Dear Queensrÿche: Please stop

Growing up a fan of metal and thrash in the ’80s was a good time. However, watching some of the bands from that era age has not been so much fun.

There’s a new Anthrax record due soon with Joey Belladonna back in the fold, but they’ve done so much damage to their aura, I don’t know that this will help them recover. I’ll listen to it, because it’ll be cool hearing Belladonna fronting the band again, but from the one song I’ve heard (live versions of “Fight ’Em Til You Can’t”) doesn’t have me feeling much hope. Metallica’s downturn has been well documented, and they’re ruined for life, basically. I don’t know how many times I’ve said to my wife, “No, really, they used to awesome.” Their latest “Death Magnetic” initially didn’t seem like such a bad record considering the decade of output that preceded it, but really, it’s nowhere near their classic material. It’s patting them on the back for not totally failing outright. Megadeth have healed a little bit, as their last couple record tried to reclaim their earlier nasty bite. They’re far better records than what Metallica have regurgitated, but I don’t listen to them at all, really. I haven’t had time to listen to the new Morbid Angel yet, which should tell you how skeptical I am about the thing.

Some bands have done OK. After a long layoff, Death Angel have re-emerged and put out some pretty decent material, especially 2008’s excellent “Killing Season,” though I’m a little bit nervous about them moving forward because they’ve significantly altered their lineup recently. But still, they sound pretty good and have done their legacy well. Testament never really went away, but their mostly original lineup got back together (most notably, guitar wizard Alex Skolnick came back to the fold), and they put out a really good record in 2008’s “Formation of Damnation.” They’re said to be working on a new album, and I’m pretty hopeful that it’ll be god. Exodus are on their 50th singer, but they’re still putting out decent stuff; Iron Maiden changed their formula and went super epic, but they remain a must-see live band and still make decent records; and Slayer had their bumps in the road but remain  steady.

But perhaps the band that has aged the worst is Queensrÿche. Their output the last decade and a half has been just awful. Really, really bad stuff. They used to be one of the most exciting, forward-thinking bands metal had, but the last 15 years they sound lost and uninspired. They always prided themselves in being ahead of the curve, and when you hear them interviewed, they sound so obsessed with staying that way that I think it undoes their efforts creatively. I don’t think they even know where the curve is. Also, if they tried to do a classic, back-to-basics record, I don’t think they could do it.

A major part of the band’s undoing has been the massive deterioration of Geoff Tate’s voice. He once had one of those sirens that stunned you as much with its power as with the words it was unleashing, and he once arguably was as vital as Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford. But then something happened. Somewhere around 1994’s “Promised Land,” Tate’s voice starting losing its power. By 1997’s horribly titled “Hear in the Now Frontier,” it was like a balloon that had the air sucked from it. That siren was just an average, sometimes grating voice that needed either a rest or retirement. But neither of those happened. They continued to release bad album after bad album, perhaps peaking with “Operation: Mindcrime II,” which was such a poor idea. It was a sequel to 1988’s “Operation: Mindcrime,” in my mind one of the greatest metal albums of all time and perhaps the finest concept piece ever. Listen to it today, and the lyrics and thematic points still ring true. It’s frightening. It’s another reason we didn’t need “Mindcrime II,” because the original was still vital and speaking to us more than two decades later. A money grab is a money grab, I guess.

The band is ready to put out its new record “Dedicated to Chaos” on Roadrunner’s imprint Loud and Proud. No comment on that last part of the sentence. It’s due June 28, and you can hear samples of the new tracks right now at Amazon (link below). I did take time to go and listen to these samples, and keep in mind, I’m basing this just on song snippets, but this sounds monumentally disappointing. Tate’s voice is a liability, and the material is so bland sounding, I wonder if the man who once was their greatest strength is now what keeps this band from being remotely vital. On the clips where Tate tries to soar, he sounds devoid of emotion and oomph. It’s sad to hear, because I grew up in an era where he was like a demigod. Again, I know I’m judging clips here, but I base my opinion on the albums they’ve put out the last 15 years, and these segments sound no better at all. A few songs – “I Take You,” “At the Edge,” awkwardly spelled “Big Noize” – sound like they have OK musical ideas, but Tate’s flatlined moan kills any interest I had in hearing them in full. Some songs sound like ill-conceived experiments, such as the dance poppy “Wot We Do,” another stupidly spelled name that someone must have thought would make them seem cooler than cool. Just kind of makes them appear out of touch. Even worse, you can buy a deluxe edition with four bonus cuts. FOUR! Too much. If the 12 song samples don’t sound good, can you imagine hearing the four that didn’t make the cut?

