Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SABBATH ASSEMBLY "RESTORED TO ONE" (The Ajna Offensive/Feral House Publishing)

An astoundingly amazing throwback of forgotten musical history performed by Jex Thoth and members of the No Neck Blues Band, Sabbath Assembly is a project devoted to performing the songs of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, a unique and notorious late '70's religious cult loosely associated with both Charles Manson and the Son of Sam. The actuality is much more involved and far-reaching and for anyone interested in the more out-there aspects of counter culture and hive mentality i would heartily recommend Timothy Wyllie's book detailing his experience with The Process ("Love Sex Fear Death") and to a lesser degree Maury Terry's excellent conspiracy nightmare focusing on the Son of Sam murders ("The Ultimate Evil.") Both are very detailed, informative and creepy; they also provide an excellent background to the music found on "Restored to One."
Not that you need any information on the Process to enjoy this album. You don't, because it's a gorgeous piece of atmospheric psychedelia with a heavy tinge of fervor and ecstasy, easily discernible from the frenzied performances, frequent allusions to both God and Satan and an overall focus on minor key abstractionism. These are some truly haunting songs, specifically crafted for ritual and worship, the sort of worship that only occurs in damp night-stained temples of occultic persuasion. This was music to be performed at gatherings, at Witches' Sabbath, at Black Mass as well as Communion. It's universal and completely removed from anything you've heard at once. There is both a familiarity and a disconnect, a known and an unknown, and those two vibes create a super uneasy but incredibly engaging listening experience. I can't help but think of sacrifices and magic, and even though i know these things did not happen in the annals of the Process's existence it doesn't make it any less believable that it did. This is weird, eerie shit born from a fucked up mindset bent on control and devotion.
Thoth and band pull it off beautifully. Her vocals have the smoldering, smoky and broken quality necessary to nestle inside of you and the backing group plays everything with a single minded passion and a recalcitrant intensity. When the guitar solo in "Judge of Mankind" builds up into a maelstrom of string-bending neck skronk you can't help but break out into gooseflesh or feel a slight chill washing over your space. "Hymn of Consecration" makes you want to light a few candles and bow your head while "Glory to the Gods in the Highest" simply wants to obliterate you a bit and get your consciousness dripping and nodding to the throb. There is a pulse here, easily felt and not so easily ignored. Perhaps that's why the Process is so misunderstood; maybe the real power was unnerving to so many because it had such a magnetic quality. Freedom from judgement and total acceptance are powerful, powerful promises with an almost otherwordly allure for many people. Sabbath Assembly recognize that power and push it forth, transforming the source material once more into a sort of hedge enchantment that will no doubt steer many towards an exploration of it's own bizarre and dramatic history. A smashing success in every way, heavily recommended for anyone into late '70's Father Yod themed psychedelic exploration.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Gorgeous split LP from Scott Cortez (one of my very favorite guitarists, the white noise creative maelstrom behind both lovesliescrushing and Astrobrite) and Language of Light, a dual disc of glistening ambient shimmer and sensitive, beauty-plagued shudder. This is a purely cloudy and somewhat melancholy affair, imbued with a tremendous sense of ache and yearning, as though something long ago was pulled out of you and you've spent the last several years trying to remember what all of it felt like, a rusted haze of memories coasting alongside a blur of vague recognition.
Cortez's piece, "White Tiger Phantoms," is easily one of the most focused and lovely bits of music i've heard from him across all of his various projects (and i've heard pretty much everything.) It's all pure, multitracked guitar, with almost none of the heavy computer-assisted post-processing found in his work with lovesliescrushing. To hear Cortez operating in such a naked state is absolutely thrilling and enthralling; to hear him conjure up such deep, glacial sounds of tarnished melancholic regret in real time is a testament to his vision and patience. The guitars slowly encroach and unfurl, blanketing you ever heavier as they pile upon themselves, never becoming overbearing while at the same time becoming near-oceanic in their weight and depth. The melodies move so seductively and so naturally. You never anticipate the changes, you simply get pulled along with them. It's the very definition of dreaminess in music. It's breathtaking and astonishing and well-worth the price of the LP on its own.
Luckily you're treated to another take on sadness on the flip side, presented in the form of Language of Light's "Double Helixes up to Heaven." LOL is a young and previously unknown entity (i believe this is their first release) but this side shows lots of promise for their place in the great drone pantheon. Similar to Cortez's side in that it's mostly guitars, LOL step away a bit from Cortez's peacefulness and offer instead a slightly more buzzing and agitated piece (but no less yearning) that progresses through several more obvious movements, coming across as a more conceptualized drone suite than a drifting , cloudy swirl. I'm reminded a bit of Aphex Twin's lighter work if there were a greater focus on organic, real time composition; maybe the Climax Golden Twins would be an apt point of reference as well. LOL's side, then, is slightly more challenging than Cortez's but also slightly less beautiful. The decision to place a minor violence in the work creates a sense of unease and discord-you could think of Cortez's side as the sadness and Language of Light's side as the anxiety. As LOL winds things down it becomes quieter, until you're left with a simple circular motif of minimalist melody. LOL's side also ends on a locked groove, so this would be great sleepytime ambience.
