Friday, 16 March 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Earthless, "Black Heaven"

By: Victor Van Ommen

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 16/03/18
Label: Nuclear Blast

“Black Heaven” is going to grab 2018 by the nuts and set the bar for what makes a good classic-rock influenced record. We can all take a lesson from Earthless.

“Black Heaven” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Gifted by the Wind (6:28 )
2. End to End (5:16)
3. Electric Flame (8:51)
4. Volt Rush (1:53)
5. Black Heaven (8:45)
6. Sudden End (8:26)

The Review:

If you thought Earthless was still an instrumental power trio from California, it’s time to make an adjustment. On their new album, “Black Heaven,” Earthless hits the streets with 45 minutes of rockin’ songs. That’s right, songs. With choruses, verses, bridges and yes, even vocals.

Guitarist Isaiah Mitchell let the cat out of the bag and told his band mates that he can sing. And how! Sure, Golden Void is Mitchell’s side project, and it’s one that has him step up to the mic, but his vocal performance on this new Earthless record is a whole different kettle of fish.

The added value to “Black Heaven” isn’t just the addition of vocals. “Black Heaven” goes further and posits these Californians not only as instrumental bad asses who are technically gifted. This album goes so far as to show that these cats can lay down a tasty lick, tie it together with some verses, and come out the other end with a helluva tasty song.

So what does Earthless sound like playing these songs? Well, I hear a lot of Van Halen coming through the speakers. Certainly when it comes to “Gifted by the wind”and the 9 minute centerpiece, “Electric Flame.” But the classic rock and metal influences don’t stop here. You hear elements of Cream pop up in “End to End” and some colorful southern rock harmonies brighten up the place in the album’s closer, “Sudden End.” There’s even a little ZZ Top shuffle sprinkled over everything. What’s not to like?

Yeah, the record’s pretty retro. But, believe it or not, it’s also original. Earthless aren’t copying anyone, they’re channeling the greats. These boys know what they’re doing, too. There’s no instance of phoning it in. Earthless uses “Black Heaven” to show that they’re more than a one trick pony. They’ve got more up their sleeves than instrumental jams that go on for eons. And that’s awesome. Earthless also uses “Black Heaven” to show how to keep things fresh in a genre that’s dangerously close to being played out.

“Black Heaven” isn’t a masterpiece. It won’t stand the test of time in the same way that the Sabbath’s and the Zeppelin’s have. That’s fine, because for now, “Black Heaven” is going to grab 2018 by the nuts and set the bar for what makes a good classic-rock influenced record. We can all take a lesson from Earthless.

“Black Heaven” is available here

Band info: facebook

ALBUM REVIEW: Mournful Congregation,‘The Incubus Of Karma’

By: Daniel Jackson

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 23/03/2018
Label: Osmose Productions (EU) |
20 Buck Spin (US)

This band has always been the gold standard when it comes to dense, emotive funeral doom, but this latest hallmark in their discography takes that heart-shredding melancholy to its furthest extreme yet.  This is Mournful Congregation’s crowning achievement. ‘The Incubus Of Karma’ is a fucking masterpiece.

‘The Incubus Of Karma’ CD/LP/CS/DD track listing:

1. The Indwelling Ascent
2. Whispering Spiritscapes
3. The Rubaiyat
4. The Incubus of Karma
5. Scripture of Exaltation and Punishment
6. A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being

The Review:

I sit here struggling to find the right words, or really any words at all, to convey the weight and impact of ‘The Incubus Of Karma’, Mournful Congregation’s first new album in over six years. I’ll do my best, anyway. This band has always been the gold standard when it comes to dense, emotive funeral doom, but this latest hallmark in their discography takes that heart-shredding melancholy to its furthest extreme yet.

