Friday, May 17, 2013

Review: Surgeon - Chemical Reign (2013)

Surgeon [ Website | Facebook ]
Chemical Reign

Surgeon - Chemical Reign
It's a bit of a stretch to consider Surgeon's new album, Chemical Reign, to be a Doom or Gothic metal release, but there are just enough hints of those two styles in the band's progressive sound to warrant a few sentences here at Harvest Moon Music. Hailing from Philadelphia, the band - which includes ex-Rumpelstiltskin Grinder drummer Ruston Grosse - generated considerable praise for their 2008 debut album and elicited comparisons to outfits such as Pharoah and Slough Feg. While I think Surgeon is quite a bit more progressive in nature than those bands, there's certainly enough similarity present for fans to take interest.

Besides riffs that tend to linger in mid-tempo territory, the Doomiest aspect to Chemical Reign is to be found in the vocal style of singer/bassist Sean Bolton. He sings with a sense of despair that will seem familiar to fans of traditional Doom. Though there isn't much variety to his style, Bolton adds depth to his performance through effective layering and the occasional use of harsh vocals - such as on album opener and highlight "The Creeple". His presence on "Animals" is also quite interesting and is one of the most engaging aspects of Chemical Reign.

The gloomy atmosphere of tracks like "The Creeple" is bolstered by guitarist Lydia Giordano's menacing riffs. Her style is a little more flashy than you'd expect if Surgeon were to bill themselves as a Doom outfit, but she tends to forgo technical wankery in favor of pure metal sizzle. The latter half of Chemical Reign does find Giordano delving deeper into what I consider progressive territory - somewhat experimental and slightly disparate riff patterns - but her comfort zone seems to be in laying down crunchy, biting riffs accentuated by swirling leads and sharp solos. She's got chops, no question.

Aside from "The Creeple", the songs that will most appeal to Doom/Gothic fans include the urgently paced "Watching You" and the pseudo-Gothic "Greed". "Tomorrow" possesses some very atmospheric riffs, but is one of Surgeon's more progressively-leaning compositions. There's just enough here for Chemical Reign to be of interest to Doom fans, though I think much more exciting things are yet to come should Surgeon further embrace that aspect of their sound.

Track Listing
1The Creeple6:31
2Watching You4:22
3Deadly Are The Words5:06
5Chemical Reign5:15
7Hamburger Factory4:49
8The Only Constant4:45
Total Runtime55:48

Friday, May 10, 2013

Review: Zolle - Zolle (2013)

Zolle [ Website | Facebook ]
Supernatural Cat

Zolle - Zolle
Marcello and Stefano, two self-professed farm boys from the fields of northern Italy, have taken a bit of a break from their many bands and projects to concentrate on a two-man riff-oriented entity they've dubbed Zolle (derived from the Italian word zòlla, meaning clump). For the past year, Marcello (guitars) and Stefano (drums/percussion) have worked tirelessly to create an instrumental album that not only encompasses many of the avant-garde principles learned from their past efforts but also appeals to the groovy, laid back tastes of the stoner/doom rock community. And so it is that Zolle, the band's eponymous debut release, delivers an Imperial ton of blurry riffs and a large drum sound - not to mention a few touches of tasteful synth atmospherics.

It can be argued - as I have often done - that an album without a vocal presence provides little more than chamber music for whatever activities the listener(s) might wish to engage in. That certainly holds true for Zolle, but it would be a mistake to allow such a thing to happen to this album without first taking the time to focus on identifying its intricacies and experiencing the variation among the songs. Although only 28 minutes long, in my opinion making it more of an EP than a full-length, the album is mostly pure head-bobbing delight thanks to Marcello's conscientious attention to his multi-tracked guitar harmonies and seamless riff patterns.

As with most instrumental albums, it's difficult to settle upon songs that really stand apart from the rest and are thus worthy of mentioning in detail. Zolle does, however, contain a couple of exceptions. While the vast majority of the riffs on the album are soothing in a fuzzy sort of way, the song "Forko" is constructed primarily upon the notion of discordance and abstraction. Marcello applies a liberal portion of pinch harmonics to his performance, while Stefano seems stubbornly reluctant to settle into a single time signature. It's not that "Forko" is complete chaos, but compared to the righteous groove that possesses most of Zolle, this song feels oddly misplaced.

