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Nihil Mortum – Masterpiece of Unknown Art

2011 September 10
Posted by snowboarderbo

Nihil Mortum is a sort of a progressive black metal band that formed a few years back in Finland. The first that I heard of them was when a song of theirs appeared on a Metal Hammer CD a few months ago. I put them on my short list of albums to acquire, and when I found them hard to come by, I contacted guitarist/vocalist Baal directly; thankfully, he still had a few copies on hand. They sound like Page Hamilton (from Helmet) joined forces with Emperor-era Ihsahn, but without the shitty constant and unvarying double kick bass drumming that plagues so many black metal bands.

Architectural Blasphemy is the first song on the album, and it starts off with a catchy little riff, only to abandon it after 30 seconds or so for a folk-ish bit of guitar picking, only to abandon that after another 30 seconds or so for the real meat of the song. This is a prog-death tune, with excellent hoarse vocals that fall short of true CMVs, and a twisted elaborate musical pathway. There’s enough catchy parts tho that on repeated listens, I keep thinking “oh cool, I like this part” and “ooooh that part is coming up”. The song, like the album, really lends itself to repeated listens.

The next song, 6/12/2007, is probably my favorite from the album. This is Independence Day for Finland, but that’s not what the song is about. Instead, the song is about how the band needed to drop a member. It’s an exploration of the emotional and logistic bedlam that ensues when 3 people decide that things aren’t working out with a 4th person. The song starts with that Hamilton-esque lead guitar sound that Amon does so well, and then settles into it’s groove of ferocious torment, changing and evolving over 5 minutes without ever losing the essence that it had at the start. This song pretty much pummels everything in it’s path for it’s entire 5:37 length. My guess is that the guys had some serious issues with the guy they had to drop from the band, and judging by this song they worked out the kinks that were cramping their style. Can’t say enough about how much I like the lead guitar in this song; it totally fucking rocks!

Masterpiece of Unknown Art, the song, starts out with what might be a tribute to Zamfir, but quickly segues into a churning maelstrom of demonic vocals and pounding black metal, with a constant weirdly-fitting lead line soaring over the top of it all. There are no straight lines in this music; it’s all twisting and flailing and swooping and fist-pounding action like a tornado full of hammers in a slot canyon. I have no idea what the song is about, but when I listen to it I like to imagine that The Residents and Laibach finally got together for that collaboration album that I’ve always dreamed of. It’s twisted and glorious and frightening and malevolent and I can’t tear my eardrums away from it.

Although it starts out with an organ part that sounds like it was left over from In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Kansakunnan Kuolema is a different sort of epic. This is Nihil Mortum‘s take on The Kalevala, which is pretty much the Finnish national epic. It’s credited with helping to give birth to Finland as an independent nation, and so it’s a tale of a struggle against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It’s also, in an allegory kind of way, a tale of a man who was so bad-ass that when he went to Hell, his very presence started riots and made the demons go crazy and start tearing shit up. You read that right: it’s the story of a man who fucking ruined Hell. That’s fucking awesome!

The album closes with Satu Ihmisestä, which is kind of an exploration of the reality and fantasy of human existence. The same superlative lead guitar work here stands out like a beacon guiding the way through this mournful tale of hope, lost innocence and the struggle to come to grips with the root of our nature.

Most of these songs, in case you didn’t get it from earlier descriptions or from listening to them at the links provided, are less-than-straightforward musically and have even more twists and turns than most “prog” metal bands. Gojira seems downright easy to listen to after the contortions that Nihil Mortum go thru, but they do it all so well and so smoothly that they are never so jarring as many bands seem to try and be and never repeat themselves enough to get bored with anything (I’d compare them favorably to Ihsahn‘s stuff or even Yakuza). This makes the album very easy to listen to over and over, and rewards the listener with new musical relationships in each song often. I’m constantly taking note of how the bass line compliments the lead, how the drums peel back to let the vocals take front stage, how the vocals relax and let the guitar work shine, etc. I’ll anticipate a solo I like only to find that I’m noticing this time how the rhythm guitar work effortlessly finds it’s way into the mix, helping to propel the song onward and into another new part.

For a first effort, especially one recorded without a drummer, this album is terrific. Excellent production work helps, as this is complicated music. My only complaint (I’ve always got at least one, don’t I?) is that I thought Amon’s solos could have been a tiny bit more out front. This is a small complaint tho, as the way they’ve mixed this the music does have a lot of texture, and I’d hate to lose that more than I’d like to hear those excellent lead lines just a bit louder.

Baal tells me that the band has, in fact, settled on a new drummer (in the person of Thextera) and they have a new bass player (Roope) since this was recorded. Hopefully they are able to start working on new material and make it back into the studio soon. This album displayed a decidedly different and engaging take on what progressive black metal can be, and I’d like to hear more of it.

You can find more about the band at their website:
and at their Facebook page:

© 2011


2011 July 12
Comments Off
Posted by snowboarderbo

A discussion over on the Straight Dope Message Board led me to decide that I should go ahead and re-post all my hard work here too. We were talking about “experimental” music that’s being made today, and after I mentioned Jandek and Puff Tube and Bruce Haack and Steven Reich, I threw in some metal bands (or at least bands that vaguely fall into the metal genre.

