Monday, June 29, 2009

Naam - Kingdom EP (Tee Pee, 2009)

What the hell is going on with the cover art to Kingdom?! Here's what I'm thinking: An androgynous angel puts its arm around Brother Michael. It points to the bustling city nestled in the valley below, explaining "One day, this will all be yours. All the riches within, yours to do with as you please; the harvests of a learned civilization, yours to reap. Yours will be a peaceful and prosperous dynasty." The angel's wings unfurl as it pulls out a massive spliff from its flowing purple robes.  "But first, we are gonna get fuckin' BAKED on some OG Kush, brah!" 

"Skyling Slip"

I'm trying my hardest to wipe the image of navel-gazing, stoned longhairs on desert acid trips from my mind as I listen to Kingdom. It's tough, but I'm doing my best to take Naam's droning psych jams at face value, instead of mentally adding them to the endless queue of stoner metal pilgrims crawling towards Jerusalem to pay obeisance at Sleep's sacrificial altar. Because you know, I can sense how fulfilling a song like "Skyling Slip," with its lumbering opening riff slathered in honey glaze, must be to a dude that's ready for a vision of the godhead; how perfect Ryan Lugar's literally monotone, Om-like vocal melody would be if you openly accept the Vedic mysticism implicated in Naam's name, sound and MySpace manifesto ("The vast seas cannot drown Us, the darkest caverns cannot conceal Us, We will conquer insurmountable foes. We are war, We are peace, We are time and space, We are infinite, We are Naam"). 

I'm nearly there. Those elastic rhythms and space-guitar heroics in "Fever If Fire?" Awesome. Bassist John Bundy and drummer Eli Pizzuto inhabit an astral plane where all is vibrational rhythm and there's no such thing as the bottom of the pocket. Naam get tighter the looser they get. I sorta wish they didn't rely so heavily on reverb. That "recorded-from-the-other-end-of-a-shark-tank" aesthetic threatens to dominate Naam's songs, when it should be the other way around -- that production style compresses all the peaks and valleys of the closing title track into a curious middle ground, where thunder becomes just real hard rain, and an out-of-tune Sitar drip-drops in the puddles. Still, not just any band can maintain interest throughout an 11-minute vamp on one chord. Naam do. Now about that cover art...

Amazon (MP3) (MP3)

CHAINMAIL: Losing Sleep - Jam Damage (self-released, 2009)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to contact me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

I was in a really great mood tonight. I ate a delicious brunch with a good friend, finished a bunch of reviews, had a nice long workout at the gym. Talked to momma Rosenbloom for a bit and downed a mighty fine glass of sipping bourbon after a healthy dinner. Then I listened to Jam Damage. Nothing like a pissed-off hardcore record to ruin the good vibes. Thanks a lot, assholes. 

"Day & Age"


No, I really mean it -- thanks a lot, assholes! This measly EP from Arkansas's Losing Sleep compresses more anger into its ten minutes than I've expended in my entire lifetime. Converge and His Hero Is Gone licks smear into sub-two-minute blasts of D-beats and acidic open chords. The scabby death-punk jolts of "Day & Age" and "Gnashville" shoot testosterone into my eyeballs. Even the gang vocals are monstrous.  The moody slow intro to "Stroke Eye" opens up space for the "singer" to belch forth plumes of hate. Elsewhere, he splits the difference between Jacob Bannon and the sound it makes when you pound your fist into raw steak as hard as possible. Total splatter (note to self: put on hazmat suit before listening next time). Losing sleep? No shit. I'm too fucking amped to go to bed. Anyone wanna get punched right now? Anyone?

Unnecessary! Download Jam Damage for free right here

Friday, June 19, 2009

Alan Dubin roundup

What did we ever do to deserve a vocalist like Khanate/O.L.D.'s Alan Dubin? His is one of the few throats in all of extreme musicdom that still sounds to me like every metal vocalist must sound to non-metal fans -- screechy, grating, irritating. And yet even at his most indulgent, Dubin's one expressive motherfucker. These two recent albums find the Dubester ripping open his pus-filled nodules for some of the more disgusting stuff he's ever put to tape

Gnaw - This Face (Conspiracy Records, 2009)

Abstract the words from Alan Dubin's howls and they become industrial textures, as harsh and electrical as a rotating saw blade on sheet metal. That's why the debut album from his Gnaw project feels so right -- the band complements Dubin's feverish screeches with clanking noise, swirling sound effects and baptismal static, courtesy of Carter Thornton (Enos Slaughter), Jun Mizumachi (of 80s industrialists Ike Yard), sound designer Brian Beatrice and Jamie Sykes, drummer for doom legends Thorr's Hammer and Burning Witch (whose re-issued Crippled Lucifer I reviewed here).