Aside from that particular track, Zolle exists primarily to shake loose the clods of dirt from your boots and help lift those late-afternoon cold brews. The guitar sound exhibited on "Heavy Letam", arguably the grooviest song on the album, for some reason reminds me of the theme from Batman (the classic television series, kiddies, not the movies). The use of what I imagine are farm implements as percussive accents is a nice touch, as are the spacey synth contributions. The synth atmosphere is actually at its best during the waning moments of album closer "Moongitruce". A classy, slightly psychedelic way to round out what I wish was a lengthier release.

Zolle, the band, isn't interested in turning the world of heavy rock on its side with their debut album. They've put together a collection of songs that, quite simply, they enjoy playing. And in the end, shouldn't that be the origin of every album? If you're looking for a soundtrack for the next time you raise a pint, light one up, or just drive from here to there, give Zolle a try.

Track Listing
5Man Ja To Ya!2:33
7Heavy Letam1:49
Total Runtime27:49

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: Antipope - 3 Eyes of Time (2013)

Antipope [ Website | Facebook | Bandcamp ]
3 Eyes of Time
Violent Journey Records

Antipope - 3 Eyes of Time
There are very, very few things in life that I am certain of. Now that 3 Eyes of Time, the latest album from Finnish Gothic metallers Antipope, has arrived I can add one more thing to that tiny list - fans of late-period Tiamat will absolutely love this album. The band built the album around a crafty use of atmospheric keyboards, engaging riffs, and dark vocals that, combined, result in an experience that isn't necessarily the most unique but is unquestionably very addictive for the average industro-Goth fan.

Right from the opening notes of "Close", which linger somewhere between Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams" cover and just about everything on Tiamat's Prey release, Antipope makes no pretenses about the audience they're playing to. The likenesses to Tiamat even extend beyond the purely musical, as you'd be hard-pressed to discern frontman Mikko Myllykangas' voice from that of Johan Edlund. Myllykangas delivers an admirable impersonation, though there are times - such as on the standout "The River Standing Still" - where he adds a bit of a Peter Garrett (Midnight Oil) flair to his style. This emulation of one of the most recognizable crooners in Gothic metal is justifiable, considering the overall ambiance of 3 Eyes of Time.

While much of the album blends together for a highly atmospheric, melodic joyride, there are a couple of tracks that stand apart due to a recognizable shift in style. "Last Chance", which presents some of the most melodic choruses on the album, ratchets up the NIN industrial influences to sweltering levels. Antipope closes out the album with "Guiding Light", a song that exposes the band's black metal roots through furious riffs, thunderous double-kick, and discernibly heightened aggression in Myllykangas' vocal style.

Those songs aside, Antipope spends the album experimenting with varying synth effects and guitar melodies that - though they never stray too far from the formula - keep the album flowing at an interesting pace. "Exposure", with its scream-a-long choruses and heavy use of atmosphere, is perhaps the song that finds Antipope truly firing on all cylinders and an ideal example of what can be expected from the band.

Originality is not what you'll find on 3 Eyes of Time, but the album is nevertheless an excellent example of atmospheric Gothic metal that has been custom-designed for fans of Tiamat - intentionally or otherwise.

Track Listing
2Last Chance4:35
3The River Standing Still4:18
5White Summer Night4:40
7The Fear of Fear4:57
8A Decomposing Ritual of Absorption5:10
9Them Cacti1:37
10The Logic of Self-Discovery5:25
11Guiding Light2:56
Total Runtime47:06

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review: Thinning the Herd - Freedom from the Known (2013)

Thinning the Herd [ Website | Facebook ]
Freedom from the Known
Saint Marks Records

Thinning the Herd - Freedom from the Known
Thinning the Herd, the New York City doom/rock/stoner hybrid outfit founded by frontman Gavin Spielman, rocketed into the collective stoner/doom psyche with their 2011 debut album Oceans Rise. A plethera of positive reviews followed, many of which name-dropped outfits such as Motörhead, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, and the MC5 when describing Thinning the Herd's sound, but Spielman felt a retooling was needed and so recruited a new line-up for the recording of the band's sophomore effort Freedom from the Known. Not long after the new material was recorded, tragedy struck when drummer Rick Cimato was killed in a head-on collision the night after Christmas. The devastating loss of a bandmate and friend has understandably had a profound impact on what should be a lofty time for Spielman and bass player Wed Edmonds. In Rick's memory and honor, then, Thinning the Herd has decided to move forward with the release of Freedom from the Known and the doom/stoner community will be the better for it.