Shining is a deathjazz band from Norway. They combine aspects of jazz and death metal, including awesome sax parts into an aggressive and technically demanding style of music. Here’s The Madness And The Damage Done and a live video for Fisheye that shows them performing for Norwegian National Television. Both songs are from their 2010 album Blackjazz, which was excellent. The sax player, Jørgen Munkeby, also contributed to Ihsahn‘s last album, 2010′s After. I wrote about this album last year.

Other metal bands that might fit the experimental label include some of the math metal bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan (Panasonic Youth, Sick On Sunday), and Meshuggah (Pineal Gland Optics, Pravus) as well as some of the deathcore bands like Suicide Silence (Suffer, Unanswered) and Trigger The Bloodshed (The Scourging Impurity, The Soulful Dead). These bands take a noticeable lack of respect for traditional song structure and voicings and basically go nuts with the freedom they find having shed those shackles. Their music is abrasive, raw and caustic. Sometimes it’s so jarring that it feels like being slapped upside the head hard enough to rattle some fillings loose; live shows are an epic experience.

Other bands that kind of defy easy characterization but are way cool include Arsonists Get All The Girls (The 42nd Ego, Shoeshine For Neptune) and the awesome Iwresteldabearonce (Tastes Like Kevin Bacon, See You In Shell, Danger In The Manger). For bands like these, it’s not just the music that’s jarring, it’s the way they change from one genre to another mid-measure. One second it’s all death metal, suddenly it’s smooth jazz, then it’s grindcore blast beats. Vocals go from CMVs to pop chanteuse and back again. For many people it’s too confusing, too harsh and undanceable; for others it’s a beautiful example of jaw-dropping complexity with sterling execution.

Yeah, my version of “experimental” is heavy on the metal side; it’s what I listen to.

© 2011

Black Tusk – Taste The Sin

2010 October 28
Posted by snowboarderbo

Taste the sin. Embrace the madness. Unleash the wrath. Twist the knife. Smell the glove. Okay, that last one isn’t a title from the latest offering by this Savannah, GA power trio, but it sure could be. When it comes to that aspect of their craft, these guys aren’t showing a whole lot of imagination (other songs include The Take Off, The Ride, and The Crash, in order).

The album cover art (from fellow Savannah resident & Baroness member John Dyer Baizley) is certainly attention-grabbing, and knowing and (mostly) liking Mr. Baizley’s band, I decided to give these guys a shot. I popped it into the stereo in The Big Yellow Pill as soon as I left Zia, only to be disappointed by the terrible production work. Muddy vocals swamped under the mix, guitars with no high end and precious little mid-range, and drums that sound like wet cardboard being slapped with a fish make this album a lot less fun to listen to than it should be.

I mean, check out Embrace The Madness. It starts out with a decent enough riff, and the pace of the song is great, and I like the yelling, but I can’t hear the vocals well enough because the album has no high end. It sounds like the vocals were recorded by standing 15 feet away from the mic, then hanging a couple of layers of packing blankets in between. The guitars are all smushed down to the low mids and low end, along with the vocals, which just makes each of them indistinct. The drums have no high end at all, just low mids and bass, but not the BOOOOOOOM low end that would make your gut do flipflops, just the muddy low end. After a strong start, the amateurish production just makes me want to fast forward to the next song, even tho this tune is only a little over three minutes long.

I can’t really say much more than that about any of the other tracks on the album. Take Twist The Knife, for example. Wow, another song that starts with a fade in, then becomes a lot of low-mid thudding with vague, indecipherable yelling in the background. And hey, isn’t that a Pixies or a Nirvana riff or something at the start of the song? I mean, they were great bands and all, and I know that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but this is a little too similar, a little less imitating, for me to not hear it.

Also, what’s up, with the, punctuation, in the, lyrics? Was there a sale on commas at the Piggly Wiggly that week or what?

The songs are good; these guys definitely have some chops and some skills, but the recording, mix and mastering is so bad, I can’t stand to listen to this. I hope Andrew, Athon and James can afford a RTSA next time they record, because I can hear the potential for some serious ICE headbanging shit; I just can’t enjoy it when it’s lodged firmly in a wall of mud. I really wanted to like this album, and hoped it would grow on me the way a lot of other albums with, ah, questionable production did, but I just can’t move past it. For the band and for all of us I hope their 4th album is a better deal. I’m impressed enough with the songs that I’d be willing to give them another shot, even if this album won’t be spending much time moving air at my house or in my truck.

© 2010

The Sword – Warp Riders

2010 October 24

What would have happened if Billy Gibbons had been kicked out of Texas and forced to relocate to the Empire state in the late 1960s? Well, he’d likely have eventually run into Donald Roeser and started jamming. Since that didn’t happen, we’ll just have to be grateful that all good things destined to happen do in fact occur, and rock out with The Sword.

Slicing their way outta Austin, Texas and into the wide world beyond, these guys have a thing going all their own: texas boogie with a thrash attitude and lyrical content
(and song structures) rarely heard since Buck Dharma started shredding the airwaves back in the 1970s. It might seem like an odd combo, but believe me, after about 5 minutes of listening to their latest, Warp Riders, you’ll be hooked.

