The Top 20 of 2016 Year-End Poll is Now Open!

Posted in Features on December 1st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

top-20-of-2016-year-end-poll

Welcome to The Obelisk’s Top 20 of 2016 Year-End Poll!

Maximum participation is welcomed and encouraged. By now you know the rules, or if you don’t I’m sure you can guess. Everyone contributes a list of their favorite releases of 2016. I don’t care if it’s an album, EP, single, whatever. Anything that struck your fancy is cool.

All of those picks are rounded up from the form below — it asks for your email just to prove you’re a human being, so please don’t think I’m keeping tabs or selling info or anything like that; I wouldn’t know how even if I wanted to — and will be tabulated at the end of the month. For the last few years, we’ve used a point system wherein a 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. Raw votes are of course also counted, and the results from both counts will be posted on New Year’s Day, along with all the lists contributed.

I had a pretty good idea last year what the number one was going to be. What’s 2016’s pick? Not a clue. I’ve got my own list in progress and will be adding it to the poll as well, but I’m dying to see what everyone chooses and what wins out. More than ever it seems there could be multiple options, so if there’s something you feel strongly about, make sure it’s high on your list to get those extra points.

You have my sincere appreciation for contributing your list, and any sharing of the link or commenting or anything else is welcome.

This is meant to be a conversation and a good time, so let’s have at it:

Thanks as always to Slevin for his invaluable assistance in putting this poll together, and to you for reading and taking part in this ongoing experiment. Let’s make this the biggest poll yet.

Results out Jan. 1, 2017!

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Friday Full-Length: Raging Slab, Raging Slab

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 2nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

Raging Slab, Raging Slab (1989)

If you’re the sort of person who likes a clean, clear narrative to your rock and roll history, you’ll probably want to avoid Raging Slab. An anomaly if ever there was one, here was a band based out of New York City playing Southern-style heavy boogie rock… who released their first album in 1987. And then signed to a major label! If you can make any sense of it or put it into any kind of discernible context, go for it. It’s almost like Raging Slab were sent back from the future to disrupt the timeline, is how out of place they were for their day and age. And yet, listening to their 1989 self-titled — released by RCA Records as the follow-up to ’87’s charmingly-dubbed Assmaster debut — one can hear flashes of the era in the semi-metallic “Shiny Mama” (on which Ray Gillen provides backing vocals) and in the post-Motörhead freight-train progression of “Get off My Jollies.” But at its core, Raging Slab is a work of ’70s loyalism that was as much ahead of its time as it was behind it. The band, founded by guitarists Greg Strzempka (also vocals and songwriting) and Elyse Steinman, here featured bassist Alec Morton, lead guitarist Mark Middleton and drummers Tony Scaglione (everything but “Get off My Jollies”) and Steve “Doc Killdrums” Wacholz (“Get off My Jollies”) — though credited in the liner and in the cover photography one finds Bob Pantella, who’d go on to join Monster Magnet, The Atomic Bitchwax, etc. — no doubt earned some sideways glances in the heyday of glam, but in hindsight, it’s just as easy to read their work as boldly defying both the mainstream and the underground of its day.

To wit, the aforementioned glam. Imagine Raging Slab coming out the same year as Mötley Crüe‘s Dr. Feelgood. Sure, there was plenty of metal to be had — the NWOBHM had arguably crested some years earlier, but thrash had by then hit its stride as America’s major contribution to a heavy metal aesthetic. Doom festered in the likes of Saint VitusThe Obsessed, and Cathedral, but while Molly Hatchet and ZZ Top were still around, they were more Southern than heavy, and Raging Slab were more heavy than they were metal. And elsewhere in the underground, the likes of Earth, the Melvins and Nirvana were solidifying what would in a couple years break out internationally as grunge. Raging Slab didn’t fit there either. In a self-written 1996 bio, they called themselves, “TOO hard for country and western fans, TOO slow for thrash fans, TOO cerebral for hard rock fans and TOO rock and roll for alternative fans.” All true. The self-titled tells that story in cuts like “Geronimo” and “Bent for Silver,” which are too brazen in their hooks to be chic in an underground sense and too weighted to really be pop or country rock. Hell, to listen to opener “Don’t Dog Me,” it’s a cut that today would be right at home in the Ripple Music lineup. 27 years ago, I guess it wasn’t so easy to place.