At it's core, the Thinning the Herd sound is built upon the juxtaposition of mellow, groovy riffs and vocals that have an anti-everything attitude. Spielman judiciously applies distortion to his multi-tracked guitar performance for just the right amount of psychedelic ambiance, though at times he draws upon a distinctively post-rock guitar sound to maximize the warmth of the album. "Dr. Reed", the album's second track, is one of the songs that best illustrates Thinning the Herd's devotion to creating a mind-altering sound without softening the impact of the aggressive vocals. The nice, elaborate soloing heard here - which in fact runs rampant throughout Freedom from the Known - sits well with the song's bass-heavy, classic rock elements. "Never Wanted", the groovy opening track, and "Rabbits" will also sit well with the retro-rock crowd.

Thinning the Herd
Thinning the Herd is at their doomiest on the aptly titled "Sludge". The song, with its weighty riffs, noodling leads, and rumbling bass is a delectable doomy treat that is only made better by the nifty use of fade effects and extensive instrumental passages. "Path of Gold", which harbors some very exotic sounding riffs, is another track for traditional Doom fans to take note of.

The showcase song on the album comes in the form of "Gaikatt Mountain". It's here that Spielman's songcrafting prowess, and the entire band's talent, is laid out in the form of an ultra-groovy instrumental adventure. Stripped of the punkish vocals, the music is fully empowered to elicit an unfiltered response from the listener. Within the varying tones can be heard anger, hope, sorrow and resolve... be it by design or a reflective coincidence. In any case, Freedom from the Known is a stronger album for it.

Freedom from the Known is not a groundreaking album that transcends multi-genre differences, but it is an excellent collection of groovy melodies that makes for a joyful listening experience. More than that, though, it's a fitting and appropriate memorial to one of rock's fallen brethren.

Track Listing
1Never Wanted3:44
2Dr. Reed4:29
7Dying Star3:45
8Path of Gold3:51
9Gaikatt Mountain4:15
10In Front of Me3:16
Total Runtime43:51

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: Mena Brinno - Princess of the Night (2012)

Mena Brinno [ Website | Facebook ]
Princess of the Night

Mena Brinno - Princess of the Night
Princess of the Night, the third album from Floridian Gothic metal outfit Mena Brinno, is an amalgam of Gothic and symphonic metal elements intended to capture the attention of fans of such bands as Nightwish and Epica. There are a lot of interesting ideas at work on the album, some of which stretch thin the cohesion between the vocal and musical elements, resulting in a good listen that hints at greater things to come.

Frontwoman and Mena Brinno co-founder Katy Decker exemplifies the idea of a Gothic diva with her seductively dark imagery and undeniable vocal talent. Decker's voice swoops and soars over the course of the album, exposing her polished and classically trained abilities. In the context of Princess of the Night, however, Decker best compliments the music when she restricts her range and accentuates the sultry, alluring elements of her vocal arsenal. The title track and "Serpentine Lullaby" are two of the strongest songs on the album primarily because Decker reigns in her voice to more closely match the brooding and melodic qualities of the songs. Tracks like "Blackmail" and "Sonorous Dream", where Decker goes full opera while the rest of the band sticks to a more Gothic-oriented formula, tend to come off sounding a bit disjointed.

Mena Brinno
As to the music itself, the Mena Brinno sound is the result of a truly collaborative effort as all of the band members provide multiple contributions. For instance the keyboard elements, which are so integral to each and every song, are performed at various points by Decker and multi-instrumentalist Doug Sellers, while Sellers also works with primary guitarist Marius Kozlowski to deliver the bold riffs and sharp solos that form the backbone of the band's sound. Again, the title track stands out for its upbeat riff patterns while the horror-themed keyboard atmosphere of "Serpentine Lullaby" make it an album highlight. "Captive Soul", one of the slower paced songs on the album, bears an '80s melodic rock quality due in large part to the keys and subdued riffs.

The slight vocal-musical disconnect notwithstanding, the only real weakness Princess of the Night has is that it leaves you with the overall impression that the band hasn't quite given all that they've got.  There are a lot of interesting ideas to be heard, particularly on album closer "Cross to Bear" which showcases Decker's voice in a nice, bardic cadence, but despite the revving of the engine Princess of the Night never really gets out of the garage.

Fans of both Gothic and symphonic/operatic metal will undoubtedly enjoy the latest offering from Mena Brinno, but I feel the band's best work is yet to come.