It gives me no pleasure to say this about Queensrÿche. I long loved this band, and their initial 1983 EP and first four records, yes even “Empire,” should be put into a metal time capsule somewhere for future generations to hear. Chances are, in 10 years, the original “Mindcrime” still will be chilling. I’ve even been trying to get my hands on a Queensrÿche shirt with some classic-era art, and I’d still wear it proudly.  Also, I’ve had a chance to interview Tate before, and he’s a thoughtful, challenging guy who pays attention to his surroundings, speaks on them with great care, and is legitimately concerned about the future. I think I enjoyed talking politics with him more than I did music, and he’s a genuinely nice human being. So it makes me sorrowful to see great former idols completely stripped of their power. I beg you, Queensrÿche, please stop making records. You’ve made some of the most innovative power metal albums ever, and it’s sad your creative window was so small. If you must tour, play the hits. Let people remember the good days. I know you want to remain productive in the studio, but at what cost? No one can take away your past glory, but every bad album that follows it makes it seem further and further in the past.

To hear samples of the new Queensrÿche album, go here: http://www.amazon.com/Dedicated-Chaos-Queensryche/dp/B004YKB5FQ/ref=sr_1_4?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1305600248&sr=1-4

For more on the band, go here: http://www.queensryche.com/

Beyond Metal Friday: Mountains, Duke Spirit, Okkervil River

This weekend should be a good one when it comes to test driving some new metal releases that have dropped in my lap the past week.

A few hours ago, I got the new Dark Castle and Tombs albums, both of which were toward the top of my most anticipated discs for 2011. In addition, I have some magazine assignments that’ll take me through the Agoraphobic Nosebleed/Despise You split, the Prosthetic reissue of Black September’s debut full-length, and Relapse’s re-release of the debut from Southern sludgers Black Tusk, whose second album “Taste the Sin” was on constant rotation around last year at this time. I remember that because last year at this time, I was getting ready to get married, and I was doing a lot of scurrying around, and usually Black Tusk was powering me through. I’m also planning to do some light record shopping over the weekend, with hopes of landing physical copies of the Horseback reissue and the new Liturgy. Yes, I have digital promos, but if it’s something I really like, I need a finished copy. I’m a dork like that.

Anyhow, as I mentioned during this site’s early days, and as we’ve followed up on a bit in our existence, I do want to devote some space to non-metal records. While the bulk of what I listen to on a regular basis is metal, I have plenty of other musical interests that go beyond that, and maybe you do too. So we’ll finish off this week — the most widely read week in MMM history, so thank you! — discussing a few non-metal releases that are ready to hit store shelves.

Thrill Jockey got a mention last week when we dissected the excellent new Liturgy record, and now they have something for the ambient/drone fans out there by way of the new effort “Air Museum” from Brooklyn-based duo Mountains. Their music is built on soundscapes, and while it’s a gentle, easy listen, it’s also quite intellectually stimulating. It’s their most electronic-sounding record, though the bio info contained with the record said they used and concentrated more on acoustic instruments and tried to keep the production of those sounds as organic as possible. Mission accomplished, and even the synth and drone has a sense of humanity to them and they make you feel like you’re getting ready for a long, lonely sojourn into space. I’ve been reading Peter Bergen’s “The Osama bin Laden I Know” recently, and I usually put on “Air Museum” when I’m doing so because it provides a soothing background but always keeps my mind on what I’m reading.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.thrilljockey.com/artists/index.html?id=11985

For more on the label, go here: http://www.thrilljockey.com/

I’m usually sweet on any female-fronted rock band that exudes attitude, and The Duke Spirit are that in spades. Leila Moss is one of my favorite singers, and her brassy, smoky delivery is one of the primary reasons to listen to this band. Their shoegazey, bluesy-hinting, straight-ahead songs help, too. Their third album “Bruiser” is getting ready to drop on Shangri-La, and the cover makes the album look like it could be a death metal assault instead of an indie-rock pleaser. It’s a pretty good disc, though I don’t like it quite as much as their sophomore effort “Neptune,” but if anything, it should help to further elevate their profile in America. There are 12 tracks on “Bruiser,” running about 45 minutes, and if they’d have trimmed two songs off this thing (I vote off “Victory” and “Surrender”), it would be damn formidable. Opener “Cherry Tree” is a lot of fun, with Moss wondering, “I don’t look back, why would you?” and other highlights arrive on “Everybody’s Under Your Spell,” “Villain” “Northbound” and “Glorious,” the punchiest cut on here.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.thedukespirit.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://shangrilamusic.com/

A couple of years ago, I went to see The New Pornographers and ended up being floored by the opener so forcefully, I almost didn’t care when the headliners hit the stage (which is quite a statement any time the main band involves Neko Case). That opener was Okkervil River, and while I already was a fan of their music and albums, this took my admiration for them to a new level. Bandleader Will Sheff is a true troubadour, with a commanding presence, a dry wit, and total command over the music. Their new record “I Am Very Far” (Jagjaguwar Records) is a bit of a departure for them, as Sheff isn’t as wrapped up in literary-worthy love tales of rock and roll idols who have crashed and burned. Instead he makes this thing a little more personal. One drawback is there aren’t as many sure-fire crowd pleasers (I’ve read that was by design), but there are some seriously strong songs such as “Rider,” “We Need a Myth,” old-style ballad “Hanging From a Hit” and “Show Yourself,” which is as different an Okkervil River song as you’re going to find. I know some people get snooty about this band and accuse them of being hipster fodder. I really don’t give a shit about people who write off bands in that way (even if there’s a modicum of truth to it), because if the music is good, then it’s good. Okkervil River is damn good, and I’m not ashamed to wear my Amon Amarth shirt while listening.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.okkervilriver.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.jagjaguwar.com/

