Category Archives: Record review

Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)

Pallbearer group photo


There have been lots of metal releases this year from acclaimed acts; Opeth, Mastodon, Triptykon and the like – and it’s clear that you can’t necessarily go faster or slower in pursuit of inspiration now that, to a large extent, extreme metal = metal. What you can do is what Profound Lore recording artists Pallbearer have done – by being memorable, by being individuals within a lineage which is what many of those illustrious names have also achieved. Pallbearer’s quality was obvious on their weighty, deathly reflective debut album Sorrow and Extinction back in 2012.

Since that debut there have been the usual yowls of dissent (‘hipster metal’ – groan) from the supposed keepers of metal’s purity but if Pallbearer have been listening you wouldn’t guess from it from the ornate grandeur of their new album, Foundations of Burden. Adding the deft skills of new drummer Mark Lierly and the studio nous of renowned producer Billy Anderson (High on Fire, Neurosis and more) has only improved the band. Another development is the greater prominence of guitarist Devin Holt’s vocal cords. He takes the mic for two of the most wandering, ruinous songs on the record, opener Worlds Apart and Watcher In The Dark songs that aren’t afraid to ditch the riffs, creating mood and intrigue before weaving the riffs back in.

As you would expect from a second album the palette Pallbearer are drawing from is more extensive, Rhodes piano and synthesizers are used to good prog rock effect. There are certain moments on this record that few other bands in the genre are going to reach for such as the echoey post-rock rattle and melancholic vocal harmonies on Foundations, the bass dropping out in The Ghost I Used To Be to expose singing guitars, and the keys and synths that create the textured stillness of Ashes. The lyrics, whilst remaining as resolutely doom laden as ever, combine with the music for nuances all the other doom-by-numbers Sabbath worshipers eschew.

Foundations of Burden is definitely a step forward from its predecessor and Pallbearer have clearly gained confidence from the success of Sorrow and Extinction here. To paraphrase the lyrics on the record’s closing song, Vanished: the band are “…always shifting. Always becoming.”

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Disappears, “Era” Kranky

Era record cover

Chicago’s Disappears release their new record Era on Kranky Records and it’s a crashing, looping mantra of spooky noise and circular lyrics making for a album of occasionally unsettling character. The skeletal thrum of Girls opens the album setting up things perfectly for what’s to follow with singer Brian Case sounding so close, as if his breath could be felt on your ear while the music distracts your conscious mind using slinky electronics, metallic guitars and shadowy electronics.

Ultra clicks in after Power humming with menace like a White Hills tune. Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space and it is uncomfortable… real uncomfortable, especially when three voices haunt the last minute of the track: “if you go, I’ll go…Does it end together? Does it end soon?” Weird House could almost be a tag for the music that Disappears have written for Era: all dance music for zombies with a hard hitting beat from Noah Leger making the undead twitch.

The creepiness continues with Elite Typical poking and prodding and Case goading, “you think about her all the time.” Disappears revel in sparse constructions and the creep and murk of their freakish industrial-kraut-psych. Ultra does this best, Era (the song) toys with something approaching rock while the rest of the album stays closer to the minimalism of Spacemen 3 with Case’s voice providing the personality.

The album signs off with New House with its Doppler screeches and Case telling us that he “can’t seem to shake this anything, anything, anything, anything” and you’ll feel that way too after completing this obsessive noirish record.

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Dead Meadow, “In the Marrow” Spiderbomb Records

In the Marrow record cover

Like their career so far Dead Confederate’s music is a slow burning affair. On new album and third overall, In the Marrow, the band ditch some of the immediacy they found on the previous album – Sugar – for some more of the grunge meets Pink Floyd smouldering jams they favoured on Wrecking Ball. Hardy Morris’ languid yowl takes the initiative, such as it is, as slide guitar and pedal steel loop in autumnal decay with drums that do just enough to move these molten songs along.

In the Marrow is another enjoyable record but not necessarily the great one I might have envisaged back in 2008 when they first played in the UK with the Black Angels just before their debut album Wrecking Ball emerged. Back then they were spiky, sloppy and endearingly uninterested whereas the follow-up Sugar suggested a proper tilt at success.

That all sounds disappointing, like a missed opportunity or something but it isn’t really. Clearly, Dead Confederate regrouped – lost a member, recorded some Neil Young covers, self-released an EP and played lots of gigs – and returned. They come across like that friend everyone has – who is happy with the quiet life when everyone is scratching their heads at the lack of supposed ‘progress’ in their life. The band knows what they do best.

