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Remember those lame “very special episodes” they used to market back in the 80s, usually with sitcoms?

I mean, you’re there for a cheap laugh, some sorry excuse to put a smile on your face through some shoddy (and very “safe”!) vicarious situation some fourth rate screenwriter pool threw together for this month’s insert-a-cast (like you really thought people write just for the show they eventually get credit on? How many rewrites and different shows do you think these scripts pass through, and why does that explain the soundalike genericism of the idiot box and Hollywood per se?).

And surprise: instead of trying to squeeze a mild titter out of your bored and lonely ass by use of a laugh track and all sorts of visual and musical cues, you get the “very special episode”, usually about bringing some homeless kid in, or where someone struggles with some mild variant of drugs (the infamous “I’m so excited” caffeine pills episode of Saved By the Bell being one of the more hilarious iterations hereof), or possibly having to deal with the “special” student you’ve never seen before (and never will again.) It was so ubiquitous a trope that just the phrase “very special episode” can send an entire generation or two into paroxysms of groaning and mockery.

Well, hopefully this one won’t be anything like that, though you may well be shouting “I’m so excited! I’m so…scared?” by the time we wend our way to the end of this collection of indie acts from an assortment of sources (cheers to all).

So get those leg warmers on, put those scrunchies in your hair and clip on those day-glo earrings, because here we go!

Aprez-vous…

Purple Dawn – Peace & Doom Session Vol. II (Electric Valley Records) (March 11)

Overly laid back, almost classic rock attempt at vintage Sabbath style doom.

As a result, this comes off a hell of a lot more akin to Deliverance-era CoC, Mastodon and even 90’s grunge than it ever truly does the boys from Birmingham or their de facto progeny Witchfinder General, St. Vitus and Pentagram.

I guess if you were looking for that sort of thing and knew what you were getting into, the reaction wouldn’t be so…taken aback, is the only way to describe it. I mean, this isn’t even a Wolfmother sort of thing, where you’re getting a heaping helping of Zeppelin or even Zebra in with all the stoner/Sabbath business, this is a clear bait and switch.

Promise ’em a dollar, hand ’em a nickel. How do you expect people are going to react to this?

…next?

Karmanjaka – Gates of Muspel (Grind to Death Records) (February 11)

Interesting variant of Viking metal with a decidedly melodic and somewhat progressive bent informing the whole affair.

It’s more festival friendly than Hades, less introspective than Manegarm (if you can believe that!) and far less dark and offputting than early Enslaved.

No, this is far more akin to punchy, populist anthem slingers like Amon Amarth or Finntroll in their heyday, all crowd pleasing near-singalong midtempo bangers that vary between dry blastbeat sections and far more interesting syncopated stretches with plenty of keyboards, nigh-major key orientation and clean chanted background vocals.

This is so far removed from black metal, much less the far more irritating “progressive black metal” (fuck Emperor and those who mindlessly lick their rectum, claiming there’s gold in them thar hills) as to put the lie to the band’s apparent claims to self classification as such, but you probably already started calling bullshit when you saw the song titles or how this is a sort of concept album based on the Edda.

Viking is as Viking does, just with a lot more crowd pleasing sensibilities than usual.

Can’t deny its earworm orientation.

Stone House on Fire – Time is a Razor (Electric Valley Records) (January 28)

Anyone who’s spent any measure of time delving into the vintage heavy rock/psychedelia scene of the late 60s and early 70’s should recognize the influences here immediately.

Blue Cheer. The latter Electric Prunes. Cream. Grand Funk. Iron Butterfly. Ten Years After. All those volume to the max, distortion-level overdrive acts of the late to post hippie era play into the final sound, and more (you can even tag in stuff like the MC5, minus the political activism, or the Peter Green Fleetwood Mac).

Heavy electric blues is the bottom line, and they do indeed nail the sound with due finesse (if that’s the proper word for a sound this intentionally loose and free). Chances are, if your grandparents were hip, they saw and appreciated many a band like this back when.

Did I mention they hail from Brazil, long the accepted home of top tier blackthrash? Who knew?

Fans of stoner rock and the more vintage end of doom should absolutely love this.

Shot Down Twice (January 21)

Strangely modern, even modern metal feel to the vocals and song construction, but mixed with something of a classic hard rock feel to the riffs and band production.

It makes for an interesting mix, bringing the (over)intensity and emotionalism of the post-emo world to a more vintage sonic palette (or vice versa, as the case may be). This is decidedly not for those who think, say, Bonnie Tyler could bring a tear to the eye with her schmaltzy “total eclipse of the heart”, but more for the Halestorm/My Chemical Romance crowd who wanted to give a shout out to their folks at the family barbecue. “Here’s one for all the Bad Company diehards, we call it “goddess of the sun”!