However they wound up on a label like RCA, they did, and they’d go on to work with Rick Rubin‘s Def American/American Recordings on subsequent outings, Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert (1993) and Sing Monkey Sing! (1996), but in the meantime, a generational shift and the arrival of bands like Corrosion of Conformity — whose Deliverance came out five years after Raging Slab, in 1994 — working under a Southern heavy influence kept wider commercial success elusive, and Raging Slab faded for a time. The turn of the century found them returned to activity on Tee Pee Records with 2001’s The Dealer and the next year’s Pronounced Eat Shit, but apart from a compilation appearance here and there — they notably took on Grand Funk Railroad‘s “We’re an American Band” for Small Stone‘s first installment of Sucking the ’70s in 2002 — that would be their swansong. Strzempka found a home in Sweden’s Backdraft, and there were rumors of another Raging Slab resurgence and a new album as part of that, but a decade later, it’s yet to surface.

Never say never in rock and roll though. If you dig the self-titled, it was reissued in ’09 on Rock Candy Records, and Assmaster also saw a re-press in 2013 through Cherry Red with a bunch of bonus material, including the True Death EP from 1989.

Whether you know this one or not, I hope you enjoy.

Man, this week can’t fuck off fast enough to suit my tastes. Like here’s the week fucking off as fast as it possibly can and here’s me standing with a stopwatch shaking my head going, “Not even close, yo.”

Awful.

Let’s be optimistic together. 2016’s almost over, and we don’t yet know what fresh, astounding lows the New Year will bring.

Hey, we got over 125 entries in the first day of the Top 20 of 2016 Year-End Poll. That legitimately ruled. Made my week, actually. I was nervous. If you contributed a list, thanks. If not yet, please do. Any help sharing the link is also greatly valued.

In the notes for next week:

Mon: Album stream for Leafy and a Year of the Goat video premiere.
Tue: Albinö Rhinö album stream and the new Lord Loud video.
Wed: A list of 10 album covers that kicked ass in 2016. Because art is fun and talking about it is a fun way to kick off list season.
Thu: A review of The Second Coming of Heavy, Chapter 4.
Fri: Track stream from a Denver band I’m not sure I’m allowed yet to name.

Gonna be a good one. This week should’ve been a good one too. The problem is me. I’m the problem.

It’s okay though. I’ve been down this road before. Gonna spend the next couple days drinking coffee leisurely, playing Final Fantasy XV and hanging out with Slevin, who’s coming north for a visit. It’ll be nice to see him. It always is.

I sincerely hope your week was better than mine and that your weekend is no less stellar. Be safe and have fun, and please make time to check out the forum and the radio stream.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Trevor Shelley de Brauw of Pelican Announces Uptown Solo LP; New Track Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 2nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

Guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw of Chicago instrumentalists Pelican will make his solo debut with Uptown, a collection of ambient pieces due out early next year via The Flenser. An initial track, titled “They Keep Bowing,” reveals textural atmospherics working in layers probably looped through but perhaps built one on top of the other, either way to satisfyingly rich tonal effect. I wouldn’t necessarily call it out of the range of what one might anticipate a solo record from de Brauw would bring, knowing the kind of heavy post-rock sprawl to which Pelican can be prone, but it’s a definite expansion on the theme, if nothing else, and it seems fair to imagine that Uptown will also serve as the beginning of a broader exploration of a solo aesthetic for de Brauw, making it all the more noteworthy as his first outing.

