Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: The Graviators - Evil Deeds (2012)

The Graviators [ Facebook | ReverbNation ]
Evil Deeds
Napalm Records

The Graviators - Evil Deeds
The number of retro bands coming out of Sweden over the past several years has been remarkable (to me, anyway). Per capita, the country is practically awash with sleaze rock, traditional metal, and classic stoner doom outfits all clamoring to bring the sexy, fuzzy sounds of decades past back to the forefront of heavy music popularity. Among the crowded field of doom-worshiping groups is The Graviators, who bestow upon us their second album Evil Deeds. Sheathed in deliciously occultish artwork by Vance Kelly, Evil Deeds is a satisfying album of Sabbath-inspired metal - with a bit of hidden treasure. More on that later.

The Graviators' sound is largely familiar ground for even casual fans of the first wave of doomy heavy metal, and more so for those enraptured by recent artists such as The Sword. Monumental riffs delivered without haste by Martin Fairbanks and bolstered by Johan Holm's bass guitar are the nuts and bolts of Evil Deeds. The tritone, that diabolical interval established as a requisite element of doom metal by Black Sabbath, is of course present here but used sparingly. "Soulstealer", "The Great Deception", and the title track navigate these familiar waters with ease, while "Morning Star" ups the ante with a very catchy, galloping riff. "Häxagram", with its ultra-fuzzy riffs and fairly mesmerizing solo, deserves a bit more attention, but things start to become really interesting for Evil Deeds as frontman Niklas Sjöberg begins experimenting with vocal melodies.

The Graviators
Sjöberg's style is not outside the norm when it comes to these retro doom outfits - a variation of an Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant mashup. With the backing vocals of "Häxagram", Sjöberg heralds a shift in The Graviators' sound from one of predominantly "inside the box" doom to a more expansive, exploratory take on the style. The next track, "Presence", introduces guest musician Petrus Fredestad's bold Hammond organ contributions as the song presents a distinct Led Zeppelin quality (coincidence, given the title?). Tempos range a bit wider during this song than its predecessors, alternating between uptempo passages and mellow, bluesy interludes. As the song begins to wrap up, The Graviators create a lush atmospheric mix of meandering solos and spacey synth touches. "Forlorn", while not as rife with experimentation as "Presence", nevertheless offers up a warm escape with a tantalizingly mellow interlude replete with delicate keys and muted guitars.

Although the strengths of Evil Deeds don't fully emerge until the waning stages of the album, the incorporation of elements not normally heard in retro-doom releases is what The Graviators can capitalize upon to outpace their peers. Even if the trend is approaching exhaustion, and in my opinion it is not, Evil Deeds has just enough of a fresh perspective to warrant further investigation by proto and retro fans alike.
Track Listing
2Evil Deeds6:10
3Morning Star2:43
4The Great Deception4:44
5Feelin' Low4:13
8A Different Moon4:09
10The Infidel8:11
Total Runtime52:35

Friday, September 7, 2012

Review: Psychothermia - Slash & Burn (2012)

Psychothermia [ Website | Facebook | ReverbNation ]
Slash & Burn

When Slash & Burn, the debut EP from San Diego's Psychothermia, arrived at my doorstep there was something about the band's name that poked at my ever-shrinking memory. A little research confirmed that Psychothermia was the name of an album that I reviewed in 2008 from another California outfit called Canobliss. As it turns out, Psychothermia (the band) is essentially Canobliss minus a disgruntled former guitarist. Legal issues forced the band to rebrand themselves, but much more than just the name has changed since I last heard from these guys. Whereas Psychothermia (the album) was an intricate, thrashy affair, Slash & Burn firmly establishes itself in the modern rock arena. The intricacies remain, but they are delivered in a much more measured and accessible way.

Slash & Burn is comprised of mid-tempo songs that are constructed of approachable riff patterns, a well-defined sense of rhythm, and compelling vocals. Guitarist Jon Russo's simmering contributions occasionally boil over with a grand solo, such as the tastefully extensive effort on "Danger Sign", but most often he spices up his riffs with warm atmospheres or modern rock pinches. On songs such as "All The Diamonds" and the title track, Russo joins with Chenzo Vidalez (who does a fine job emulating the style and theatrics of Robert Trujillo) to add an almost overwhelmingly downtuned, bass-heavy heft to the band's sound. Even with a generous amount of riff variation, Slash & Burn remains a very melodic effort that would fit comfortably on rock radio.

Such conformity, for lack of a better word, is also Psychothermia's Achilles' heel. Frontman Johan Maldonado possesses a familiar vocal style which he often uses to flirt with imitation, such as his David Draiman-like cadence on "Crazy X" and his spot-on impression of Rage Against The Machine's Zack de la Rocha on "The Fight". In fact, Maldonado sounded so much like RATM's iconic frontman that I was searching through the band's catalog to see if Psychothermia had slipped a cover track onto the EP. For what it's worth, Maldonado (and Psychothermia) would be better served by continuing to refine his own style, which is perfectly suited to the band's target sound. The fact remains, though, that these are just minor scuffs on an otherwise well-polished debut release.

I like how Psychothermia has evolved from where I last heard them. The progressive touches are still present, though now expressed through interesting songwriting and accessible melodies. The overall pacing has slowed, but Slash & Burn is still an EP that rock fans will want to get their hands on.

Track Listing
2Crazy X3:52
3Slash & Burn5:14
4The Fight3:36
5All The Diamonds3:59
6Danger Sign5:44
Total Runtime26:08