Next week, we’ll have a look at the dual releases from Japanese powerhouse Boris, the somewhat surprising new Book of Black Earth, the new Infestus record, and another exciting new find from Flenser Records.

Wrapping my brain around Anaal Nathrakh’s ‘Passion’

Three words easily can smarten up any person who’s yet to be exposed to Anaal Nathrakh’s vomitous filth: noise, chaos, hatred.

Even using those words, the UK duo is not easy to explain to someone who’s unfamiliar with the brand of hell this band unleashes. It’s loud. Of course, it’s loud. Most metal bands can be described as loud, so that’s not getting you anywhere. Heavy. Yes, obviously, as are most metal bands. Relentless works, too, but again, there are many bands that also can take on the description. All of those words work when describing Anaal Nathrakh, but none of them are definitive and none put any separation between them and every other metal band going. And you need that separation, because what these guys do isn’t typical, easy to handle, digestible or run of the mill. That brings us back to noise, chaos and hatred, three fitting adjectives that, while they’re the closest you can get to labeling this machine, still don’t quite convey what one is in for when handling their albums, their sixth and latest “Passion” included (out next week on Candlelight Records).

Anaal Nathrakh is known for blending genres, from black metal to industrial to grindcore, and their records are so ridiculously in your face, it sometimes is overwhelming. If I have their songs on a mix, theirs always stand out because of the fury on the overall volume. Their albums are LOUD, meaning the production makes it that way, and while I tend to like music that has its peaks and valleys, that concept wouldn’t really work for these guys. The duo – vocalist V.I.T.R.I.O.L. and guitarist/bassist/programmer Irrumator – spill forth tyrannical machine violence, but as mechanical as their assault seems, there’s a heart and soul behind it, spilling every ounce of putrid agony and loathing into what’s laying waste to your hearing. It’s something to behold. I read somewhere that the band was seen as logical successors to both Emperor’s majestic black metal and Napalm Death’s take-no-prisoners, hold-no-tongues punk grind, and that’s pretty accurate, but let’s not leave out Ministry, who made similar types of noise, but always with a consciousness toward melody, which Anaal Nathrakh also have.

“Passion” is an interesting album, and for someone long a fan of this band, it was tough to get into at first. It was never displeasing, mind you, just tough to grasp. I haven’t felt that way about one of their albums in a while, and 2009’s “In Constellation of the Black Widow” was an instant favorite for me. But I don’t mind earning albums, and I had to with “Passion,” one of their most forceful, weirdest pieces of work. The 36-minute album has some trademark stuff, such as static-blasted opener “Volenti Non Fit Iniuria” and seven-minute doom abrasion “Drug Fucking Abomination,” the title of which should clue you into the beating you’re about to receive. But where they veer from the path is where the record is most interesting. They reel in Rainer Landfermann (Pavor, Bethlehem) to provide horrifically spat and barked vocals to “Tod Huetel Uebel,” which has a tornadic, swirling horror-fest approach, and the bizarre and unsettling Alan Dubin (Khanate, Gnaw) provides his off-kilter, madman wail to “Ashes Screaming Silence,” an industrial thrasher that has some of the most satisfying and meaty guitar hammering of the entire record. “Paragon Pariah” is the record’s most approachable song, with an infectious melody from V.I.T.R.I.O.L. over the chorus and cool, fluid soloing.

There are some mild drawbacks to “Passion,” but they shouldn’t discourage you from indulging. “Who Thinks of the Executioner” is just an OK song, one that appears toward the end of the album and isn’t all that memorable. There also are a couple of shorter cuts, such as “Post-Traumatic Stress Euphoria” and “Locus of Damnation” that aren’t bad and blast by in a heartbeat, but they also don’t leave any indelible marks once they’re over.

Anaal Nathrakh has a signature, unmistakable sound, something most bands don’t even come close to achieving. Their noise swarms aren’t for everyone, and I’ve already read a few reviews bashing this record and claiming artistic redundancy. I don’t hear that myself. It’s a fresh sounding record, and because they’re not an easy band to ape, there aren’t hundreds of copycats out there watering down the main source’s output. I love their brand of noise, chaos and hatred, and while “Passion” isn’t my favorite record of Anaal Nathrakh’s catalog, it’s still a mighty one that’ll sound great anytime the traffic in my own head gets to be too much and I need to hear two human beings more frustrated and disillusioned than I am.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.myspace.com/anaalnathrakh

To buy “Passion,” go here: http://www.candlelightrecordsusa.com/store/

For more on the bale, go here: http://candlelightrecordsusa.com/site/

A Storm of Light focus their fury on ‘Valley’

I’m not sure how many Josh Graham-related albums I have in my vast collection, but it’s safe to say I have a whole lot of them.