I haven’t heard the full thing yet, but we’ve got a while to go before Feb. 10 gets here, so I’ll hope the opportunity comes my way somewhere between now and then. The cut below makes a solid argument why and arrives accompanied by PR wire details:

trevor-shelley-de-brauw-uptown

GUITARIST TREVOR SHELLEY DE BRAUW ANNOUNCES DEBUT SOLO ALBUM, PREMIERES SONG

Uptown due out February 10th, 2017 from The Flenser / Listen to “They Keep Bowing” now

Chicago-based guitarist Trevor Shelley de Brauw (Pelican, RLYR) has announced the release of his first solo album – a collection of power-ambient compositions – entitled Uptown. Due out February 10th, 2017 on San Francisco’s acclaimed experimental label The Flenser, Uptown is a stream of consciousness sustained for too long, an aural pendulum swinging between poles of murky distress and cathartic resolve that takes shape somewhere in the hazy valleys between rock, ambient and experimental music. Listen to the album’s first single, “They Keep Bowing,” today.

Trevor Shelley de Brauw’s 20 year musical career has manifested as an exploration of the vast sonic possibilities of the guitar. Uptown marks a departure from the riff-oriented song writing of Pelican, taking a plaintive approach that unravels the meditative depth of washed-out riffs, deconstructed drones, and carefully controlled feedback. The album delves into complex dimensions of deeply layered textures: an evocation of haunting melodicism that shares more common ground with Brian Eno’s ambient work and drone wizards Barn Owl than it does a metal record. Written and recorded over the span of nearly a decade, Uptown represents a scrapbook from a formative era in de Brauw’s life, bookended by a stint on a remote tobacco farm in North Carolina and his return to the anxiety-ridden urban eccentricities of Chicago’s historic Uptown neighborhood.

Uptown is due for release on Feb 10th, 2017 from The Flenser. Stay tuned for more songs to premiere and pre-order info to surface soon.

Uptown track listing:
1. A New Architecture
2. Distinct Frequency
3. They Keep Bowing
4. You Were Sure
5. Turn Up For What
6. From The Black Soil Poetry and Song Sprang

https://www.facebook.com/mgrmd/
http://migrationmedia.com/
http://theflenser.com/
https://soundcloud.com/flenserrecords/

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Ruby the Hatchet Finish Third Album; Touring Now with Earthless

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 2nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

I don’t mind telling you I’m looking forward to this one. My reasoning is two-fold: First, Ruby the Hatchet‘s 2015 sophomore album, Valley of the Snake (review here) — also their label debut on Tee Pee Records — was a gem. Memorable songwriting, crisp performances, a get-in-get-out sense of craft that still had room for atmosphere and setting a mood. Would be silly to not anticipate the follow-up. Second, though, is that in seeing Ruby the Hatchet this past summer at the first night of the Maryland Doom Fest (review here), every bit of their set showed them as not only realizing the level of accomplishment they’ve hit as a band, but being ready also to take another step forward. This impending third record, presumably, would be that step.

Spring 2017? Sign me up.

Ruby the Hatchet are on tour with Earthless starting tonight in Chicago. Dates and more info follow off the PR wire:

ruby-the-hatchet-photo-by-troy-memis

RUBY THE HATCHET Completes Work on New Album

Philadelphia Heavy Psych Outfit Conjures Spellbinding Space Rock on Long-awaited Third LP

Philly heavy psych quintet RUBY THE HATCHET has completed work on its highly anticipated new album. The bewitching rock troop featuring vocalist Jillian Taylor, guitarist Johnny Scarps, bassist Lake Muir, drummer Owen Stewart and organist Sean Hur, recorded the album in an 1800’s era estate deep in the Pennsylvania woods with engineers Joe Boldizar (Retro City Studios) and Zach Goldstein (Kawari Sound). The as-yet-untitled album is slated for a spring 2017 release via Tee Pee Records. The upcoming full-length follows the band’s celebrated sophomore LP, Valley of the Snake.

“Setting up shop and recording ourselves in an 1800’s era estate has been a pleasure and a labor,” comments Taylor. “We built the studio in house from the ground up – mostly Sean (organ), with help from our friends at Kawari Sound and Retro City Studios. From homemade preamps to third floor room mics hidden in echo chambers, the tones on this album are truly vintage. Putting ourselves into seclusion provided a process that influenced the album’s sound, allowing us to create our own pocket of deep space rock inside of a time warp where everything else stopped – politics, personal shit, the day-to-day worries that tarnish the soul…all gone. This album is like nothing we have ever made before.”

