Tag Archives: doom

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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Conan, The Black Heart – Camden, 5th October 2013

A damn good show this despite Slabdragger’s untimely cancellation. If Conan were a footballer they would undoubtedly be “top, top”.

Check out the review over at Echoes and Dust.


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Mount Salem

How good are this lot? Very.

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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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Limb, “Gift of the Sun” New Heavy Sounds

Gift of the Sun cover

Steeped in malevolent, decaying doom and proto-metal sounds the debut release from London sludge merchants Limb is, in no uncertain terms, a beast of a record. The three short tracks on Gift of the Sun manage to conjure up plenty of heavy touchstones – Electric Wizard, Crowbar – while forging their own grizzled identity.

Set to walloping low-end and plenty of grinding distortion the band don’t forget the value of a tune and the opening title track packs plenty of riffs and a surprising show of dynamics for what is essentially a band that deal in the heaviest of metal. Vocalist Rob Hoey has the throat to match the hulking rhythms conjured by the trio of instrumentalists ranging from a bellow to scream on Quiet Earth before a fiery swansong on monolithic Dead Voice a track that invites low and slow headbanging as it slowly seeps into your skin blackening the pores.

First published on Roomthirteen

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Neurosis “Honor Found In Decay” Neurot

Neurosis album cover

Honor Found in Decay, the eleventh full-length studio record from post-metal pioneers Neurosis, is yet another run of the mill exercise in consistent excellence. Whilst not straying from the sound and aesthetic crystallised on previous albums such as this record’s gnarled predecessor Given to the Rising, Neurosis have produced another visceral and emotive anchor of an album.

Released at a time when the leaves are dead or dying and falling to the ground and the sky is low and shot through with grey before dusk Honor Found in Decay is a prescient release – trailing the dark somberness that approaches us in British winter.

The hulking, brooding riffs for which they are renowned are present on this new collection but they are often used to clear space for quiet laments of Floydian melancholy and evocations of the physical world (the heavy parts obviously: mountains, planets and the sun what else would you expect?). This is nowhere better demonstrated than on My Heart For Deliverance; a song that alights on human insignificance and cosmic grandeur. Bleeding The Pigs’ lyrics are given prominence and are similarly evocative, “Scrape the black tar from your past life. Let its weight burn away. Stand within the guiding power. Its current draws you clean.”

Elsewhere Neurosis grapple with abrasive sonics; Casting Of The Ages uses the classic quiet/loud/very loud/quiet structure as Von Till and Kelly share the microphone for a song of punishing weight. Eschewing that structure the ugly All Is Found…In Time crackles with energy propelled by a scuttling drum pattern and yawning guitar over which vocals stretch into the distance collapsing into a ringing post-rock middle section before retrieving the anger that put the song in motion. The closing statement is one of electric dissonance with the crushing Raise The Dawn which fades out to the strains of weeping violin.

Neurosis’ immersive groove is a communal one shared between the six members. Sometimes they are joined by the bobbing heads of a crowd and sometimes the connection is just between the listener and a disc. It’s hard to recreate the physicality of the band’s all too infrequent live shows on record; Steve Albini certainly ratchets up the guitar sounds but the drums don’t have the same punch.

On Honor Found in Decay the band add some touches from their other musical interests: spectral folk from Von Till’s and Kelly’s acoustic albums and the psychedelic whirl of supergroup Shrinebuilder especially in the keyboards of Noah Landis to the trademark doom enveloped guitar, Jason Roeder’s tribal drumming and the growl of Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till. This atmosphere, can after a time, feel portentous, bordering on the ridiculously gloomy and it should be known there are no moments of levity here; it’s all cloaked in weighty struggle.

The hype surrounding the record may be unfair and certainly uncultivated by the band themselves but it makes for expectations that the evolution from hardcore ruffians to post-metal philosophers will continue but the evidence is that that process has slowed somewhat after recent landmark albums with Neurosis comfortable with their sonic identity with only minor nuances required to keep moving forward.

Standing like an ancient tree with haphazard branches, mottled with moss and changing colour and scale through the seasons Neurosis may outwardly change but they ultimately stay the same producing raw, thoughtful heavy music on each release. It may seem trite to remark on Neurosis’ longevity but after almost thirty years there aren’t many acts that can still deliver so much and for that we should be thankful.

Review first published on RoomThirteen.

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Black Sabbath “Iron Man: The Best of Black Sabbath” Universal

Cover Black Sabbath Iron: Best Of

“Don’t believe the life you have/Will be the only one.” sang Ozzy Osbourne on 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and this has certainly proved to be the case when considering the career of Black Sabbath. From blues-rock urchins named Earth, to coke addled stadium slayers via sackings, stone-henge stage props and years of in-fighting and inactivity the band have arrived in 2012 to a wave of popularity and the fruition of a long rumoured reunion of the original line-up (that inevitably led to one member being left outside – this time it’s Bill Ward). So given this higher than normal profile it’s surely time for a rag-tag ‘best of’ collection. This one ingeniously adds the prefix of Iron Man, no doubt down to the song’s inclusion on the hit Marvel film of the same name.