From Neurosis (he’s the band’s visual director) to old Red Sparowes albums to the lone Battle of Mice full-length and their EP split with Jesu, Graham has claimed a good bit of my money over the years (not to mention albums I got as promos that didn’t cost me a thing). But apart from all those, my favorite pieces of my Graham collection come from his post-doom, apocalyptic project A Storm of Light, a band that originally recorded for Neurot Recordings (we discussed them yesterday in our Across Tundras review) before moving to Profound Lore for their third and latest album “As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade.” They kind of have a thing for album titles that take as long as to say as some punk band’s albums take to hear.

Anyone who discovered the band – they’re rounded out by bassist Domenic Seita, drummer Billy Graves, and Joel Hamilton on synth/production — with any of their first two records is going to be in for a bit of a surprise on “As the Valley…” It’s different, both sonically and philosophically. A Storm of Light always played pretty faithfully to that Neurosis/ISIS formula of long, drawn-out compositions that required your attention, patience and concentration, mixing in elements of post-rock, post-metal, shoegaze, doom, what have you. That’s still kind of there, at least the sound is there, but the songs are structured far differently this time around. Instead of expansive soundscapes that slowly unfurl, they concentrate more on traditional songwriting this time around. The tracks are shorter (though they still last longer than most other bands’ material), they try new things, and they sound way more accessible than ever before. Not sure everyone’s going to like that idea, as people tend to want bands to remain the same and never sway from what earned them affection in the first place, but by no means have they compromised themselves. A Storm of Light still sound like A Storm of Light, but they’re leaner now.

But yeah, the songs remain massive in volume and strength, and maybe someone who felt a little lost listening to 2008’s “And We Wept the Black Ocean Within” or 2009’s “Forgive Us Our Trespasses” will feel a little more at home with these songs. They blast out of the gates with “Missing,” an expansive, fiery song that has some meaty thrashing that Metallica used to be known for cranking out. On “Collapse,” Graham, who prefers clean singing tones to growling, warns, “Give up those dreams of fire” as he and his band launch into the song’s final moments of tumult. “Death’s Head” is spacey and has a heavy synth overdrive that blends its way into the thick doom fog, while closer “Wasteland” is the most haunting of the collection, as noise rises and falls, organs moan mournfully, and a thick psychedelic wash defines its personality.

There are some real eye-openers as well. “Wretched Valley” is a straight-up rock song, with a tasty guitar groove that sounds like it was put together by Josh Homme, and “Leave No Wounds” is one of the shortest, most straight-forward songs of their entire catalog, with an indie rock-style guitar riff, pushy, catchy drumming, and an attitude they don’t often display. It’s a cool track that could easily get rock radio play without anyone batting an eye. Well, except from the corporate playlist makers.

As with any ASOL record, there’s a wealth of special guests, and they blend right into the creation, make their contributions and never outshine the rest of the band. Um, speaking of outshine, Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil contributes to “Missing” and Black Wolves,” where his signature sound is recognizable but complements its surroundings. Longtime collaborator Nerissa Campbell lends her pipes to those songs as well, and she’s an integral part to the melody and story of “Black Wolves.” Jarboe contributes to “Death’s Head”;  Carla Kihlstedt of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum lends her talents to “Destroyer”; while Kris Force (Amber Asylum, among others), Campbell and Sleepytime’s Matthias Bossi power “Wasteland.”

“As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade” could be the album that breaks out this band to a larger audience. While their past work has been excellent, the moves they make here are sensible. How many more bands can do the Neurosis/ISIS thing exclusively and remain interesting over the long run? Even ISIS couldn’t do that. As mentioned, this band still is recognizable sonically, and they didn’t abandon what brought them this far. But refined songwriting and more attention toward making digestible material for more people didn’t strip this band of its allure. If anything it amplified how good A Storm of Light are as a unit and how capable they are. It would be a crime to keep this band contained inside a box, and I’m glad they realized that too.

For more on A Storm of Light, go here: http://www.astormoflight.com/

To buy “As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade,” go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com//index.php?option=com_ezcatalog&task=viewcategory&id=2&Itemid=99999999

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com

Across Tundras dust up new adventures on ‘Sage’

Americana roots are something that are becoming more present in metal and its various sub-genres.

