Thursday, 28 January 2016

SERPENT - Nekromant

Quick note: This is an edited version of the review which appeared at #11 on the January 2016 Doom Chart. (Doom Charts on facebook)

Can you believe this shit? If you took any one of these nine songs and threw it onto commercial rock radio it would blow up the #1 spot overnight. Now, I have a rough idea of how commercial radio works, it’s not a truly organic process, money pays for plays so if there’s no money backing a band you’re not going to hear them on the radio. I get that. But ever since ‘Songs for the Deaf’ came out I’ve been waiting for the big Stoner Rock take over of rock radio and it hasn’t happened. Could this simply be about bands like Fu Manchu and sHeavy not having enough money behind them to break out or have the money people given Stoner Rock the stone cold shoulder? Conspiracy is afoot, I say!

Why do some bands make it big and others don't?

Monster Truck has gotten their names out there as have The Rival Sons to a much lesser extent, but they’re only peripherally part of the stoner rock thing at best. I think the appeal of Rival Sons is their image. It’s cute to see colorful costumes prance around on stage like pirate-themed icecapades.

Heavy metal went wrong when it started taking its image too seriously instead of just existing. It takes about two minutes for affected vocals and face paint to become quaint no matter how tough or dangerous some of these guys try to be in their promo shots. Artifice and affectation are by definition not genuine and no matter how fickle the public seem, no matter how facile their tastes appear to be, people want “authentic” art, they crave genuine art.

The more metal bands tried to cross over the line of decency and step into dangerous territory the more ridiculous they looked. How can you take a band seriously that looks like Kiss after being stood up for a date and left on a street corner in the rain? For that reason it’s been impossible for the general public to take anything even remotely related to metal or even heavy guitars seriously for the past 15 years or so. The last time they gave it a chance it was Nu Metal. To the buying rock radio public it’s “fool me once face painters shame on you, fool me twice and I’ll never be able to explain those old photos to my future children”. So why would the money people take a chance on something like that?

If only they knew about Serpent!

Serpent doesn’t go in for that phoney-baloney crap, they just plug in and let ‘er rip. Here’s what they’ve got going for them: good vocals with no bullshit affectation, killer riffs and an unobnoxiously heavy sensibility. Not to overstate the importance of this band but they could … possibly … save rock and roll from the dustbin of history. We’re so fractured into our little subgroups within the rock and metal community that it’s like we’re all speaking different languages trying to continue to build and maintain this once shiny tower we call Rocking Out and having an awesome time. We could use a new Guns & Roses to unite the hard rockers, or at least get them out of the closet, even if it’s just as a gateway drug to some whole other thing. Serpent could be that band. Let’s be relevant again. Let’s be cool again, rockers. Hell, Serpent could save the world if only the cultural gatekeepers would let them.

Serpent on facebook

Sunday, 17 January 2016

MAGIC CIRCLE - Journey Blind

Quick note: This is an expanded version of the short review which appeared at #20 on the January 2016 Doom Chart. (Doom Charts on facebook)

When I was a toddling little scamp headbanging to Motörhead and Quiet Riot records in my uncle’s basement suite I truly felt that this was the way life was meant to be. That this was the way life was ALWAYS going to be and that clearly metal was the only musical option out there that made any kind of sense. Well, a Madonna, a New Kids, a Brittany and a pair of Justins later and I wonder what’s wrong with the world. The radio comes on and the sky darkens, birdsong turns ominous and hidden intentions grow behind every smile.

And then Magic Circle appears.

I don't think it's entirely accurate to slap the doom label on this band. There are elements of epic doom, but I also hear early power metal and an attacking style not commonly found in today's doom with it's sepulchral turpitude. The 'Journey Blind' is more uplifting than that. Don't get me wrong, I crave sepulchral turpitude, but Magic Circle is an exotic treasure within doom's dusty war chest.

In a way Magic Circle becomes a referendum on what doom is, because it seems that any band that doesn't feature wall to wall blastbeats gets slapped with the label. I suppose that doom is more than Iommian riffing at torpid tempos under tales of witches and infernal congress. In a way, doom is the most conservative subgenre of metal, arguably the most conservative genre of music of any kind. Doom it seems, is anything that sounds old and heavy. 'Journey Blind' is a jacked up long-lost metal album from the mid-80s, before the ghetto-ization of metal into subgenres, back when metal was metal and inked jeans and studded leather were kings among fabric. 'Journey Blind' parks you right square in stall 8 of the heavy metal parking lot.

