So, before I get into my top albums of the year, it’s time for some Christmas cleaning. These reviews have been sitting on my hard drive for a while, and chances are you haven’t heard of most of these bands–but some of them are worth checking out.
All releases are independent unless stated otherwise.
Hotel Wrecking City Traders & Gary Arce 12” LP
A two-song, 12” EP with ten minutes of music on each side, pairing two-man Aussie noise rockers Hotel Wrecking City Traders with Yawning Man/Brant Bjork riffmeister Gary Arce—this has potential, indeed.
A Side “Coventina’s Cascade” starts off in mellow psych territory, some lush, rolling riffs above a hard-hitting backbeat. The percussive pace picks up, though there still isn’t much urgency in the riffs, the super-clean tones belying a more intense attack. You know, this kinda reminds me of that OGOD (Over-Gain Optimal Death) band I saw open for Acid Mothers Temple a couple years back—if not a little bit of AMT themselves.
B Side “Traverse of the Oxen” starts off a little like its predecessor—minus the pounding percussion, mind you, which takes a little bit longer to come in. From there, it kinda goes to a darker place, the riffage thick and chunky, creating a more menacing feel. This tune sounds like it belongs on A Storm of Light’s latest, of which I’m a pretty big fan.
All in all, it’s a pretty cool post-metal release.
Negative Reaction – Frequencies from Montauk (PsycheDOOMelic)
This NYC “sludge” band has apparently been around for 20+ years, which is news to me, as this is the first I’ve heard of them. I see that their past releases have come out on such illustrious labels as Game Two Records, This Dark Reign Recordings and Spare Change Records. Not exactly Earache or Southern Lord…
That said, it quickly becomes apparent that this is not what I’d call sludge metal. Opening track “Day After Yesterday” is pretty standard stoner rock fare—not bad, mind you—but the high-pitched, toneless, squealing vocals are a comedic nuisance, of the so-bad-it’s-funny variety.
“Dopamine” almost sounds like a grunge song, those muddy, slightly psychedelic guitar riffs and almost-whispered vocals giving way to a big, loud chorus. Yep, that’s never been done before…
Two instrumentals follow, one being some weird electronica thing. Was that really necessary?
Other songs range from vaguely Sleep-inspired stoner doom, to slowed-down, tough-guy hardcore, for which Ken “The Screech” Bones (my nickname, not his) sounds best suited. Overall, I give this a big pile of meh. As BWBK would’ve said, “Mired in mediocrity, lost in the pack.”
Mechanics of Things – Twin Electric Death
Cleveland, aside from being the closest stop on most major US-only tours, has also produced such solid sludge bands as Fistula and Keelhaul. Thus, when a stoner troupe from The Mistake by the Lake drops me a line, I’m all ears…
The title track leads things off, a solid, fuzz-rocking tune with leather-lunged vocals. If Fu Manchu recorded an album in Eyehategod’s basement, it might sound a little like this.
“Paper Suicide” takes a more laid-back desert rock approach, sorta like Nebula on some mellow pills, with a great heavy chorus, to boot! “100 Watt” meanwhile has a bit more of a Nashville Pussy feel, if they were to spend a couple days wandering around in the desert.
“Earthmover” shows the band at its sludgiest, while “Gasoline” almost reminds me of the Misfits with its punk-rock chorus. Overall, this is a pretty decent disc, with nary a dull moment.
Zebulon Pike – Space is the Corpse of Time
The new album from Minnesota doom dealers Zebulon Pike was released in June to coincide with their appearance at Wisconsin’s Days of the Doomed fest. However, as I was unable to attend said festival, I’m just getting into it now. Space is the Corpse of Time features five instrumental tunes lasting just over 50 minutes—hardly unfamiliar territory for these space cadets.
The album opens with “Spectrum Threshold,” a near-12-minute number that recalls Isis with more of a sludgy stomp, a solid chug beneath some interestingly offbeat guitar sounds. Some of the slower passages recall Neurosis, albeit through some sort of distorted filter, until this one slows to a crawl, some clean, soothing guitar passages the likes of which you’d hear from Pelican, for example, or a local band like Holoscene. (Are they still around?)
“Echoic Worlds” opens on a similar note as its predecessor, though there is at least one decent doom riff to be found here. There is also some weird wah-meets-overdrive effect that sounds pretty trippy, until once again we’re plunged into the depths of a lone, gloomy accousticy guitar, albeit only for a minute or two, before this beast roars back as heavy as ever. At one point they even make use of a xylophone as this tune takes another tune for the weird. Not your typical “true doom” tune, that’s for sure!
Third track “Powers of the Living – Manifestations of the Dead” opens with a burst of electronic noise, before settling into slow, doomy territory with an otherworldly guitar tone—and are those handbells!? This remains the best song of the bunch to bang your head to, however…
The title track, coming in just a hair over five minutes, feels like a grindcore song next to all the 10-minute-plus numbers that surround it. I can’t say it really sounds like grindcore, though, more whacked-out riffing, doomy dirges and sparse, melodic passages—sort of a Cliffnotes version of the album as a whole.
The album ends with “Trigon in Force,” the most badass song title, in a cheesy sci-fi kinda way. This one gets kinda bogged down for a bit in a static chug, with some guitar noodling overtop, but once it gets out of that funk, it kicks out some solid downtuned doom jams.
Bottom line, if you’re seeking some stock Sabbath worshippers, look elsewhere. But if you want something that moves the goalposts on NeurIsis-style prog sludge, you’ve come to the right place.
Rising – To Solemn Ash (Exile on Mainstream)
What’s this, a band from Denmark playing Georgia-style sludge!? Guess it’s a small world after all. Rising combines Kylesa’s atmospheric chug with the aggressive attack of Black Tusk and the melodic sensibilities of Baroness to create a sound you’ve heard before—just not from Scandinavia’s least-metal country (with apologies to Mercyful Fate).
If anything, this band reminds me most of Baroness, particularly the Blue Album, but there’s also a touch of trad metal on tunes like “Sea of Basalt” and “Cohorts Rise” that shows these guys were raised on ‘Fate. Without checking, I’m pretty sure this is a two-guitar band…
Though no song on here exceeds six minutes, there are still some epic-sounding moments like the driving, sludgy buildup of “Hunter’s Crown” while “Under Callous Wings” could almost be lifted from the latest Crowbar record. It certainly captures that same darkened vibe as Sever the Wicked Hand—one of my top albums of the year, FWIW.
That said, while these guys do what they do quite well, it’s all been done before on these shores. A solid seven, but no bonus points for originality from me.
The big weiner here is clearly Zebulon Pike. Check that one out if you can find it…