You have Man’s Gin¸ a gritty, largely acoustic effort from Cobalt songwriter Erik Wunder; U.S. Christmas (USX), an Appalachia-colored epic weaver of a band; Horseback, who we visited last week, who drank deeply from this well on “Invisible Mountain”; and Earth, the legendary drone band that once counted Kurt Cobain amongst its contributors. All of those bands can’t exactly be termed as simply metal, though there’s obvious crossover appeal and their music appears on labels that typically pump out extreme sounds. And those are only a few examples, but it’s a phenomenon that isn’t terribly widespread (yet), therefore the bands employing these age-old, dusty sounds stand apart. You can add to that lot Across Tundras, a band that has grown and progressed quite organically and now find themselves on Neurot, the label started by members of Neurosis (surely, they need no introduction here) for their music and side projects but now boasts an impressive roster of other bands.

Before landing at Neurot, Across Tundras recorded for other, smaller labels and even put out their own records. One of those, last
year’s “Old World Wanderer,” we had a chance to hear and review over at Metal Maniacs, and you can read that review right here: http://www.metalmaniacs.com/2010/across-tundras-old-world-wanderer/   Their fifth album “Sage” is ready to drop next week, and anyone who’s followed the band over their career likely won’t be too surprised by what it sounds like but surely will be impressed by how top-notch the band plays. Not that they ever lacked in the performance category, mind you. They were always more interesting, more forward-thinking than your neighborhood doom band, with their penchant for the aforementioned Americana and classic rock roots adding more color to their creations. “Sage” realizes that effort more confidently, more satisfyingly than ever before.

The Tanner Olson-led band actually would make great tour mates with USX. It would be a night to find a seat in the dark corner of the room, double-fist cold ales, and let you be taken away to the dusty plains and wooden door-gates bars. Their storytelling and accompanying stagecoach-rocking soundtrack (rounded out by bassist Matt Shively and drummer Nathan Rose) is raucous, melodic and infectious, and make no mistake, their records are made to be heard front to back. It’s a journey, not a quick stop. “Sage” not only embraces those who feast on doom rock and metal and psychedelic sounds, but you can safely recommend it to friends, family members, whoever, who spend their time spinning the hell out of old Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Grateful Dead, and Allman Bros. records without facing scorn later. Chances are, they’ll get the spirits being conjured here.

The album opens with “In the Name of the River Grand,” pulling you into a Texan adventure, with Southern-seasoned rock, slurry vocals from guitarist Olson and Western horns that make it sound like the cavalry is near. “Hijo de Desierto” rocks hard and has the narrator seeking “cool, clear water”; “Buried Arrows” has a dark ambiance and a tribal feel (perhaps the arrowheads on the album cover refer to this passage), with Lilly Hiatt adding her gorgeous backing vocals to flesh out the tale; “Tchulu Junction” is spacious, yet direct, with a reminder to everyone that taking the wrong path could cost you your soul, as Olson reminds, “An angry god will cut you down one day”; “Mean Season Movin’ On” is the epic of the set, running 12 minutes and changing paces from slow drawl, to fiery explosiveness, to trippy wonder; while closing instrumental “Shunka Sapa” sits in a mind-altering fog, as it moves across the land, letting this book fade into the night.

Many metal fans are close-minded, so seeing the words Americana or folk or classic rock may make some readers feel uneasy. But don’t let that happen to you. Across Tundras may not be metal through and through, but they have some of those elements. Their music is human and real, and I’d certainly pick to listen to them for an entire car ride, over and over, than 10 modern death metal bands with no new ideas and only decibels on their side. I’ve had “Sage” pretty much on regular rotation since the album arrived about a month ago in my e-mail, and I found that when I hear it, I do a tremendous amount of thinking because of how it seemingly expands my mind. I relish bands such as these, and every Across Tundras album is its own adventure, crossing into territory they have in the past, but never the same roads. “Sage” is a milestone for this band, and it’s only bigger and better from here. No doubt they’ll continue to take the back roads all over this land, bringing their music to eager ears and learning new stories along the way. That should only make album number six that much more compelling.

For more on the band, go here: http://acrosstundras.blogspot.com/

To by “Sage,” or some other cool Across Tundras gear, go here: http://www.acrosstundras.bigcartel.com/

For more on Neurot, go here: http://neurotrecordings.com/

While Heaven Wept flesh out “Infinity”

It’s rare when you write a review and you hear back from the artist you were critiquing.

Tom Phillips of While Heaven Wept apparently is not your average musician, and he took time to read the review that appeared on this site last week of their new album “Fear of Infinity” (which was republished at metalmaniacs.com) and responded to what he read. Refreshingly, he supplied a good bit of background on the album and a further look into the material, so that readers could know more about what they are hearing. I include myself in that. These days, most of what I review comes by way of digital promos. Those are basically simple downloads of the album, with album art and a bio. You don’t have the full package art, and you usually don’t have access to the lyrics. It makes it a little tougher to fully flesh out an album’s meaning, so when artists such as Phillips take time to spell it out in more detail, you take advantage of that insight. Musically, I’m not sure my opinion will change, and I do find it a good album, just not a great one. But I’ll keep an open mind, and maybe what I know now will give me a greater sense of what’s going on during “Fear of Infinity.”