To get this out of the way immediately; the lead guitar work throughout ‘The Incubus Of Karma’ is absolutely incredible. I’m not just talking about their trademark thick, layered guitar harmonies. I’m talking about those ascendant high-fret leads that sail and glide above them. Each and every one of them is immaculately composed and performed in a manner meant to cut even the most callous facades to the quick. Whether it’s during a devastating funeral crawl or a plaintive low-dynamic interlude, the sorrow just doesn’t let up. It’s mercilessly sad.

The crux of this entire album is the band largely deciding to stay out of the way of the guitars. Drums, vocals, bass, and keyboards: they’re all in almost exclusively supporting roles. Drummer Tim Call is also known also for his work in bands like Aldebaran, Nightfell, and Weregoat, and in each of those bands, his drumming is considerably more active than his performance here. I’d be shocked if he averaged more than one actual drum fill every 2-3 minutes in total.

This isn’t a criticism, by the way. It may be a uniquely bare bones performance, but it’s exactly what the music calls for. Even his drum sound is subdued, with a snare sound that recalls that of the first Danzig album, drenched in reverb, and the cymbals mixed even quieter than normal for a Mournful Congregation album.

Again, the guitars are the axis on which ‘The Incubus Of Karma’ spins. If you’re looking for a specific example, look no further than the album’s instrumental title track. The song is an absolute testament to the astonishing emotion that lead guitar can conjure, as these ultra expressive solos cascade over gentle acoustic guitar. And there’s equally brilliant leads all over the album. These aren’t note-spamming, “virtuosity for its own sake” solos. It’s all about the articulation, the bending of notes in a specific way to wring every last ounce of passion and sadness from the strings.

Look, if it feels like I’m just spouting label and band-friendly hyperbole, I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to do because as I sit here writing this, that’s all I feel does the album justice. One of my biggest pet peeves in metal is an album going longer than an hour. This album is damn near 80 minutes and I can’t think of any section I want shorter or cut altogether. That just doesn’t happen for me. It’s made the strongest early impression of any album so far this year, and the strongest early impression of any funeral doom album I’ve ever heard. This is Mournful Congregation’s crowning achievement. ‘The Incubus Of Karma’ is a fucking masterpiece.

‘The Incubus Of Karma’ is available in Europe through Osmose, or through 20 Buck Spin in North America.

Band info: Facebook

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

TRACK PREMIERE: Lausanne's Abraham declare its a "Wonderful World"

In my day job as a social worker, the buzz word in terms of good practice, is the ability to be good at reflection.  In life, whether we’re at work or whatever the situation may be, we need time to consider what we have done and the reasons why, because although our actions at the time may have been the right one specific to that situation or circumstance, once we reflect,  we may reach a different conclusion and in turn our actions may be different in the future.  

Today’s featured band, Abraham emerged from the flourishing Swiss music scene of the past decade. During their 8 years of existence and through festivals and tours supporting Cult of Luna and The Ocean, the band have forged their reputation as one of the top bands in Europe, however when you consider it has been 6 years since their last full length, consider this and let us pause for a moment and reflect, what have done in this time, what have you achieved and would you have made the same choices?  Now over the last 6 years, I have had three kids, sold a house, bought a house, changed jobs and it just so happens that 2018 is my six year anniversary at THE SLUDGELORD, now there may be many things I would have done differently, but being part of this blog is not one of them (I love my kids btw),

Now Skid Row once said we’re “Slaves to the Grind”, so what better way to take a much needed break and listen to some killer tunes, all I am asking of you is 4 minutes of your time.  After 6 long years, the beards of Abraham are back, their new record is finally here and it really is... something else.