No, Magic Circle doesn't sound like Priest, Motörhead or even Quiet Riot, but they tap into that never forgotten world of unapologetic metal-ness to leave you ‘bangin shamelessly and all seems right with the world again.

And when the ‘Journey Blind’ ends, the sky is still dark, the birdsong still mocks with portents of evil and a killer still hides behind every smile, BUT … when life hands me lemons I can then say, “oh yeah, fucking lemons huh? Give ’em here!” I then proceed to make deep, angry eye contact and suck at those lemons with such virulence that it becomes unbearably awkward for my life’s opponents and they back away slowly.

And that’s how to win with Magic Circle.

'Journey Blind' was released on DD/CD on November 20, 2015 and on vinyl January 15, 2016 by 20 Buck Spin Records

Saturday, 16 January 2016

HIGH PRIEST OF SATURN - Son of Earth and Sky

This review was originally published on the magnificent Outlaws of the Sun webzine on January 9, 2016:

An intriguing and somehow ominous 2011 demo led to high expectations for this Norwegian quartet's first album. When it was eventually released, I remember one main criticism was that it was too one-dimensional and slow. So how did High Priest of Saturn respond on their follow-up?

By maintaining their carefully crafted identity, that's how. But don't be too hasty to judge, haters. You just don't know the band that well yet. Hopefully they aren't going anywhere anytime soon, so you might as well get used to them.

A careful listen suggests the band's familiar range of tempo is more dream-like than plodding, HPOS wrings every last drop of psychedelic essence from their creative cloth. While some doom bands

'Son of Earth and Sky' is an introspective album, the listener is carried along on a magic carpet through long instrumental passages made majestic through the use of Ole Kristian Malmedal's trademark organ. One lazy comparison you tend to see thrown at this band is to the likes of Blood Ceremony. Now, that's some pretty good company to keep but the comparison is totally inept here. Ole Kristian never treats the organ as a lead instrument, rather it's the smooth-running engine that powers the proverbial magic carpet on its psychedelic flight. While the instrument was right up front on the demo, it's now relatively subdued in the mix conjuring subliminal thoughts and moods.

If you're new to the band and you're looking for a place to dive in, look no further than the deep end grooves of "The Warming Moon" as the standout track here. I can't help but feel the band has hit it's stride here with their second full-length. High Priest of Saturn will never be known as a savage band, they have found a particular niche all their own of contemplative moonlight nights in ghostly congress. 'Son of Earth and Sky' is a succubal massage but don't expect to find any happy endings here.

'Son of Earth and Sky' will be released on February 26, 2016 by Svart Records.

Post-Script: A commentor on the Outlaws of the Sun webzine wanted to know if the vocals on this record were distorted like on the band's last LP. I replied: "I thought the demo vocals were smothered in echo, then I heard the LP and they were absolutely drenched. The production has kind of hit on a mid-point, where they're still echo-y but it isn't as pronounced as on their self-titled LP. Fairly thick echo but not necessarily distorted this time around."

High Priest of Saturn on facebook


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

CONAN - Revengeance

Quick note: This is an expanded version of the short review which appeared at #25 on the January 2016 Doom Chart. (Doom Charts on facebook)

Like a marauding warlord, the band Conan has never lost ground but have only added new territory with every album. In the case of their upcoming full-length, the band's third, that newly gained territory consists of increased percussive dimension. This is the result of new rhythm section Chris Fielding (bass) and Rich Lewis (drums).

Now, I had no problem with the work that Phil Coumbe and Paul O'Neill did on 'Blood Eagle', I did give the album a perfect rating after all. It was straight-forward and to the point the way you would imagine a direct assault would be from the band's namesake. 

But it's also true that as the stories of Robert E. Howard's iconic character progressed, he learned to use his skills as a thief on the battlefield. As time went on, the raging barbarian became an astute field general. 

The same is holding true for headman Jon Davis. Where once a battlecry and full-on sprint across the open field with broadaxe held high would suffice, the band finds itself in new territory, looking before they leap and thinking themselves around corners. Once the enemy is met however, the attack is just as deadly and decisive as ever.

Where ‘Horseback Battle Hammer’ documented a beast awakening into a violent world, foggy and lumbering, ‘Revengeance’ is a final shaking off of the cobwebs. Jon Davis and his band are capitalizing on lessons learned through 10 years of musical conquests to stunning effect. The battle rages on, this time the tactic is guerilla warfare which gives the band a new, progressive tinge. And they're still one of my favorite bands.

‘Revengeance’ will be released on January 29 by Napalm Records.
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