Track Listing
1Princess of the Night4:05
3Sonorous Dream4:00
4Serpentine Lullaby5:26
5Captive Soul4:07
7Drown Within5:10
8Cross to Bear3:36
Total Runtime35:48

Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: Victims of Creation - Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence (2013)

Victims of Creation [ Facebook ]
Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence
Cyclone Empire

Victims of Creation - Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence
Victims of Creation is a band from the island nation of Malta that has been toiling away in their local club circuit since 1994, but until now has yet to release an album of any sort. After many years of lineup turbulence and stylistic experimentation, the band has finally put together their debut release Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence. Reflective of the Doom/death style of early My Dying Bride and Katatonia, the Victims of Creation sound on display during this album is rooted in oppressively heavy riffs delivered at a plodding pace.

The key word in that opening description is plodding, for each of the five lengthy songs on Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence rarely exceeds even a moderate tempo. Ultra slow drone Doom is not quite the band's forte, though there are brief periods where the album gets bogged down in a sludgy morass of extended note reverb. The first song, "Chapter XXIII", is perhaps the most up-tempo of the album's tracks. After rainstorm sound effects complete with distant foghorn, guitarists AJ Burd and Daniel Bartolo put together an interesting array of disharmonic riffs over which frontman (and bassist) Rex delivers his grumbling death metal vocals. Over the course of the album, Rex delivers both his death vox and clean, old-school Doom styled singing in about equal proportions. He's competent in each, though his harsh style isn't quite on par with some of the vocalists he's influenced by.

Victims of Creation
Burd and Bartolo frequently break away from their trudging riffs to execute some rather interesting solos. The one embedded in "Chapter XXIII" is quite noodly in style while "The Glorious Deceit" is graced with a nice, soulful solo that hints at a bit of an Iommi influence. The guitarists also put together some nice moods to break up the oppressive atmosphere, such as a very pleasant passage within "Tree of Iniquity" that's built upon wistful leads and a sorrowful bass line from Rex. That particular moment is an album highlight since it detours away from the raw bleakness embraced by the majority of Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence. Still morose, the little side journeys such as this one contain the band's most genuine expressions of depression.

The final song of the album, "Those Left Behind", best exhibits the process of style evolution that Victims of Creation has undergone in putting together the music for their debut. Like the other four songs, "Those Left Behind" is an epic, meandering composition that contains a number of discernible influences yet doesn't quite feel "whole". The riffs are perhaps the most melodic to be heard on the album, but they're followed by some of the most disharmonic chords the band is able to put together. After five minutes of complete silence (a gimmick that always annoys me), the band returns to wrap up the album with a very quiet, somber guitar piece.

Symmetry Of Our Plagued Existence is an album that will appeal to fans of slow-burning Doom/death as well as to listeners who prefer their music to frequently deviate from established conventions. The album is more oppressive then depressive, though, making it a tough listen for those expecting melody and mood.

Track Listing
1Chapter XXIII12:23
2Tree of Iniquity8:36
3The Art of Despair10:57
4The Glorious Deceit11:41
5Those Left Behind22:27
Total Runtime1:06:04

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review: Shakhtyor - Shakhtyor (2012)

Shakhtyor [ Facebook | Bandcamp ]
Cyclone Empire

Shakhtyor - Shakhtyor
Sporting a name that translates to "miner" in Russian, the German trio Shakhtyor exhibit a strong grasp of Doom metal songcraft on their self-titled debut album. Comprised of only four songs, the album - which is entirely instrumental - nevertheless provides over forty minutes of monstrous, post-metal influenced Doom ideally suited for those occasions when stress relief requires a soundtrack.

When describing Shakhtyor, epic is a good place to start. All four songs run over seven minutes in length, with the final two tracks both surpassing the 10-minute mark. The epic qualities of of the album aren't limited to just the duration, but the band's massive sound as well. Elements of Black Sabbath, Ufomammut, and Electric Wizard are blended together with Shakhtyor's unique riff patterns to produce a sound that is equal parts heavy, psychedelic, and mesmerizing. Guitarist Christian Herzog, bolstered by the clearly defined contributions of bass player Christian Müller, provides the centerpiece of the Shakhtyor style with fuzzy riffs that shift and swell among seemingly countless variations and patterns. Each song contains a hoard of variety as riffs and tempos are exploited almost to the point of exhaustion before Herzog and Müller abruptly alter their angle of attack. "E. Jasper", the leadoff track, finds the band tipping their hand right out of the gate as the song travels from an echoing guitar tone, through a forest of post-metal tremolo, into a valley of excessively plodding notes, to finally crest a peak of good ol' fashioned chugging riffs. The song quite literally has it all, with a dollop of cymbal thrown in for good measure.