After an introductory interlude, the band fires up with the damnably catchy Trej Brujas (this video fucking rocks, btw!). The opening riff evokes the aforementioned Mr. Gibbons, and the apt comparisons continue as the song weaves a tale of a man about to embark on the task he has been destined for, aided in his travels and travails by an otherworldly Greek chorus of witches. This tune only needed about 40 seconds before I knew it was an ICE. In the 2 months since the album’s release, I’ve prolly listened to this song about 4000 times, and it’s still totally kick-ass.

The story of the Chronomancer’s pride is up next, and lemme tell you this guy must truly think he’s the shiznit! Otherwise why would he need one of the best songs on the album to tell us about it? It’s a strong, chugging-like-a-locomotive tune, fraught with searing lead guitar riffs and pummeling, tricky drums. I particularly like the emphasis on the cymbals and the intricate snare work, and am in awe of the skill with which the band arranges their tunes to flow so seamlessly from one part to the next. These are not only skilled musicians, these are skilled craftsmen putting their wares on display. And what a glorious display it is! Listen to that bit at 2:40 and try and keep from moshing while your shaking your ass! By the time the solo pops in at 3:10, it’s like mana falling from the sky directly into your ears, and then it does it all over again to end the song on a furious, mind-blowing, skull-ripping, pit-stomping crescendo. I freaking love this song!

By the time the album gets to the title track, the submission to this awesome ZZ Top-meets-Blue Öyster Cult-in-the-21st-century concept is complete, and I can only bang my head along and mouth the words that tell of the dark pact and dependencies that enable these raiders from the ether, swooping down out of time and space to do as they will, all accompanied by the most rocking soundtrack anyone cruising the cosmos could ever want: thousand-mile-per-hour guitar riffs, leads that pelt a listener with solos comprised and composed of shards of notes, and the most solid drumming and bass this already remarkably solid quintet has yet laid down. Even Cronise’s vocals, which many reviewers diss even tho he’s got a terrific voice, sounds more confident on this tune than most others. This is a dramatic, epic tune and to me it really serves as the crux of the biscuit, ya know what I’m sayin’?

In a departure, I have to list 2 things I didn’t like about this album. One of them is a simple error, but is nigh unforgivable. The other is a major letdown, but I understand why it happened.

First, this album purports to be telling a story. In which case, printing the song lyrics out of order is unforgivable. The text would have taken up the same amount of space if they’d printed the lyrics in the proper order, but for some reason the lyrics are printed 1-4-2-3-5-6-7-8-9-10. It’s like printing a book with the chapters out of order. It’s a pain in the ass when you’re reading, trying to get to know the songs and follow the story, and there’s just no reason I can see that it had to be done this way.

The second is the song Night City. After a killer opening riff, this song quickly devolves into a fucking bullshit Broadway singalong. It’s the most horribly derivative thing I’ve yet heard from these guys, and it repeats the main chorus about 27,000 times in less than 4 minutes. And to top it all off, the fucking song has the wrong name: the words “night city” aren’t even in the lyrics, but “night-side” is repeated the aforementioned 27,000 times. Over and over and over, in a tone like their trying to channel the fucking Bay City Rollers ffs. The song is so hideous, so endlessly repetitive, that I finally (after like 5 listens) couldn’t stand it anymore: I burned a new copy of the album without it for playing in The Big Yellow Pill. I also deleted the mp3 from my iTunes so I’ll never have to hear it again. And, oh yeah, the song contributes nothing to the narrative. I can understand why it was put on the album, tho, I guess: it’s got “hey let’s see if we can’t get some FM radio play with a catchy song” written all over it. Hell, it’s even loaded with more cowbell, just for good measure.

Other than those 2 demerits, tho, this is a stunning album. I play my 9 song version over and over in The Big Yellow Pill, and it doesn’t get old, doesn’t get stale; it always sounds awesome. In fact, if you ignore the bands second album (with it’s horrible, flawed production work), The Sword have given us 2 classic albums that, despite the disparate subject matter (fantasy on Age of Winters & sci-fi on Warp Riders) still sound great played back to back, or even all mixed up together. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Warp Riders is an album that is all ICE. If this were the stock market, I’d be making a solid “buy” recommendation on this album: it’s simply the most perfect example of Space Age Texas Stoner Doom Thrashboogie™ (or is it Boogiethrash™?) yet recorded.

LATE ADDITION: In perusing the web before publishing this article, I discovered that Trivett Wingo, the band’s amazingly talented drummer, has left The Sword. The band has canceled their tour and is regrouping for the future, and they released this note of explanation to their fans:

“We wish Trivett nothing but the best, and it is with heavy hearts that we bid him farewell. He is a phenomenal musician and has been an integral part of this band’s success. He helped to lay the foundation that we will continue to build upon, and we wouldn’t be where we are without him. We wish he could continue the adventure with us, but we understand that the life of a touring musician is not for everyone. It’s been a hell of a ride, and we’re sad to see this part of the journey end. The show must go on, though, and will be back on the road as soon as humanly possible.”