More details on RUBY THE HATCHET’s upcoming album will be released soon. The band will launch a U.S. tour alongside labelmates Earthless on December 2 in Chicago, IL. Fans can expect to hear a taste of the band’s new material on the two week trek, which runs through December 17 in Detroit, MI. The tour wraps up two years of heavy touring by the band in support of Valley Of The Snake, which saw RUBY THE HATCHET hit the road with Black Mountain, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats and The Sword.

RUBY THE HATCHET tour dates:
* All shows with EARTHLESS
December 2 Chicago, IL Empty Bottle
December 3 St Louis, MO The Firebird
December 4 Norman, OK OPOLIS
December 6 Dallas, TX Club Dada
December 7 Austin, TX Barracuda
December 8 Houston, TX Rudyard’s Pub
December 9 Baton Rouge, LA Spanish Moon
December 10 Atlanta, GA The EARL
December 11 Raleigh, NC Barcade
December 12 Richmond, VA Strange Matter
December 13 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom
December 14 Brooklyn, NY Saint Vitus
December 15 Pittsburgh, PA Club Cafe
December 16 Cleveland, OH Grog Shop
December 17 Detroit, MI El Club

https://www.facebook.com/rubythehatchet
https://www.instagram.com/rubythehatchet/
https://twitter.com/rubythehatchet
http://rubythehatchet.tumblr.com/
https://www.facebook.com/teepeerecords
teepeerecords.com/products

Ruby the Hatchet, Valley of the Snake (2015)

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Child, Blueside: Kindness and Cruelty

Posted in Reviews on December 2nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

child-blueside

A sophomore outing poses a significant challenge to Melbourne-based heavy blues rockers Child perhaps more than it does to some other bands. Their self-titled debut, self-released in 2014 and snagged by Kozmik Artifactz for a CD/LP release a year later, had an advantage in the element of surprise. Call it the “where’d these guys come from?” factor. That album took Child to Europe and announced their arrival beyond Australia’s borders. More over, it set a high standard of naturalistic groove and jammy vibes for its follow-up to meet. Blueside, Child‘s second offering through Kozmik Artifactz, can’t necessarily rely on that same ability to blindside. While it will no doubt be some listeners’ first exposure to the band, you only get one full-length debut.

The good news is it doesn’t need novelty. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Mathias Northway, bassist Danny Smith and drummer Michael Lowe don’t fix what wasn’t broken last time out, and there’s a lot in common between their two to-date offerings in style and substance. Both records have five tracks, both carry a feel of having been recorded at least mostly live, both play to heavy rock traditionalism and blue-eyed soul, both carry striking cover art by Nick Keller — who’s also known for his work with New Zealand’s Beastwars and whose emphasis on blues with Blueside is hard to miss — and both succeed in casting a memorable impression without necessarily leaning on their choruses to a point of sounding contrived.

The latter is especially true of Blueside, and indeed one of the crucial factors arguing toward Child‘s overall progression across the album’s 39-minute span is the balance they strike between open-sounding jams and the underlying purpose that drives them forward. That’s not to say opener “Nailed to the Ceiling,” “It’s Cruel to be Kind,” “Blue Side of the Collar,” “Dirty Woman” or the 11-minute finale “The Man” aren’t catchy in a get-stuck-in-your-head kind of way, just that what’s likely to get stuck in your head could just as much be a section of bluesy noodling from Northway on guitar as a soulfully-delivered hook, and that rather than one standout part or line or chorus, Blueside feels more determined to deliver a full-album flow and experience. Child take great steps to hone an organic, classic, but still crisp sound.

At the beginning of “Dirty Woman,” for example, we hear an engineer, presumably Dav Byrne, who recorded, mixed and mastered, calling out the beginning of the take, followed by what sounds like a radio signal being picked up by one of the amplifiers. As Child dig into a gorgeous psych-blues jam, that interference seems to pop up again later in “The Man.” Likewise, before “It’s Cruel to be Kind” starts, we hear Lowe play a measure on drums (the room mics sound great) and Northway gives an “okay” that he’s ready to begin the song. What these details do is emphasize the point that Child are basically inviting their listeners into the session itself, as it’s happening.

