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No Longer Singing From The Same Hymn Sheet

2 Jan

It’s stating the obvious to say I don’t really do Pig State Recon anymore. But as I did do it at the outset of 2011, I figure I’d try to wrap up things, now that the year is toast. This past year saw so much large scale upheaval and horrific devastation around the world – politically, economically, environmentally – that my narrow ass perspective here seems sorta irrelevant. But that’s blogging for you.

2011 saw some really positive developments in my own life: settling into a new job/life up on the cobbled streets of North Yorkshire, watching my wife’s Etsy jewelry shop succeed beyond all reasonable expectations, and finally buying a house – a first for this no-longer young 41 yr old. All this without mentioning our newly adopted black kitty – Cherry’s her name. That little one has expanded our family dynamic here in subtle but wonderful ways, sorta like when Dave Swarbrick started fiddling fulltime in FAIRPORT CONVENTION. Well, sorta.

But if this year has meant something specifically musical to me, it has to reflect the distinct lack of new rock n roll tuneage filling my aural spaces over the past 12 months. This was a natural reaction to my new environs; I now live nowhere near the metropolitan strongholds of new rock action, and the North Yorkshire countryside I drive through to work each day is far too rolling to get me Kicking Out The Jams on a regular basis. So all of a sudden it’s non-rock instrumental sounds of the ambient electronic, soundtrack, and even classical(!) variety that have marked my hours most prominently this year. Go figure.

Now I’m not qualified to blog about folks with names like Gustav Mahler or Giacomo Puccini – even on good days I struggle to tell my counterpoint from my contrapunct. I did hear a few rock-related records released in the past year, and I might as well say a few words about ’em for old times sake. But if some loudmouth American approaches you at the next London Philharmonic Orchestra performance asking you what your favourite SST LP was, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKWay Of The Morris (OST, 2011) Delicately glistening soundtrack to a great documentary about an Oxfordshire Morris dance side. Reminiscent of the approach Ashley Hutchings took on odd 70’s Britfolk projects like The Compleat Dancing Master and Rattlebone & Ploughjack, here Adrian Corker mixes spoken recitation, traditional song, and ambient field recordings – church bells, bird calls, Morris sticks – with post-minimalist production in a way calculated to dislocate any pat temporal perspectives. Bits of this certainly draw the listener back down through lost centuries of English daily life, which is indeed a wonderful feeling. But other parts put me in mind of the last time I strolled through the English countryside listening to an early 80’s Cold Blue Music comp LP on my I-Pod (this has happened more than once). Such beautiful juxtapositions conjure up the spirit of modern Morris dancing way better that anything linear ever could.

Awesome work, Adrian. Really, the soundtrack ears of the fellas at labels like Trunk/OST and Finders Keepers need to be grafted on to some Hollywood types, so once again the scores of studio pics might overwhelm.

DARK BROWNMiscellaneous, Vol. 1 (Memory Bulldozer, 2011) – Solo tracks by ex-BLUEBIRD gtrist Bryan Lee Brown, portions of which may or may not’ve ended up behind TV commercials I missed over the past few years. This collection is a natural progression from the warm, BLUEBIRD-like textures of his great first solo CD, moving into post-stoner CLUSTER & ENO strum and float terrain. And while this may hit you as just an indie take on incidental gtr/keyboard based music, I’m excited that someone who has played with the likes of FATSO JETSON’s Mario Lalli is actually taking his sonics into mainstream Hollywood studios these days. Yes I’ve got more than a few collections of mindblowing Euro library/catalogue music lurking around Chez Recon . . . but if you’re like me and can’t stop cloying advertising images from wallpapering the inside of your skull, DARK BROWN’s shimmering cues will help you recontexualise it all in far, far more intimate ways. At present, this one’s only available as an I-Tunes download, but totally worth searching out.

EARTHAngels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (Southern Lord, 2011) – I’m one guy who finds Dylan Carlson’s EARTH output in the new millennium infinitely more appealing than the infamous body of work he created for labels like Sub Pop in the 90’s. I like that he’s renewed his interest in melodies – particularly parched, Ennio Morricone-inspired melodies, but melodies they still clearly are. I like that he chooses to play them slow and clean, allowing the full weight of his changes to sink in nice and deep. I also like that recently he’s been taking the stage with an all-female band – a true rarity in the ubermasculine world of doom metal from which he draws so much of his fanbase. Because of the Pachyderm tempos employed, this doesn’t ever cruise the way, say, THE DIRTY THREE or YAWNING MAN can and do so beautifully – but dammit if EARTH isn’t of a similar ilk. The difference being: EARTH give you that much more time and space to really consider the groundsoil that’s churning beneath their feet. This one gets my full attention, every spin.