Great stuff from both, but an especially awesome side from Cortez. Anyone into Troum or LLC should pick this up immediately. It's very limited but still available, and comes in a lovely white-on-white screen printed sleeve. Nice job from Anticlock Records.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Third album from the reclusive and ultra-elite black metal Orthodox force known as Ondskapt. Occupying a very special place reserved only for class acts like Deathspell Omega, Svarstyn, S.V.E.S.T., Malign and Clandestine Blaze, Ondskapt are an absolutely quintessential black metal unit whose every album is cause for fevered celebration and fervent devotion, a re-imagining of the black arts as total darkened expressionism, a canvas splattered in tones of all pitch alongside an ancient feeling of dissonance and endless night. The first two Ondskapt albums were absolute untouchable classics of Swedish traditionalism and "Arisen From The Ashes" is easily added to that esteemed catalogue, a potent thrashing of barbed mid-tempo horror mixed with a truly cold feeling of icy expanse, a nighttime sojourn through the most glacial textures of mankind's creation, oblique and jagged, uncaring and obtuse.
Ondskapt are unique in that their attitude and approach towards black metal are completely steeped in the shadows of the old masters. This is pure Mayhem/Dissection/Gorgoroth worship with nary a misstep, a trodding of the road towards the black path wherein each footfall is delivered with conviction and assurance. Ondskapt's sound doesn't veer into the obliquely progressive avant-ism of Deathspell nor the primitive and tarnished romanticism of S.V.E.S.T.; instead it's a paced and focused attack, not free of frenzy but certainly not wallowing in paltry extremism simply for the sake of speed. At its most serious black metal is a form of Satanic worship and occultic devotion; Ondskapt's allegiances are never once in question. Listening to this record is being umbrellaed underneath something darker, a bloody and clutching embrace against the warm chest of fetid discordance, the perfect imbalance of yin and yang. Ondskapt refuses the idea of harmony in any form and instead focuses on a rank and stinking corruption of both morality and age, a hearkening towards more ancient pagan values alongside a rejection of modernism. This is the direction in which Burzum steered its brand of black metal traditionalism amongst so much misunderstanding; with Ondskapt the notion is obvious, violently so.
The music reflects the attitude. Unapologetically midpaced and stinking of an angular melodicism, "Arisen From The Ashes" plods along in a bashing fashion with no concept of audience response. This is black metal made for candlelit vigils and flesh-carving devotionals, fostering a sort of environment where pentagrams adorn the walls and flooring whilst droning chants imbue the air with a feeling of darkened unease. Sacrifice hangs in the night; moonlight becomes vomit when exposed to the chill infinity hanging in the starless, choking gloom.
Ondskapt have crafted yet a third classic. Again, nothing new is presenting itself-instead we're treated to a retread of the beginning, a sickly nostalgiah for a hazy and near-forgotten age. Few bands are able to so appropriately and convincingly summon the early spirit; Ondskapt do so with both an ease and a terrifying conviction. This is belief and this is black adoration. This is true black metal art. A must have for any serious black metal fanatic.


Relatively short (only 40 minutes!) transmission from Campbell Kneale's vaguely doomed out slow burn juggernaut of metallicized outsider avant metal, the mighty Black Boned Angel. Recent outings under this guise have found Kneale adopting an almost classical approach to the idea of doom metal, with the last record, "Verdun," being nothing less than an ultra-punishing endurance test of glacial movement and bombastic (literally) noise comprised of overlapping recordings of machine gun fire overwhelming the obstinate stagnancy of the guitars. No wonder then that he would step back a bit and throw out two more easily digestible sides of vinyl for BBA's Conspiracy debut.
Comprised of two untitled tracks both clocking in at 19 minutes, "The Witch Must Be Killed" shows Kneale's obvious embrace of minimalism within the confines of BBA's chosen aesthetic. That he's able to stick to this single-minded sound after the room-filling sonic overloads of my beloved Birchville Cat Motel and keep it engaging as well as assaulting simply shows his awesome command of space, temper and placement in any genre of noise and drone whether it's metal or hyper-blissed heavenscraping.
