I’m personally glad I did it.

All that said the best thing about the arts is that it’s meant to be catharsis, to edify ones soul and spirit and evoke a change. You don’t have to be on TV, Broadway, or hanging in a museum to do that! You can find it in a garage playing instruments with your friends, or in a local theatre production, or coffee shop, on the street, whatever floats your boat? The best advice I can give someone is be open, be fearless, be experimental, be yourself.

 

Nicole, you started out as a classical musician, what started you on the path to being a punk-influenced pop /rock band?

NICOLE LAURENNE: At first, a love for the red grand piano that Jonathan Cain played in Journey – yes I admit it openly – but later I learned that keeping your classical chops up requires way more time and sweat and tears than rock chops. So there was a laziness element to it also I guess at first. When I met Michael, he introduced me to garage rock like The Animals and The Seeds, and that vintage Farfisa organ sound suddenly jolted me awake, in a musical sense. All laziness stopped at that point. I never looked back. I’ve gone from spinet to grand piano to farfisa organ to… keytar! Can’t wait to see what I get to play next.

Motobunny by Scott Evanesky via Facebook

All four of you have, combined, a ton of experience with so many different types of bands. Were there any shared influences that helped define MotoBunny’s sound?

COLLINS: there’s no question that Iggy Pop was what brought us together as a band. For me personally I’ll never forget the first time I saw a VHS tape of him walking across a crowd smearing peanut butter across his chest – Glorious! I wouldn’t say there was a specific band that influenced the album. We all have our personal favorite influences and we all have a “Fear No Music” diversity policy. You never know where you may find inspiration? Motown, Bowie, B-52’s, Led Zeppelin, Die Antwoord, Spice Girls (Michael Walker’s personal favorite) it’s all in there somewhere?

 

The album just came out. What’s next for the band?

COLLINS: Tour! Recording! More Touring!

 

Anything else you want to cover?

COLLINS: If I can speak for the band… We are so grateful to be able to share a stage with great friends, making music babies, and embarking on this great musical adventure. The crowd response and camaraderie has been palpable! Big thanks to #TeamMoto and Starry Management for seeing our vision and running hard! Who knows how long it will last or where this might take us- but we are sure having fun!

Live photo of MotoBunny by Scott Evanesky, via the band’s Facebook page.

John B. Moore is a longtime contributor to and blogger for BLURT, but please don’t hold that against him. Contact Moore HERE with your comments, gripes, compliments and promotional swag. Our resident expert in all things punk, his first Vans Warped tour came at the age of 4 years where he became the youngest-ever attendee to stage dive. Please kids, don’t try this at home – he is not a good role model!

Fred Mills: Why Snatches of Pink Was the Greatest NC Band of the Late ‘80s & Early ‘90s

Snatches

North Carolina’s Michael Rank, currently on a creative roll, has been on the scene for decades. An appreciation of his early band. Above, L-R: Sara Romweber, Rank (note leather pants), Andy McMillan.

By Fred Mills

UPDATE 8/17: Rank has the Snatches albums posted for free download at his Bandcamp page.

Listening to Tarheel singer/songwriter/rocker/twanger Michael Rank’s stunningly great new album Horsehair a lot lately—hell, it’s been a goddam fixture on the office and car stereo for weeks now. It finds the former Snatches of Pink frontman collaborating with Mount Moriah’s Heather McEntire, and it’s a match made in Gram ‘n’ Emmylou heaven. As we noted in the BLURT review of the record, he marries back porch soul to countryish roots rock, and “matters of the heart rarely stray far from Rank’s worldview, as he colors the rest of these outlaw folk tunes with nods to ex-wives, current flames and, of course, son Bowie Ryder, his most consistent muse.”