Gnaw - "Ghosted"

Sykes is the switch that controls the band's inhuman assembly line, his rhythms drilling "Vacant" and "Backyard Frontier" into the floor. But you don't get such a fucked up group of sonic adventurers together to pound out metal riffs. These guys excel at raw sonics, dank atmospheres that can't quite be boxed in by rhythm or song structures. Gnaw fulfill their destiny on "Haven Vault" and "Ghosted," which sound almost improvised (check out this interview with Dubin about Gnaw's writing process), totally uncomfortable, and about as close to free-form as music that's still rooted in industrial or metal gets. Dubin's other band Khanate sounds dead...Gnaw sound alive and murderous. Check out this classic Dubinism, from "Ghosted:" "We are here / Shadow and bone / Haunting from the alley / Dank and rot deserved / Chase the ghosted memory / In the shadow we die alone." I want to hear him scream that at a Hoboken open mic night. 


Khanate - Clean Hands Go Foul (Hydra Head, 2009)

You could have predicted this would happen. A band that always sounded so moribund on disc had to die sooner or later. Khanate broke up in 2006, shortly after the release of their Capture and Release EP, but not before improvising the basic tracks of what would become Clean Hands Go Foul (for more on its creation, read this piece from the Village Voice). While they were perched at the very precipice of the doom metal cliff, Khanate discs never called for repeat listens, because their bombed-out, caved-in take on doom was just too naked, too dark to visit that often. Guitarist Stephen O' Malley (Sunn0)))), bassist James Plotkin (O.L.D./Khlyst/Atomsmasher) and drummer Tim Wyskida (Khlyst/Blind Idiot God) played so slow that their "riffs," where they existed, released their relationships to one another. Khanate songs were lengthy metallic scrapes and rusty water droplets on an endless black canvass, with Dubin howling over the silence. Listening to Khanate's early recordings feels like revisiting horrible traumas. 

Khanate - "Wings From Spine"

The first three tracks on Clean Hands Go Foul lessen Khanate's tension, and pretension, ever so slightly by filling in the gaps. Suspended guitar chords and pendulous bass lines ring out over empty space. Chords coalesce and dissolve in semi-regular succession; Wyskida has crests and troughs to follow. This shit is still abysmally downbeat (check the final stanza of "In That Corner," where Dubin seethes "Don't you move / A kick will fix it / Stay in that trench / In that box / In the corner") but it paints in shades of black and grey that the older Khanate material was too bleak to bother with. Occasionally, Clean Hands Go Foul is quite beautiful, at least until you reach the blackened behemoth that is "Every God Damn Thing." In its full 32-minute incarnation (whittled down to nine minutes for the vinyl version), the song has more emptiness than music. You'll hear the squiggly distortion of a plug inserted into an electric guitar. A single feedback tone gets louder and recedes. A bass drop, a few hits of a tom, a lone kickdrum. Dubin howling over eternal quiet. He's resigned to being alone forever. Not that I'd ever accuse music so emotionally shattering of delicacy, but this shit sounds like Japanese gagaku in its eternal restraint. Faced with such pregnant tension, stretched over half an hour, every sound makes me flinch. Life affirming this is not. If Khanate found it cathartic, good for them. "Every God Damn Thing" certainly makes me feel less alive. A fitting epitaph for a band that sounded like death to begin with. 

Amazon (CD)
Amazon (MP3 - only $3.96!)

And here's the video for Khanate's "Dead," directed by Niklaus Schlumpf & Alex Sabatelli, edited by Alan Dubin. It's like they knew. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Master of Puppets liner notes in Helvetica

When first I saw the words "Blog Submission - Helvetica Metal" in my e-mail inbox, I feared the worst -- did this e-mail come from a young American metal band trying to name itself after the Norwegian term for hell ("Helvete"), but unknowingly aligning itself with a sans-serif font? Nope, it was just a blog post about artist Noah Venezia's harebrained scheme to re-set the liner notes to Master of Puppets in a more pleasing typeface (which turns out to be Franklin Gothic, not Helvetica).