Sad, but just another good reason to go out and get a copy of Warp Riders right now; it’s gonna be awhile until you can hear these tunes live, so enjoy the recording until then!

© 2010

Bhayanak Maut – Metastasis

2010 October 21

I got an email from the recently de-bearded Vinay, one of BM‘s vocalists, letting me know that they appreciated my review of their album and that they had a new 3 track EP available for free download, Metastasis!

The metal scene in India is thriving, Vinay tells me. Bands are popping up all over the country, from Bombay (Bhayanak Maut, Scribe, Demonic Resurrection) to New Delhi (Undying, Inc.) to Bangalore (Myndsnare). And from what I’ve heard, the vast majority of them are bringing new levels of skull shattering metal to the world.

This EP is certainly evidence of that! Check it out: go download it, put it in a playlist, and crank that fucker up to 11. These tunes are brutal enough that I bet more than one person will break their steering wheel trying to drive and drum at the same time. The riffs are so awesome, so powerful, they’ll dig new furrows in your brain. Just like with their album, these guys never let up on the speed or the aggression or the attitude. This is metalcore with just enough flash to make it seem like fireworks keep going off in your cerebellum, forcing whiplash-inducing involuntary motor responses like headbanging and moshing.

I know that Bhayanak Maut are playing a bunch of gigs for the Great Indian Rock Festival (along with bands like Enslaved and Meshuggah), and this EP should certainly whet people’s appetite for their aural assault. I bet that mosh pit is gonna be insane! I just gotta figure out how to get there from Las Vegas…..

LATE ADDITIONS:  For those of you too timid to download, or for Mac users who have a hard time unzipping the file, here’s some of what yer missing:  Confucious and & Dear [Name].  Quickie picvids I made and posted on my youtube.  Now, crank those fuckers up to 11 and commence with the headbangin’!

© 2010

Landmine Marathon – Sovereign Descent

2010 August 28


I was wandering thru Zia a few weeks ago, on the prowl as it were.  Putting my skills as a hunter of interesting music to the test.  Sometimes, tho, it’s not your skill set but your circumstance that counts.  I was finding nothing I wasn’t already looking for and then *BAM!* I glanced up and spotted this sitting on the “Look! New Stuff!” shelf. It wasn’t the muted colors of the cover art that grabbed me, really, so much as it was the big flourescent orange price tag with a ridiculously low number on it. I saw that the record label, Prosthetic Records is in Los Angeles and I read online that the band is from Phoenix, AZ so I figure that SW area connection (Zia is also based in Phoenix) prolly had something to do with the excellent price. I’m a sucker for a low price and I love an opportunity to support local artists, especially headbangers, so I grabbed a copy and popped it in the truck for the drive home.

The album starts off with this ridiculously long, like 60 second fade up. And I mean a fade up: the band is flailing away, but the sound guy is creeping the master faders up slowly, like to try and disguise the fact that he had accidently left them down at the start or something. “Yeah, I totally meant to do that on the master. It’s classy and dramatic!” Thankfully it’s a really fucking good riff and by the time those 60 seconds are done it’s now carved into my skull, which is rapidly banging up and down, up and down, like I’m trying to use my forehead in a Speednailing™ contest. By the time the album gives way to the 2nd track, Shadows Fed To Tyrants, I’m raging all over my steering wheel; it’s like listening to a hardcore Iron Monkey or Bolt Thrower or something. Don’t get me wrong, the doom, sludge, death, and grindcore influences are all here, but there’s also heavy doses of mosh pit hardcore and thrash.

Don’t believe me that they can slow it down and wallow in the sludge? Check out Steadfast Hate. That should be enough to get started, eh. Those are class A CMV’s there from Grace Perry, and her delivery just heightens how fucking tight this band is. By the time the guitar starts soaring in the background at about 3:00, my head is being sucked into this swirling pit of fiends and then the song explodes and everything just goes nuts for a few minutes. Awesome shit! It starts off sludgy but ends up slammin’. This song has my favorite solo from the whole album, plus it’s got all that blast beat awesomeness and those insane mosh riffs.

Flood The Earth starts with the kind of noodling I can only accomplish in my more gonzo dreams and quickly moves into “pummeling mosh” mode. I’m struck by how the band has somehow evolved over the course of this album into now reminding me of the hypnotic sound of Lamb Of God‘s New American Gospel. This is lean, muscular metal. It doesn’t rage so much as just march on and over stuff, crushing everything they encounter like a herd of angry buffalo. This is emphasized by the lyrics and vocals, which are crafted rhythmically to match the music here. Really, really incredible track; the band just fucking nails it with this song, IMO.

The album closes with Rise With The Tide, a staggering mile-a-minute display of twin guitar ferocity that manages to devolve into a sludgerific ending after a plea for a break in the often petty, vicious and venal cycles we humans often find ourselves traversing. The whole album displays this same kind of intelligent, aware lyrical content. It’s very socially and politically concerned, rather than about demons or serial killers.

