Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: King Giant - Dismal Hollow (2012)

King Giant [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
Dismal Hollow

King Giant - Dismal Hollow
With a style of doom that sounds straight out of the hollers and hills of Appalachia, rather than the band's verdant Virginia 'burb of origin, the sophomore album from Pimmit Hills' King Giant is an astounding collection of groovy melodies and provocative lyrics. Dismal Hollow, created with traditional blues-heavy doom sensibilities and filtered through a sense of Southern Lost Cause resignation, grasps the concepts established by bands like Black Sabbath and refines them with a uniquely American style of grit and energy.

The first thing that struck me about King Giant's sound was frontman Dave Hammerly's uncanny Glenn Danzig vocal style. With a whiskey-fueled shout more genuine than anything Danzig ever managed, the album begins with Hammerly recounting from a Confederate perspective that fateful April day in Southern history when Robert E. Lee surrendered his sword, and the Army of Northern Virginia, to what was perhaps the inevitable outcome. Phrases such as "if blood was money, the soil would be wealthy" pepper "Appomattox", and the remainder of Dismal Hollow, with a colorful and authentic Southern vernacular that Hammerly projects with convincing effect.

King Giant
Photo: Caroline Deutermann
The fuzzy, groovy riffs generated by Todd Ingram and David Kowalski carry over to the album's second track, "Tale of Mathias", resulting in Dismal Hollow's most engaging cut. Backed by touch of soulful female vocals, Hammerly tells the story of domestic abuse and revenge, another theme all too common within Southern culture. The gritty subject matter stands in stark contrast to the upbeat, foot-tapping melodies - a common aspect of Dismal Hollow that lends weight to the album's overall impact.

Hints of Gary Rossington can be heard in Ingram's solos, particularly on "A Steward's Prayer", while a bit of a Corrosion of Conformity influence lies at the root of many of the riffs. Influences aside, King Giant does an exemplary job of crafting gripping tunes, the mournful "Pistols and Penance" standing out in my mind for its expert use of plucky acoustic leads and somber strings. The simple yet entrancing theme riff of "6 O'Clock Swill" and the mesmerizing instrumental track "Road To Eleusis" are two more highlights on a strong album that benefits from an overabundance of standout moments.

There's not a lot about Dismal Hollow that could be considered innovative, but the exceptional musicianship and songwriting abilities of Virginia's King Giant make this an album that is a must-have for any fan of muddy doom and gritty Southern metal.

Track Listing
2Tale Of Mathias4:58
3A Steward's Prayer6:27
4Pistols and Penance7:58
56 O'Clock Swill7:08
6The Fog7:11
7Road To Eleusis5:08
8O' Drifter7:01
Total Runtime53:21

Friday, January 20, 2012

Harvest Moon Radio Episode 3

The trials and tribulations of my day job have, over the last couple of weeks, kept me from updating Harvest Moon Music as much as I'd like - even forcing me to miss posting Harvest Moon Radio last week. Despite the deadlines, I've managed to scratch together enough time to finally bring you Episode 3. Enjoy!

Harvest Moon Radio Episode 3


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: Souldrainer - Heaven's Gate (2011)

Souldrainer [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
Heaven's Gate

Souldrainer - Heavens Gate
Sweden's Souldrainer, spawned in 1999 by guitarist/vocalist Marcus Edvardsson, is a melodeath outfit with a bit of a remarkable sound. Inspired by extraterrestrial contact and the music of Hypocrisy and Samael, Souldrainer's sophomore full length Heaven's Gate escapes what has become a rather stale melodic death metal subgenre by incorporating strong, industrio-Gothic synth elements. The requisite throat-shredding vocals are buoyed by a heightened sense of atmosphere and melody, making Heaven's Gate a rather catchy and accessible listen.