JJEMMEIIIDebris Cloud (No label, 2011) I spent most of my mornings this past Spring obsessively following news updates on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, an event so terrifying that it dredged up all manner of childhood Cold War paranoia I didn’t even know I still had in me. And this was only one of the very major weather calamities to slam our planet this year! While I’ve never fully understood how or why “doom drone” became a genre unto itself in the new millennium, I COMPLETELY empathise with this down-tuned aural reaction to Tennessee floods in May 2011. This was released exclusively online, with all proceeds going to the Tennessee Valley Salvation Army and Red Cross disaster relief funds.

“Debris Cloud” is an awesome 18+ minute solo bass/amp excursion that builds, surges, breaks free, and resonates in yr bones looooong after it’s over. The guttural thunderings JJEMMEIII conjures up feel like a very private but modern expression of fear, but also of strength in the face of overwhelming adversary. Like nearly everything else I’ve dug this year, it’s instrumental, so it’ll help score future eco-distasters in gloriously non-judgemental fashion too. Do sing along, you know all the words already.

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Oh and *MUSICAL HOPE FOR THE NEW YEAR* up in the North of England springs squarely from the promises of Manchester’s DEAD SEA APES new Lupus album, to be released on the Deep Water Acres label in the next couple months. For this recording, they’ve shifted gears away from full-frontal desert rock attack to introverted kraut rock meditation, a particularly awe-inspiring sidestep. This might be well be the album I play in perpetuity when I eventually nod into cryogenic post-life consciousness.

Nature’s Revelation

1 Jan

In the mid 90’s, no doubt my favorite heavy Maryland band who weren’t THE OBSESSED woulda been UNORTHODOX. The way they’d pile endlessly inventive riffage atop a killer rhythm section to buoy Dale Flood’s passionate singing was and still is hard to beat. At the dawn of the new millennium, it was INTERNAL VOID who had my undivided attention among Wino-less MD acts: the bluesy lead gtr of Kelly Carmichael carried their melodic, mid-tempo tunes into soulful territory that few so-called doom rock bands seemed capable of locating. But oh man it’s AGAINST NATURE who are, most definitely, the most exciting and vital rockers riding the heavy tides of Maryland at present. Hands down, they’re my pick as the most inspiring rock band in 2008.
jb4

I only really cottoned on to AGAINST NATURE last year at the urgings of Ray’s Realm in this post. Ray turned me on to what remains one of Thee Great Heavy Records of this or any eon: AGAINST NATURE’s The Anxiety of Influence from 2007. That record offered up two very deep, album side explorations into a modern form of heavy rock composition and playing, in the process redefining the peaks to which doom rockers were capable of soaring in the new millennium.

But that might as well be ancient history. Since then, these boys have released so much music I can barely keep up: two full length CDs, a further pair of 25+ min. CD EPs, not to mention yet another full length CD under their trad doom alterego, REVELATION. They clocked in a total of – get this – 3 hours and 32 minutes of fully formed, kickass rocking over the year. And while I am aware quantity, in and of itself, isn’t particularly meaningful – when the quantity is as varied and rewarding as this body of work is . . . well brother, it’s a Herculean achievement.

Following AGAINST NATURE this past year reminded me of what is was like trying to keep pace with BLACK FLAG as a young teen back in ’84/’85. You remember: just as soon as you’d get your head around all the new aesthetic choices coloring one Greg Ginn record, along would come another, challenging you to step that much further. From the somber DEEP PURPLE funeral march of their Much in Little & Descend EPs, to the hardrockin’ BANG chug of Natural Blue, to the more optimistic BUDGIE/RUSH inspired prog tones of their latest Accumulus CD, AGAINST NATURE have repeatedly shifted their approach, restlessly reconfigured their sound, and constantly widened their emotional range – all the while remaining, at base, something only identifiable as AGAINST NATURE. Perhaps the continuity across these records rests in the smooth and surprisingly un-metal vocals of John Brenner, who at times reminds me of a more moody, less hickoid Curt Kirkwood. Or maybe it’s the ROBIN TROWER-like breathing room these guys always allow their rocking; nothing is ever rushed or hurried, riffs are allowed to develop in earthy, organic fashion, with leads only materializing in due course. Even then, volume levels only hit 11 when it’s absolutely necessary – which ain’t as often as some of you stoner types might demand. But it’s really a quite beautiful, historically rooted but non-retro rock that they make, and they’ve made it all their own. I absolutely cannot wait to see where they might decide to take it in 2009.