I practically had to arm-wrestle contributing editor (and Blurt blogger) Michael Toland for who was going to do the review honors as Toland is as much a fan of the dude as I am. (Go HERE to read his review of 2013’s Mermaids, and HERE for my review of 2012’s Kin.) Ultimately I said “uncle” and gave Toland the review, since I’ve written about Rank so frequently over the years that I risk being viewed as not particularly objective when it comes to his records. Well, fuck objectivity, y’know? The whole notion of “being objective” when it comes to discussing art, and particularly rock ‘n’ roll, is a journalistic smokescreen; you can’t write about an emotional experience from a distance, and when critics attempt to do so, their lack of engagement with their subjects shows. I’ll take passion over objectivity any day, because the whole reason I got into rock writing in the first place was because I realized that just listening to music wasn’t enough for me—I had to share my enthusiasm, share the wealth so to speak. In that regard, “Rock Journalist” became the proverbial accidental career.

Rank by Andy Tennille

Horsehair is Rank’s fifth solo album in three years, last year’s Deadstock and 2013’s In The Weeds joining it and the other two mentioned above. That’s a pretty impressive output by any measure, and it’s not an overstatement to say that Rank’s been on an extended creative roll during this time; release-wise, he basically went silent in 2007 following the release of the final album by his previous band Snatches of Pink. In absorbing Horsehair of late and thinking about what Toland wrote, I found myself thinking back to when I first encountered Rank and his music—the aforementioned Snatches of Pink.

It was 1985, and a cassette tape arrived in the mail with little fanfare. Titled The Stupid Tape and boasting a somewhat primitive-looking dark blue j-card, it featured six songs performed by what was at the time a 4-piece Snatches—Rank on guitars, Andy McMillan on vocals, Sara Romweber on drums and Jack Wenberg on bass. Raw and ragged but definitely right, the six-song tape had a primitive, careening-yet-hard-twanging cowpunk/garage quality to it on such eventual Snatches classics as “Salty Dog” and “Ones With the Black” that seemed thoroughly at odds with the prevailing jangly college rock of the day.

Stupid Tape

1987’s Demonstration/Demolition, also a tape, continued in the aesthetic, and by the time of the first “proper” Snatches release, 1988’s Send In the Clowns LP (released on the Athens-based Dog Gone, a short-lived indie label founded by then-R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt) the group was also developing into a solid live act with a decent fanbase.

I forget exactly when I saw the group play for the first time, but it was probably around this time in Charlotte, at which point I was the resident Music Editor for alternatively newsweekly Creative Loafing and it had become my “mission,” as it were, to cover artists that the other local media either overlooked or deliberately ignored. Snatches of Pink certainly fit that bill, lurching into town from Chapel Hill on gas fumes and truckstop tacos and aiming to shake some action while shaking up the populace. “Where is the nearest liquor store?” most likely was the first thing they would ask when they arrived at the club.

Booze clearly fueled this band, which had slimmed down to a trio, McMillan having assumed the bass position (and sharing vocals with Rank) for 1989’s Dead Men. This LP, along with next year’s 4-song mini album Deader Than You’ll Ever Be, which was cut live at CBGB as a promotional radio release, is what solidified their image as a hard-drinkin’, unrepentantly badass group who clearly did not give a shit what folks—and, significantly, club owners and bookers—thought about the band as long as they came out to the show. That was another quality about Snatches which more than simply endeared me to ‘em: hailing from a long line of rock ‘n’ roll rebels that included such miscreants as the Rolling Stones, Iggy & the Stooges, Alice Cooper, Johnny Thunders and the Replacements, the Rank-McMillan-Romweber musical mafia were long, and I do mean loooonnnng, on attitude. They lived the part and looked it, too, each member’s shaggy, unkempt hair shrouding his or her face to the point that you figured it was only a matter of time before someone tumbled off the edge of the stage (no doubt this happened on a number of times, but I can’t say if it was due to not being able to see or simply too fucked up to walk). Rank in particular had a British rock star thing going for him, part Keef, part Nikki Sudden, part Hanoi Rocks, what with his penchant for tight pants, flowing shirts and colorful scarves. I mean, he probably wore eyeliner as well, but since I couldn’t see his eyes from under all that hair…