I can’t say enough about how tight this band is, and about how they really manage to bring off their stew of so many obvious influences. I can hear Iron Monkey, Burn The Priest, Acid Bath, Melvins, Bolt Thrower, Napalm Death and on and on and on but Landmine Marathon really have their own take on this shit.  I put together a quick playlist to check my theory and yep, LM fit right in. Hell, it almost sounded like they meant to be in that playlist when they wrote the songs, ya know what I’m sayin’?

Another thing I like is that they never let up. (Y’all may have noticed that this is a quality I’ll call out all the time. That’s because it fucking rocks to fucking rock.) This is intense music from start to finish, and even tho the songs have a range of parts with different pacings and voicings, it’s all intense as hell. No slow songs, no ballads, no whiny songs about dead friends or lost loves: this is all furiously, wonderfully aggressive music.

From what I read online, these folks -Grace Perry (vox), Matt Martinez (bass), Ryan Butler (gtr), Dylan Thomas (gtr) and Mike Pohlmeier (beats)- have been together like 6 years now, and it shows. The songs here are all really good. There’s no fluff, no chaff. It’s all been built up, stripped down and rebuilt until only the really good parts were left. Their live videos show them in true underground metal style: right in the middle of the fucking crowd and still playing like it was going to somehow stave off the goddamned apocalypse. Right fucking on, yo.

I always say I’d rather be lucky than good but damn I’m good at being lucky! This album has all the explosive gut-ripping skull-shredding force and intensity of, well, of a landmine marathon.

© 2010

Tar Babies – No Contest

2010 June 13

Somehow, back in the early 1980s, a bunch of great music escaped from places like Minnesota and Wisconsin.  I mean, these are frigid lands of dairy cows, populated mainly by hockey playing people of Swedish descent who wear cheese wedges as hats.  It’s not like anyone is ever expecting great art to come flying out of that environment at any moment, but it does happen; witness Tar Babies.

Bucky Pope (guitar, vox), Robin Davies (bass), and Dan Bitney (drums, vox) formed the core of the band, eventually adding in the awesome Steve Mackay-meets-Cannonball Adderly saxomophone of Tony Jarvis (and his whole bag of tricks, really:  tenor and alto sax, clarinet, flute, guitar, vox, & piano.  This is how I feel, too:  if it can be used to make noise then dammit I will make noise with it!).  The band has no respect for conventional song structure, instead providing us with a controlled chaos who’s easy, comes-naturally feel disguises the complex riffs and structures being employed.

Srsly, on the one hand they sound like they just barely make it out of “jamming” mode to having actual songs, but they also sound like one organism that makes music, not 4 guys just jamming.    Think about the best R&B backing bands you’ve ever heard, how tight they were, how they respond to each other almost instantly, letting someone who’s feeling it run with it and then reeling them back in before their fingers falter; that’s how tight this band is.

No Contest was actually their second release for SST.  I’m not sure how I came across it, prolly something at the college radio station.  This band fits in with Greg Ginn’s love of wacky jazz-tinged rebellion, so even tho they aren’t a punk band, they were a part of the SST sound, to me.  I think this album was largely overlooked, prolly because of the funk and jazz elements, making it a difficult fit even for a lot of college radio at the time.  Aaaaaand I doubt the excellently provocative name helped them get any airplay or advertising.  It’s a shame, really, because this is some of the best music of this genre (you know, upbeat funky psychedelic big band jazz rock).

The album starts out with Lay Of The Law, a mellow intro funkfest that questions authority, both legal and moral.  The guitar and drums serve as the propulsion here, with the sax steering us through the melodies with a couple of killer swirling riffs.  Later the vocals become a tribal chant over the din, then the instrumental voices all resolve and work together again, pushing everything forward.  It’s a laid back but lively interplay that sets the tone for the whole album.

Link In A Chain starts off with a cranking little guitar riff, segues into another, and then morphs into a riff that by all rights should be peeling my fingernails off.  That guitar is just frikkin’ sweet, and he never lets up the intensity.  The bass thumps right along with him, the drums keep rocking, but it’s the guitar that keeps my ass moving in this song.  And the song is about moving:  it’s a call to action, a call for cooperation among like-minded people to work together to change the world.  This revolutionary attitude permeates the whole album and I like how the lyrical content fits the music.  In every way, this is truly music of dissent and insurrection, smashing musical genre conventions while preaching for an uprising, an instrumental and vocal appeal for upheaval in order to forge a better future. Hear that nice little interlude that starts at about 3:02? Okay, now listen as the guitar just builds and builds and builds out of that until it’s freaking on fire and exploding over a furious renewed pounding on the drums, only to keep freaking building and getting more and more tense and intense, the guitar just crashing down like molten steel all over the furious tribal jazz rhythms being jammed relentlessly by the rest of the band to finally crash back into the body of the song like a wave going under another wave. It ends with a recitation of the themes of the song by all parts, with the vocals doing a particularly nice job of providing some melodic release before the whole thing finally closes like a hurricane fading to a soft breeze. Yeah, this is prolly my favorite song on this album; how did you know?

A loopy riff followed by a goofy footstomper opens Cure It All, quickly followed by a laundry list of possible remedies for all that ails us.  The cartoony carnival-ish music belies the more intricate things going on here, but frankly once the band gets really rocking I just kind of lose myself in that sax solo until the whole thing finally ends like a souffle collapsing on a carousel (don’t ask me how that image is the one that comes to my mind when I hear this song).