So below is Tom’s response, which he posted beneath my review at Metal Maniacs. Again, I thank Tom for taking the time to write back and shine a brighter light on their new disc. Here it is:

Brian….first of all cheers for your honest review, it is very much appreciated. I wanted to clarify a couple things personally regarding the music of While Heaven Wept and also the new album. First off, WHW is in fact genreless; we never ascribed to a particular style or genre and are ever-changing with each album. No single genre could ever accurately describe what we do – the reality it is simply Metal with genuine heart and soul….it takes 25 adjectives to completely and accurately describe what WHW is. We have no problem being referred to as “Doom” “Epic” “Prog” “Power” or any of the other tags or combinations hung on our music, but in the end if you survey the entire discography it would be impossible to say it’s all one thing. As for “Fear Of Infinity” itself, it is important that people understand exactly what this album is: the completion of a very real, personal process of grieving that began with “Vast Oceans Lachrymose”. It is a challenging album that requires numerous listens to absorb and understand…this was the case even for myself. But if you approach it knowing that “VOL” represented the first two stages of bereavement (Shock/Disbelief and Denial), “FOI” continues on through anger, despair, and finally reaches acceptance at the very end. None of this was intentional…and I didn’t even realize it myself until we were on the other side of all this….I was living and healing through this music. So I hope this will provide some light for all those who will take the journey through both of these albums as it does make a difference. Thank you again for the quality review. I assure you that “Fear Of Infinity” was the exact album that needed to be made…and also consider it, like all of our albums is meant to be heard as a whole. Cheers! – Tom Phillips

To buy While Heaven Wept’s new album, go here: http://store.nuclearblastusa.com/Search/while_heaven_wept

For more on the band, go here:  http://whileheavenwept.com/

Horseback gallop into black drone field

I like when a band insists on not making the same album twice, but Horseback take this idea to ridiculous levels. I mean that as a high compliment.

While the Jenks Miller-led, Chapel Hill, N.C., band already had been around for a while, my first exposure to them came with 2009’s “Invisible Mountain,” which later was picked up and re-released by Relapse. It is a Western-washed slab of drone and ambiance, with Miller’s black metal-style shrieking jarring you awake, making you wonder what the hell is going on. It’s a record that took me a while to embrace, but once I did, I revisited it pretty regularly and always found nuances and passages I didn’t really notice on previous listens. The gift that keeps on giving. In fact, after spending time absorbing and analyzing the album I’m about to discuss, I went back and spent more time on the “Mountain” and realized that, while I realized Horseback refused to repeat themselves, and I never really realized just how varied their work is.

“The Gorgon Tongue” is a compilation being released by Relapse that combines their 2007 effort “Impale Golden Horn” and 2010’s “Forbidden Planet,” originally only available on cassette. The two-disc collection not only makes it sound like totally different creators are responsible for each half, it even might make you wonder how the same minds could come up with “Invisible Mountain,” itself a completely different style of collection from these two albums. It’s mind blowing! You could play all three aforementioned albums for someone unfamiliar with the band and convince that person he/she is listening to three different groups. All of this, by the way, is a precursor to their new record “Half Blood,” which the band currently is finishing up for Relapse. I can only imagine – or maybe I can’t – what this thing’s going to sound like. Italian film score black death, perhaps?

Let’s break down each disc, because it’s pretty necessary. The “Impale Golden Horn” portion is a dreamy, psychedelic soundscape that won’t feel all that metal to you at first. To me, it sounds like a combination of Nadja’s headiness and imagination and Explosions in the Sky’s emotion and beauty. The four cuts are quite long, and two pieces “Finale” and “Laughing Celestial Architect” form a 32-minute center point that, if sequenced together, would sound hinged and inseparable from each other. In fact, they could bleed together, and act like one large piece in two suites. If you listened on shuffle and heard them back to back, you wouldn’t even realize when one piece ends and the other begins. The only hint of vocals on this effort comes on opener “Blood Fountain,” where Miller quietly, softly sings just a bit, but there’s not a hint of ugliness or harshness that you find on disc two.

That’s what leads us into “Forbidden Planet,” a six-cut package that is mostly made up of the “A High Ashen Breeze” section, broken up over three tracks. This is where the charred clouds arrive to set up shop, almost like a violent thunderstorm taking over from an early morning rain. There’s a horrific, doomy haze over these songs, and the drone is penetrating and powerful. Miller also unleashes his black metal-style shrieks here, though they’re never terribly up front an only make up a part of the cacophony. “Alabaster Shithouse” is the most aggressive, attacking song on the album, and one of the heaviest in their catalog, with speedy guitar and a dark pall hanging in the air, and “Veil of Maya (The Lamb Takes the Lion)” opens the collection on a thorny, foreboding note, with Miller’s scariest vocals yet. This is the most straight-forward of the two discs, but it is in no way direct. There’s still a Skullflower, Pyramids, Sunn0)))-style sense of art damage and nightmarish drone that keeps your mind stimulated and wondering.

