Saturday, December 20, 2014

House of Burners compilation

Written by Matt Hinch.

The fellas at Pre-Rock Records sure put together one cracker of a compilation in House of Burners, the label's first release. Painstakingly curated by the label (made up of members of Shooting Guns) it offers a “cross section of Canada's heavy/psych/garage scene” leaning heavily on the psych end of the spectrum. Covering bands as far west as Victoria, BC and as far east as Moncton, NB this is the sort of compilation I get excited about as the likelihood of these bands actually passing through here is pretty good.

Here's a few words on each of the 16 tracks.

Powder Blue - “Go On Forever” (Saskatoon, SK): There are days I wish this song would go on forever. It's got an easy, breezy rock base riding a wash of psychedelic keys and serene female vocals. It's totally chill and swollen with relaxing melody.

Public Animal - “One Way Ticket” (Toronto, ON): Public Animal is Ian Blurton of C'Mon's new band. And they kick ass. This track has lots of rock energy, lots of vocals, groove and keys. I've heard they're great live and given this track, that's no surprise.

Bison - “These Are My Dress Clothes (Live)” (Vancouver, BC): Even a good recording such as this does no justice to the experience of seeing these sludgeoners in the flesh. I gave my chiropractor fits and this song was a big reason why.

The Switching Yard - “Tanya” (Saskatoon): One of the biggest highlights of the compilation, TSY find a riff that works and ride it along the tracks while adding texture and psychedelic flourish with few vocals. Brilliant psych-rock.

Shooting Guns - “Taylor St. Champagne Room” (Saskatoon): Of course there's a Shooting Guns song. Good one too! Killer grooves hold down the fort as psychedelic keys move in and out of focus, making it both earthbound and spacey at once.

Krang - “Upstairs” (Edmonton, AB): This one sounds very jam oriented. Bluesy guitar meanders around as psychedelics (obviously) swirl, dive and weave. Dynamic track where the guitar “speaks” with so much heart.

Lavagoat - “Moleman” (Saskatoon): Undoubtedly the heaviest track on hand, it's thunderous and vile. Heavy as a brick doom riffs smack you with a face full of sludge and bile. Oh, and some psychedelic touches of course.

Hawkeyes - “March of the Elephants” (Kitchener, ON): This one's almost as heavy but much more psychedelic. Not sure what the elephants are high on but they're trippin' stratospheric, man. Massive riffs, hypnotic groove and no vocals to get in the way.

Mahogany Frog - “Saffron Myst” (Winnipeg, MB): The least “metal” and arguably most psychedelic of the bunch. Programmed beats and lush synths/keys set on a dreamy course through undiscovered areas of the mind, stimulating hormone release if you know what I mean. Sexy!

Chron Goblin - “Deserter” (Calgary, AB): With a name like that, expect stoner rock. And yeah, you got it. But this one has stomp to it. More like beer and whiskey are the driving force of beefy riffs with southern flair. Crack a cold one and groove out!

Black Thunder - "Too Late/Death Stare" (Regina, SK): So fuzzed out I have to go brush my teeth. Beautiful riff-fest straight outta the early 70s. The percussion is fantastic. Think Dozer, sHEAVY and just about the whole Sucking the 70s compilations.

Rehashed - “F.U.C.K.” (Saskatoon): The oddball of the lot. This is full out hardcore rage. Mosh pit violence and vocal venom (think Blacklisted, Ringworm) lay a serious beating from a dive bar basement. No psych at all but damn does it make you want to kick the shit out of something.

Devonian Gardens - “Glow” (Calgary): Bewitching and a little eccentric. Sounds like gypsies tripping on mushrooms. The journey here is far from linear taking psychedelic side trips that can disorient the listener in the best of ways.

Cop Shades - “Burn This Village to Save It” (Moncton, NB): This one has kind of a greaseball indie rock vibe but with balls. But of course, it does shoot off into orbit as psych is almost necessary. But refuelling on this ball of dirt needs to happen too.

Clunt & The Scrunts - “Card in the Spokes” (Victoria, BC): This is some pretty catchy and upbeat rockabilly type stuff. Some Americana gets brought in to break up the speed. Cool shit. Wouldn't seem out of place in a Tarantino movie.

The Pack A.D. - “Night Crawler” (Vancouver): Steel guitar leads into a “We Will Rock You” beat. The duo rides out a simple hypnotic riff with tripped out, multi-tracked vocals. Be careful, detachment from reality is a possibility.

And there you have it. 16 tracks from a range of Canadian bands, most of which can make you trip balls if you aren't already. It's a most excellent selection of tunes, from the burly and bloody knuckled to the idyllic and intoxicating. Trust me, there are some medical grade pupil dilators on this. Dig it!

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gravecode Nebula - Sempiternal Void

Written by Steven Leslie.

As a diehard devotee to extreme music for close to 20 years, it is increasingly rare for me to find a record that truly scares me. Gravecode Nebula’s Sempiternal Void, released last year, is one of the few records post 2000 that has been able to accomplish that feat. To be honest, I’m very surprised that this album somehow managed to fly under the radar and was not a prominent feature on many best of 2013 lists. Truthfully, it’s probably the lack of publicity this band has received that has helped make it have such an impact.