The album closes with Real Time, a trippy beat jazz musical tone poem thing that not only helps mellow out the harsh from all those dizzying sax riffs and the non-stop 95mph guitar, but will also scramble your brains at the same time.  I’ve been “relaxing” to this song for more than 20 years now, and it still somehow manages to be both mellow and adventurous.

This band recorded one more album for SST, 1989′s Honey Bubble, and then called it quits.  I know that Dan Bitney moved to Chicago and to his current gig with Tortoise (another band that practically has their own genre, and they’re damned good at it), but as you can see from the link up above, Tar Babies still keep a web page and a couple of the guys have been known to perform as Bar Tabbies. I’m not sure what caused the band to fold, but if it isn’t a Total Hate Situation™ I really wish they would see if the unique and mesmerizing vibe that they once had can still be struck.  This is great, fresh, exciting glorious booty-shaking music that hasn’t aged a day since it was recorded.

© 2010

Bhayanak Maut

2010 May 31
Posted by snowboarderbo

The name means “terrible death” in Hindi. I think the exotic-sounding name (to my ears, anyway) fucking rocks, but I gotta admit it would also be cool to look at a marquee and see




doors at 8p!


Anyway, I got this a little over a month ago and it’s been on steady play both in the truck and in the house.  It’s a slamtastic set of 11 songs that starts off fast and furious, grabs you by the throat and proceeds to pummel you for 37 exquisitely moshable minutes.  Let me make this part really clear:  they never let up.  Never.  The music here is a frantic demonic harnessing of choatic energy.  Staggering, towering riffs dominate a beatdown of epic proportions and over it all vocals that were clearly summoned from the netherworld in a ritual too bizarre to be described believably.  The whole thing is a stew of headbanging Hades-from-Hindi sounds that just keeps me coming back for more and more and more.

Seems the band was sort of started as a joke, but soon had reason to believe they might be on to something after all.  Six years later, they give us this brutal battering ram of an album.  WOOT!

Check out the very first track I heard, Blasted Beyond Belief.  See what I mean?  Starts out brutal, never lets up, just whacks ya over the head with coiled steel and then continues to beat the shit outta you while shrieking in your face.  Listen to those riffs; they are the riffs of legends.   I can imagine the band stalking them like in a sort of a Indiana Jones & the Temple Of Doom Riffs kind of way, venturing into dark jungles and raiding ancient temples to collect these riffs.  Hell, I would if I knew where to go.

Ranti Nasha is another great tune, and judging by the live video the band has posted on their myspace page it’s a crowd favorite.  I love how every song the drummer is going a million miles  a minute!  He’s working his ass off and never misses.  The bass sounds like thick heavy cables slapping against a piece of sheet steel, carving a groove that glistens within the furious tribal pounding.  Over it all these fucking demons keep screaming at me, taunting me to….?  Shake my tailfeather?  Srsly?  I love this track!  A freaking grindcore mosh pit theme song that calls all the way back to a classic juke joint refrain just has to make you smile while stomping in a circle, aye!  Good shit!  Killer riffs and a sense of humor!

If you’re a headbanger, take a second now and go check your iTunes or whatever music library. Organize your songs by title and then take a look at how many songs start with the word Burn. If you’re like me, it’s quite a few and I bet most of them fucking rock.  Just like this song rocks. Just like this band rocks.  Awesome fucking hardcore death grind metal, all the way from India. When’s the USA tour guys?  This is a breakout album, in my opinion.  Excellent production, terrific musicians and rifferific songs that set the bar high in the first 4 seconds and then they jump over it again and again for the rest of the album.  This new-fangled brand of Indian hardcoreindustrialdeathgrindmetalcore or whatever it is fucking rocks and I wanna hear more.

And of course, that’s it too; it just makes me wonder:  what else are they doing in India that I haven’t heard yet?  Is the whole country a hotbed of radical pummeling new metal bands?  Could this just be the first in a flood of killer bands from India?  That would fuckin’ rock. Oh!  I know!  I’ma go listen to my Ravi Shankar albums really loud too; I bet he fuckin’ rocks at eleven!

Many thanks to Shashwat at Grey & Saurian for permission to use the album art and my picvids.

© 2010

Trees Of Mystery in “Mooks On Parade”

2010 May 29
Posted by snowboarderbo

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that most people have never heard of this band before.  I’m going to stay out on that limb and predict that none of you will ever hear about them again.  That’s because this band doesn’t exist anymore, and hasn’t for about 20 years.

Back when I was in college, I was the audio guy at the campus club.  We did shows Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes during the week as well.  Because we served the entire campus community, our acts varied widely from salsa to blues to rock to comedy to classical to jazz.  We used to get a lot of unsolicited stuff from bands looking to put together their own tours, which is how I came by this CD.  We never did get the band to play there, being a couple of thousand miles away, but the quality of the songs on this album is just amazing and I’ve held on to it and listened to it ever since.  In fact, it’s one of the most listened-to discs in my collection, to the point that I know every song now just by heart, I know most of the parts to each song by heart.