While Horseback’s catalog is pretty diverse as it is, that’s not where Miller’s artistic endeavors end. He also has a hand in Americana duo Mount Moriah, along with riveting singer Heathen McEntire (of Bellafea), whose self-titled album is out on Holidays for Quince Records. It may not exactly please a metal fan who needs all blood all the time, but if you can branch out, you might enjoy this. I know I do a great deal. The music is earthy and folky, and as mentioned McEntire’s voice adds another element of humanity and expression to these cuts that really make this record a killer. Along with the music, there’s a DVD included that contains videos. I’ll add a link below in case you want to sample for yourself. Highly recommended.

Relapse also should be commended for bringing Horseback deeper into the consciousness of metal fans and their loyal consumers. Too often, Relapse gets written off as a death/grind haven, and it is that, but they offer much more. They have done similar projects such as Dukatalon, Hero Destroyed, Complete Failure, and excellent smoky rockers Royal Thunder, all with an eye toward expanding awareness for these bands. Horseback is another excellent choice for their roster, and I’m excited to hear what’s in store for us on “Half Blood.”

For more on Horseback, go here: http://shop.relapse.com/artist/artist.aspx?ArtistID=10226

To buy “The Gorgon Tongue” (there’s a T-shirt package option as well), go here: http://shop.relapse.com/artist/artist.aspx?ArtistID=10226

To check out the label, go here: http://www.relapse.com/

For more on Mount Moriah, go here: http://www.mountmoriahband.com/

Also, here: http://www.holidaysforquince.com/

Liturgy’s metallic aim is true

Metal fans are a bizarre lot. I should know. I am one.

Most shows I go to are fairly low-key affairs, unless you have a Converge or a Trap Them or some sort of hardcore-laced band on the bill to bring everyone to a violent frenzy. But for the most part, pure metal shows such as the Immortal performance I attended a couple of months ago, are peaceful. People have their own style of dress, wear a smattering of different band shirts, talk amongst themselves respectfully, and sometimes start pits that looks a little bit like people sleepwalking in a circle. They just want something that’ll fire them up and make them feel alive, even if that energy is more internal. It’s usually a good time. Of course, that just might be Pittsburgh. Maybe we’re all a little bit tired.

You’re probably wondering what point I’m making as this is a piece about the new album from New York City-based black metal experimentalists Liturgy, and I can understand why you maybe be puzzled. But the Hunter Hunt-Hendrix-led band that’s on full-length album two seem to get equal amount of praise and people questioning whether their metal aim is true. This same type of thing has been thrown at other bands such as Early Man and The Sword simply because, at one time, they didn’t record for metal-only labels. The horror! Clearly, and very clearly, these judgments were not based on the aforementioned bands’ music, and people saying the same about Liturgy simply are trying to start some sort of territorial pissing that isn’t necessary. Yes, Liturgy now record for Thrill Jockey, largely known as an indie rock haven, but if anyone can listen to their new record “Aesthetica” and somehow explain how this isn’t a true representation of heavy metal, then I’ll quit. Chances are, the people I described at the Immortal show probably would gobble this up and not worry about any stupid Internet spitball tossing (and let’s face it, Internet kids started this garbage). It’s metal. Why dissect and put under a microscope something that doesn’t require it?

Let’s address Thrill Jockey really quickly. Yes, they put out some stellar indie rock-style bands such as The Fiery Furnaces, Mi Ami, and the Sea and Cake, but they’re not adverse to releasing artists that push toward the metallic edge, evidenced by them working with Mountains, The Skull Defekts, and Barn Owl. So this argument holds no water anyway. Look at this another way: What if Fiery Furnaces signed with Relapse? Would they be considered grindcore indie pop? Of course not. So let’s drop this. I think it’s pretty awesome Thrill Jockey put their push behind a band such as Liturgy, one that really sticks out on their roster and proves what opens minds both the band members and label heads have. This type of thing should be celebrated, not questioned or judged negatively.

OK, but the album is what’s important, and “Aesthetica” delivers. It’s not terribly different from their 2008 effort “Renihilation” (put out by very-much-metal 20 Buck Spin), and if you’re into that record, chances are you’ll like this one. Hunt-Hendrix’s guitar playing is mind-blowing as always, and the band often plays so quickly and precisely, they sound like a fresh-from-the-package power drill. Along with guitarist Bernard Glenn, drummer Greg Fox, and bassist Tyler Dusenbury, Hunt-Hendrix adds his incredible prowess and banshee shrieking atop these 12 songs that should find favor among those who both like to be thrashed relentlessly and who geek out on top-notch musicianship. Many make a comparison to Krallice, and I understand why, but the two bands certainly sound a lot different. Same town, similar structure. It’s not a stretch.