 “Look, Here Comes The Dark!” is, simply put, a concept album about the end of times: a classic post apocalyptic dystopia and today at THE SLUDGELORD, we’re delighted to be able to debut a brand new track entitled “Wonderful World”.  Released on May 11th via Pelagic Records, the album is divided into four consecutive periods, one for each vinyl record, throughout which the story of the disappearance of all life on Earth is told. Each section is defined by a unique approach in terms of style, song writing, and degree of experimentation and choice of instrumentation.   Check out “Wonderful World” below and don't forget to reflect, haha.   Preorders are being taken here

Band info: facebook || homepage || bandcamp

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Dead Empires, "Designed to Disappear"

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 23/02/2018
Label: Silent Pendulum Records


“Witnessed live and through my speakers, “Designed to Disappear” is a juggernaut of a record – one that hops easily between genres while remaining the work of a distinct, remarkable quartet.  I’m onboard for whatever challenging, inspiring output they have in store.”

“Designed to Disappear” CD//CS//DD//LP track listing

1. Spectacular Ruin
2. The Form
3. Slay Rider
4. Reverse Speak
5. A Summertime Song
6. Ones and Zeros
7. Ergot (feat. John Carbone)
8. Designed to Disappear

The Review:        

The term “progressive” gets thrown around pretty egregiously in metal – most often you’re left thinking of bands like Dream Theater or Iced Earth, and even then thinking in terms of scale, length, or concept albums.  Far too frequently, it’s easy to forget how the genuine first wave of “prog” artists, from King Crimson and Santana to Yes and Rush, embraced weirdly abstruse musical styles.  While a ton of modern prog enthusiasts will point to the longform arena rock epics like “2112”, there aren’t many who hold up the 80s pop experimentation of Yes as key progressive cornerstones.  Yet with the supremacy of total oddball artists like Mike Patton and his onetime collaborators in the dearly departed Dillinger Escape Plan in the 1990s and 2000s metal/math/whatevercore scenes, there is growing appreciation for boundary-free heavy music.  New York state’s Dead Empires, formerly an instrumental trio, have all the hallmarks of these monumentally talented virtuosos with a healthy injection of pop sensibility to match. 

Intro track “Spectacular Ruin” displays the muscular guitar- focused energy at the heart of Dead Empires winning formula, allowing John Bryan space to lay down harmonized, rousing leads that will please the Thin Lizzy fanatics out there.  The Form” unleashes vocalist Jason “PRKR” Sherman for the first time – his monstrously distorted vocals and noisy manipulations are all the more exciting when his melodic strengths come to the foreground later.  The rhythm dynamic of Phil Bartsch and DJ Scully is monumental – heavy as the heart of a neutron star.  And Bryan’s apt countering of chugging rhythm and shrieking high end melodic guitar work sounds like the best Mars Volta leads we never got. 

“Slay Rider”, a thrashy two minute blast of galloping drums and blast beat choruses, is a great example of the Dead Empires’ bold disregard for genre conventions – they could have forged on with the noisy, experimental math rock of the first two tracks and had a pretty solid record, instead, they go full on groove-thrash attack before the heady, jazz grind freakout of “Reverse Speak.”   And that’s only the first two minutes of the track, before a beautifully salsa infused guitar and piano (guest Jason Volpe) tradeoff, pounding double bass drumming of Bartsch, or the magnificently melodic bridge vocals.  Just when you think you have Dead Empires’ formula pegged they drop into a spaced out dub metal (is that even a thing?) track like “A Summertime Song”.  Like a 311 song if they could just muster the grit to be HEAVY, “A Summertime Song” is the unlikeliest, weirdest 7 minutes I’ve heard on an album this year that actually works as a pop single.  DJ Scully’s gnarly bass gets some time to shine here and it’s easy to see why he’s an in demand multi-genre bassist – dude has some serious tone and chops.