It starts off with a quick Introduction track, where we hear one club act ending before the MC introduces the band to less-than-thunderous-applause.  They launch into a smooth-as-silk jazzy opener, Old Nick’s Laundromat.  Tight, crisp, professional playing; this sounds like a late night jazz combo at a smoky club where they don’t serve beer, only liquor, and everyone’s in a suit or a smoking jacket.  Baby’s Dropping A Bomb Tonight continues the jazz vein, going uptempo and adding some great backing vocals.  Paul Dubois’ voice just soars over everything, wailing with just enough grit to let you feel that somehow you’ve stepped into a noir album.

But then the album changes gears with Kink-A-Thon 680.  ”It’s got to be funky!” says the sampled intro clip, and from the backbeat to the wah guitar to the Elwood-style call and response that starts the song, you know this is gonna be upbeat.  Once the song kicks in, it’s a restrained screamer about unlikely people and even more unlikely acts.

And then the darkness settles.  From the opening klezmer lines of Little Town Lothario, you know this isn’t going to be sunshine and fist pumping, and it isn’t.  The band sounds like they’ve seen fellow SF area legends The Residents once or twice as they lay down this wicked groove for a song about 2 wicked people who see each other for what they are, but can’t stop themselves from obeying their basest impulses.

(I Can’t Pay For Your) Pony is a rocker, flat out sweeping a listener along like a flood.  Dubois sounds kinda pissed, and the band sounds steamed too, as he details just why his girl’s issues aren’t his fault or his problem to solve.  It’s an excellent tune expressing a point of view not often seen in rock:  a rant from a man who isn’t misogynistic, simply weary and wary and determined not to get trapped in a bad situation not of his making.  The band is on fire here, moving flawlessly from their brand of incendiary rock to mournful carnival music to furious breaks.  The drums are impeccable and wicked, especially, while the twin guitars of J2 and Morris Vaughn Samuel III soar and spark.

Butchie And Billy starts with a nifty walking bass line, a sweet searing guitar over the top, and back to that sweet jazz combo sound as we listen to a tale of a relationship destined to crash and burn.

Then, for no reason at all, we get to the single greatest cover of Mack The Knife that I’ve yet heard.  I can’t even describe it, except to say I’m confident you’ve never heard this song done like this before.  It burns like lava flowing down the side of a mountain.

Another cover follows, the immortal Fever.  Again, the strange rock/jazz combo aspect of the band comes out and it’s perfect for this song.  For 9 minutes, they sizzle and snake their way thru the tune, complete with horns, and if anything it still ends too soon.  This thing positively smolders, I tell ya.

The album closes with Tequila With A Cube Of Sugar/Slap My Fanny, a wacky little clarinet-oriented instrumental that sounds like jazz greats wanking after hours (and after getting themselves in tune, ya know what I’m sayin’?) and producing amazing almost free-jazz type jams before morphing into a tight little riff progression that focuses on the melodic interplay between clarinet and guitar.

The dénouement is just a little Exit, with a quick voiceover from the jazz club’s personnel:  ”How’d we do tonight boss?”  ”Eh.  Not bad.  Not bad.”

Throughout, the musicianship  on this album is of an incredible quality.  These are people who are truly in control of their instruments and their voices.  The songwriting is exceptional as well.  The band deftly maneuvers around pop song structure to bring strong lounge jazz influences to the forefront.    They bring the funk at a moments notice and veer off into psychedelia a la Gong convincingly.  They seem to know just how much repetition to use in order to let you hear something enough to develop an earworm without ever getting sick of it. They’re a very talented and versatile group and now, twenty years on, I’m still stunned that they weren’t picked up by a major label or didn’t at least have some independent success.

But check this out:  the album enters genius territory when you realize that it’s not just a nifty collection of songs.  It’s actually a post-modern-neo-whatsit rock opera; a slice of life at a cool, sleazy, steamy, possibly vaguely illegal club.  It’s simply the band describing the people in the room watching them, creating unique musical portraits to fit the fanciful, at times pathetic, tales of the people in this fictional club.  After a while, it’s like I could look around the room and see the people in my mind’s eye.  Think of it as the last hour at this club, listened to at near real time.  After they get done giving a nod to the patrons watching, the band rips into some old favorites and I do mean they rip ‘em, before toning it down and bidding a musical farewell and good night.  It just needs a decent tour and this would be gold baby gold I tell ya!

So, now we get down to the nitty gritty.  I’ve had this album for 20 years, have listened to it and dissected it and just generally enjoyed the hell out of owning it all these years (I consider the album to be one of the gems of my collection), yet I know very little about the band and it’s members:

Paul Dubois – vocals and clarinet

J2 – guitar, red socks and white loafers

Morris Vaughn Samuel III – guitar, backing vocals

Cheese S. Mitchell – bottom end, 88s

Oliver Sudden – skins

Back in 2008 or maybe 2009 I did some searching, made some phone calls, sent out emails, and did my best gumshoe impersonation. I found a couple of people at various SF local magazines and altpapers who remembered them and even managed to contact the guy who owned the studio where the album was recorded. The record label, Your Name Here Records is long gone and was prolly just set up for this one release (the CD’s catalog # is TOM 1001). Weirdest of all, there’s no publishing information at all: no ASCAP, no BMI.