The album starts mechanically with the opening string cranking of “High Gold,” that eventually melts into a bubbling cauldron of intensity and power. “True Will” kicks off with the band’s oddball, evil Beach Boys-like harmonizing (something that seems to annoy that pocket of people who question Liturgy’s intent … Whatever. I think it’s cool) before completely detonating into a melodic, scintillating black assault that’s as savage as it is precise, eventually bleeding out in a symphony of clock alarms; “Glory Bronze” has an emotional caterwaul of a guitar line and controlled chaos that’s intricate and devastating; where “Veins of God” opens simply, with a drum beat that reminds of ’80s Black Sabbath sort-of hit “Headless Cross” before taking on a savage lead line that should erase anyone’s doubt as to whether this metal is true. It is. Wholly. Completely. There are some cuts that push in other directions. “Generation” takes on the personality of early, “Gish”-era Smashing Pumpkins, only updated and blackened, while the opening sequence to “Tragic Laurel” sounds like something lent by guitar goddess Marnie Stern before it tears away its cloak and exposes its darkness. Instrumental “Helix Skull” makes like it would have sounded right at home on the first “Halloween” soundtrack in its slasher film eeriness.

People are going to pass judgment because that’s what they do to feel important. Too bad for them, because writing off “Aesthetica” as anything less than a stellar slab of modern, domestic black metal is foolish. If someone slapped a different record label’s name on this, I wonder if those people would judge the book by its cover differently. I feel bad for people who do that. Thrill Jockey’s a killer label, and bringing Liturgy on board is much to their credit. As for the band itself, I never doubted them for a second, and “Aesthetica” only solidified my belief they are one of the true bright hopes that black metal’s future will be uncompromising, exciting, and real.

For more on Liturgy, go here: http://www.myspace.com/liturgynybm

For more on Thrill Jockey, go here: http://www.thrilljockey.com/index.html

WOLD ready to bring the noise

Not sure if anyone’s in the mood to be utterly terrified, but if so, might I recommend paying some attention to WOLD, one of the scariest instrumental/experimental bands going.

The phrase “not for everyone” likely never has been more fitting, because what greets you on the band’s albums is likely something you’ve never heard before, and many probably will deduce that it’s just racket. And on first listen, it sounds like just that. The two-man operation of guitarist Obey and vocalist/guitarist/noise maker Fortress Crookedjaw don’t so much make conventional records as they do cobble together unsettling soundtracks to a nightmare. I’ve often described their music as what it might be like if you had a really bad episode of medicine head, and maybe that doesn’t even do the music, or whatever you want to call these emissions, justice.

WOLD are preparing to make their return later in the year with their brand new record “Freermasonry,” which is expected to reach us all by autumn via the always trusty Profound Lore (see below for further details). That’s probably as good a time as any for this duo to rise up again, as the leaves will be decaying and people will be awash in horror and ghouls. Yet, their music also has a frosty aesthetic, made most obvious with their 2007, uh, breakthrough “Screech Owl” and followed up on their 2008 effort “Stratification.” Hailing from Saskatchewan, Alberta, they obviously do fixate on the frosty elements of their surroundings quite a bit.

The band’s first full-length album dropped in 2005 with “L.O.T.M.P.,” and their most recent album arrived last year with the three-track, wholly instrumental “Working Together for Our Privacy,” one of the toughest albums around which to wrap your head, and that’s if you’re already into the band’s music. For someone not keen to the stuff, you’re going to have to do some hard work to get this one. For my review of that album, which ran last year at Metal Maniacs, please find it at the link below.

http://www.metalmaniacs.com/2010/wold-working-together-for-our-privacy/

Among all of this are various other releases, such as demos and a 2009 compilation called “Imperator,” a cassette-only release that was limited to 300 copies and contains 16 cuts on a collection that lasts about an hour. The tape contains demo cuts, unreleased tracks, and even some selections from their first three full-length efforts. Anything you need to know about WOLD, you can find below in the links. This isn’t easy to digest or understand, but that makes the duo’s music exciting, does it not? I’m intrigued just by the album title “Freermasonry,” and I’d imagine they’re delving even deeper into the occult and secret societies on this one. Or maybe I’m totally wrong and it’s a red herring. We’ll just have to wait and see. Below is the track listing for the new record, as well as the preliminary album artwork (I think).

1. Opening
2. SOL
3. Free Goat of Leviticus
4. Annex Axe
5. Dragon Owl Didacticism
6. Dry Love
7. Working Tools for Praxis
8. Free Eyes
9. Freermasonry

For more on WOLD, including how to get some of their stuff, go here: http://wold-klan.blogspot.com/

For WOLD’s My Space (who uses that?!), go here: http://www.myspace.com/woldsongs

To order their albums from Profound Lore, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com//index.php?option=com_ezcatalog&task=viewcategory&id=2&Itemid=99999999