The band doesn't reveal their entire bag of tricks on the first track, thankfully. "Hanschuhmann" adopts a much more sinister tone than the preceding song, blending many traditional Doom elements together with a touch of feedback noise. Herzog's leads are much crisper here, though the song certainly doesn't lack distortion. Shakhtyor delves deeper into psychedelic territory on "K.I." where the hypnotic qualities of riff repetition are used with effect. The leads and solos, which have a distinctly  mind-altering quality to them, are stirring. The album wraps up with "Паук Риба", a song that finds Müller taking a greater role in the mix to bookend the track.

Even if instrumental albums aren't quite your bag, and to be perfectly honest they're not really mine, Shakhtyor is still an album that demands attention from Doom and Stoner fans. I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible the album was given the sheer amount of variation each song holds. Although originally released by the band in 2012, the Cyclone Empire label is set to re-release the album along with a special vinyl edition containing a bonus track. Keep an eye out for it.

Track Listing
1E. Jasper8:55
4Паук Риба11:02
Total Runtime40:43

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Review: Curse the Son - Klonopain (2011)

Curse the Son [ Facebook | Bandcamp ]

Klonopain, the debut full-length album from Connecticut's Curse the Son, is a retro-Doom enthusiast's dream. The bearded trio who comprise Curse the Son (Ron Vanacore - vocals/guitar, Cheech - bass, and Charles Nicholas - drums) proudly incorporate the juiciest elements of Sabbath-inspired groove and Sleep-induced drone to craft a nod-worthy tribute to the power of the riff.

Vanacore's heavily distorted guitar forms the backbone of the Curse the Son sound. Far from flashy, his style is centered upon delivering groovy, melodic riffs without the distractions of solos or unnecessary theatrics. Now and again, such as during the final minutes of both "Unbearable Doer of Wrong" and "Hemicrania Continua", Vanacore adds a bit of a post-metal sound to the mix as yet another means of keeping the groove fresh and interesting. The title track, an epic instrumental journey brimming with interesting synthesized effects, still never loses the hypnotic groove that is the bedrock of each song on Klonopain.

The pacing on the album varies between the head-bobbing "Unbearable Doer of Wrong" to the almost painful, glacial pace of "Globus Hystericus". Even the slowest and seemingly most disoriented of the songs (I'm looking at you, "Y?") never give up entirely on the warm rhythms that Vanacore has painstakingly perfected, making Klonopain an appealing album from start to finish.

With the guitar featured so prominently in Curse the Son's arsenal, it's almost too easy to lose track of Cheech and Nicholas. Like Vanacore, neither possesses a style that is overpowering or flashy yet both ably display their mastery of Curse the Son's formula. Nicholas abstains from flooding the mix with the amount of cymbal one typically associates with Doom these days, but his presence is nevertheless formidable. Cheech tends to blend with Vanacore's massive riffs, but there are a couple of points on the album ("Unbearable Doer of Wrong" and "Pulsotar Bringer", in particular) where he's offered the opportunity to rumble out a few clearly audible notes.

Although four of the seven songs on Klonopain were originally released in 2009 as Curse the Son's debut EP Globus Hystericus, they've been reworked in such a way for the full-length that there's practically no way to distinguish them from the three newer compositions. The end result is an album of quality Doom in the old-school tradition, free of any sludgy infiltration, with traces of post-metal intrigue.

Track Listing
1Unbearable Doer of Wrong5:26
2Hemicrania Continua5:39
3Anullus of Zin6:26
6Globus Hystericus5:50
7Pulsotar Bringer7:17
Total Runtime48:26

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: Clamfight - I Versus the Glacier (2013)

Clamfight [ Website | Facebook | Bandcamp ]
I Versus the Glacier
The Maple Forum

Clamfight - I Versus the Glacier
The New Jersey music scene doesn't necessarily conjure up thoughts of Southern-styled stoner rock. Nor does the name Clamfight, for that matter. The two taken together tend to make me think of something punk or riot grrl in nature, but these four fellas from the Jersey side of Philly offer up a sound that shares a close kinship with bands such as Clutch, Kyuss, and The Sword. I Versus the Glacier, the band's sophomore full-length release, is a groovy slab of heavy with a dash of sludge thrown in for character.