Venezia's project re-contextualizes  the angry critiques of Master of Puppets' lyrics as texts to be studied. Reduced to blocks of text, laid out on one page in a font mostly used in books and advertising, the above liner notes resemble a newspaper story about the album. Perhaps this project engages purely academic questions of visual aesthetics more than it engages issues specific to metal. Still, it does raise a couple interesting questions. We've all debated the badassedness of heavy metal logos (see here for an example). What makes a font "metal?" and why do we place a valence on something as objectively meaningless as a font, anyway? The brain, it tingles!

For those readers in New York, this poster is on display TODAY (June 19th) at the Littlefield art & performance space in Brooklyn.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Black September/Winters in Osaka - "Hordes of Flesh and Bone" (self-released, 2009)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to contact me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

Black September's crusted over black metal hit me viscerally on their split 7" with Thou from last year, all "stabbing a rusty screwdriver into yr eyesocket" style. Their Chicago brethren Winters in Osaka's harsh, needlestorm electronics subscribe more to the "scour the meninges off yr brain" variety of physical impact. On this eleven-plus minute collaboration between the two, Black September shows continued improvement in the songwriting department. The band's strengths lie in economical riffs and their sooty smokestack, old-school death metal feel, not sustained ambiance, as is Winters in Osaka's forté. 

"Hordes of Flesh and Bone" (excerpt)

These acts are not ideal collaborators, and they struggle to find common ground other than a mutual respect for ugliness, selling each other short in the process. The harsh noise clouds that vomit the song forth, divide it through the middle and swallow it up after it's over feel a little too "now" for such a medieval axe-clanging battle song, and add little other than minutes. Black September still manage to impress though. Trimmed to a respectable six minutes, "Hordes of Flesh and Bone" could be the band's signature song. A galloping 6/8 verse riff hurtles towards the kind of blood-boiling chorus that Amon Amarth or Unleashed would slay their kinsmen to write; Jen Pickett rasps "I am the tyrant! I am vengeance! I am the tyrant! I will take your final breath!" with Machiavellian ferociousness. "Hordes of Flesh and Bone" is an intriguing, albeit not entirely successful, attempt at genre-smashery. Mostly it's another call for Black September to release a full-length but pronto.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

CHAINMAIL: Locrian - Drenched Lands (Small Doses/At War With False Noise, 2009)

The CHAINMAIL section reviews bands that were proactive enough to contact me directly. Here at Cerebral Metalhead, initiative is rewarded.

So this is where the black metal sidewalk ends. Drenched Lands, the first full-length CD recorded by Chicago's Andre Foisy and Terence Hannum as Locrian, employs few tools -- a guitar, some electronics, synthesizers and effects pedals. The album dovetails with traditional black metal only peripherally, with muffled screams occasionally emitting from abyssal noise drones. Otherwise, it's all ambience and curious tones. Space and quietude pervade Drenched Lands, and yet Locrian's unsettlingly sparse soundscapes are heavier than most doom epics.

"Barren Temple Obscured By Contaminated Fogs"

"Obsolete Elegy in Cast Concrete"

On the cover to Drenched Lands, black metal's pentagram becomes a pentagon encapsulating a barren, cracked street. The image conflates magick's astral planes with the mundane terrors of urban decay. It's a metaphor for Drenched Lands, which voices the desolation of downcast glances, unplugged amplifiers, empty parking lots. A church bell tolls solemnly in "Obsolete Elegy in Cast Concrete;" a lone guitar smears a crackling un-solo. That could be "Taps" writ in guitar feedback. Is it more frightening to wonder whether there's something's lurking around the corner, or to know that nobody will ever appear? Locrian posit the latter. We have all felt the emptiness at the heart of these pieces. What's heavier than reality?

Don't step on the cracks or you'll break your mother's back at Locrian's MySpace page

Buy from:
Amazon (CD import)
Amazon (digital)
At War With False Noise
Small Doses