Not something I was expecting, nor will you. But it actually worked quite well, and was much appreciated. Bring on the full length.

PYRE FYRE – “Rinky Dink City/ Slow Cookin'” (February 18)

Well, musically speaking, this is in the right ballpark. Super thick toned, Mesa Boogie driven generator party stoner rock in the Blues for the Red Sun mold, both tracks on this single will leave those woofers shaking down the rafters. It’s practically sludge, but with better production and much better lead guitar tone on the solos.

The only trick is whether you can stand the obviously tongue in cheek vocals. Never mind the lyrics, it’s the Green Jello (nee “Jelly”)/Primus/GWAR/Ugly Kid Joe “aren’t we funny?” bullshit that leaves these guys a hell of a lot more offputting than their sound otherwise indicates they should be.

Have an old pal, used to be in a rival band to ours. We had a few casual jams at his place a few years back, just the two of us, that we aired over on At Eye Level at the time. After a lot of backstory, he started writing mostly joke songs and going by a name so offensive to the hoi polloi it marked his (then) band as a joke to all (the one song we jammed on twice has to be heard to be believed, lyrically.)

And it was a shame, because as simple as many of his constructions were…the guy had a good melodic sense and drew from enough of the right influences to drop many a killer tune along the way. Our jams had some killer leads (from yours truly), and while his own lead playing was always somewhat questionable, with time and successive demos he learned to pull it back and deliver simpler, but admittedly effective solos as well.

These guys seem to be in a very similar state, where there’s a lot more of merit in there than the “let’s mug for the camera” nonsense of the vocals would ever imply.

Dying Light – Far From Life (January 28)

Dark toned and interesting, this is sort of a metal-informed grunge affair much akin to Tool, as if “sober” were done by Slaughter or Trixter. Well, perhaps not that much lighter, but certainly with a fair measure less of grunge’s depressive junkie suicidalism that made it so hilarious and unlistenable.

“YAIII YAIII YAII! sing out the corner of your mouth, roll up the untucked flannel and stick another needle in your arm, maybe this time we wont wake up,” and the listener is supposed to take this seriously. More like a dare. Go ahead, asshole. Maybe then we won’t have to listen to any more of your shitty music…god, I despised grunge.

This, on the other hand, gets it right, almost making amends for a decade of being universally mocked and forced into questioning life choices (those who lived the 90’s know exactly what I’m referring to here, and probably just spit in still pent up anger) by reconciling the dark tone and overwrought Maynard James Keenanesque vox with a more properly metal chugging guitar, tone and occasional lead. It’s a sound that could have left all of us happy and working alongside each other, rather than at cross purposes.

I kinda liked it, if for that alone. Sorta reminded me of Non-Fiction as well, and I always held a certain affection for them…either way, these Joisey Boyz definitely earn a pass.

Brandy and the Butcher – TBC (January 14)

A slightly more feminine take on Wendy O. Williams? That’s what this sorta blues, sorta punk single seems to declare this band as.

The faster parts remind of the Dead Kennedys (“police truck”), but the vox are sort of a more whispery Wendy O., if you can picture such a thing. I mean, I always loved her with and post the Plasmatics, but whispering seductively is not something the lady was capable of…case in point.

Who the hell knows. A full length is coming, and promo writeups claim some correlation to The Cramps, who’ve long been one of yours truly’s all time favorite bands.

I’ll believe it when I see it. Till then, what I have writ, I have writ. I wash my hands of this one’s blood!

They Watch Us From The Moon – “Return To Earth” (Moon Relic Records) (December 10)

Pleasant enough take on High Priest of Saturn, if far less ethereal. Or perhaps Book of Wyrms circa Remythologizer might be a closer analogue, with all these light and airy vocals grounded by multitracked soprano chorus and a far less airy and spacey psychedelic stoner doom orientation.

Either way, it’s certainly trippy and hits many of the right marks – at a stretch, Acid King circa Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere also comes to mind here.

Again, just a single, waiting for the full length to pass proper judgment. But this certainly sounded like they’re on the right track, at least.

Shield Of Wings – Unfinished (Elderpath Records) (February 11)

Chicago based attempt at the Epica/Nightwish/After Forever template symphonic metal.

You’d think with two ladies fronting, the soprano would take lead with the alto backing them up. But no, Lara Mordian bears the moody nigh-sprechtgesang spotlight, while backing vocalist Aliyah Daye actually carries the whole show with her soprano to coloratura harmony vox…which she promptly tries to ruin by throwing in silly death metal growls every now and again. Girlfriend…why?

The band is decent, though the end result comes off more akin to Sirenia than it ever does Epica or Nightwish, and while acceptable enough, the unspectacular forefronted alto vox shove Shield of Wings far more into Amberian Dawn territory than they intend. Nothing wrong with that, if that’s your limited goal. But it’s clear you’re aiming higher, and this is not the way to get there, guys.