Clamfight's overall sound is rooted in the classic guitar stylings perfected by some of heavy metal's progenitors - Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, even a hint of Thin Lizzy can be heard now and again. Sean McKee and Joel Harris, Clamfight's two axeslingers, excel whether in tandem or breaking out for an individual lick or solo. Lingering primarily in the lower reaches of the six-string spectrum, the riffs on I Versus the Glacier are muddy, groovy, and varied enough to easily avoid the pitfalls of stagnation. McKee and Harris routinely add yet another layer of appeal by tossing around classic, blues-influenced solos to give the album a strong connection to the familiar sounds of the NWOBHM movement. "Sandriders", a song written in homage to Frank Herbert's Dune, exemplifies Clamfight's marriage of stoner rock and classic heavy metal. The urgency to the riffs stands in sharp contrast to drummer/vocalist Andy Martin's mellow beats, lending the song a sort of multifaceted charm that's tied together by a few crisp solos. On "River of Ice", Mckee and Harris rely predominantly on crafting hypnotic, reverb-laden riffs to generate a muscle-relaxing groove. Heightening the "chill" factor are some barely discernible leads, making this track my favorite mood-enhancing ride of the album (next to the instrumental "The Green Gods of Yag").

The more psychedelic elements typically associated with the stoner style are actually quite rare on I Versus the Glacier. Besides "Rivers of Ice", Clamfight's only outright foray into the tangled forest of trippiness occurs during the final moments of the title track. Initially, the swirling, nicely varied riffs fit in perfectly with the album's overall classic metal feel - even parting the veil to allow for a couple of brief, bass-heavy breakdowns. Without warning, however, the straightforward structure melts away to be replaced by a synthesized sensory explosion.

As enjoyable and relatively familiar as the music is on I Versus the Glacier, one crucial element to the band's sound sets Clamfight apart from many of their peers - the vocal style of drummer Andy Martin. Existing somewhere between sludge and black metal, Martin's voice is a raspy reminder that Clamfight is consciously working to carve out their own niche within the genre. Martin enunciates well and isn't as abrasive as some of the sludge-slinging singers out there, but for me the appeal of I Versus the Glacier was checked just a bit by the caustic contrast. Album closer "Stealing the Ghost Horse" does finally find Martin interjecting a clean, doomy style to his performance, but the record as a whole would have been stronger if that element had been introduced earlier.

I Versus the Glacier is an admirable addition to a stoner rock genre that has benefited from a recent swell of newcomers. In an attempt to bridge the distance between sludge fans and fans more accustomed to no-frills heavy rock, Clamfight blends in a number of heavy elements to create a potion that is certainly intriguing.

Track Listing
1The Eagle6:10
3Shadow Line3:43
4I Versus the Glacier5:37
5Age of Reptiles4:02
6River of Ice6:16
8The Green Gods of Yag4:59
9Stealing the Ghost Horse6:56
Total Runtime48:15

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Altaar - Altaar (2013)

Altaar [ Facebook | Bandcamp ]
Indie Recordings

Altaar - Altaar
The self-titled debut long-player from Norway's Altaar contains just two songs, but its thirty-four minute existence treats listeners to a somber processional consisting of plodding riffs, post-metal atmospherics, and tastefully placed howls.

Altaar was spawned in 2007 by bassist Andreas Tylden as a means of giving voice to the varying musical ideas that could not be expressed within the confines of his black metal outfit One Head, One Tail. After releasing an EP in 2009, Tylden was joined by noise-crafter Sten Ove Toft, drummer Kenneth Lamond, bassist Didrik Telle, and guitarist/keyboardist Espen T. Hangård to begin work on what would ultimately become Altaar.

The two songs on Altaar offer a differing, but complimentary, listening experience. The first, entirely instrumental track - "Tidi Kjem Aldri Att" - is a mesmerizing interpretation of classic and funerary Doom. Hints of occultish keyboard accents are interwoven with plucky guitar leads and an oppressively sluggish pace in a veiled homage to the founding bands of the genre. Almost halfway through the song the fairly traditional sounds fade away to be replaced by a heavily synthesized, post-metal soundscape. If the first 9+ minutes weren't enough to lull you into a sense of morose self-reflection, this interlude will certainly induce a semi-hypnotic state of contemplation before the weighty riffs make a crushing return.

"Dei Absolutte Krav Og Den Absolutte Nåde", the album's second and final song, opens with a bit of an Eastern/sci-fi ambiance before, nearly four minutes later, rumbling fuzzed-out riffs herald the arrival of Tylden's raw-throated vocals. A little bit of black metal urgency seeps into the composition to underscore the vocals, but by and large the song remains true to an overall Doom style. In its later moments, however, "Dei Absolutte Krav..." devolves into a sonic haze of feedback and reverb that hints at Tylden's more experimental tendencies.