Not since the early days of second wave black metal, when bands shunned the spotlight and simply let their music (and sometimes their actions) do the talking, have I heard an album so terrifying and so sincere at the same time. It is that very sense of the unknown that helps make this album such a prized possession in my ever-growing collection. There are a few things worth noting before I really dig into the album. First, this is not an album that sits neatly inside a single subgenre. This is one of the few modern records that manages to combine elements from several different genres, mainly black, death and doom, without diluting or destroying the essence of any of them. This isn't just a tremolo riff thrown over some death metal grunts with the occasional slow atmospheric buildup. Instead, it is a lethal combination of the best aspects of all these genres. On a random side note, the presence of Hel’s spectacular bass lines should destroy anyone’s preconceived notion that women in extreme metal is just a gimmick.

At a little over an hour Sempiternal Void is not an easy listen. This is not a record you can just throw and headbang along to or drop in as background music. This album needs, nay demands your full attention. Kicking off, “Bloodcraft of Andromeda” sets the tone for the rest of the journey. The song starts off slow with a lumbering riff and simple but powerful drumming as a disembodied roar creeps in. As if this blackened doom template wasn't sufficient, at three minutes the pace picks up and we are treated to some spectacular straight up black metal riffs and blast beats, before dropping back into the atmospheric death/doom that started the song. The rest of the track continues to mutate between genres. One minute brings a minimalist slow doom riff like you might hear on a Monarch record that then transforms into some of the best death/doom around, before throwing you completely for a loop with a section swirling black metal chaos. It is a testament to the bands skill that these elements flow together so seamlessly. This constant ebb and flow makes this album so engrossing and rewarding.

Each of the remaining five tracks follows this template of constantly morphing between agonizing death doom sections and blistering blackened assaults. The performance of each band member is spectacular throughout, making it hard to highlight just the guitars, bass or drums, as they all meld together so effectively to create such a devastating whole. In fact trying to point out a single riff or drum fill would actually do this record a disservice, as it is the whole rather than it’s individual parts that make this such a fantastic album. That said, it is worth taking note of the stellar vocal performance put in by The Zodiac. It is rare that you find a vocalists with such versatility. Whether it is horrifying deathly bellows, atmospheric spoken word sections or ominous chants, he somehow manages to accomplish all of them with the same level of expertise. The superb uses of effects by Dyingnysus and Lupericus Infernale are also worthy of note. While never taking prominence, their subtle touch adds a layer of darkness that would be otherwise be sorely missing.

While this album is most likely to appeal to fans of death/doom, as the majority of the album sticks close to this template, there are definite rewards to be found for black metal and extreme metal fans in general. Fans of the current wave of blackened death metal being produced by bands like Abyssal, Grave Miasma and Grave Upheaval, will find much to sink their teeth into on Sempiternal Void. I would argue that while not stylistically fitting neatly into the black metal genre, Gravecode Nebula have managed to create a record that touches on that magnificent darkness that the early second wave bands made their calling card in a way that many modern black metal band fails so miserably to accomplish. So pick this one up, turn off the lights, and drift off into the sempiternal void.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Lotus Thief - Rervm

Written by Justin C.

Botanist's third full length, Doom in Bloom, included a second disc called Allies, featuring collaborations with other musicians. Those songs stood in stark contrast with Otrebor's usual one-man, blackened hammered-dulcimer show. One of those songs, "Nymphaea Caerulea", was with an immensely talented woman going by the name Bezaelith, who also was a touring bassist with Botanist for a time. The duo went by the name Lotus Thief, and they're now back with a luscious full-length, Rervm.

Instrumentally, Otrebor provides his usual high-caliber percussion here, and Bezaelith handles everything else. The lyrical content of Rervm is based on the epic poem "De Rerum Natura," written by Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus over 2000 years ago. The poem was meant to elucidate the ideas of Epicurean philosophy and science, which contains some surprisingly modern ideas, given its age. Lotus Thief cleverly labels their genre as "text metal," and as you might guess, the lyrics are pretty fascinating to read.

To be honest, though, I connected with this album on a more emotional level. I got my hands on the promo a day before going in for surgery, so I was in a bit of a distracted state before and after. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, Bezaelith's vocals on this album were a major comfort to me in the hours immediately before and after the actual operation. They're cleanly sung, and she often harmonizes with a veritable chorus of other Bezaeliths. If you can listen to the opening vocal lines of "Aeternvm" without your heart melting at least a little, I don't know what to do with you. It's made all the more satisfying when the subtle underlying percussion suddenly bursts into furious Otreborian blasting immediately after.

Musically speaking, this isn't the heaviest thing you'll hear all year. The riffing actually reminds me a bit of bands like A Perfect Circle at times--heavy, but with a heavy focus on melodicism. But regardless of the level of heavy, it's brilliant. The electronic touches Bezaelith adds to her guitar and bass are on point, and Otrebor supports it all with a deft touch on the drums. The album subtely ramps up in complexity and aggression as the six tracks progress. For example, "Discordia," appropriate to its name, is a darker and more aggressive song than "Aeternvm," so if things seem a bit too sweet at the outset, that's not all Lotus Thief has to offer you. I know that some reviewers have found the ambient interludes off-putting; each song ends with one, and they vary in length, but I find letting them wash over me to be a perfectly pleasant experience. I haven't subjected them to much intellectual scrutiny, but I don't find myself getting impatient with them like I do with some long intros and outros. The album breathes with them in place.

There's a lot to delve into with this album, and other reviewers have done much more thorough discussions of the text and lyrical content than I have, but as multi-layered as the album is, it's also immediately accessible. I can't recommend it enough.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]