Snatches promo photo

Snatches of Pink were the kind of group that drew a line in the sand between them and the “nicer” artists that the Triangle generally sent down to Charlotte, and a lot of us opted to join ‘em on their side of the line. My good friend Michael Plumides operated the city’s 4808 Club and was an early supporter like me, his own thumb-your-nose-at-the-powers-that-be sensibilities fully in synch with Snatches’. On more than one evening, standing in the audience watching the trio in full spin cycle and at maximum decibel, he and I would marvel at their undeniable outlaw charisma while assuring ourselves that, yes, this is the best fucking group in North Carolina right now. The band was a helluva lot of fun to hang out with, too, whether passing the bottle around or yammering on about the latest records we’d bought or bands we’d seen. During this period I struck up a friendship with Rank that I am proud to say endures to this day; he knew I was a fan, first and foremost, but I think he also knew that I “got” where they were coming from and weren’t simply fostering an image for no other reason than they could do it. He was a guy that understood rock ‘n’ roll tradition and wanted to find where he fit in to it.

There were naysayers and detractors too, one of them also owning a local rock club. I remember having a long conversation with Jeff Lowery (R.I.P.) of the 13-13 Club in which he groused about how unprofessional and arrogant Snatches was. Lowery was an astute booker and brought hundreds of terrific acts to town, but since he was coming from a businessman’s point of view, it probably wasn’t surprising for him to have a problem with a group that knocked over mic stands and monitors, left broken bottles on the stage and ignored the soundman’s pleas to turn down the volume and distortion. I have no doubt that Snatches left a trail of disgruntled club bookers in their wake during their initial run.

Not that their reputation among fans didn’t precede them. They scored a semi-major label record deal for 1992’s Bent With Pray; Dog Gone was, by design, a regional indie, so the distribution and marketing oomph of NYC’s Caroline Records was a no-brainer. In addition to benefiting from a decent recording budget the record found the band experimenting with a softer, psychedelic, more overtly melodic side; just opening track “Mother Crane” alone, with its strummy acoustic guitars, dreamy backing vocals and modal vibe, suggested some heretofore only intermittently displayed folk and roots influences. They didn’t go soft, however, merely expanded the range and depth of their songwriting and arrangements—which, I reckon, is the product of any band’s natural evolution and maturation—while still being able to rock out on a moment’s notice.

The album also served to introduce the stylistic shift displayed on Rank’s subsequent solo debut, 1993’s Coral, also on Caroline, which was dreamy and gorgeous and bursting at the seams with plangent guitars and no shortage of 12-string flourishes. In retrospect, these two albums can be viewed as a foreshadowing of Rank’s current incarnation as a folk/country-tilting troubadour, not necessarily examples of proto-Americana (the records have more of a baroque British feel) but certainly a glimpse of where his songwriting was headed. They also suggested great things loomed for Snatches, given the proper marketing and a healthy touring regimen to get their music showcased outside their immediate region.

And then—silence. In the summer of ’92 I left for Arizona, and as a result, lost touch with a lot of NC friends in the pre-Internet era. Meanwhile, no more music would emerge from the Snatches camp until 1996, and when it did it was, confusingly, under the name of Clarissa rather than Snatches of Pink. Perhaps someone at their new label, Mammoth, had convinced them that the original name was a tad too suggestive for the brave, bold, politically correct new world of commercial alt-rock; or maybe the band just viewed the three-year hiatus as an opportunity to start with a clean slate, but either way, it was a misfire, strategically, as the group’s Silver album failed both to capture a new audience and to hold on to the old Snatches fanbase. Of the former I am certain, because I was working in a Tucson record store and observed firsthand how Mammoth totally dropped the ball in terms of exploiting its distribution arrangement with Atlantic to effectively market Clarissa; of the latter, well, this particular fan thought it was a wonderful record, but my gut feeling is that a lot of people just thought Snatches had disappeared off the face of the earth.