Altaar draws on elements of drone, noise, post-metal, and even black metal to build upon its Doom foundation for a result that packs a lot of experiences into a relatively short runtime. While traditional Doom enthusiasts may find this album too tedious for repeated listening, open-minded aficionados of experimental and noise-oriented artists will be pleased with Andreas Tylden's vision.

Track Listing
1Tidi Kjem Aldri Att19:58
2Dei Absolutte Krav Og Den Absolutte Nåde14:13
Total Runtime34:11

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Results of Introspection

This may not come as a shock to the three people who read this blog regularly, but Harvest Moon Music has been on a bit of a hiatus for almost almost three months now. The reason for this is simple - loss. Someone very important and influential in my life succumbed to the ravages of time, which cast me into an emotional and spiritual nose dive from which I haven't yet recovered. Probably never will. For a long while, blogging became irrelevant.

I never stopped thinking about Harvest Moon Music, though. Should I just let it wither and fade into the untended depths of the Internet? Should I at least post a farewell message? Should I resume regular posting, feigning business as usual? I guess I'm writing this post because I've decided that none of those outcomes feel like the right thing to do.

What I've decided, then, is to reshape the blog a bit. It's no secret that most of my favorite styles of heavy music tend to be of the darker sort. Within those artistic avenues I find, personally, the greatest comfort - especially now. So in order to keep blogging about music that truly means something to me on aesthetic, emotional and intellectual levels, Harvest Moon Music will no longer be a generalized heavy metal blog. From this point forward, darkness will prevail. Expect to read about bands that sail the gloomy seas of dark, melancholy music, but note that this will not include the vitriol of the black and death metal scenes. Some symphonic black metal bands will sneak in and most likely many purveyors of the Doom/Death sub-genre will be showcased (and almost certainly the "stoner" styles will be represented), but the purist forms of the most extreme styles will no longer be welcomed here.

If that sounds good to you, then I look forward to hearing your opinions about what I share on these pages. If not, then I bid you farewell and sincerely hope that you find the plethora of other metal blogs out there to be more to your liking.

Regular publishing will resume shortly.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Interview: Devallia of Bloody Hammers

North Carolina occult rockers Bloody Hammers have really caught my attention with their self-titled debut release. What began as a studio project of Anders Manga has evolved into one of the more exciting retro rock bands to have emerged in the last couple of years. Bloody Hammers' keyboard player Devallia took a few moments out of her schedule to answer a few questions about the band the their debut album.

[HMM] For readers unfamiliar with Bloody Hammers, would you introduce the band and describe your sound?

Devallia of Bloody Hammers
[Devallia] Anders Manga writes and records all of the songs. I play the organ and assist with recording and mixing. Zoltan plays guitar, and we are currently between drummers.

The sound is heavy and melodic, with lots of fuzz and psychedelic riffs. Lyrically, the songs are inspired by horror. The inspiration not only comes from horror films, but also real life horrors of the past such as witch hunts, and other disturbing subject matter that emerges from the human experience.

How did you come to join the Bloody Hammers ranks?

That is a long story, but the short version is that I met Anders in late 2003 through a business venture not related to music, and we eventually got married. About a year after we met, he started doing a music project called Anders Manga, and we worked together on music videos. After a few gigs, he lost one of his keyboard players. He knew that I had some experience with keyboards when I was younger, so he asked if I could play the string sounds. I gladly accepted, and began learning the parts for his songs. When Bloody Hammers came about, it was released on the internet just for fun. When SoulSeller approached him with a record deal, it became more serious and we felt it was necessary to put a full band together.

Had you been involved in heavy metal prior to joining Bloody Hammers?

Memphis had a strong metal scene when I lived there in the 1990s, and still does. In 1995, some friends asked me to play bass in their band, but my participation in the project was short lived due to breaking gear and my own frustration with my level of skill. I didn’t get involved with playing music again until 2005.

Is there a story behind the band's name?

It was a name that Anders had lying around from years ago before doing Anders Manga, which was inspired by Roky Erickson. We both felt it was a good choice for this project.

The band's self-titled debut album was just released in November and the feedback thus far seems to be all positive. I'm sure you're happy with the results! Has the majority of the feedback been from Europe or North America?

There has been a tremendous amount of feedback from Europe, and also from the United States. That’s the great thing about the internet, so many people can find out about what you are doing in a very short amount of time.

Are there any plans to release the album on CD here in the States?

