In a matter of just minutes, Skin Like Iron and Nails will damage your mind, body

Hey, you got 10 minutes to kill? Don’t say you don’t. Really, what do you have to do that’s so important? So sit down, shut up and get prepared to have your body beaten to a gory pulp.

I generally go long with the reviews on this site because I like to give as much insight – valuable or not – that I can about the music, but it would seem silly to go on and on about the new split effort from Nails and Skin Like Iron. This four-track piece of soul burial is over before you realize what happened, and if you’re compelled to go back and get flattened by this steamroller over and over, then I’m right along with you. Plus, as noted, the damn thing is 10 minutes long. That’s shorter than your average coffee and smoke break, and it’ll make said breather give you a boost of adrenaline that no latte or five-hour energy deal could match. Plus, you know those five-hour things are going to eventually be revealed as utter poison for your body. This split effort won’t be.

Skin Like Iron

Skin Like Iron hail from San Francisco, an area that’s given us a lot of heady metal over the years from the likes of Giant Squid, Ludicra, Palace of Worms, Cormorant and so many more. These fellows are not quite of that ilk musically, but they are emotionally. Their stuff is heavy and satisfying, but strong melody lines runs underneath their emissions, giving what they do a bit more of a classic punk sound. The band has a smattering of recordings out on labels such as React!, Six Feet Under and Free Cake (many you can download for free at the Bandcamp link below), and their D-beat friendly, catchy hardcore sound likely could find a home at Deathwish Inc. at some point.

The band’s two offerings here are infectious and punishing at the same time, with charging guitar work, raspy shouts from Alex Capasso, and a musical environment that hints their shows would be as fun as they are physically demanding. They kick off with “Disappear,” an abrasively friendly anthem that should make all the fake assholes who pass themselves off as punk rock these days feel like the fraudulent jerks that they are. “The Parade” has more of the straight-up hardcore vibe, though the guitars remain colorful as ever, and the environment remains inviting to those who don’t mind doing a little sweating. Skin Like Iron could be a band that also could cross over to, say, the Warped Tour to give those kids a good shaking and a waking up. But that’s probably way too corporate for these fellows, who probably are just as content to rip down a club or VFW hall near you.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/skinlikeironsf?sk=info

And here: http://skinlikeiron.bandcamp.com/

And here: http://www.blacksummer.com/sli/

Nails

Temporarily departing from today’s topic, if you have 11 minutes, make sure you visit Nail’s Southern Lord debut “Unsilent Death.” It’s over in a blink, but don’t think that, if you haven’t heard that platter yet, that you’d be wasting your money on such a compact full-length. It’s heavy and nasty and bloody good, and you should make a point to check it out alongside this split effort. They also have stuff out on Six Feet Under and Street Cleaner, and all of it will rattle the hell out of you. In fact, these dudes are so relentless, they qualify as one of the most violent hardcore acts out there, and their live show is said to be one to behold.

Nails’ tracks are like two hammers exploding into molten chaos. They are furious like no one’s business, and just listening to this music on your home stereo system or your iPod or whatever might get you maimed. “Annihilation” drops an anvil on you right off, and the fumes from Entombed can be sensed in your nasal passages. It’s grimy, throaty and mangling, and it will leave you in the dust. “Cry Wolf” is classic Nails, lasting a mere 22 seconds and ending in a tirade of profanity that’ll both make you worry and probably chuckle at its unquestioned venom. Nails’ packages may be tiny in size, but they’ll rip your face off like the Unabomber’s most heinous creations.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nails/173545712686679?sk=info

And here: http://www.streetcleanerrecords.com/unsilentdeath/

To buy the split album, go here: http://www.nailsmerch.com/

Suds and blood: 21st Amendment concoctions and Japanese death metal

It’s been some time since we talked the mead portion of Meat Mead Metal, and since it’s Friday, I can’t think of a better time to fix that. Lots of people mark the end of the work week with a nice brew, and I’m no different. Typically I’ll take a ride over to D’s here in Pittsburgh to grab some mix and match stuff, and that’s how I came to know of the beers we’ll cover today. Oh, and then we’ll get to some Japanese death metal.

You cannot walk past 21 Amendment’s creatively designed cans without stopping to take notice. They’re easily the most eye-catching, attractive cans I’ve ever seen, and even if you’re a diehard bottled beer or draught consumer, you’d be making a huge mistake passing these by. What’s inside of them consistently has blown my mind and taste buds, and this has become one of my go-to breweries when I’m just looking to pick up a few things to relax during the evening.

The San Francisco-based brewery, owned and run by Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan, has a number of different styles, normally housed in an American history-inspired name and can. With a twist. So if you need something to make these GOP debates a little more tolerable, you can do worse than these beers. In case you’re not American, or if you are and have no clue about the nation’s history, the 21st amendment to the Constitution brought an end to prohibition, repealing the 18th amendment that called for a nationwide ban on liquor. This brewery celebrates that great feat, as well as the freedom to do whatever moves them when it comes to making great-tasting  craft beers. It’s a win all around.