Really the only thing pedestrian about this album is Edvardsson's vocals. His scratchy style is common to the style though he's occasionally backed by some clean choruses, such as on the album's standout title track. The remainder of Souldrainer's sound bucks the melodeath trends and instead embraces touches of Gothic and industrial metal, specifically majestic keyboard tones, synthesized strings, and robust melodic riffs. Also responsible for crafting said riffs, Edvardsson eschews flash for substance by routinely delivering basic but engaging riff patterns. Oftentimes, as on album opener "The Quest", Edvardsson's multi-tracked performance results in chugging core riffs sharing time with quality melodic leads.

Credit for the keyboard contributions, so integral to Souldrainer's sound, is unfortunately not given. The mysterious musician's impact is nevertheless quite potent, lending a sometimes otherworldly quality to Heaven's Gate that probably couldn't be so effectively achieved any other way. The string flourishes on "Low" and "The God Delusion" make those tracks noteworthy, while the grandiose keys give "The Legacy", "Remember Me", and "Goodbye Farewell" decidedly Gothic overtones. The lyrics to several tracks on the album delve into subjects of an interstellar nature and result in yet another opportunity for the keys to contribute appropriate atmospheric qualities. "Gate Guard" is perhaps the most spacey, while the impact of the title track is enhanced through the use of strong synth and creepy Marshall Applewhite sound bites.

Heaven's Gate is a melodeath album for those who are not fans of the style. Souldrainer reaches beyond the typical, formulaic sound that has retarded the subgenre and delivers an album that isn't quite revolutionary, but is certainly fresh and engaging.

Track Listing
1The Quest4:29
2Fed By Fire2:50
4Alien Terror3:34
5Hung On The Wall3:42
6The God Delusion4:00
7Gate Guard3:11
8The Legacy5:48
9Remember Me4:54
10Dying For Your Sick Belief2:19
11Goodbye Farewell3:33
12Heaven's Gate7:37
Total Runtime49:52

Friday, January 6, 2012

Harvest Moon Radio Episode 2

I hope that everyone had a happy and safe New Year's celebration! I'm happy to announce that Episode 2 of Harvest Moon Radio is now available for your listening pleasure. This week's playlist includes tracks from each of the releases in Harvest Moon Music's Top Ten Albums of 2011, so don't hesitate to check it out. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Interview: Rachel Brown of Archon

Rachel Brown, co-vocalist of the Brooklyn-based sludge/doom outfit Archon, is the subject of the first installment of a new interview series here on Harvest Moon Music that focuses on the women of the heavy metal underground. Archon, founded by Andrew Jude, released their debut full-length The Ruins at Dusk in 2010 and are on the verge of delivering their sophomore effort, one of the subjects that Rachel graciously took time out of her schedule to discuss.

[HMM] For readers who may be unfamiliar with Archon, can you introduce the band and describe your role?
[Rachel Brown] Archon is a NYC doom band, with heavy psych and stoner rock influences. I'm one of two vocalists and recently started playing a synth.

How did you come to be involved with the band?
I saw Archon live in February 2010, at which time there wasn’t a dedicated vocalist. I approached Andrew after the set, told him that I dug the music and thought they needed a vocalist, to which he agreed. I asked if he’d be interested in female vocals, and obviously, he was willing to try it out. So, I joined Archon the next month, at the same time Chris (our other vocalist) did. Coincidentally Andrew had asked Chris about doing vocals right before that show. So, Archon went from no vocalist in February, to two vocalists by April.

Rachel Brown of Archon
Before Archon, did you have a background in metal or music in general?
Music has always been a huge part of my life. Both my parents are musicians, so I was encouraged to join band and chorus in school, which I did. I was also involved in musical theater and danced competitively through high school. I started to get into metal when I was around 13, thanks to my brother Aaron. I began going to shows soon after that, spawning an addiction to live music that I have never kicked. At age 17 I started hosting a metal/hardcore/industrial radio show on the now defunct 88.9 V-Rock (in Ohio). Since moving to NYC in ’99 I’ve been a big supporter of the underground heavy music scene, though only as a concertgoer. In 2006 I did vocals for some of Paul Feder’s electronic music, and in 2009 I booked my first metal show at the Charleston.