That’s not to say that In the Marrow is some free wheelin’ weed and beer dude rock as the mulchy opener Slow Poisons demonstrates. Flitting around a sketched out structure it is a melancholic dirge.  The ragged psych of Vacations follows and pulls at that thread of doubt: “acting like nothing’s wrong/sooner or later it all dissolves… I’ve been to school; I’ve been to church now I’m seeing what that’s worth.” Morris and bassist Brantley Senn continue to share song-writing duties composing separately but coalescing into one coherent outpouring (out-drizzling, perhaps?).

Dead Confederate stretch out their flesh coloured canvas one more time for the title-track and it is, by now, their sonic signature: long haunting guitar sounds and gloopy mid-tempo drum hits. Overall, In the Marrow is alt. rock by way of Southern disharmony Morris having shed some of the more obviously indebted Nirvana throat shredding angst and reined in the lengths of the tracks. Shorter they may be but tracks like awkwardly titled Best of the Worst and Big City Life are hardly hook laden powerpop. The closest number to a radio song is probably Dead Poetry with its Pixies indebted jaggedy guitar line and slow dance rhythm.  Maybe that radio play would come on a college radio station but that’s what we’re dealing with.

Where Wrecking Ball rocked and Sugar occasionally raged In the Marrow feels more crafted in its approach. It’s retro, heartfelt and tangible feeling but there’s also a nagging feeling of doubt there too. The second act of their career starts here.

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Been busy not being here. Wrote some stuff for Sonic Shocks though.

Pan American – Cloud Room, Glass Room and a new comp Sea Monsters 3: Best of Brighton


Back real soon.

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Iron Tongue, “The Dogs Have Barked, The Birds Have Flown” Neurot Recordings

Iron Tongue Cover

Catching up here, my review of Iron Tongue’s torn and frayed new album is over on SonicShocks now.

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Zolle, “Zolle” Supernatural Cat

Zolle Album Cover

Zolle’s self titled disc is a ten tonne arse shaker of dirty riffs and elephantine beats. Zolle is another release from the Ufomammut crowd via their Supernatural Cat label that’s run in conjunction with the Malleus Rock Art Lab – the provider of psychedelic visuals for countless gigs and albums – and features Marcello of Morkobot on six string duties and Stefano pummeling defenceless drums into submission.

Broadly speaking this is stoner rock, the kind that previous genre leaders Queens of the Stone Age have seemingly evolved beyond but that countless metalheads still crave. It could also be termed space rock but not the dreamy cosmic kind. Oh no, this is the full on, balls to the wall sort – more like the soundtrack to the battering of the Millennium Falcon with a hydrospanner. It’s unkempt blue collar instrumental heavy rock for impoverished spice smugglers not bridge of the Enterprise intellectuals.

Trakthor is the suitably robotic meat-cleaving opening track that cues up oodles of syncopated riffing and concise but action packed song structures. The unrelenting blasts of heavy metal continue until the song titled in homage to the genre and, of course, punned with the Italian for manure: Heavy Letam with its rotating guitar stabs and Doctor Who synths courtesy of Ufomammut’s Urlo and Roberto Rizzo of Quasiviri/Runi who also return to contribute to the woozy finale and wonderfully titled Moongitruce.

It all sounds like the result of a night spend ingesting the Arrakis spice from Dune and committing the stomping, heavy breathing instrumental effect to tape. It’s heavy but not leaden – the tracks rarely stray above three minutes in length and there are few fripperies (including guitar solos), instead drums and guitar rub against each other in a hedonistic brew of headbanging reverie.

If the Millennium Falcon had an ‘I Hate Disco’ bumper sticker and if Chewie and Han spent their time cruising the galaxy for good times rather than helping with the Rebellion, Zolle would be on the tape deck. Zolle is an album to get loaded to and forget about doing the ‘right’ thing, well for at least 27 minutes and then you hit play again.

First published: RoomThirteen

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At the Drive-In, ‘Relationship of Command (Reissue)’, Grand Royal

Relationship of Command CoverIt is the year 2000, when Britney Spears and N*SYNC ruled the charts and nu-metal was at its apogee, dominating rock album and ticket sales and the ill-equipped indie rock press where crying out for an alternative (Radiohead were going jazz and Britpop was dead and smelling funny) – yet another saviour was required. At the Drive-In were the incendiary five piece post-hardcore group from El Paso groomed for that role and Relationship of Command duly arrived to critical acclaim. The all skinny, some afro’d, constituents of At the Drive-In were unlikely heroes of student discos in an instant with kids screaming, “Send transmission from the one armed scissor. Cut away, cut away!”