I haven’t tried all of 21st Amendment’s stuff yet, but that’s only because I haven’t quite gotten my hands on all of products. I spotted Fireside Chat, a winter-style ale that’s emblazoned with a drawing of FDR’s Depression-era radio talks, but was out of cash. Now I can’t find them anywhere. That made me sad because I love winter-style beers. But I’ll keep looking in case there are a few hanging around. I have had a chance to copiously sample Allies Win the War! (I have a can in my fridge right now), Back in Black IPA and Monk’s Blood, a gory-sounding beverage that’s the most delicious of all the 21st stuff I’ve had. In fact, let’s start there.

Monk’s Blood is a Belgian dark ale that pours a nice and deep reddish brown and tastes amazing. It doesn’t get a cool American-style name (though the can kicks ass), but that’s to be understood. Our brewmasters took a trip to Belgium to explore new recipes for their ale, according to their tale, and struck gold … er, red … near the Trappist abbey of Westvletren. Thus, the name. The wonderful waves of vanilla, fig and cinnamon wash over you nicely but never overwhelm. The tastes play together like prog-death where you can point out all the parts and can explain what’s going on, but you can’t imagine the entire thing working nearly as well without all of those elements. The ABV is 8.3, and it’ll make you feel really nice and toasty if you take your time (and you should, by the way). I really love this beer, and I hope to travel to their restaurant one day to try it straight from the tap. Go get this.

The other two brews, both of which are worth your time and indulgence, also have become familiar with my ice box. Allies Win the War, a meeting of the minds involving 21st and Ninkasi in Oregon, also is stronger at 8.5 ABV, and if you like a hops-friendly brew, this one will thrill you. In a can that looks like an old WWII newspaper front page, you’ll be thrilled these powers came together to create this dark majesty, brewed with dates, that’ll play to your sweet tooth. As for Back in Black, if you like IPAs, you need to give this a whirl. It looks like it should be a deep, bitter stout, but it totally surprises you when you drink it. It’s lighter-tasting and not thick like bread, so it’s a sort of shock to the system. Once you get over that, you get a nice drink that works best with the lights down low. Sadly for 21st, I had this for the first time watching the 49ers/Giants NFC title tilt. Hey, guys, I tried.

For more on 21st Amendment Brewery, go here: http://21st-amendment.com/

For more on the 21st amendment, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-first_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

For more on Ninsaki, go here: http://www.ninkasibrewing.com/

That name again is Desecravity

Now for some metal, and I feel kind of bad talking about a beer can that reminds me of the Allies’ triumphs in WWII and seguing into a piece about a Japanese death metal band, but we’re all friends now, right? What I’m on about is “Implicit Obedience,” the debut full-length from Desecravity. The album (produced by Hate Eternal’s Erik Rutan, who knows a few things about how to capture savagery in the studio) comes our way via hometown powerhouse Willowtip, who obviously have a knack for finding some of the hardest-hitting, most mind-blowing bands out there. These guys are no exception, and their guttural, vicious, brutal death injects a serious dose of poison into a genre that has been crippled by groups whose sole purpose it to get their shirts into a Hot Topic bin. If you’re one of those people all pumped for Mayhem festival (God help you if you are), this band will scare the hell out of you and liquefy your guts in no time at all. THIS is mayhem.

Desecravity remind me of the early ’90s, when finding new death and thrash cassettes was a way of life. That’s when you took more chances, bought based on album cover and song titles and sometimes went home with a crushing new gem. The band’s approach is heavy and filthy, but they have an undercurrent of technicality that gives everything a dizzying feel. You get crushed and spun around a million miles per hour, and once you finally get your wits about you, you wonder what just hit you. The blazing riffs, total crunch and mind-altering madness are most potent on cuts such as tricky, trucking “Hades”; “Enthralled in Decimation,” where the drumming owns your ass; hellishly grinding and furious “Enthralled in Decimation”; and cavernous and face-beating “Dark Dimension.” By the way, Yujiro Suzuki’s infernal, guttural growls match this destruction perfectly. Dude’s throat has to hurt when he’s done.

“Implicit Obedience” is a mean-sounding, ill-intentioned, skin-shredding dose of death that typically isn’t conquered by such a young band. These guys have a promising future, and as long as they keep reaching elbow deep into the cesspool of humanity for inspiration, they should remain a dangerous group for years to come.

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

To buy “Implicit Obedience,” go here: http://www.willowtip.com/releases/details/desecravity-implicit-obedience.aspx

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

Outer edges: Caravels, Gifts From Enola set post-hardcore fire on ‘Well Worn’

It’s story time, kids, so go grab a cookie and your favorite blanket. Here goes: As devoted as I am to the heavy metal medium and just about everything it entails, it wasn’t always that way. I lost my way at one point, despite being a large devotee from middle school into my early college years. Once I started DJing at my school radio station, I turned more toward indie and alternative and got caught up in the world just as it was exploding across the rest of the planet. While I still kept my Iron Maiden, Testament, and  Metallica (uh, the good albums) stuff nearby, they got less and less play.

But it was a phase. Eventually when I started writing about music, I decided I wanted to start exploring heavier music and the stuff I had kind of missed while I was away. I also was going through something of a mid-20s crisis, and a lot of things were blowing up and changing. My tastes were one of them, and they started to desire something raw, emotional and heavy. But it didn’t go straight to me digging up Darkthrone records or anything. Instead, my path back to extreme metal actually went through post-hardcore first. Bands such as Thursday, Cave In, Thrice, Boysetsfire, the North Atlantic and Glassjaw became more the norm, and I started to come out of the music coma in which I allowed myself to slip.