child

It’s not that they’re working toward being raw — “It’s Cruel to be Kind” and “Dirty Woman” feature a righteous backing vocal guest performance from Harmony Byrne, while both “Dirty Woman” and “Nailed to the Ceiling” bring in Joe Cope to add organ to the proceedings — but in their way, the songs push at the core of an ideal of capturing the spirit of a performance without sacrificing the in-the-moment spontaneity that can come when players lock in on stage. They’re not the first to do it, but from Buffalo and earliest AC/DC to today’s vibrant and varied Melbourne heavy underground, Child are the beneficiaries of the lessons a rich rock history can teach, and no doubt Blueside will help them further cast their own place in it after grabbing so much attention their first time out.

One more thing Blueside has in common with its predecessor is that the deeper it goes, the further out it goes. After a relatively straightforward roll in its first half, “Dirty Woman” breaks in the middle into a hard-fuzz jam, bolstered by organ and backing vocals, that sets the stage for Northway — who shines across the album in standout, emerging-frontman fashion — to loose a final solo before backwards guitar and amp noise finish out the song. That sets up the extended finale “The Man,” which takes its time in a satisfyingly classic way, starting almost before the listener realizes it with its tinge of Hendrixian blues, blown-out vocals (doubled in places) and steady but patient build. No rush.

Only after they pass the seven-minute mark do Child really dig into the full-boar tones of Blueside at its heaviest, so that “The Man” — a kind of lyrical answer to the earlier “Blue Side of the Collar” — gracefully makes its way to the album’s apex as it pushes toward its long fade, one last emphasis placed on the dynamic in development between NorthwaySmith and Lowe, whose chemistry already is not to be understated. If Blueside is an indication of how Child will continue to grow as a band, settle in, because much like their sound itself, it seems like they’ve got more of a focus on exploring earthy vibes than willing themselves into forced-sounding leaps and bounds.

I can’t argue with the approach — it couldn’t be more fitting, actually — or with the results that come through in these five songs, and not to be discounted in Child‘s appeal is their lack of pretense and posturing. For a band who draw so much on the blues, it would be easy to get sidetracked into genre tropes and to lose individual identity for the sake of executing a cookie-cutter sonic idea. Child avoid this with a fluidity that is their own and so come out of their second offering with even more momentum than they went into it. An important step, and one they inarguably take in a commanding forward direction.

Child, Blueside (2016)

Child on Thee Facebooks

Child on Bandcamp

Child at Kozmik Artifactz

Kozmik Artifactz on Thee Facebooks

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MotherSloth Sign to Argonauta Records; New Album in 2017

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 2nd, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

So the title of Spanish doomers MotherSloth‘s impending second album may or may not be Moon Omen. How do I know? Keen investigative reporting, of course. Digging deep. Meeting secret sources in underground parking garages while wearing overcoats and fedoras, smoke-obscured faces trading classified information back and forth. And then after all that I checked out their Thee Facebooks page and there’s a whole collection of photos there under the heading, “Recording Moon Omen.” That could also be a pretty reliable tell.

Whether or not that’s the name of the thing, the follow-up to MotherSloth‘s 2014 Moribund Star full-length debut will be released in Spring 2017 via Argonauta Records. That information is not classified — or at least not anymore — and the PR wire offers this public briefing:

mothersloth

Argonauta Records New signing: MOTHERSLOTH

We’re excited to welcome in our roster a new excellent act from Spain: MOTHERSLOTH.

MotherSloth is a Madrid-based band formed in 2008. In the band’s style, you can find several influences – 70?s inspired sounds combined with heavy guitar riffs and open chords, blended with spirally progressive melodies.

The band says: “We are happy to have arrived to Argonauta and cannot be more excited with the prospect of working together with Gero and the label, plus having high expectations on our next album which we believe it’s our best so far…”

After various formations, the band records demos under the title “Death Flowers” (2009), and plays live throughout Madrid with other avant-garde stoner bands. In 2012, with a more defined musical path, MotherSloth recorded their debut EP “Hazy Blur Of Life“, edited in 2013 by Peruvian underground label Dooom Records.