Bloody Hammers
Yes, the release date for the United States is February 2013. All of our copies are sold out, so we might have to try to import more from SoulSeller. It would not be a good plan to play shows with no CDs. The vinyl was limited to 300 worldwide, and a couple of stores have already had to reorder CDs, so a reprint might be necessary by the time we get on the road.

Who came up with the concept for the album cover?

The album cover was my doing. Anders was spending the day writing Bloody Hammers songs, and I had scheduled a photo shoot with model Veronica Steam. We shot for most of the day, and she had already put on her street clothes when I remembered the goat mask in our living room. I asked if she would be interested in wearing it for a few pictures, and she agreed. When Anders saw the results, he knew right away that one of the pictures would be used for the album art.

Are there any plans to take the Bloody Hammers experience on the road?

We would love to play a festival or go on tour, but no such plans have materialized yet. This band is still very new, so right now we are concentrating on getting the word out. We have had some requests to play shows, but it would be inefficient to do one-offs. We are taking note of the invitations and hope to make it to those cities during a tour.

Is there a specific song on the album that you enjoy playing more than the others?

There were not many songs on Bloody Hammers that originally had keys, though most of the songs will have some organ parts when we play live. We wanted to add a new facet to the listening experience for the audience instead of playing the same exact arrangement as the album, but that is all that will change. "Fear No Evil" is really fun to play, as well as "Say Goodbye to the Sun" and "Souls on Fire".

As with many genres of music, heavy metal is a cyclical beast and it seems that psychedelic, occult-oriented heavy rock is definitely on the upswing. Why do you think that is?

There are followers of the occult, fans of psychedelia, and of course there will always be rock. It is the confluence of these elements that makes it so appealing. I don’t think any of these things were ever in a downswing. Psychedelic music in general never went away for me. There are fans of psychedelic music and art around the world, spanning generations. The enthusiasts are always there, but as a style, it doesn’t always have the spotlight.

A number of recent occult rock bands, Blood Ceremony and Castle for instance, feature female singers. Is that an element that might be incorporated in future Bloody Hammers releases?

It is unlikely that there will be any female vocals for Bloody Hammers unless there is a change in lineup. Anders writes all of the songs himself, so it really makes sense that he would sing them as well. My singing would be best described as auditory assault.

Is Bloody Hammers' style of rock and imagery something that you were personally into before joining the band?

I have always been drawn to dark or unusual art. Psychedelic elements are necessary for me to appreciate it. That is just the type of work that I genuinely enjoy. My personal musical tastes have been primarily electronic due to the versatility of synths, but when done right, rock is equally fulfilling for me. For Anders this all comes very naturally. He has always been inspired by classic rock. Though he is adept at electronic music, guitar oriented rock is his true calling.

How long have you been playing the keyboards?

Devallia of Bloody Hammers
Ever since childhood, I was infatuated with pianos, organs and keyboards. My grandmother had a piano at her house, and I would drive her crazy with it. She would ask if I could “at least try to play something that sounds like a song”. I was only 5 years old, and we could not afford piano lessons, so she never got a proper song out of me. Due to my obsession with her piano, I eventually got a Casio sampling keyboard as a gift from my father, and played it for years. My bedroom in the basement flooded at my mother’s house, and destroyed my little Casio, so I didn’t own another keyboard until 2005.

Have you tried your hand at any other instruments?

There were times through my teenage years, and also fairly recently that I have played bass. The truth is I’m not very good at it. My first bass was a 1972 Les Paul recording bass that I bought from my uncle’s pawn shop. There was a tiny crack and warp in the neck that eventually got worse, and I was too broke to get it fixed, so I sold it and went years without owning another bass. I now have a Brownsville bat bass that Anders gave me when we first met, but I feel it’s better to leave the bass playing to the professionals.

Are there any particular musicians who inspire or influence you?

Anders, of course, has been the biggest influence in my life, and the greatest inspiration to me. I don’t write any of the music myself, but have always loved music with a darker or more sinister feel. Coil would probably be my top choice because of the psychedelic element and dark subject matter. Pete Christopherson and Jhonn Balance had the ability to create fascinating and beautiful music that could also scare the hell out of me.

If there was one bit of advice that you could give to a woman with aspirations to be in a heavy metal band, what would it be?

There is a variety of listeners out there, and there will be a full spectrum of reactions to you and what you are doing. Be prepared for any type of feedback. Go out there and do what you love to do. This advice could apply to anyone really.

Finally, do you have any parting words for your fans and for those who may be reading about Bloody Hammers for the first time?

Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down...

Thanks for your time! I look forward to catching a Bloody Hammers show in the (hopefully) near future.