I don’t listen to a lot of that stuff anymore, and while I have tried to keep up when any of those bands release new material since I have an emotional connection, it’s only occasionally I’ll go back. And when I do, it’s always the groups’ earlier stuff since that’s what helped mold me. Occasionally, newer bands will touch on some of the things that made the post-hardcore style work for me, and that’s always a welcome thing. I felt that twinge when taking on the new split effort “Well Worn” from Caravels and Gifts From Enola. In fact, this thing has me dusting off records from some of the bands I mentioned. So we may be in nostalgia mode in my house for a bit.

Caravels

While the band Caravels, who hail from Nevada, had been introduced to me preliminarily via various web sites and whatnot, I hadn’t immersed myself in much of their music until “Well Worn.” They record for Topshelf Records and pretty much bleed that heart-ripped-through chest ethos so many bands had in the early ’00s. This band would have been a juggernaut a decade ago, changing kids’ lives, helping people identify with their inner turmoil and letting their audience emote along with them. That’s not to suggest they can’t have an impact today, because so much punk and hardcore has been neutered by that Warped Tour, Hot Topic, high-commerce crap that has robbed the scene of its identity. These guys clearly have conviction and passion, and silly song titles aside, everything they do is ink-smeared-journal-page real and raw.

I can’t stop listening to Caravels’ side of the effort. Their music reminds me of the days when I’d drive around in my car, no real destination planned, and just try to find some meaning along with what was emanating from my speakers. Over the course of these three cuts – “Sagan Genesis,” “Beer Pressure” and “Bone Voyage” – this band serves notice that hardcore and post-hardcore don’t have to be so shallow. I could see this band ending up at Deathwish Inc. and having a long, happy run there, because they would fit in so well. I love their energy, and while I can’t imagine going to a hardcore show ever again (I’m old and hate kids acting like ninjas …), I’d like to see what these guys bring live. I’m going to keep enjoying these three cuts, as well as their back catalog I’ve just acquired.

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

To visit Topshelf, go here: http://topshelfrecords.org/

Gifts From Enola

I got to know Virginia’s Gifts From Enola better this past summer when I reviewed their kick-ass self-titled album for Outburn. It had some of that punchiness you get with the post-hardcore thing, but they also have a keener eye for instrumentation and experimentation, sparking the parts of my brain that love Pelican and ISIS. They also can be emotional and caterwauling, but you get that in equal amounts from their vocals and their compositions. It’s a total package. You might not want to punch out a lamp when hearing them, necessarily, but that’s fine. I think it’s easier to sift through my senses and find a semblance of reason when I hear Gifts From Enola. Their gazey, fiery guitar work allow the synapses to fire, but when they even things out, that’s when I know it’s OK to breathe. It’s a full catharsis.

Gifts From Enola have two cuts on “Well Worn,” both running a few minutes longer than Caravels’ cuts. “Angel Face” is the punchier, more charging of the duo, with manic, yelped vocals, turn-on-a-dime riffs and leads, and a pace that’ll leave you frantic at points but ultimately satisfied when it’s all said and done. “Water Torture” is the dreamier song, though it does have its explosive elements, and it tends to go down more of an indie-charged hardcore avenue after bands such as Slint or Shellac. It’s a loopy, constantly evolving song that dabbles a bit in prog (drawing some At the Drive In moments), and it is an adventurous, surging ride.

“Well Worn” is one of those splits that’s bound to have its many owners picking sides, and it’ll all depend on what approach you prefer. If you want a volcano of emotion to erupt in your living room, you’ll lean toward Caravels. If you want to have something that’ll make you work a little harder to examine what’s going on in your heart, chances are you’ll choose Gifts From Enola. Or you can be like me and embrace this great package as a whole and appreciate these bands for unearthing something I lost: my love for true, passionate post-hardcore, something I feared was extinct.

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

To buy “Well Worn,” go here: http://www.mylenesheath.com/catalog.html?&Vl=32&Tp=2

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

Alcest’s ‘Les Voyages de L’Âme’ bursts with atmosphere and spiritual wonder

Stéphane “Neige” Paut has an impressive resume for anyone involved in music, and it’s more incredible when you consider how young he still is. At a mere 27 years of age, he’s already put out a giant catalog of music with bands such as Lantlôs, Old Silver Key, Amesoeurs, Peste Noir and Mortifera among others, and we’re still waiting on some studio output with him fronting Forgotten Woods. There are people who would kill to have such a body of work.

But Neige’s most intriguing project is Alcest, a band he founded before the turn of the century that finally offered up an official release with 2005’s “Le Secret,” re-released in expanded form last year. Unlike the harsh, more traditional black metal output of his other projects, Alcest was something different, more delicate, more spacious. It was inspired by a dream world Neige would visit in his youth that would go on to shape this decidedly Peter Pan-style viewpoint, and what he created over the course of split releases, EPs and two full-length records was something that was out of the comfort zones of many metal fans. There isn’t much room for fairytale wonder in black metal, nor any other sub-genre for that matter, and Alcest’s music often went against the grain of the ugliness and despair cranked out by most other artists. That made some people reticent to describe this band’s music as black metal at all, though some of those traits were present in the band’s earlier work. But as time has gone on, the music has grown more atmospheric and beautiful, more shoegazey and reflective. Now with album three in our midst, the band’s music has drifted even further away from darkness and deeper into that fascinating dream state.