MotherSloth created and gathered a good impression after playing at Kanina Rock festival (2012+DVD), Madrid Stoner Festival (2013), and being featured in various compilations, genre specialized blogs, magazines and radios. In late 2013, MotherSloth decided to focus on the instrumental songs they had been writing throughout the years, recording their new LP “Moribund Star” (2014), edited in 2015 with Germany’s Voodoo Chamber Records and available here:

In 2016 the band entered the studio to record their next album, consisting of 6 brand new songs, to be released by ARGONAUTA Records in CD/DD during Spring 2017.

The band is:
Dani – guitars and vocals
Adrian – bass guitar and vocals
Oscar – drums

https://www.facebook.com/MotherSloth
https://twitter.com/MotherSloth
https://mothersloth.bandcamp.com/album/moribund-star
http://www.argonautarecords.com/

MotherSloth, Moribund Star (2014)

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Sólstafir Recording New Album; “Dagmál” Video Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 1st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

With their new video, Reykjavic’s Sólstafir end what’s been a pivotal chapter of the band. The Icelandic melancholy specialists gleaned a substantial following behind 2014’s Ótta (review here), and rightly so, touring in North America for the first time as well as of course Europe, Japan, and so on behind material as emotionally vibrant as it was sonically and atmospherically heavy. They’re currently in the process of making the follow-up to Ótta — as of Nov. 29, guitars are done — but their new clip for “Dagmál” is as fitting a goodbye to the prior album as I can think of, capturing the band on stage throughout the year and a half they basically spent on the road.

Like Ótta, Sólstafir‘s next album will be released by Season of Mist, as the PR wire confirms:

solstafir-700

SÓLSTAFIR release new video, re-sign with Season of Mist, and record new album

Acclaimed Icelandic rock band SÓLSTAFIR have released a new video for the track “Dagmál”. The video, shot during the band’s extensive touring across Europe is streaming now, here. “Dagmál” appears on the band’s most recent full-length album, ‘Ótta’.

Regarding the video, the band comments: “‘Ótta’ is coming to a close with a third and final video for the song, ‘Dagmál’. The footage for this clip was shot over the course of 18 months of heavy touring. It also features our newest band member Hallgrímur ‘Grimsi’ Hallgrímsson, who started filling in for us behind the drum kit in April 2015.”

The quartet have also signed a new deal with Season of Mist, and begun work on their forthcoming new album.

Regarding the signing, the band comments: “With our previous contract coming to an end, we have had plenty of great offers on the table for which we are grateful. Yet, why should we end a good thing? The entire team works brilliantly together and everyone involved decided that continuing is the logical step moving forward.”

SÓLSTAFIR are now three weeks into the recording their new album. The new full-length will be produced by Birgir Birgirsson (SIGUR RÓS, ALCEST). Jaime Gomez-Arellano (GHOST, PARADISE LOST, ULVER) is also assisting on the new record.

Vocalist and guitarist Adalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason comments: “We are back here at Sundlaugin for the third time to record our seventh album. We feel right at home and after being locked up in songwriting mode for two months, it is a one of a kind feeling hearing the demos gaining life. We have fourteen songs recorded but at the moment it is too early to tell what will end up on the album. The new album will definitely sound like SÓLSTAFIR and as always, there will be surprises too.”

Gomez-Arellano also comments: “I feel humbled to have the opportunity of working with SÓLSTAFIR. As a fan of the band for many years, I have been trying to work with them before and now it is finally happening. So far it has been a great, creative and positive experience. Working alongside Birgir in his beautiful Studio Sundlaugin has been very productive and fun. I am very excited about the new material.”

The new album is yet to be titled and will be mixed at Arellano’s Orgone Studios in the UK.

https://www.facebook.com/solstafirice
http://twitter.com/solstafir
https://www.facebook.com/seasonofmistofficial/
http://www.season-of-mist.com/

Sólstafir, “Dagmál” official video

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Backwoods Payback, Fire Not Reason: Evening Odds (Plus Video Premiere)

Posted in Reviews on December 1st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

backwoods-payback-fire-not-reason

[Click play above to check out the premiere of Backwoods Payback’s video for ‘You Don’t Move,’ directed by 51 Deep. The band’s new album, Fire Not Reason, is out tomorrow, Dec. 2.]