The instrumental “Ones and Zeros” is a bit of a palate cleanser after the consistent tonal changeups of the record so far, recalling the meat and potatoes harmonies of “Spectacular Ruin”, with some moments that recall Big Country (maybe the most overlooked non-metal guitar group of the 80s), and others that once again have me thinking of Phil Lynott and company.  Ergot” may be the most “conventional” post-metal/metalcore piece of the whole record, if a punishing metal song in the midst of all this post-rock beauty, featuring a spoken word coda courtesy of Moon Tooth’s John Carbone, can be called conventional at all.  The epic, titular finale is a 12 minute, anthemic journey through regret and mortality that is cinematic, rewarding, and ultimately uplifting, even with lyrics like “death, the great equalizer / everything will end one day / that’s the hard truth we go to bed with everyday, / designed to disappear we all go away”.  Somehow it’s far more inspiring than you’d imagine, with moments of seriously dissonant brutality.  More than any other track, I could see this as full on arena rock – it deserves an audience of thousands to truly appreciate its massive scale.

Though there are only eight tracks on their newest record, Dead Empires’ offer lightning fast jaunts through multiple genres, embodying the bold heart of progressive music’s infinite potential.  While their forebears like Dillinger Escape Plan have retired, or Mike Patton has stopped only occasionally to focus on projects that exist as more than one-off experiments, Dead Empires has the potential to continue as a band to watch, as every move seems to take you to new, unforeseen destinations.  It’s really amazing to see it replicated live, as I had to pleasure to experience this autumn, and hear so MUCH coming from a stripped down quartet.  If you have a chance to see them during the upcoming tour, I’d absolutely recommend it, as the pure intensity and prowess is somehow just as monumental, even in a small venue.  Witnessed live and through my speakers, “Designed to Disappear” is a juggernaut of a record – one that hops easily between genres while remaining the work of a distinct, remarkable quartet.  I’m onboard for whatever challenging, inspiring output they have in store.

“Designed to Disappear” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook

ALBUM PREMIERE: High Reeper's debut self titled album is doom in which we trust

Formed in 2016, HIGH REEPER and originally started as a studio band, it rapidly became apparent that these songs were meant to be heard live and loud. The band made their debut in the Philly stoner rock scene in early 2017 with success, which was followed up by the recording of their self-titled debut in May. With a sound deeply rooted in modern stoner rock, while still giving a nod to the earliest Sabbath records, HIGH REEPER's first offering is driven by pounding rhythms, thick guitars and soaring, screeching vocals. Running from uptempo straightforward rock to slowed-down, heavy, early doom, with a rhythm section throwing down grooves that are deeper than the darkest abyss and guitars big enough to put a hole in your chest, HIGH REEPER is meant to be played loud and on repeat!.  With the album set for release on vinyl for the first time via Heavy Psych Sounds on Friday 16th March, it gives us great pleasure to be able to debut this album in full below for your listening pleasure. Preorder/buy this joint here

Band info: Facebook

TRACK PREMIERE: Montreal's Wykan deliver a molten brew of blackened psychedelia with “Lahppon Olmmos (Noaide’s Ride To Saivo)”

Montreal’s trio Wykan delivers a heavy brew with its touch of black metal, old stoner / psychedelic rock and blues. Blending these genres, the band evokes spirits of heavy riffs and hot amp tubes overridden and pushed to the limits soon to be heard on their debut EP “Solace”.

“After releasing very heavy black metal for 3+ yrs with my band Eohum, I wanted to return to blues and doom oriented music and expression, with atmosphere, blues solos and more feeling. Both Morgan Zwicker (drums) and Daniel Paras (bass) are distinct musicians / vocalists with jazz/blues backgrounds whom had the will to jump on board.” says band founder Jeremy Perkins.

Hitting the jam space and recruiting some special guests Matt McGachy (Cryptopsy) and Barrie Butler (Eohum), Wykan’s debut EP “Solace” features three punishing tracks full of atmosphere and mystery where you can hear black metal rage meet the finest components of blues and harsh psych stoner riffs. The theme of the EP follows inspiration of Ethnobotany and magic along with a tribal take on ritual and ceremony. More specifically with the Northern European Tribes known as the Saami from Finland/Norway/Sweden areas of today and their usage of Amanita Muscaria mushroom for Shamanic practices. Overall, the EPs concept is a reminder of the brisk realities of our lives in relation to the spirit world.  “Solace” is due out on April 13, 2018 and available for pre-order at Bandcamp here and you can check out the opening track “Lahppon Olmmos (Noaide’s Ride To Saivo)” below. 