Let’s not entirely define them by what they weren’t though i.e. inarticulate rap-metal bruisers, ATD-I were loud, frenetic, tense and out of the ordinary; witness Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s ornate hyper-speed lyrical pronouncements: “intravenously polite it was the walkie-talkie that had knocked the pins down…prepare to indent, a coma that read – floating in a soundproof costume.” The album itself was a chart ready proposition helmed by nu-metal production lynchpin Ross Robinson who fired all the needles into the red. Like Nevermind before it Relationship of Command was a polished rock beast but unlike Nirvana, ATD-I didn’t sell ten million copies and produce a follow-up they broke up in acrimony instead leading to the conventional post-hardcore of Sparta and the sometimes transcendent, sometimes trash Mars Volta.

But what of the tunes? From the off Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s spidery guitar is welded close to the high tensile backing of Jim Ward’s guitar and the bass and drums of Paul Hinojos and Tony Hajjar. Arcarsenal rumbles with bass and piano backing and Cedric roaring, “beware!” Pattern Against User paves the way for that left field but hooky as hell floor-filler One Armed Scissor; all stop-start verses and blasting chorus and Cedric dueting with his own “get away, get away” backing and that irresistible ‘doo-doo’ ad-lib. The record offers brief respite from the maelstrom with the clinking electronic opening of Sleepwalk Capsules before the band regain their adrenal resources.

Relationship of Command doesn’t feature lots of variation across its twelve (and now thirteen via a bonus) tracks – the songs are generally about all out attack, albeit a skewed asymmetric one. Invalid Litter Dept, Mannequin Republic and Quarantined opt for more space and melody amid the strained riffing and more scream along lyrics: “Dancing on the corpses ashes” and “They call it a wasteland, baby”. So much of this record is euphoric, highly quotable, sing-along fare not that the spoken intro to Enfilade immediately supports that statement but the handclaps and rolling bassline do. Wrinkly punk godfather Iggy Pop appears on Rolodex Propaganda, a mish-mash of a song notable for its other voice more than anything else. Cosmonaut feels like an album ending song, such is its apocalyptic urgency but it gives way to the melancholic sway of piano led Non Zero Possibility. Actual closer, Catacombs boasts a metallic riff interrupted by slashing chords and staccato rhythm but doesn’t quite reach the heights of that heart-stopping first side of Relationship of Command.

This re-issue follows the pattern of the years following the band’s break-up: underwhelming, cursory backward glances at their legacy; see the tense and, to some, disappointing reunion shows last year, in that there’s only a demo of Catacombs as an addition rather than the wallet shredding multi-format, rarities and artwork of other bloated re-releases in recent years. That approach just serves to underline how great this album still is, there’s no fat just taut impassioned rock and roll and we always need that not just to save us from an overbearing, conservative mainstream from time to time.

First published RoomThirteen

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The Black Angels “Indigo Meadow” Blue Horizon

Indigo Meadow Cover

Austin psyche revivalists The Black Angels have returned with their fourth LP, Indigo Meadow, in slightly amended form. The band are down to a four piece of Stephanie, Christian, Kyle and Alex and the record sleeve exhanges the geometric trip of their past records for a swirly Fillmore concert poster layout. Despite these tweaks in presentation, the core sound of The Angels persists; there’s plenty of fuzzed up guitar and bass, 12 string jangle, sci-fi keys, bass drum beats and Christian Bland’s nonchalant vocals and yeah, the year is still approximately 1966.

The Byrds, The Velvets and Nuggets-style hooligan rock are such noticeable influences on the band’s song-writing that, by this stage, it’s not worth dwelling on their genealogy. What is striking is how the band seem to be reprising themselves on Indigo Meadow. There’s something of the law of diminishing returns about this record – the need for the field to sit fallow for a while to regenerate. Holland, whilst being worthy of inclusion, sounds immediately familiar, while Evil Things is basically a grumpier Haunting at 1300 McKinley. Elsewhere Don’t Play With Guns comes off as glib and tossed off and The Day is a wafer thin proposition.

In the plus column, Love Me Forever is saturated in gooey keyboards absorbing the circular twang of the verse guitar riff, letting it seep out for a fuzzy run in the chorus behind Bland’s deadpan delivery. Broken Soldier revisits the Vietnamese backdrops of their debut album Passover; all stomping menace and thousand yard stares, “it’s hard to kill when you don’t know whose side your on.” Later on, there’s Syd Barrett style whimsy on I See Colors (Chromaesthesia) lead by Alex Maas’s rainbow organ and backwards tape effects and brooding menace on closer Black Isn’t Black. However, four songs isn’t a lot to be getting on with on a 13 track record.

At the moment The Black Angels feel a bit like a wrinkled balloon – there’s the nostalgia and good time recollections from the bright colour and initial usage but also a sigh as you watch it lose its vim, fall to the floor and collect bits of fluff; but you still don’t feel ready to pop it. There’s enough on Indigo Meadow to suggest there will be more to come from The Black Angels but they need to find some of their past vitality to avoid becoming mere re-enactors.

First published on Roomthirteen

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