From the opening strains of its leadoff track, it’s clear Pennsylvania’s Backwoods Payback have made the choice the title of their third album presents: Fire Not Reason. With a screaming beginning, post-hardcore lead work in the guitar and an underpinning of heavy riffing that somehow ties it together, “Elephants” stomps out more of a genre span in its quickly executed three minutes than some bands do in their career, yet like much of what follows on the self-released outing, it wastes nothing.

It’s been five years since Backwoods Payback released their second album, Momantha (review here), and while they’ve released a 2012 live outing (discussed here) and the 2014 In the Ditch EP (review here) in the interim, the nine-song/30-minute Fire Not Reason hits with all the intensity of the passing half-decade, forming its crux around a brutal honesty of emotion and songcraft that’s neither apologetic nor ironic in the slightest. For founding guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings and bassist Jessica Baker, it is a realization of the human core that has always gone unnamed as the central appeal of the band: here metal, here punk, here grunge, here heavy rock, but most of all itself in a way that strikes as wholly without pretense. Intimidatingly without pretense.

Not that it’s in-your-face in some cliché metal dudeliness or aggro fashion. Certainly there are aggressive moments, as on “Elephants” or the black ‘n’ roll midsection of “Dirge” (video premiere here), which elsewhere provides one of the album’s landmark hooks — and if you told me second cut “You Don’t Move” was written with the intent of being a pro wrestling theme, I’d believe it — but throughout, Backwoods Payback keep emotional rawness so central to their mission that it comes to be the defining facet of their approach. Fire Not Reason finds further distinction in Cummings and Baker having added drummer Erik Larson to the fold. Known for handling guitar and/or vocals to one degree or another in outfits like Alabama ThunderpussyThe Might CouldHail!HornetBirds of Prey and so on, in addition to his solo work, Larson also drummed in Richmond, Virginia-based punkers Avail, and so is no stranger to the stylistic turns that Backwoods Payback make within these songs.

backwoods-payback-photos-by-james-jay-fortin

Rather, he’s right at home in this trio incarnation of the band, and does much to bolster both the start-stop chugging of “You Don’t Move” and the more languid rollout of the later “That Dream Again.” While “Elephants” launches Fire Not Reason at an all-go, all-in melding of styles and drive, songs like “Don’t Try” and the somewhat faster centerpiece “Tuxedo” seem more like signature Backwoods Payback, as much as their sound permits anything to be. Informed by grunge and heavy and Southern rock, they make something that acknowledges all of them and isn’t necessarily shooting to emulate — perhaps less here than ever — but even when “Tuxedo” breaks at its halfway point to build back up to its full-thrust finish, they’re very much in their element if not necessarily their “comfort zone” in the sense of coming across lazy or haphazard in their approach.

Cummings, who has a couple solo acoustic releases to his credit at this point, takes center position for “Even Odds,” which transitions directly from “Tuxedo” before it and provides a sub-three-minute breather that also gives a side-B-style expansion to the sonic palette with which the album as a whole works. It is a long way from “Elephants” or even the slick groove of “Dirge” earlier, and it changes the context of the opening strums of the subsequent “That Dream Again,” which soon enough opens a heavy blues roll with a spaciousness that calls to mind a more on-the-beat All Them Witches in its first half before solidifying around a more forward motion and, as it nears its finish, a lumbering stomp made all the more palpable by Larson‘s crash. The penultimate “Snakes” is more immediately about swing, but its thickened fuzz moves smoothly into and through an upbeat hook before dropping out to give the drums a short standalone section where they’re soon joined by lead guitar and Baker‘s bass, which feels more tonally present in the last stretch perhaps because of the distinction of its kicking in on its own as the final piece to make Backwoods Payback‘s push complete.