Which it pretty much did after that, at least until 2003 when Rank resurfaced with not one but two albums, one as a heavy-rocking reconstituted Snatches Of Pink, Hyena (featuring Romweber on drums, Marc E. Smith on second guitar and a procession of bassists) and the other as a new group, Marat (whose Marat album was a co-writing project of Rank and John Ensslin, late of NC’s Teasing The Korean). The new-look Snatches would also go on to release Stag in 2005 and Love Is Dead in 2007, with Marat issuing Again in 2005, and all five of these Rank-helmed projects from the ‘00s are worthy entries to the man’s discography but none of them really got the exposure they deserved.

At any rate, this story is less an abbreviated history of Michael Rank and more a belated appreciation for one of my favorite North Carolina bands, the classic Snatches lineup of Rank, McMillan and Romweber. I dearly love those core records and I cherish every memory of seeing them perform live.

Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of info out on the web about Snatches; there aren’t even all that many good early photos of the band online. And the Trouser Press entry is relatively succinct, and incomplete, while the Wikipedia listing is criminally bare-bones and way out of date, with a bunch of dead links listed. There is an official Snatches of Pink website, although it appears to have gone dormant in 2009, and it doesn’t really deal with the early lineup(s) and albums, just the latter-day incarnation. It’s worth noting, though, that during that phase an indie documentary about the band, Now It’s A Rock N Roll Show, was released in 2007 by Trickle Down Productions and directed by Daniel Adams so you can get details about it at the site. (Below: two trailers for the film, which includes plenty of early-days content)

Meanwhile, Bent With Pray, Rank’s Coral and Clarissa’s Silver (which in my mind is a Snatches album) are all readily available, and fairly inexpensively, at eBay and sundry online sources while the three Dog Gone titles surface from time to time (the somewhat rare CD version of Dead Men is even showing currently at Discogs, ranging from $9 to $35). The more recent Snatches CDs can be found easily too, and Love Is Dead is also available at Rank’s Bandcamp merch page along with all his recent solo titles.

Almost as good, and maybe even better considering the ease of access: Rank has posted Send In the Clowns, Dead Men, Deader Than You’ll Ever Be, Bent With Pray, Hyena and Stag all at that Bandcamp page as free downloads (even though I own physical copies of everything, I have been downloading each title while writing this because, well… just because). Speaking of free downloads, back at the Snatches website is a link just called “bootleg” and whattaya know, it is 13-song, lo-to-medium-fi live show from the group’s trio days, Charlotte’s Fucking Web, pictured below, featuring such Pink gems as “Ones With the Black,” “Goin’ Down” and “Salty Dog” plus a ridiculously thrashy cover of the Rolling Stones’ “2000 Light Years From Home.” I’ve got a pretty good idea about that concert tape’s provenance, but I’ll leave that to your fertile imagination, fellow Snatches buffs.

charlottesfuckingweb

Bottom line: don’t just take my word for how great the band was—find out for yourself by listening to ‘em. The stuff’s out there. Then go get that new Rank album Horsehair. Dr. Toland and I command you.

It’s been a great run, Michael. Salute! Keep ‘em coming, brother.

 

Photo of Michael Rank by Andy Tennille

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns 666.5

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.5

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

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

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

Dawnbringer

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

ElectricWizard

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

 

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

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

 

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

SpectralLore

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

Godflesh

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

 

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

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

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

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

Primordial - Where Greater Men Have Fallen

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

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

 

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

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

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

Mons

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

BY JOHN B. MOORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How much time did you have to record this one?

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

Did you work with a producer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns Pt. 666.4

Panopticon Roads to the North

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

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

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

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

 

Nachtmystium TWWLB

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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