So far, so cynical; however, the motivation behind the release isn’t really the problem, it’s the content. Sabbath are the godfathers of heavy metal – no ifs, no buts – and as such their back catalogue is extremely well known, so the omissions and inclusions on this single disc compilation are highly important. For one to say that this Ozzy-era selection adequately covers the band’s first eight records is a lie. There are no tracks from Technical Ecstasy for a start…

What is here is the obvious and, let’s face it, the songs that had to be included: Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Iron Man and War Pigs are all present and correct. But they are drawn from only two albums and that doesn’t tell the whole story. Look at what’s missing: Planet Caravan, Into the Void, Supernaut, Sabbra Cadabra, Symptom of the Universe and, believe me, I could go on.

It could be that best ofs are simply a redundancy in the digital age of the perpetual playlist. But some bands need a compilation due to patchy albums or a wide but causal appreciation of their hits. Sabbath’s following isn’t up made of either of those types of people. There was a chance to do something creative but a cash-in is a cash-in. So it’s a 13 for the music but a considerably less appreciative score for the package.

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Scott Kelly, Steve Von Till, Wino “Songs of Townes Van Zandt” Proud Mountain

I wrote some words for the guys over at Sonic Shocks. Check it oot over on their website now. Or don’t see if I care.

I do care, really.

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Sleep “Dopesmoker” Southern Lord

New Sleep Dopesmoker Cover

Dopesmoker is a cult album; its back-story almost as prominent as the music itself, destined to mentioned in dispatches as often as Bon Iver’s log-cabin or the unresolved grief and bullying that led to the bass-less sounds of …And Justice For All.  Dopesmoker is one track, an hour long, a singular ode to weed and trippy, psychedelic heaviness. A swirling vortex of black lunged riffs, circular rhythms and chanting vocals – beauty and the beast on one disc – that was roundly rejected by the band’s then major label, London Records.

The legend that built up prior to the record’s first unedited release in 2003 has elevated what was once, presumably, considered a daft, dope fiend idea into a touchstone overshadowing the band’s other releases rendering them footnotes. An unfair summary perhaps, but such is the weight of Dopesmoker‘s legacy.

Now in 2012 Dopesmoker gets another re-release this time via Greg Anderson’s heavy metal label extraordinaire, Southern Lord, remastered by Brad Boatright of From Ashes Rise, approved by original bassist Al Cisneros and presented in some Tatooine referencing new artwork from Arik Roper. Dopesmoker  is thus given the grand treatment it always deserved.

The band split following the album’s aborted original release sending rhythm section Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius into philosophical mantras with new band OM and six-stringer and vocalist Matt Pike into super-charged grit metallers High On Fire. Sleep, however, never really died reforming in 2009 for occasional shows and most recently took the roof off Alexandra Palace supporting Slayer playing a condensed version of their magnum opus and Holy Mountain.

The music they created for Dopesmoker was, and is, a heavy proposition: 52 minutes of interlocking riffs and hypnotic bass and drum combinations and a heavy fug of a production job that has been made slightly clearer on this release.

The album starts slowly with down-tuned droning strings from Pike and an unhurried, eyes closed, foundation of crashing cymbals and bass rumble before the first movement dissolves into a distorted and frazzled guitar solo around the ¼ of an hour mark. See, that’s unhurried. As Pike’s solo burns out over sheets of power chords cries of “Proceeds the Weedian – Nazareth” emerge. The trio then lock into a zonked out groove for the next seven or so minutes.

Fade and decay are common musical themes throughout with the band unbound by traditional rock song structures. A new isolated riff appears before the rhythm section return and Cisneros bellows as Dopesmoker turns dark descending into tantric drone. Despite the off the cuff title and fantastical lyrics Dopesmoker feels serious in its exploration of tone and rhythm something that OM would explore further on their records.

A dazzling solo brings the curtain down on the 2nd movement and Dopesmoker is reconfigured yet again into a quiet, lysergic meditation free of oppressive volume and tone but with ten minutes to go there’s a great, big crashing unified band riff before a guitar break and the final cataclysmic blast of snarling guitar, bass and drums that slowly fades out.

Ultimately, the legend is unimportant. Of course it’s possible that Dopesmoker’s greatest legacy is that there are no more heshers like them on major labels. Aside from that though, Sleep stand alongside the likes of Black Sabbath and St. Vitus as cornerstones of the stoner/doom genres and a line can be drawn through them to modern volume abusers like Electric Wizard and Sunn O))). Disregard the history because the music is still stellar and a heavier and more ambitious trip into the reaches of the stoned mind you will not find – “Drop out of life with bong in hand. Follow the Smoke toward the Riff filled Land.”

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