Band info: Facebook || Bandcamp

Friday, 9 March 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Forktail, "Forktail"

By: John Reppion

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 30/01/2018
Label: Independent

“...if sitting off stoned round that camp-fire, drinking that cider is a thing that appeals… maybe thinking about all those other camp-fires, real and imagined, others have sat round before… well, “Forktail”’s a pretty good soundtrack for that.”

“Forktail” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1). Smell The Foxglove
2). A Forked Tale
3). Primitivo
4). The Trickler
5). Beast ‘82
6). Wolves of Saint August
7). ∆O§ 
8). Familiar
9). Dronehenge

The Review:

Forktail are Simon Davis and Boo Cook, and their self titled debut is an atmospheric ode to the English Weird. Part soundtrack to an imagined film, part spoken word seance, part dream-logic sound collage, “Forktai”l presents the listener with a kind of micro-dose Psybient Folk Horror.  I should probably use the word hauntological too, just to make sure I get it in there.

The ragged calls of crows and jackdaws accompanied by the thump of a timpani introduce us to the world of “Forktail”'s “Smell the Foxglove”; a calm yet ominous psych-folk sneak deeper and deeper and deeper into the Old English woods. “A Forked Tale” is a well crafted spoken-word piece (written and performed by Si Cook) dealing with witches, magic, folklore, history, and all that good stuff. The words are accompanied by ambient church-bell drones, bird-calls, and minimalist bass, guitar and drums which evolve by degrees into something more trippy and drippy.

“Primitivo” is a Neolithic camp-fire drum-ritual jam session with added fuzz bass that comes out sounding like Shpongle on ketamine. “The Trickler” is a wonderfully chilled whimsical Detectorists dream-sequence guitar-soundscape, with a wassailing theme. “Beast ‘82”the most unabashedly electronic sounding thing on “Forktai”l up to this point, pairs John Carpenter-esque synths and sensibilities with the same stoned in a muddy field, drinking cans of warm cider sensibilities as the rest of the record. By the end of the track the revellers have got a bit freaked out by a noise from a nearby farm and are doing their best to quieten down, but it’s almost certain that they’ll forget about all that in a minute or two.

“Wolves of Saint August” is (the linear notes tell me) “based on a Transylvanian chapel field recording by Monica Lucia Madas a.k.a. Monooka who improvised the vocals live in situ”. Spacious church ambience and beautifully sacred sounding vocalisations are chopped up and remixed into something that sounds not unlike Portishead joined in the studio by a pack of wolves. “∆O§” (AOS) is built around a sample of modern-day writer/magician Alan Moore talking about the work of 20th century artist/occultist Austin Osman Spare. The nature of magic and art, and art as magic. What begins as quite subtle musical accompaniment builds and builds into a laid-back bass driven slice of Trip-Hop.
“Familiar” is the track most deserving of the Folk Horror tag on the record, with an air of menace and malignancy which just mounts and mounts throughout. “Dronehenge” offers a more positive and optimistic sounding reprise of some of “Primitivo”’s ideas – its a kind of structured grounding ritual, bringing proceedings to a close.

“Forktail” is not a metal record by any stretch of the imagination, and is not even really a rock record. It is also not heavy, or ever truly harsh, and in fact maintains a pleasantly fuzzy-muzzy, foggy-headedness throughout. I’ve already besmirched myself enough by using the term Trip-Hop in this review, so I won’t make things worse by using Chill Out too. However, if sitting off stoned round that camp-fire, drinking that cider is a thing that appeals… maybe thinking about all those other camp-fires, real and imagined, others have sat round before… well, “Forktail”’s a pretty good soundtrack for that.

“Forktail” is available here

Band info: bandcamp || facebook