The first track is as overtly "metal" as anything Kneale has ever lain down, opening with an ominous rumble that gives way to a belch of thick, scratchy guitars sloshing their way across a slow and sliming chromatic chord progression, the BBA template illustrated in bold and shocking colour for anyone to see. It's not evolution, just simple droning-and it's powerfully effective in establishing the "zone-out" mindset that accompanies most of Kneale's work under any moniker. As the track oozes along some rather intricate guitar harmonies develop, paying homage to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden as well as nodding slyly to the compositional abilities of latter day Metallica. It's some pretty deep riffing, all off time and elongated, and Kneale drags it out for everything it's worth until the whole thing novas out in a fizzy spasm, leaving only a wisp and a memory where once was devastating burning light.
The second track is much more indebted to the idea of the minimalist drone-a simple four chord riff repeated at length and ad nauseaum, supported by a buzzing skree underneath that sounds like a swarm of gnats run through a damaged amplifier cranked up past its maximum. The chords collapse out after about ten minutes and lay down a path for the weird and delirious sample of several voices conversing about god knows what for the remainder of the track, creating a mishmash of disembodied opinion and a blurred out human touchstone, an emissary from the cold void that BBA normally occupies in such crystalline isolation. It's a strange and unexpected turn from such a derivative project but Kneale should never be underestimated-again, his powers are such that this sonic soup is an easy success and just pulls you deeper into BBA's fucked up world. This track more than almost any other recalls Kneale's work with Birchville and for me, an utter awestruck and worshiping devotee, it's fun to hear these lines disappear into one another. The art always bears the mark of the individual if it's strong enough. In the case of Campbell Kneale, the art is larger than worlds. Obviously recommended, a narcoleptic triumph of buzzing anxiety.

NAILS "OBSCENE HUMANITY" (Six Feet Under/Streetcleaner)

Eleven minutes of fiery, molten hate and pure caustic auditory destruction, as pure a demonstration of grindcore nihilism this side of "Scum." I picked this up after reading a couple glowing reviews comparing them to Brutal Truth, both sonically and idealistically, and almost every review i came across mentioned the utter intensity on display throughout Nails' approach. They were not wrong, and i was not disappointed. This is fucking obliteration and rage transformed into feedbacking goop and total disregard for any sort of acclaim. It's the best kind of music because it's born from personal strife and a deep rooted disgust for every aspect of modern existence. There is no advocation of change-just a statement of excision.
Seven tracks flatten you in a matter of minutes, coming across like an amalgamation of the aforementioned Brutal Truth, "Jane Doe"-era Converge, Black Flag and the Melvins (the title track may as well be "Honeybucket" rewritten for hardcore and that's not a bad thing at all.) The record culminates with "Lies," a three minute dirge that gives up its last two to an crushing cycle of chunking repetitive power chord atavism while bolts of shrieking hot feedback and electricity scar themselves over the top of it all. I was left wanting the song to be 30 minutes rather than three-i could have listened to that bludgeoning riff for a whole album's length. This shit is that good, truly.
Nails have filtered a key number of extreme influences (Slayer, death metal, sludge/noise aesthetics) into a focused, bitter and incredibly bilious eruption of anger and inner exploration, a frayed edge of psychological portraiture, a clear depiction of the coming depth of the downward spiral. It's over way too quick, and this could have easily fit on a seven inch but that's my only complain. Serious grind passion, a high mark for the genre that hasn't been achieved in a long, long time. Totally recommended.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


This album came out of nowhere. Suddenly Harvey Milk are just putting shit out left and right, some kind of weird and vital creative resurgence, emerging from the culted underground into the metal limelight to do battle with heavyweights like Torche and Jesu. I reference both of those artists and not, say, the Melvins or Boris, because on " A Small Turn..." that's who Harvey Milk is most reminding me of. Granted, it isn't as blissed out, sun-drowned or immersive as either project, and it certainly lacks Torche's conciseness, but this new record finds HM in a positively accessible sort of mindframe, turning in their most inviting and least abrasive album in a long time (perhaps ever.)
That isn't to say this reinvents the wheel. It's still Harvey Milk, for fuck's sake, so don't worry. It's agonizingly slow, depressing in the "drag you through the shit and mire of life" way that this band has perfected and there are still moments of intense and skewed angularity that destroy whatever grooves you might have thought you were hearing. But here there's also something else. There's a display of pop sensibility and a sort of economy that Harvey Milk have never really demonstrated before. This is the most melodic record this band has ever made, and that's saying quite a bit considering the epic and stately guitar forlorn-fests Creston Spiers has churned out over the last 15 years or so. The chord progressions here are big and almost comforting, maybe a sly wink at convention or an open, embracing "who gives a fuck, i can write this sort of song" acknowledgment of 21st century metal tropes. It certainly isn't doom in the traditional sense and for Harvey Milk to veer this far outside of the comfort zone material wise is an extremely interesting sonic development.