The word archon shares etymological roots with the words monarch and anarchy. How do you feel the name Archon fits with the style of music that the band plays?
The musical style and sound of Archon is powerful, and one can’t rule without power.

The Black Sabbath and Candlemass influences are discernible in Archon's sound (and really, what doom band isn't inspired by Sabbath and Candlemass?), but what other bands or styles influence your music?
Well, I can’t speak for the guys, as we all have pretty diverse tastes. But as far as metal bands go, Neurosis is my biggest influence, probably followed by Acid Bath. I’m also really into what some people call post metal and tech or math metal. Stuff like AmenRa and Keelhaul, for example. The crusty, sludgy stuff like Dystopia and EyeHateGod definitely influence me as well. As for clean vocals, I’m a huge Björk fan, and really admire Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance), Chan Marshall (Cat Power) and Lindsay Powell (Fielded, Ga’an).

You're co-credited with writing the lyrics to two tracks on the debut album, specifically "Nature Is Satan's Church" and "The Hymn of Mendregard". From where did you draw inspiration for your words? Can you tell us a little bit about each song?
Well, Chris had the original inspiration for each of those songs. "Nature Is Satan’s Church" came out of his viewing of the film Antichrist, which deals with the themes of grief, pain and despair in really violent and tragic ways. "Hymn of Mendregard" is about the Iron Warriors of Warhammer. For this song, I had to read up on the Iron Warriors, since I don’t play the game. As I read, I imagined myself as one of these siege warriors, and was struck by their depressing and lonely existence.

With the vocals floating within the mix more as an additional layer of instrumentation rather than providing a distinct message, how importantly do the lyrics factor when writing an Archon song?
Usually the music is written first, and then Chris or I choose a topic or theme. So, I guess you could say that the lyrics don’t influence the writing of the music, but I do think they change the music drastically, in terms of mood and interpretation.

You sing in two distinctly different styles on The Ruins at Dusk, clean and harsh, which alternatingly contrast and compliment the male harsh vocals. Which style are you most comfortable with, and will you be embracing one over the other on Archon's next release?
Though this is my first time screaming/growling in a band, I think I’m more comfortable with that, because I can’t really fuck it up like I can the clean vocals. Because the sound of Archon is so heavy and loud live, I have a really hard time hearing my clean vocals, and thus, if I’m on pitch or not. My vocals are going to be about half clean and half harsh on the new album. I’ve experimented with different clean styles and expanded my harsh vocal range.

How is the new record coming along? Has a title or release date been set?
The new record is almost done! It’s called Ouroboros Collapsing and will most likely be out in February. We’re all really excited about how it’s turning out.

Without giving too much away, how does the new record compare to The Ruins at Dusk?
We think Ouroboros Collapsing is a little bit crustier, and maybe a bit more stripped down. But overall, it’s still heavy doom.

Who is responsible for the artwork on The Ruins at Dusk? Will they be contributing art to the new album as well?
Derrick Koo, a friend of Andrew’s, did the artwork for the last album. The new album’s art was done by Jacob Hansen, and is already available on our new shirts. Jacob did a sick job bringing our idea to life.

Archon has toured the Northeast relatively often over the last year. Are there any imminent plans to bring your live presence to other regions of the US or overseas?
Actually, we haven’t toured often over the last year (not sure where you got that info). We did our first weekend tour in December 2011, hitting a few NE cities. We’d love to tour the country or Europe, but it will probably be a while until we have the means to make that possible. Maybe we’ll make it to the mid-west this summer, as a couple of us have connections out that way.

Do you have any notable stories from the road that you'd be willing to share?
I think the first night of the recent tour was notable for a few reasons. First, we played with our friends in Queen Elephantine, which was fun. A friend of Chris’ friend agreed to let us crash at her house, although she didn’t come to the show, didn’t know how many of us there were and had never met any of us. Which was pretty fucking cool. But anyway, it turns out, she and her housemates don’t turn their heat on until… well, I don’t really know when, because it was about 30 degrees in Philly that night. Lucky for me, our host let me share her warm bed, since I was a woman. The guys were not thrilled that I managed to get a decent night’s sleep while they nearly froze to death.

