September 18, 2017

Helpless - Debt

By Justin C. I've probably mentioned before, but I'm far from a grind aficionado. It's a subgenre that I can appreciate far more often than I can enjoy, and the bands I do favor, like Fuck the Facts, tend to bring something
By Justin C.


I've probably mentioned before, but I'm far from a grind aficionado. It's a subgenre that I can appreciate far more often than I can enjoy, and the bands I do favor, like Fuck the Facts, tend to bring something a little different to the table. In FtF case, their longer songs make it easier for me to engage with the music.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and now that I have a shorter commute, sometimes it's nice to listen to an entire grind album instead of 7% of one funeral doom song. Enter Helpless with their first full-length, Debt. When I think of grind, I think of hyper-dissonance, densely packed instrumental layers, spastic fury, turn-on-a-dime tempo changes, vocals that go from high-pitched shrieks all the way down to tonsil-vomiting growls, and all of this burned through in a minute or less. Helpless follow some of that, but with variations I find particularly appealing.

For example, the sound is a bit "thinner," for lack of a better description, and I don't mean that as a negative. The guitar riffs have plenty of heft when needed, but they also favor higher chord voicings, dripping with dissonance, over chunkier low-end fare, and that allows the bass to stand out on its own. The separation of instruments in general is excellent, so your ear is better able to peel apart the layers. They do "anti-breakdowns," like early in "Out of Commission," where the music gets lean and quiet, but still just as mean. And some of the songs are just damn catchy. That can be a dirty word, and of course I appreciate a well-executed, ultra-dense freak out as much as the next person, but sometimes it's nice when something sticks in your head, whether it be the repeated growls of "STAY LOW" in "Ceremony of Innocence" or the closing moments of "Moral Bankruptcy" when an inner voice moves up and down inside a slow, steamrolling riff that, at times, almost sound a little hopeful, in spite of the relentlessly bleak-but-insightful lyrical content.**

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the genre-busting length of the album closer, "Denied Sale," a mini-epic that's near the five-minute mark. This would be a perfect place for most bands to dump a bunch of ambient nonsense or screechy feedback, but Helpless see it through, including a particularly affecting (and effective) anti-breakdown that features just a quiet, single-tap rhythm before the band lurches back to sludgier territory, stabbed through with dissonant bites. The closing track does what the entire album does: it takes you on a ride, but never one where you completely lose sight of the music and have to frantically try to catch up, and it's filled with little earworms that will keep you coming back for more.

**There's even an ode to the antidepressant I've personally been taking for almost 20 years, "Sertraline." The song hints at the all-too-real problem some people face, including myself, which is a muted emotional response, a feeling of “existing for existence sake,” as the lyrics say.

Tagged with 2017, grindcore, Helpless, Holy Roar Records, Justin C

September 13, 2017

Hell - Hell (2017)

By Matt Hinch. Think of all those bands you know that are “the definition of heavy”. Conan, Electric Wizard, Crowbar, Hymn, Monolord, etc. If Salem, Oregon’s Hell isn’t on that list, you need a new list. The one-man doom entity helmed by M.S.W.
By Matt Hinch.


Think of all those bands you know that are “the definition of heavy”. Conan, Electric Wizard, Crowbar, Hymn, Monolord, etc. If Salem, Oregon’s Hell isn’t on that list, you need a new list. The one-man doom entity helmed by M.S.W. (that has become a touring band!) digs deep to bring to the surface a heaviness that radiates from whatever listening device you’re using and draws the world, in all its darkness, closer and closer until you are forced to lower your head in praise. This is their first full-length, entitled Hell, since the trilogy of full-lengths (Hell, Hell II, Hell III) concluded in 2012, and the 2015 EP (also Hell) and it blows everything away with pure power, tone, and volume.

The anti-festivities begin with “Helmzmen”. It starts with the mayday call of the Northern Belle (sunk in the Gulf of Alaska in 2010) and that visual of a sinking ship represents well the feeling Hell gives the listener. (Not to mention a general world view.) It’s nautically heavy. Unfathomably so. As huge as the vastness of the oceans. It fills you with the sense of terrifying dread that comes from knowing there is no one to save you from certain death. Every note cracks the sternum and soils your soul with the sickness of impending doom. (Although only one of the four crew members perished.)