These are aching, yearning and far-reaching songs. Even the titles imply a sort of expansiveness: "I Am Sick Of All This Too," "I Know This Is All My Fault," "I Just Want to Go Home." These are moods and feelings that Harvey Milk have trudged through before but here they take on a more universal understanding-you've probably felt this way, and somewhere right now someone else is probably feeling all this shit too. It's happening everywhere, all the time. Somewhere someone's fucking something up, somewhere someone's failing, somewhere someone's crying and feeling like giving up is the only fucking thing left. There are all of these missed connections and desires that go unanswered, so much pain shoved far down into all of us that never gets a chance to air. It just festers and rots and carves out a space inside where all the emptiness begins to pool. This record captures that sadness, that feeling of absolute and total resignation.
Creston's voice has rarely sounded better. Here it's an instrument of connection, a bellow and a whisper, a cry and a sob, a kiss and a dance, a caress as well as a wail. Again, the fact that the music is so fucking anthemic probably lends to this but either way he's shredding his lungs with a passion usually reserved for the band's Leonard Cohen covers. There's a vulnerability there now that was absent or more hidden on earlier albums-here it's more naked and honest.
The entire album is a work of calculated reservation-songs don't go much beyond six minutes, lyrics are sparse and there's only one guitar solo across the record's 37 minute runtime (if i had one complaint, it would be the lack of incendiary guitar work-it's one of my favorite parts of this band's approach to doom metal.) Whatever it lacks in length it makes up in quality. For anyone new to Harvey Milk, this would be an excellent starting point and would probably make the absorption of monsters like "Courtesy and Goodwill..." and "My Love..." a lot easier as far as processing the immense feelings of self-loathing and crippling depression these albums ensconce themselves and their listeners in. For the avid HM follower it's a surprising and lovely new direction. The cover art does a good job painting this-a beautiful photograph of dead trees and foliage, a wide empty sky, all rendered in black and white and grey. There's beauty, but there's sadness too, and more often than not the two coexist. It's the acceptance of both that interest Harvey Milk, the way that suffering can create great works of powerful meaning, either to the masses or to individuals. Recommended.


Pretty much exactly what i expected with this one, which was a scathing slab of ultra-distorted post-Napalm crusted over death filth from two of the genre's finest purveyors. This too is an excellently conceived split, not in the sense that either band differs that greatly from one another but more in the complementary aspects of the bands' individual sounds. Both are fucking heavy, yeah-that's a given. There's just two different kinds of "heavy" at work: Stormcrow's rage-filled, ultra-dark anti-society nihilism goes perfectly with Coffins' tongue in cheek but so deathly serious breed of Celtic Frost by way of Entombed crushing death metal. Overall it's a bludgeoning experience but even after you still feel it's way too short.
Stormcrow get the A side and dedicate it to one lengthy track, the near-epic (and near post-rock) "Path to Defeat." If ever a band's ideology were spelled out in a song title, it's here. Stormcrow have always been obsessed with the obvious and ever-present decline of culture and society and here they slap you across the face with it in a track that's an elegy, eulogy and vitriolic condemnation all at once. It starts out in typical SC fashion, with boiling, tar-thick guitar tones and quasi-thrash metal pacing but soon enough evolves into a quiet, mournful space of clean guitar lines and thick, cradling washes of bass. The last 6 or 7 minutes of this track are completely devoid of vocals, instead letting the rising tension of the music hammer the point across. The track never builds back up into anything, instead languishing in a purgatorical demonstration of mushrooming, voluminous power chording and endless cymbal bashing until the whole thing just melts away. It's easily one of Stormcrow's most successful tracks and makes me hunger even more for a proper full length record from them. They're probably the only band in operation that has taken the template established by His Hero Is Gone and reworked it into something considerably more majestic without sacrificing any of the necessary anger.
Coffins take the B side and utterly own it, serving up two more tracks of the bile-infused necro-rocking that they've made their own. There's nothing surprising here, but Coffins have never been a band that's looking to evolve or challenge anyone-they're simple here to play death metal and bring you to your fucking knees and the two tracks here accomplish those ends with much success. The guitars are huge as ever, brooding piles of fuzzed out guitar rot and plodding, gushing bass, while the vocals inhabit lower registers that few people are able to hit without the aid of electronic and pitch-shifting effects. I dig Coffins because they simply capture the feel of a more classic time in death metal's past and they do it without a trace of irony-there is nothing here but worship and truth, like they know how really fucking good all those Konkhra, Dominus and Illdisposed records really were. There's also the reverence for Entombed particularly, making Coffins one of the only bands to really know just where the Left Hand Path led. The second song features a pretty exellent guitar solo too, all whammy bar theatrics ala Slayer or Obituary in their prime. It's a headbanging side from Coffins, further cementing their reputation as one of the best modern, "TRVE" death metal bands.
Add to these strengths the absolutely cool as fuck and ultra-gorgeous Mythos inspired jacket illustration and you've got a seriously devastating split of insanely heavy crust metal. Another great release for 20 Buck Spin.