It does that, and like much before it, “Snakes” ends efficiently and cleanly, with no frills or veering from its central intent, stopping short to let the nodding “California Lean” close out with one more three-minute affirmation of the truth in songwriting that’s been at the root of Fire Not Reason all along. It might fit in that same category as “Don’t Try” and “Tuxedo” in terms of how its nestles into Backwoods Payback‘s bottom-line aesthetic, as opposed to the branching out in cuts like “Elephants,” “Dirge,” “Even Odds” or even “You Don’t Move,” but “California Lean” also underscores the urgency with which the trio have brought this material to life, and as much as Cummings‘ vocals — willfully strained at times — or his or Baker‘s tones, or Larson‘s drums, or the general rawness of it, it’s that urgency tying Fire Not Reason together. Half a decade later, this is clearly a story the band needed to tell.

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Ulver to Release Riverhead Soundtrack Dec. 9

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 1st, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s been a while at this point, but director Justin Oakey‘s work has been covered here a few times over the years. He’s done videos for the likes of Hexvessel, Canadian experimentalists Godstopper and indeed Norwegian post-everything specialists Ulver — the “Magic Hollow” video (posted here) from the band’s 2012 obscure covers outing, Childhood’s End — who’ve composed the soundtrack to Oakey‘s new film, Riverhead.

In all that I’ve seen of it, Oakey‘s work has always kept a focus on nature and the always-underlying threats thereof, and the quiet, spacious tension Ulver can evoke when they so choose would seem to be a solid fit for that. Frankly, if you need to be sold on the idea of Ulver doing soundtrack work — or, you know, anything — you’re probably not that familiar with what they do. And that’s cool too. Just make sure you approach with an open mind. All the way open.

The PR wire has release details. Ulver‘s Riverhead LP is out Dec. 9 on House of Mythology. There’s a trailer at the bottom of this post as well:

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Ulver announce the release of the original motion picture soundtrack Riverhead, out 9th Dec via the House Of Mythology label

Ulver have announced the next chapter in their phenomenal thread of recorded output. On December 9th, the House of Mythology label (that began this year with the launch of their ATGCLVLSSCAP LP, and has since put out records by Hypnopaz?zu, The Stargazer’s Assistant, KKKMO and more) will be releasing Ulver’s original score Riverhead. The feature length crime drama set in the rich historic area of Newfoundland, Atlantic coast Canada follows family blood feuds between communities. Director Justin Oakey has been a fan of the band for some time, and Ulver’s original score for the film was a close collaborative process between the director and the band.

ABOUT THE FILM…

“The North Shore is a particular coastline on the island of Newfoundland that has been in various stages of settlement since the 1500s – it is said to be one of the oldest North American settlements. As Irish and English settlers formed communities, centuries of secular feuding in Europe were inevitably rediscovered in this new land and lead to many years of fighting, rioting, and murder. As a Newfoundlander with deep roots on the island, my family has experienced this conflict first-hand and often tell stories of their rival outports, even warning me to stay away from certain communities as a child. This is the backdrop for Riverhead – an area with a fragile coexistence between communities, where inherited feuds can resurface at any moment.”

ABOUT THE SOUNDTRACK…

“Late last fall I sent Kristoffer Rygg my latest short film, Flankers, and we began chatting about the soundtrack, eventually going back and forth about a potential collaboration. At this point, I went out on a limb and asked if Ulver would be interested in composing the music for my upcoming feature, Riverhead. They kindly accepted and here is the result. As a long-time fan, this was an incredible collaboration for me – and further, it allowed us to find aesthetic and cultural similarities between our lands. With this in mind, the soundtrack certainly touches on Nordic and Celtic folk music from within an ambient/atmospheric frame.

“There was a mutual understanding that the soundtrack should be hushed, airy and ominous, almost elemental in its minimalism, with only a few key moments that rupture into larger, more augmented pieces. As far as the method, Ulver started by recording and sending over some sketches and atmospheres before we shot a single scene of the film. This allowed me to go into the filming with an understanding of the soundtrack, and how the scenes could (and would) be paced – truly an invaluable asset, especially with a fragmented film like this. Afterwards, they continued to record and we fine-tuned said sketches as well as some new pieces together. Ultimately, I am as proud of this collaboration as a standalone project as I am with the film itself.” – Justin Oakey, L’Anse aux Meadows, September 2016

Pre-orders now available via the House Of Mythology store.

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Ulver, Riverhead trailer

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