Finally, do you have any parting words for your fans and for those who may be reading about Archon for the first time?
We’re playing an all-ages matinee at ABC No Rio in NYC on January 14th. If you’re in the area, you should come check us out. And if you’re not around, be sure to watch our website for news on the release of Ouroboros Collapsing: www.archondoom.com.

Many thanks, Rachel. I'm looking forward to hearing the new album!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Review: Rough Angel - Hear The Angels Rock (2011)

Rough Angel [Website | Facebook | MySpace]
Hear The Angels Rock

Rough Angel - Hear The Angels Rock
The story of California's Rough Angel is similar to that of many Hollywood Strip bands of late '80s and early '90s. Emerging just as grunge was grinding its boot heels on heavy metal's throat, Rough Angel would fade into history without having released a single album to the public. Four tracks were recorded in 1993, however, with the intention of being strictly for industry promotional purposes. Frontman Csaba Zvekan has retrieved those recordings from the annals of unreleased metal, remastered them, and now finally gives them a proper release as the Hear The Angels Rock EP - which also happens to be the first title put out by Rock N Growl Records.

Hear The Angels Rock is straightforward, unapologetic heavy metal overflowing with traditionally inspired guitar work and vocals. Each of the four tracks contains enough crunch and flash to satisfy fans of the era of metal's dominance, thanks to gritty efforts by Marc Mougavero and founding Rough Angel guitarist Jimmy Z. "Defiance" stands out for its squealing licks, while the smoldering menace to the riffs of "Let It Burn" make that track a favorite. For his part, Zveken delivers a solid performance that manages to channel the unique styles of both Axl Rose and Dio. Sometimes soulful, such as on the title track, but most often belting out throat-straining screams, Zveken captures the essence of the late-'80s metal style.

An aspect of Hear The Angels Rock that will either endear listeners to it, or turn them away from it, is the quality of production. There is a definite indie essence to the sound that is, in fact, quite raw but very reminiscent of the period during which these songs were originally recorded. There's a certain charm in that, but those who are only familiar with today's robust production values may let this feature of the EP taint the solid old-school metal it contains.

I'm an '80s metal junkie, and though the songs on Hear The Angels Rock were recorded in the early '90s they espouse everything that fans of the era love about the sound. While the tracks here are quite raw when held to modern standards, the fact that they are seeing the light of day at all is fantastic. It would be nice if more long lost recordings were retrieved from whatever vaults they've been hiding in over the decades.

Track Listing
1Standing by Mirrors4:58
3Let It Burn4:55
4Hear the Angels Rock5:18
Total Runtime21:01

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Top Ten Albums of 2011

I've always resisted the trend to supply a year-end list of what I thought were the best metal and hard rock albums of the preceding calendar year. The reason for my resistance is a simple one - not having heard every single album released during the year, I feel entirely unqualified to name the best of the lot. Spinning every album released is practically impossible, of course, what with having to devote significant amounts of time to earning money, raising a family, and hockey, so I've decided to take the plunge this year and through my hat in the ring. Keeping in mind that my list is restricted to just the albums that I have personally listened to, here are those that I feel rise above the masses.

#10 - Burning Fortune by Cauldron (Earache Records)

The Canadian traditional metallers released their second full-length album in 2011 and easily avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump" that plagues so many bands. While it's true that throwback metal has achieved somewhat of a fad status lately, the style remains appealing to me and Cauldron put out the most solid effort of its kind this year.

#9 - A Series Of Unfortunate Concurrencies by Scar Of The Sun (Scarlet Records)

The debut album from Greek Gothic Doom outfit Scar Of The Sun is noteworthy for its accessibility. The catchy synth hooks blend with admirable vocal performances, which range from death metal growls to a melodious Gothic baritone, to weave an appealing sound that fans of bands such as Sentenced and Type O Negative will enjoy. Groundbreaking it is not, but A Series of Unfortunate Concurrencies is noteworthy as a strong debut from a promising outfit.

