We start our review year with no words. From the bands, that is. We kind of need to use words, otherwise how would you know what we think of the groups’ music? We also start the year with one of the stupidest opening paragraphs in Meat Mead Metal history. We let it stand.
There are varying opinions on the value of instrumental-only bands. I have a friend who, try as he might, just can’t get with the idea. There have been exceptions over time, but for the most part, he needs words in order to truly embrace music. Then there are people such as myself who love instrumental music. As long as the work is compelling, interesting and powerful, why do you need words to express you emotions? Also, it gives your audience a chance to simmer in the emotion and come up with the stories themselves. I always find a lot of fun in that, but the idea of no singing isn’t for everyone.
Today, we bring you two bands who get out their messages through their instruments only, though each group does it in a completely different way. In fact, the only thing these two bands have in common at all is that they’re instrumental acts. I’m not even sure if there are sonic crossover possibilities for their respective audiences, though I like both of them, so perhaps that answers my question. But each get their points across, and their approaches have merit, so let’s give each a little focus.
First up is Loincloth, another in a line of interesting signings by Southern Lord and whose new album “Iron Balls of Steel” sounds more like the title of a Manowar record. That seems to indicate the band doesn’t take their image too seriously, and with song titles such as “Underwear Bomb,” “Hoof-Hearted” and “The Moistener,” they don’t seem to mind if their listeners smile along with them. Humor isn’t something that inhabits the instrumental metal world all that often, but the band’s compositions, mostly two minutes and shorter, also set them apart from groups who usually wax and wane over epic songs and albums. “Balls” is 16 songs that end in about 40 minutes, so if you want something that will profoundly move you philosophically, you’ve likely come to the wrong place. If you just want to have a blast, then you probably couldn’t buy a more fitting album.
The band features guitarist Cary Rowells and drummer Steve Shelton, both members of Confessor, as well as guitarist Tannon Penland, of Koszonom, and their approach to their music is to pound the hell out of you over and over again. It’s not pretty what they do and it’s not poetic, but it’s overflowing with tonnage. It’s math-friendly, doomy, thrashy and totally a slave to the riff, so if you like the air guitar thingie, you’ll be in heaven with “Iron Balls of Steel.” One drawback is the songs don’t really mesh together like a true album. They sound like a collection of punishing ideas mashed into one place that don’t really have anything to do with each other. It doesn’t flow naturally at all, but perhaps that’s just the guys going against what you expect. That said, the record at least shines based on its individual parts, and Loincloth punch the hell out of you on the aforementioned tracks as well as psyche-ish “Sactopus”; groove-heavy “Elkindrone”; the melodic and airy “Stealing Pictures,” that reminds me a little of Pelican; and tricky, trucking “Voden.”
This is a fun listen, one that’ll satisfy your craving for abject heaviness and sounds much better when played at a really, really loud volume. Again, it sounds more like a mish-mash of songs rather than a complete album, but that’s OK when the songs are this jarring. In the words of Sterling Archer, “Balls.”
For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Loincloth/266521466700945
To buy “Iron Balls of Steel,” go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php
For more on the label, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/
Now, onto a band that certainly has a flare for the dramatics, that being Massachusetts’ own Caspian. This post-rock creature deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as like-minded acts such as Explosions in the Sky and MONO, and perhaps one day they will be. If you want to get an idea for the band’s live majesty, grab a copy of “Live at Old South Church.” The five cuts on this document are culled largely from their first two full-lengths “The Four Trees” and “Tertia,” as well as from EP “You Are the Conductor,” namely the stunning opener “Last Rites.” From the start, the band’s massive wall of gorgeous sound is apparent and impenetrable, even when listening on cheap headphones carrying the song from a damaged laptop computer. So I can only imagine what being there must have been like.
The show was captured Oct. 22, 2010, from the Old South Church in Boston, a Gothic, revival-style building constructed in 1875. On top of that, the show wasn’t just for Caspian to unfurl their power in a unique venue. The appearance was part of a benefit performance for Amirah, a non-profit group dedicated to providing whole-person care and safe housing for victims of sexual trafficking. In fact, some proceeds from the album sales also will go to help the agency that is tackling a subject that normally just makes for horrific headlines in many of our insulated worlds. Caspian certainly made the most of the stage, blowing through the spacious rumbling of “The Dove”; kicking up the tempo on more rock-oriented “ASA”; and putting a quaking exclamation point on the album with “Sycamore,” that just drips with emotion.
As noted, Caspian deserve more ears tuned to their music, and perhaps people with generous hearts and compassion for the victims Amirah serves will benefit by helping others and getting in touch with an explosive, powerful band. Caspian’s music is too big for a tiny hall, so let’s get them into the bigger rooms where they belong, so that their music doesn’t take down any buildings.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.caspianmusic.net/
To buy “Live at Old South Church,” go here: http://www.mylenesheath.com/catalog.html?&Vl=32&Tp=2
For more on the label, go here: http://www.mylenesheath.com/
For more on Amirah, go here: http://www.amirahboston.org/