The kicker is that all their music and so much more besides is downloadable free of charge directly from them on their website. They even go so far as to quote 1st century Roman philosopher Seneca on their homepage: “there is no delight in owning anything unshared.” Hear hear! Thus while others debate the morality of downloading copyrighted music from the web and/or whether information just wants to be free . . . AGAINST NATURE are pragmatists who ask: in an age when its unfeasible/impossible to control digital information transfer, why even try? Apparently, they’d rather stop arguing and just get their music out there where the people can actually hear it. And with the music industry collapsing around us all, smart money says that AGAINST NATURE will still be standing long after Warners/EMI/Universal/Sony Music are but a fading, unpleasant memory.

AGAINST NATURE – “Melopoeia” (from Accumulus, Bland Hand Records, 2008)

Against All Odds

25 Jan

Against Nature

Just a quick one tonight:

My favorite heavy rock blog, Ray’s Realm, recently pointed me toward a beautiful, mind-blowing 2007 heavyass release by Maryland’s AGAINST NATURE called Anxiety of Influence. Oh boy: 2 tracks, both 24+ minutes long. Contemplative, definitely. Hypnotic, perhaps – but this ain’t no drone-doom by a long shot. These are really well-paced, thoughtfully-constructed prog guitar suites, rockin’ dark and hard and smooth, from unique riff/gtr idea to unique riff/gtr idea, in a manner more akin to a 1/2 tempo CAPTAIN BEYOND than any OM. And when they start quoting Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” . . . well, doncha just know this be doom of a different color. Actually saw these guys play recently, opening for London’s mighty PAGAN ALTAR, and they didn’t leave much of an impression either way. BUT hey, they weren’t doing either of these monumental tracks! Definitely deserves to be shoe-horned into my Top Rockin’ Releases of 2007 list.

And how amazing is this: they’ve gone and made the whole shebang freely downloadable – ok, “donation optional” – on their website. Yes, all you luddites who retain some vain hope that the entire major label music industry isn’t going the fuck under (hurray!) in the wake of all this “illegal” information being passed easily through cyberspace . . . well, this eve, your downloads are GUILT-FREE! Though, if you’re like me, you’ll click and follow their $10 PayPal link.

Pagan Altar Takes Flight

21 Oct

Dig this: we caught PAGAN ALTAR live at ULU in London on Friday night. Their second gig (the first was a couple weeks back in Leeds) in a quarter century! Aaaaaah!

The sound was a bit rough, but nicely crunchy and way LOUD – just like how those early ’80s recordings on their definitive Volume 1 CD sound. Gtrist Alan Jones looked/played just like an aging Jeff Beck, while brother/singer Terry alternated from an easy-going, Essex-dad persona to POSSESSED WARLOCK CHANNELING THE UNDYING FLAMES OF HELLFIRE in the space of a single breath. Their mix of galloping NWOBHM rhythms with those slow, crushing tempos we now come to know and love as D-O-O-M spelt a little bit of Heaven & Hell to these ears. When I shut my eyes, I could almost imagine PAGAN ALTAR were burning a hole in the center of the coming apocalypse, large enough for all us rocker types to pass right on through, unscathed – so we, the chosen few, could keep rockin’ for all eternity.

My wife & I were swaying all night in sea of burners with waist-length hair, HM-patch covered denim, and stinky leather jackets – most of whom had travelled from places like Norway to witness it. Though you can’t see us in the ULU gig clip below, our extra-sore neck muscles from all that righteous head-banging prove WE WERE THERE!

Oh and compliments to the opening bands, especially WARNING, whose towering “funereal doom” sound impressed the heck outta me. But with Patrick Walker’s ernest, soaring vocals, they came across like RITES OF SPRING covering REVEREND BIZARRE. “emo-core doom”, anyone?