“Les Voyages de L’Âme” (translates to “The Journeys of the Soul”) is very much a trip into light. The music practically glows with imagination and spirituality (not necessarily of the religious sense, though one could argue you get a certain sense of that depending on how you interpret the lyrics), and Neige is translating what certain people feel when they have out-of-body or near-death experiences. He is connecting with something otherworldly and haunting, taking a trip on which not many people would be willing to embark. He’s looking beyond what he can touch and feel with his own hands and is letting his mind and spirit surge and explore realms that remain secret to most. That doesn’t sound like something that would turn on the bloodsoaked amongst the black metal throngs, but that’s to be expected with people who often operate with closed minds.

This is, arguably, Alcest’s finest accomplishment to date. It certainly is the duo’s most ambitious musically, and there are whirlwinds of melody and drama that keep carrying you onto the next adventure. Neige and bandmate Winterhalter transcend beyond the Earthly limits of most bands and truly achieve something magical. This eight-cut, 50-minute album, the bulk of which is delivered in French, does not necessarily have to be understood lyrically for you to follow along with them. It certainly helps you have a full grasp of what’s going on, but “Les Voyages” is one of those records with which one can relate musically. I certainly did that long before I decided to peruse the lyrics, and I did that by choice. I wanted to see if the songs could lift me up on sound alone, and it did from the first time I experienced this record. Each time back I discover a new part of Alcest’s world.

The albums opens with “Autre Temps,” a song that sets up the record deliberately and purposely takes a while to launch, but that’s to set the mood and prepare you for what lies ahead. The ballad-like title track is cinematic and breathtaking, with Neige’s rich, ghostly voice telling the tale and the music settling into deep, lush valleys and blowing into mountainous peaks. “Nous Sommes l’Emeruade” just gushes with beauty and emotion, and that leads into the angelic, cloud-bursting “Beings of Light,” one of three cuts here that get an English title. “Havens” is an interlude piece that, while short, does its job, which is to set the stage for closer “Summer’s Glory,” a song that could not have been more aptly titled, sounding like something that should be emanating on one of those evenings when the horizons are brushed with orange, the skies are alive with purple, and the stars are present and accounted for in full. Its thrashy end sounds like a heart coming alive. Only two cuts, “Là Où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles” and “Faiseurs de Mondes” have a trace of harsh vocals, and in both cases, they eventually give way to Neige stretching his voice into the heavens and the music epically following.

“Les Voyages de L’Âme” is one of, if not the most, listenable albums in Alcest’s catalog. It never unfurls itself in the same way, always letting you see other layers and different shades each time you visit. It’s a record that can lift you in times of trouble, help your inner energy burst when you feel most alive, or simply allow you to achieve a peaceful state of mind if your mood is neutral. Labeling Alcest’s music as black metal or any other distinction would be like applying handcuffs. Your ears need to be open, your eyes at attention, and your head clear. This isn’t music that belongs in an envelope, rather it deserves to mix right in with your air supply for proper ingestion. Alcest is a band for the most daring, hopeful and imaginative listeners, and those with rigid walls would do themselves a great disservice by failing to leave their confines now again just to fly with the clouds for a while. That may not sound very metal, but it’s quite human.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.alcest-music.com/

To buy “,” go here: http://shop.prophecy.de/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.prophecy.cd/

Lamb of God keep things monstrously consistent on sixth album ‘Resolution’

I almost never write about mainstream metal on this site. A bit of clarification is in order, I guess. By mainstream metal, I mean bands that have music released by major record labels, therefore having the advantage of great distribution, marketing, promotional opportunities. I don’t ignore those bands because I have anything against them signing on with the majors. If you can get a good deal and you’re comfortable with it, I’m all for it. It’s just that the majors sign such awful metal bands. I hate every single one of them, and I sometimes make fun of their fans. I had to forcibly prevent myself from mocking people over the weekend on a certaon social media site. I’m a jerk that way. I won’t even list any of these bands here, but look at the bulk of the lineup of your average Mayhem fest or turn on a local rock radio station (if you have one) and you know what I mean.

But sometimes the majors get it right. Warner Bros. snapping up Mastodon was a daring move, but it’s been fruitful for both parties. I’ve largely been lukewarm to Mastodon’s WB work, but not because they’re on that label. It’s just their new direction isn’t to my liking. I’m sure they aren’t too worried about me. Perhaps the best marriage of metal and a major label has come with Epic and Lamb of God. Arguably, the band isn’t doings things much differently than they were in their Prosthetic and Metal Blade years, though they’ve added more swampy tendencies and some Pantera-style groove as seasoning and not a personality shift. In return, Lamb of God have done pretty well sales-wise (their last record “Wrath” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts), grabbed big tour slots with bands such as Metallica and have become a rousing success story. If anyone accused the band of “selling out,” I’d say that person is bitter, delusional or both. It also should be pointed these dudes still have a major presence in their home base of Richmond, Va. Frontman Randy Blythe just did some stuff with Cannabis Corpse. You going to tell me Metallica would do that?

