Monday, 21 October 2013

Myelin Constellation Compilation (album review)

Amazing cover art by Steve Somers.
A few weeks back I posted a press release from Matt Schmitz of the band Sleestak about the Myelin Constellation compilation he was putting together (find it here).  It's a benefit compilation.  Mr. Schmitz's wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and the proceeds from the compilation will go to help the Schmitz family deal with mounting medical bills and I suggest you read the press release to appreciate the full scope of the problem and the cause to which this project benefits.  But aside from that, what makes the Myelin Constelation benefit compilation special from a musical standpoint is that each and every one of the 20 songs on it is either rare or previously unreleased.  There are live versions, unreleased remixes, demos and outright unreleased songs.  There are songs here from such Paranoid favorites as Wo Fat, The Gates of Slumber (R.I.P.), Stone Magnum, At Devil Dirt, Sons of Otis, Abrahma, Apostle of Solitude, Black Capricorn, Sleestak (of course) and Switchblade Jesus.  And that's just one half of the story.  All told there's two full hours of archaeological treasures that Matt has unearthed.  All this makes Myelin Constellation Volume 1 the most indispensable compilation in the stoner/doom genre since ... well, ever.

The collection kicks off with a pair of live tracks from Northless and Sons of Otis, with the Northless track being a radio session.  Then we come up to our first pair of absolute gems from The Gates of Slumber and Backwoods Payback.  The 14 minute "Suffer No Guilt" is no real surprise to the legion of fans this band 'had', but it has been remixed by Rich Wittaker.  It's like two songs in one, the 14 minutes split right down the middle with slow and fast sides while Backwoods Payback's comparatively brisk track has been taken from an upcoming EP.

Coltsblood makes their rather large presence felt with the 14 minute "Abyss of Aching Sanity", the first true Myelin comp exclusive.  Wo Fat takes a groovy ride and gets "Broke Down in Texas", a swampy instrumental that was part of a 7" split single with Small Stone labelmates Abrahma, a rarity of a song for anyone who missed the trio during their European jaunt.  And this is also the part of the comp that delves into the secret art of sequencing as Stone Magnum's "Savior in Black" is the perfect follow-up.  The song is a re-recording of an older song with the current line-up and is then followed up by Apostle of Solitude's "Whores Wings", another exclusive.  This half hour is probably the best overall block on songs on the comp, but be forewarned, the bulk of the songs on this record are on the quiet side so you will probably turn the volume way up as you listen to it, the Wo Fat track takes the volume and twists it like a nipple sending the volume into the stratosphere, you may want to be prepared to turn the volume down a touch before the song comes on if you are listening with headphones.

The next half hour block of music is nothing to sneeze at either.  It kicks off with the high energy space rock of Sons of Alpha Centauri, a band previously unknown to me.  This interesting instrumental comes from a split single with the ubiquitous Karma to Burn.  Next up Mr. Schmitz has put Sleestak right into the middle of the affair with their previously unreleased demo by the name of "Space", which keeps with the space rock theme musically and the tone of it leads perfectly into the next track.  "Solitude", the Black Sabbath cover by Black Capricorn, had been making the rounds on youtube a couple weeks back (I even featured it on my Hour of Power), you could call this the unofficial "single" release from the comp.  That's followed up with an unmixed demo version of "Don't See You Around", the killer opening number from At Devil Dirt's upcoming album, 'Plan B'.  This version emphasizes Nestor Ayala's double tracked vocals to the nth degree.  What comes next is maybe the surprise of the whole compilation.  Florida swamp rockers Confused Little Girl cover the Cab Calloway classic "Minnie the Moocher".  The band turns the song into a thrusting, throbbing mess, and neither the song nor the stoner/doom genre couldn't have been more honored for them having done so.  Last up in this half hour block of songs is the other half of the Wo Fat / Abrahma split, also a cover, this time of Edwin Starr's equally classic "War".  That thing I warned you about earlier goes for this song as well, but despite all that, Abrahma certainly do an interesting and worthy cover of an instantly recognizable song.  Which reminds me, it's been far too long since I listened to Abrahma's amazing 'Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives' album.

The final batch of songs boasts the most eclectic gathering of the bunch.  Narcotic Luxuria is another previously unknown band to me and their song here "Voodoo" is bizarre to say the least.  Dreamy synth doom with gothic twinges are knitted together in a turn-on-a-dime style composition.  Asatta is the next band that I discovered through this comp.  Their number "Earth To Orion" is claustrophobic sludge with epic touches, if you can wrap your mind around that.  The last in the consecutive run of bands that are new to me is Headless Kross, no doubt named after the Black Sabbath album, their track "From the Dark" features six heavy minutes of punishment.  British doom upstarts Myopic Empire make a strong entry here with their "Victory" demo, the vocals of which recalls the classic crooners of their homeland, back when it was known to swing.  For their part it's one of the strongest cuts of the last section.  My personal favorite of the last half of the comp however, belongs to Switchblade Jesus and their track "Oblivion".  We finish things off with a largely acoustic black metal track from Albawitch.  This is another of those louder-than-usual tracks.  The song "Accident of Birth" begins as an early post-Syd-era Pink Floyd-like dirge (complete with flutes) before stomping on the gas pedal of blast beats then back again.

Myelin Constellation Volume 1 is a terrific achievement and may very well have upped the standard of compilations within the world of doom from the cover art down to the content and cause.  Best of all, this is an ongoing thing with the door to submissions for future volumes never closed.  Volume 2 is already in the works and there's no reason to expect a drop in standard here and the one idea remains, that of the MC comps only featuring rare or unreleased material.  But it doesn't really matter how I put it, $6 for 20 songs and 2 full hours of music going to a worthy cause pretty much speaks for itself doesn't it?

Highlights include: "Oblivion" by Switchblade Jesus and "Minnie the Moocher" by Confused Little Girl

Rating: 4/5

Total Run Time: 1:59:59

Genre: Doom, Stoner, Sludge, Psychedelic, Spâce Rock, Black Metal

Release Date: October 1, 2013

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