And Ms. Daye…preserve those pipes. You deserve to be the lead, not losing your voice trying to sound like yet another generic cookie monster clown.

next?

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event (January 14)

Rather good, this.

A busy, fretwork-filled take on European power metal that brings Helion Prime to mind, but with better vocals than their post-Heather Michele misstep Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster could ever hope to offer (no comment on their once again femme-fronted 2020 opus, which never crossed the review queue to assess).

“Undergods” and “mothcastle” seem to be the standouts here, but there’s much about this that comes off like a higher speed, more energetic take on Iron Maiden, but as filtered through the punchy melodic sensibilities of Rob Rock-fronted Impelliteri or even Eden’s Curse.

Anyone’s guess whether subsequent material will hold up to the high standards set here, as not only the drummer, but more importantly, frontman “lord Tim” is only a guest performer, and further handled the production on the damn thing(!)

Really quite good, and with a mere 5 tracks, never manages to wear out its welcome.

Grave Next Door – Sanctified Heathen (Black Doomba Records) (January 28)

Thick and sludgy stoner rock with enough of a doom/death edge to bring the mighty Dream Death to mind (“nuclear winter”).

Opening and closing on some especially crunchy instrumentals, this brother-fronted act out of Michigan evokes Dream Death’s fellow New Renaissance act Medeival in more ways than one, with those workaday “the hell with it, sounds good enough!” vocals and thick, muddy guitar tone (“bloody nuns” should give a good idea of what to expect here).

Heaviest track (i.e. the one where the bass unison lines become overtly prominent) is “heathen”, but that’s far from the best on offer. May not be one to run out for, but if all this sounds good to you, rest assured, it most certainly is.

Primalfrost – Lost Elegies (Dec 28)

High intensity blackthrash. Ostensibly “progressive thrash”, but with the sort of nigh-blastbeat high speed relentless drumming onslaught you don’t hear in thrash and the vocals of a death metal band, this is about as far afield from classic thrash in any of its forms or variants as you can get.

Solos are rather good, with certain phrases doubled and a general sense of what goes into a proper build that we seldom hear in these post-Randy Rhoads, post-Neil Girardo days (phrasing? what’s that? Those guys suck!)

I mean, bringing up old favorites like those two (much less the similarly minded Carlos Santana or Sherman/Denner from Mercyful Fate) may seem to have no bearing on what you’re hearing in this one man Toronto bedroom band, but if we’re talking phrasing this strong, you know he has to have at least a passing familiarity with the master class of same. Again, really nice solos, definitely the high point of each song herein.

Between all the propulsive energy and those solos, it’s almost an afterthought to say, oy, he’s doing those stupid black/death belch shouts like he’s in Behemoth or Belphegor or something. You could almost tune him out and just enjoy the rest…which is what I managed to do for a fair portion hereof.

Kudos for that alone, never mind the aforementioned positives. I dug this one, yeah.

HYPERIA -“Operation Midnight” (March 18)

Damn, what a riff! It’s like Exodus caught up with Vio-Lence in the prison showers, or something…

Only thing I’m not sure about here is the vox, courtesy of one Marlee Ryley. Even the “clean” portions sound more screamed declamatory than Znowhite’s Nicole Lee circa Act of God…and then there’s the actual death shrieks and screams to reckon with. Sadly, we’ve all heard much, much worse…but why?

Otherwise? Looking forward to the full length, if it’s anywhere near so driving and aggressive and catchy a riff as this.

DECEREBRATION – Follow The Scars (Dec. 17)

Riff conscious death metal, or death metal of the more vintage bent (when it had more clearly evolved out of the dying thrash scene into its own particular genre with its own tropes and variations.)

Vox are very much of the swallow the mic “brutal death” style (cough Suffocation wannabes), but the band itself is far more broad ranging. There’s still a bit too much “violence” and “technical” to their general orientation (bringing the likes of Cannibal Corpse to mind more than I’d ever care to), but it’s still more grounded in commonsensical progressions and a base melodic sense in terms of construction than that effective putdown could ever imply.

Apparently they were around in the mid to late 90s (just missing the heyday of the scene by getting together just as it faded into obscurity circa 1993) and “on hiatus” for twenty years, so this is their official “comeback album”.

Not bad for what it is, if nothing to write home about even by the standards of some other bands covered hereinabove.

It’s listenable and has some good riffs and phrases scattered throughout, that’s about all we can offer without prevarication.


Tymo – “Sanity Clause” (February 2022)

Thick and punishing riff on this advance single. Exodus with hints of Slayer and Infernal Majesty inform the sound, and like Hyperia and Primalfrost, this one feels strong enough to justify a full length (which indeed is soon to come).

We shall see!