People wondered if Lamb of God could survive at Epic since the story is majors only see value in you equal to how much money you draw, but they’re on their fourth record there with “Resolution.” That’s an impressive run that started in 2004, and while not everything they’ve done since landing at Epic has been a home run (“Sacrament” was kind of eh), they’ve more than held their own, refused to change their stripes and still are making pulverizing modern metal. Another important thing about the band is you know it’s them when you hear them. Lamb of God have a style and a personality. That’s so rare, especially among the so-called mainstream metal bands who all sound identical.

On “Resolution” we get more of the same from this massive quintet. I don’t mean it’s a retread record. It’s not at all. But if you like Lamb of God, anticipate their records and go to their shows, you’ll be pleased. It’s nice to know you won’t be let down, and Lamb of God rarely under-deliver for their audience. If you aren’t a fan, this album won’t change your mind. I saw a review elsewhere that suggested this band get more ambitious. Why? I’ve said this many times before, but it bears repeating: Some bands do a great job shape-shifting, while others do really well sticking to a formula, tweaking it slightly and delivering solid material. Lamb of God do the latter masterfully. Also, this record beats the holy shit out of anything put out by the other mainstream metal bands, most of which are as bland as a paper plate. This is where I want to make a Korn joke, but I’ll just let you make one of your own.

“Resolution” rips open with “Straight From the Sun,” a crushing song that draws blood early, sticks its boot in the wound and twists. It leads into two cuts that are tried-true LoG in “Desolation” and “Ghost Walking,” tracks that should have the band’s fans whipped into a frenzy. Guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler are in command, tearing out some vintage-sounding riffs that remind a bit of their earlier work. “Invictus” simmers in filth a little bit with groove-infested riffs, a pummeling drum work from Chris Adler and a snaking bassline from John Campbell; “Cheated” is a punk-infused explosion that’s looser and more violent than we’ve heard from the band in some time; and “Terminally Unique” borrows a bit musically from prog and thrash, making for a really interesting listen.  There are a few songs – “The Undertow,” “The Number Six” — that are on the more melodic side and could demand some radio play, but they don’t sound like they were written specifically for that goal. Closer “King Me” is the one true curveball, with some cleaner guitar work, sweeping synth work, more introspective lyrics, Blythe guiding the listener along with a gravelly monologue and operatic female vocals from Amanda  Munton. Of course, shit blows up eventually and we’re off to volcano land, but it’s a cool trip to place this band doesn’t ordinarily take you. There’s your ambition.

Lamb of God may not be embraced by underground metal fans who can’t see beyond their basement walls, but I doubt these guys are sweating that a whole lot. Lamb of God have remained true to themselves and their fans, and they’re the most noteworthy example of an extreme metal band taking their work to a corporate label and excelling. There are a lot of garbage bands headlining hockey sheds who won’t be remembered a decade from now. Lamb of God should be in their places, and even if their star eventually falls with Epic, you know they’ll be in a club somewhere ripping the walls down with the same ferocity.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.lamb-of-god.com/

To buy “Resolution,” go here: http://www.myplaydirect.com/lamb-of-god/

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

Ever-changing Kayo Dot enthrall, enrapture again with ‘Gamma Knife’

It’s mood music week, apparently, what with us taking a look at the new Asva yesterday and today spending some time with the sixth full-length effort from Kayo Dot, a band that defies all descriptions, though they’ve been tagged with the post-rock, post-metal, art-rock type labels. Those designations only fit to an extent, and they only do because no one’s coined a term for what this Toby Driver-led band creates. Let’s just say if you’re new to this band’s music, spend some time expanding your mind before you do so, because it’s not an easy experience once you get inside.

For me, Kayo Dot’s music always establishes feeling and mood. Their compositions are not ordinary at all. They explode across their canvas, and while there’s a musical brilliance to what they do, Kayo Dot don’t seem interested in paying homage to convention or rigid guidelines. Therefore, some people may – and already have – dismiss the band’s music as a mess. That would be a foolish assessment. That would be an opinion of a listener who just doesn’t get it, and there’s no real shame in that, as Kayo Dot’s music doesn’t seem inclined to please all. As for me, I appreciate their free-spirited expression, and what they do never ceases to set up shop in my heart and mind and take me away. Their 2010 album “Coyote” broke my heart over and over again, and while I’ve emotionally calloused a little bit to the story due to repeat listens, it still manages to prick me at least a little bit every time I hear it.

Kayo Dot’s new record “Gamma Knife” arrived in our hands digitally on Jan. 4, and while we’re just three weeks into the new year, it’s going to be tough for another band to top these 25 minutes of spontaneity, excitement, creativity and surprise. From the first listen, I was taken hostage by this collection, partially recorded live in October in Brooklyn (the rest done at home in October and November).          It sounds nothing like any other entry in the band’s catalog, and that’s another thing that makes me love this band so much. From album to album, you never know what you’re going to get. You can’t even venture a prediction. Put their last three efforts – this, “Coyote” and “Blue Lambency Downward” – together, and you’d be hard pressed to guess it’s the same band responsible.