#8 - Welcome 2 My Nightmare by Alice Cooper (Universal)

An album that ranked high on my "most anticipated" list for 2011, Alice Cooper's sequel to his seminal 1975 concept album cannot touch its predecessor. In fact, Welcome 2 My Nightmare takes a couple of spins to fully reveal itself, but when it does...genius. The Coop's sardonic sense of humor and subtle innuendo permeates the album, often eliciting double-takes (or double-listens, I guess) as he traverses a number of stylistic formulas to bring his twisted tale to life. While this album isn't the instant classic that Welcome to My Nightmare was, it nevertheless reinforces Alice Cooper's dominance of the shock rock genre.

#7 - ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes by Wizard (AFM Records)

German power metallers Wizard keep their album-ever-two-years track record alive with the semi-conceptual ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes. Crunchy, weighty, and simply ass-kicking, the band's 2011 effort is as memorable as it is gritty. Wizard does what they do extremely well, with ...Of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes certainly one of the best efforts of their long-running career and unquestionably one of the more powerful power metal albums of the year. (Full review here)

#6 - Book of Dowth by Suidakra (AFM Records)

An engaging blend of blackened power metal and folkish melodies, Book of Dowth continues the Celtic theme that Germany's Suidakra initiated with their 2009 album Crógacht. Folk metal may have become pedestrian for some, but for those who are still enamored by the style (such as yours truly) Book of Dowth represents one of the better albums to hit the streets in 2011. (Full review here)

#5 - The Beginning of Times by Amorphis (Nuclear Blast)

Finland's Amorphis has always been one of my favorite metal bands, even during their jazz-fusion Am Universum and Far From The Sun years. The Beginning of Times ignores that awkward period in Amorphis' career and instead blends the best of the death metal years with the enveloping atmosphere of their more Gothic/progressive albums. Excellent.

#4 - The Lay of Thrym by Týr (Napalm Records)

I was blown away by Týr's 2003 sophomore album Eric The Red. Aside from being surprised that there was a metal band from the Faroe Islands, Týr's infectious melodies and bardic tales were a refreshing mix that captured my attention and imagination. The Lay of Thrym strays little from the signature Týr style, but that makes it just as strong and anthemic as anything the band has done thus far. (Full review here)

#3 - Meredead by Leaves' Eyes (Napalm Records)

Leaves' Eyes, led by the captivating Liv Kristine, sits firmly atop the female-fronted Gothic/symphonic metal genre. Liv's use of olde English, Norwegian, Danish, and Gaelic lyrics to tell tales of medieval and mythological Europe further distances the band from peers such as Nightwish. The melodies of Meredead are, like those of the band's previous efforts, engrossing and nigh unforgettable. (Full review here)

#2 - Tiurida by Falkenbach (Napalm Records)

The one-man German outfit Falkenbach helped pioneer the Viking metal style, taking the tales of longships and bearded warriors to atmospheric heights. Present on Tiurida, Falkenbach's first full-length album of new material in six year, are the enraged vocals, medieval melodies, and misty-fjord imagery that makes the band's work some of the most unique and influential music in the metal world. Tiurida is a great return from a band long missed. (Full review here)

#1 - Where Distant Spirits Remain by Falloch (Candlelight Records)

The debut release from Scotland's Falloch defied my best efforts to describe it when I first set out to write a review of the album, and even after repeated spins adequate words elude me. Where Distant Spirits Remain embodies longing, despair, and solemnity, yet underneath what seems a forlorn experience lies a hesitant optimism. Falloch has created an aural experience that I never felt would be anything less than my album of the year for 2011. (Full review here)

So there you have it. A number of albums crossed my desk that I had hoped would crack the top ten (Saxon's Call To Arms and Anthrax's Worship Music to name but two), making it very difficult to reduce the list to its final form, but after many spins and shuffling of the rankings my list is complete. I know there were a lot of other worthy albums released in 2011, and I hope to eventually hear as many of them as possible, but now it's time to look forward to what surprises 2012 has in store for the world of heavy metal!