I never did manage to find any of the guys in the band, or find out what happened to them, to the best of my recollection.   In a quick search while prepping to write this, I discovered that I’ve lost most of the notes I made during all that painstaking research, so I’m almost back at Square One again.

Just to be as complete and clear as I can, what I remember learning is that the band existed for 3 years or so in the SF Bay area. I recall a couple of people mentioning that they thought drugs or alcohol took their toll on more than one band member. The one report of death I heard thought that drugs or alcohol might have been involved but couldn’t remember which of the guys it might have been (I’m thinking he said a guitarist, but really can’t recall).

They recorded their album at Richard Sutton’s studio in Atascadero, CA in either 1989 or 1990, and then somehow imploded. I’m sure I have more details in my notes which are now missing (prolly due to last years Great Clean Up™ where I sorted through a lot of old stuff (my writings from college, years of old tax stuff, correspondence, etc.).  I threw a lot of stuff away and re-organized the rest, but it was quite a project and so now there’s a lot to go thru to be able to find that particular notebook.

Anyway, this project gave me a way to share this music with people. For all I know, I could be the only person in the world with this CD, with these songs. At least now other people can find them and hear them and appreciate them, and maybe, just maybe, information will trickle in and I can finally find out who these guys were, why they chose the style of music they did when they were surrounded by metal bands and the like, and why it was that despite an incredible self-produced, self-released album, they never had any real success.

If anyone remembers or knows anything about them, or if you just liked their music, please feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you know.

Click here to listen to Trees of Mystery in “Mooks On Parade” in it’s entirety.

© 2010

Ihsahn – After

2010 April 5

I never did listen to Emperor much really, so I came into this album with no expectations, no sacred cows that might be slaughtered, no preconceived notions to be derailed or upheld.  In fact, I doubt this would have made it onto my list except for the inclusion of the song Undercurrent on a Metal Hammer CD.  That song blew me away, so I was waiting at Zia for them to open up at 10am on 26 January when the album was released.

I wasn’t disappointed at what I got for my $13.

From the sweet opening riff of the first track, The Barren Lands, the album takes hold of your ears and doesn’t let go until 53 minutes later.  Each song is  a curious and powerful blend of death metal, arena rock and free jazz.  Yes, you read that correctly:  free jazz.

Ihsahn has dabbled in a number of post-Emperor projects, including Peccatum, a weird sort of avante-garde industrial gothic classical musical group mostly consisting of Ihsahn, his wife Star of Ash’s Ihriel and her brother Lord PZ.  On those albums it was clear that Ihsahn had seen the limitations of black metal as a genre, and he was exploring new territory.  In a sense, he was finding what he could do to make the admirable aspects of other genres he liked more palatable to the black metal community and this seems to have laid the groundwork for his solo albums of the past decade.

For this album, Ihsahn once again plays damn near every instrument, with the stunning exception of the saxophone parts, played with verve by Jørgen Munkeby (of the black metal-jazz fusion group Shining).  Now, I’m not talking about pleasant, clear, melodic Spyro Gyra type saxophone.  I’m talking about mean, loud, dirty, squealing-full-of-sex type of saxophone.   Not so much Sonny Rollins as Steve Mackay, ya know what I’m sayin’?  Although it’s not the focus of the album, or even of any of the 8 songs in particular, the addition of this voicing really stands out when it’s present, and helps to set this album apart from almost anything else in metal today.  The choatic wailing really contrasts and complements the tightly controlled guitar and drums, bringing a badly needed bit of pandemonium to an otherwise rigid soundscape.

Not that the songs themselves are sparse or sterile; in fact, each song seems to be a small symphony of sorts, pacing through from acoustic guitar riffs, furious double-kick drumming, chunky rhythms parts, and soulful vocals that then become black metal growling ( I swear sometimes I can hear that he was writhing on the floor of the studio while he was singing, to get it just right).

In a departure of sorts for me, one of my favorite tracks on the album is also arguably the slowest, most ballad-like: Frozen Lakes On Mars, a sort of mournful ditty that starts with a searing guitar riff, quickly moves into heavy chunkness with near-CMVs and blistering guitar solos, but eventually settles into a terrific mid-tempo groove which grinds the chorus into your head.  Most of the songs are like that to one degree or another, but this one just has such solid hooks in the chorus that it stands way out;  it should be released as a single for more adventurous radio station airplay (do they even still do that anymore?).

One way for me to describe this album is that most of it sounds kind of like Opeth if they trimmed the fat from some of their songs and condensed them down to just their core elements.  All but 2 of the songs are a mere 4-6 minutes long, and the 2 longer tracks are so fluid in their movements that you won’t even notice that 10 minutes have passed.

The songs as a whole are so tight and so incredibly well-performed, it’s hard to believe that this is (in the truest sense of the word) a solo album.  Ihsahn not only wrote all the songs and played nearly every instrument, he also engineered the recording and produced it all himself.  It’s a truly devastating effort, a real masterpiece and solid evidence in favor of the notion that music is complex enough that the auteur title can and should be applied to musicians.

© 2010