“Gamma Knife” has very interesting bookends. It opens with “Lethe,” a song that wouldn’t sound out of place in a winter midnight mass. I don’t mean a black mass. I mean an old-style-church, hands-folded-upward service designed to lift you spiritually. And this song does that, though it doesn’t have to move you liturgically and can just affect you personally. It’s gorgeous and colorful, and Driver’s soulful vocals takes the song to the highest of heights. The closing title cut is quiet, serene and jazzy, almost lounge style. It’s a perfect song to dress up a rainy night, and Driver’s smooth singing reminds a little bit of Rufus Wainwright, sans the pretension.

In between those cuts are three tracks that throw everything at the wall, attack your senses and leave you reeling. They’re some of Kayo Dot’s most aggressive songs in some time, and the live performances of these numbers add an extra level of organic fury. “Rite of Goetic Evocation” find the sax flutters from Terran Olson and Daniel Means filling the room with smoke, while Mia Matsumiya’s strings let propulsive beauty slip in, and Driver’s throaty growls mash the thing into spikes. At points, the song gets dangerously close to black metal territory. “Mirror Water, Lightning Night” sets the jazzy elements and metallic traits across the battlefield from each other, urging both to charge, swords in hands, for a duel to the death. Inside all of that tussling comes some parts that sound a little but like Steely Dan and Rush. “Ocellated God” is the heaviest yet, taking listeners back to an era when screamo wasn’t a bad word and a sullied subgenre, and there is just total madness afoot throughout this incredible exercise. It makes the calming closing track that much more effective once it leaks out.

Kayo Dot never will be a band you’re able to box up, bottle or corner. They keep moving, gelling then melting, rising up and burning down and returning an all-new being. Each record is a new journey, and even if the foot soldiers are the same, their frame of mind never is. Kayo Dot are a band that is treasured by its followers, because those people feel some kind of kinship to the group’s multiple transformations and heartfelt expressions. It’s unlikely they’ll ever be one of the biggest bands in the world, but they’ll always be one of the most genuine.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.kayodot.net/kayodot/index.php?text=home

To buy “Gamma Knife,” go here: http://kayodot.bandcamp.com/

Outer edges: Asva transcend, transform on enlightening ‘Presences of Absences’

Artists changing, morphing and maturing has been something of a theme at this site. Typically, we’re for it. Why should a band with large ambitions keep making the same album over and over again just to satisfy an audience that isn’t willing to change with them? Now, whether the band or artist’s new direction is satisfying for a listener, a good idea, or just a stab at moving more units is up for debate in every case. But as long as whoever is making the music is happy with the output and is listening to his or her heart, isn’t that what matters the most?

I was cool with what Opeth did on “Heritage,” even though it was a far cry from their more death metal style. It sounded good, I liked the songs and it seemed true to their overall spirit. On the other hand, Mastodon totally have lost me on their past couple albums. I like their heavier, sludgier, uglier early material, and what they’ve done the last half-decade does nothing for me. But one band whose transformation has stunned me the most is Asva. When I listened to their new record “Presences of Absences” for the first time, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was used to this band being doomier, sounding not terribly unlike Earth did a decade or so ago. But this was altogether different. I even went online and did some sound sampling just to make sure the wrong CD didn’t accidentally end up in my case. Yet, when I heard the vocals, I knew I was experiencing Toby Driver’s otherworldly, smoothly jazzy singing rising through the foggy drone, so it had to be the real thing. I just had to figure out what to do with this world-toppling new record.

Actually, speaking of Driver, his presence in the band is very evident and noteworthy. One of my favorite bands is his Kayo Dot, and you certainly can hear some of what he does there carried over to Asva. That’s not just vocally but sonically, spiritually and philosophically as well. The band’s 2010 album “Coyote” is one of the most emotionally moving records I’ve ever heard (closer “Cartogram Out of Phase” gets me every time), and while the content is not the same, you can hear some of that outpouring on “Presences.” I find myself having the same type of transcendental experience. In a huge side note, Kayo Dot’s new album “Gamma Knife” is available for download at their Bandcamp site here: http://kayodot.bandcamp.com/.

“Presences” wasn’t even intentionally designed to be an Asva album. G. Stuart Dahlquist (Sunn 0))), Burning Witch) originally saw the record as a solo project, but as the piece developed, he knew it required full band attention. Driver, Greg Gilmore and Jake Weller were brought in to round out the new version of Asva not only for their musical ability but also for their willingness to put themselves out there as human beings to make this album the enriching experience Dahlquist envisioned. He basically took what Asva was in the past and lit it on fire, willing to carry on with just the ashes. It was a daring but ultimately fruitful decision, because this is absolutely Asva’s finest work yet. In fact, even though this is an entirely new formation of the band, they’ve never sounded this complete.

The record opens with “A Bomb in That Suitcase,” a piece built on organ drone, freak jazz horns, Driver’s high-register wail and eventually some earth rumbling and drum crumbling that level your plane of existence. “Birds,” a shimmery, psychedelic, R&B-flavored track, is the shortest piece of the collection but certainly never fails to mesmerize. The sprawling title track, that runs nearly 24 minutes, is absolutely arresting, opening and closing on sampled vocals recordings, the final being Ora Dell Graham singing “Shortenin’ Bread,” a chilling Southern spiritual (if you think it sounds upbeat, read the lyrics). In between are noise eruptions, keyboard soup, slowly shifting tempos, and emotions left out there for full examination. Closer “New World Order Rising” begins gently and serenely enough but eventually melts into doom thunder and storming, a volume that rises threateningly, and Driver revealing, “I have dreams that come true.” The horns that bring down the curtain might as well be calling for the end of the world, or at least a conclusion to the way we view our daily existence. If you take on this record and it doesn’t profoundly change your way of thinking, I feel bad for you.

Asva, over the course of the two full-lengths that preceded this record, were a band I really liked, visited now and again, and that remained in fairly usual rotation in my house. “Presences of Absences” is a new animal altogether, the sign of a band or at least an idea that is maturing, a new being tearing from a cocoon. To use an annoying cliché, Dahlquist has taken Asva to a new level, and he chose the right musicians to help him get there. This record is a powerful statement that, if you allow yourself to absorb it fully, can permanently impact your heart and soul. I liked Asva before. I wholeheartedly love them now.

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

To buy “Presences of Absences,” go here: http://importantrecords.com/imprec/imprec279

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

Uzala’s debut smokes and spooks with vintage doom (and black) metal magic

There are many times when I get an e-mail in my inbox from a publicist or a record label telling me of a band with which I’m not yet familiar. I’d say eight times out of 10 I file the thing away for later, not because I’m a jerk but simply because so few new bands sound like they have anything interesting to offer. Then I’ll get a write-up that makes me think I need to hear the band immediately based on the description and how it may match my tastes. I’ve become pretty good at this, and usually if I pursue something out of the blue, I end up enjoying what I hear.

A few weeks ago I got something about the doom band Uzala, who originate from very un-metal-sounding Boise, Idaho. Their music pays some homage to (but doesn’t sound exactly like) the pioneers such as Black Sabbath, Pentagram and Electric Wizard as well as newer crushers Witch Mountain, Jex Thoth and Blood Ceremony (minus the flutes, that is) and boasts the vocal duo of siren/guitarist Darcy Nutt (who also is an esteemed tattoo artist) and guitarist/growler Chad Remains. Without making an issue of gender (I hope), I’m all for female-fronted doom bands. I really like to hear a strong, smoky female voice overtop slow-driving, filthy, metallic riffs, and I generally end up liking those bands more than like-minded male-fronted outfits. I don’t know why that is, and it isn’t a conscious decision. It’s just what I prefer, I guess. So that’s another thing that interested me in hearing Uzala, and Nutt’s voice (that has some Veruca Salt/The Breeders influences) matches the material just perfectly. Her expression and passion are unquestioned, and with just this one release, she’s quickly becoming one of my favorite doom voices. While Remains gets a chance to scare the crap out of you on occasion, his lead work only pops up now and again (on punishing “Fracture” and “Wardrums,” where he’s in total command).

The music has a vintage, under-produced feel that gives it a certain charm and character. So don’t read that as a criticism. I like that Uzala’s music isn’t super-polished. It makes the guitar work sound more menacing, the drums meatier and the vocals extra human. It’s easier to connect in a way because it seems like such a primitive expression that your inner beast cannot help but relate. Uzala’s music also sparks the part of my brain that identifies with the glory days of black metal. I mean, listen to opener “Batholith” and try to deny that spirit isn’t here. It’s music that has its pretty, calm spots, but there are twice as many scars and bleeding wounds to ensure you wallow in sorrow and despair.

“The Reaping” is a nice bit of trad doom that’s calculating and mesmerizing at the same time. It’s easy to get lost in there. “Ice Castle” has a mystical, psychedelic finish that’s dressed in a simmering lead guitar line that gives the track some teeth. “Cataract” is the first epic on the record, and its dusty soulfulness is countered by classic metal riffing and soloing that might remind you of why you fell in love with the genre in the first place. “Death Masque” totally soars, both musically and with Nutt’s vocals, and that leads to slow bleeding “Plague,” that boils your senses, eventually churning into what sounds like a dark spiritual. The aforementioned “Fracture” and “Wardrums” are where the band lets out its penchant for violence and skullduggery, settling in somewhere between the first and second waves of Nordic black metal. It drags your ass down into that dark basement where water drips from the ceiling and spiders leave their half-eaten prey.

Uzala are a really promising band whose best years are still ahead of them. They have the makings of an underground group of artists coming into their own who could be ripe to be picked by an indie metal label such as Profound Lore or even Relapse and sound right at home. I’m excited to see where this band goes next, and considering the passion and heart with which they play, I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

At War With False Noise is producing 333 vinyl copies of Uzala’s debut. You also will be able to buy as cassette version via Witch Sermon. Get on this. Find both links below.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/UZALA/108093595875096

To buy the vinyl, go here: http://www.atwarwithfalsenoise.com/releases.html

To buy the cassette version, go here: http://witchsermon.wordpress.com/

And we’re back … with news on Mares of Thrace and their upcoming ‘Pilgrimage’

You can’t anticipate all problems, can you? One knocked us all around the past few days, that being computer issues. We’re a staff of one, so when things go wrong, it’s not like someone can just step up and make up for the slack. Awww, boo. But we’re back up with a new computer and a keyboard totally differently than my old one, so I keep messing things up. I already had to restart this whole post because I somehow closed it like magic and lost it. Always save, kids.

So everything’s back up and running, and tomorrow we’re planning on being back to normal operations with an album review. Fingers crossed. Also got a lot of really exciting promos the past week or so, and that’ll make for some good fodder the weeks coming. So today we’ll give you a short update on some friends of ours – at least I like to think that they are – in Mares of Thrace. I praised their debut album “The Moulting” (albeit it at another site as we weren’t up and running yet) and named it one of my favorites of 2010. I still listen to it a lot nearly two years later.

Now comes word that the band’s new record “The Pilgrimage” is due for release in April on their new label Sonic Unyon (Voivod, Augury, Threat Signal). The duo of guitarist/vocalist Thérèse Lanz and drummer Stefani MacKichan recorded their new album with producer extraordinaire Sanford Parker in November and December at Chicago’s Engine Studios, and final touches are being put on the music right now. There also are plans for a North American tour in the new year, and details are upcoming.

“Some of the most influential records in my life, from way back in the ’90s up till now, were Sonic Unyon releases,” says Lanz, through a release from Earsplit PR, about the signing. “It’s impossible to understate the impact the label has had on Canadian independent music. Accordingly we are incredibly proud and stoked to partner with Sonic Unyon Metal for our upcoming records.”

We’re pretty pumped about the record as well, and hopefully the stronger label will enable more people to discover Mares’ brand of metallic chaos. Check back for more on the record in the upcoming weeks, as we’ll be sure to give a nice bunch of ink to the new music once it’s in our hands and ears.

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

For more on their music, go here: http://maresofthrace.bandcamp.com/

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

Farsot envision a creepy, crawly Armageddon on second record ‘Insects’

On an episode of “Seinfeld,” Frank Costanza once yelled, “I will not tolerate infestation!” Now, he was talking about rodents, but the mass gathering black metal experimentalists Farsot have in mind involves insects. Lots and lots of little creatures with multiple legs who typically creep us out. And if their vision is true, you may not have a choice but to deal with said infestation. That is, if you survive to see it.

The German band, that’s been in existence since 1999 but didn’t offer their full-length debut until 2007 with “IIII,” have changed things a bit in the past few years. The music is more explorative and mesmerizing, trancey and  stirring, spread out and panic-inducing. Their new sophomore effort “Insects” (out on Lupus Lounge)is not a blast beat frenzy, it’s not packed with speed and ferocity, it’s not going to inspire a ton of clichéd metal listener activities such as headbanging and fist pumping. Instead, it should make you concentrate and wonder, fear for your future, and remember all of your life’s worst nightmares. In fact, the content on “Insects” sounds like something that would make for a good, cheesy SyFy channel movie where gigantic insects rule the earth, trying to snuff out the humans. Unlike how said movie likely would end, humanity wouldn’t stand a chance.

Farsot look at what’s happening on planet Earth, the technological tidal wave that has become our lives, and our total devotion, even worship, of the advancements we’ve made as a race. But there are those who believe our technology eventually will crumble on top of us, and if you look at all of the concentration spent on preventing certain countries from gaining nuclear capabilities, while the same nations wringing hands have that power right now, it certainly isn’t impossible to imagine a day when all of those groups cancel out each other in one giant mushroom cloud. And what would remain? Well, the insects, of course.

So, sure, what Farsot envision is only a theory, a premonition, a scary dream from which we should be able to wake, but that’s not a certainty. That’s what makes the eight songs on “Insects” so scary and effective. Not only does their music match their vision perfectly, but we can’t outright ignore the lyrical content here. We are capable of destroying ourselves and leaving this world to the multi-legged beings. It’s interesting when going over the words and realizing the lyrics are kind of both abstract and that-can-apply-to-anything general, but knowing their intent gives the lines power and venom.

“Like Flakes of Rust” opens the record, and what’s interesting is the vocal approach applied by singer 10.XIXt (the band members go by weird codes instead of names) in which he uses more of a speak growl. It’s not just in this song but in many other places, and it comes off like a buzzing, almost as if he’s taking on the characteristics of the new overlords. “Empyrean” is thrashy and more in your face sonically  than most of the other songs, though it eventually goes calm, with cleaner vocals and rich atmosphere. “Perdition” sounds a little bit like Opeth in spots, as it leans more towards prog, but it also has its eruption points. “The Vermillion Trail” has a damaged black metal approach not unlike Funeral Mist, as the song envisions the meltdown it warns about and reminds us that only the insects can come out of the nuclear winter. “Withdrawal” goes gothy and psychedelic, seemingly inspired by Celtic Frost’s early days, while instrumental “Somnolent” is an unsettlingly calm outro piece, either soundtracking the funeral of mankind or the transformation to the bug world.

“Insects” isn’t just a weird, horror-style warning that’s noteworthy for its philosophy. It’s an excellently crafted album of spacious, thought-sparking black metal , death and prog that infuses new life into Farsot, a band that wasn’t exactly stale. It’s a transformation, a metamorphosis into a more organic, exciting band that’s capable of anything. It’s almost as if the rest of the black metal world, that’s content to keep doing the same thing, is imploding, and only a band such as Farsot could come crawling out of the smoke and carnage. They have plenty to offer the world and are completely captivating, even if what they’re serving us are the seeds being planted for our extinction.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.farsot.de/

To buy “Insects,” go here: http://shop.prophecy.de/product_info.php?info=p1240_FARSOT—Insects–CD-Jewelcase-.html

For more on the label, go here: http://prophecy.cd/