There’s a point where the track breaks into a rage of blackened swiftness, albeit brief and fleeting, before returning to bury the world in tone. Otherwise the track, like most others on the album, features vocals straight from the bowels of Hell itself. Chilling, churning doom slickened with varied paces from barely moving to a rolling gait that crushes all, continuously beats you down with monumental heaviness.

Similarities to aforementioned bands like Electric Wizard (“Machitikos”) and Conan (“Wandering Soul”) can be heard but they’re subtle and in my opinion more coincidental than intentional. M.S.W. doesn’t need to rip other bands off. “Machitikos” has a syrupy groove that evolves into an atmospheric display of darkness more evil that you should be comfortable with and a screaming solo over unstoppable rhythms that grip like a vice. “Wandering Soul” has that plodding battle doom feel with dominant riffs, more strange, chilling atmosphere, and build ups that always pay off. It only takes one heart-stopping note to make anything pay off on this album.

Sickening shrieks and gut wrenching growls meet with chants on “Inscriptus” as drone clashes with chunky riffs, plodding pace and noise to continually, with deliberately forceful notes, slowly break down any resistance.

“Victus” clocks in as the most epic track. As heavy as the rest, it sometimes feels like you can hear the amps struggling not to implode. The demonic vocals and doomed-out slog are still present but there’s an airy section more akin to say, Cascadian black metal (not necessarily Wolves in the Throne Room-esque but…). It lends an extra sense of contemplation at odds with heaviness. Any doubts that accompany this change are washed away on the sounds of gentle violin (Gina Eygenhuygen) and a lonesome guitar. It’s not loud or totally crushing but the contrast feels entirely natural and still plenty doomed. The violins still hang around when the tentative peace is broken by a piercing scream, bringing extra gravitas to the pounding riffs. The completeness of the track, and the journey it takes the listener on, is worth the price of admission on its own. The previously mentioned tracks as well as “SubOdin” and closer “Seelenos” with its spoken word samples (TED Talk on suicide) and gorgeous operatic vocals (courtesy of Karli McNutt) seem like added bonuses and more than welcome despite the feeling of utter defeat one often experiences throughout Hell.

Contrary to how some extreme doom can feel like an exercise in pure heaviness for the sake of it, Hell retains a strong sense of catchiness for lack of a better word. The riffs fester like an untreated wound and unexpectedly burst through your mind with a force as bloodily striking as the album’s frightful cover.

Hell is skin-crawlingly outstanding. M.S.W. has crafted what could easily be considered an instant doom classic. It took a few years but one listen is enough to convince doom fans that the wait was more than worth it as the album will not fade over time. As superb as it is mind-numbingly heavy, Hell invites you below to wallow in darkness, despair and excruciating doom.

Tagged with 2017, doom metal, drone, Hell, Matt Hinch, sludge metal

September 11, 2017

Slugdge - The Cosmic Cornucopia

By Calen Henry. I discovered Slugdge through a Bandcamp tag dive. I clicked on their second album, Gastronomicon, which features painted album art of a slug, expecting a laugh. I did not expect a band whose musical prowess is directly proportional
By Calen Henry.


I discovered Slugdge through a Bandcamp tag dive. I clicked on their second album, Gastronomicon, which features painted album art of a slug, expecting a laugh. I did not expect a band whose musical prowess is directly proportional to the ridiculousness of their chosen subject matter. After signing to Willowtip they released a reverse chronologically organized compilation of their three albums, called The Cosmic Cornucopia for 1$!

Each Slugdge album is about space slugs enslaving humanity and features gems of track titles like "Lettuce Prey", and "The Sound of Mucus", and “Salters of Madness”. Though it's an hilarious concept that's actually super metal it's ironically not far removed from serious metal about Cthulhu, Lucifer or really any malevolent entity bent on humanity’s enslavement of destruction.

Though song titles are rife with references to classic metal and wordplay the delivery is dead serious. Play Slugdge, out of context, for a friend and it's unlikely they'll detect any hint of parody. Musically the band is also a strange mix of orthodox unorthodoxy; they combine buzzsaw distortion and extremely low tuned guitars with a mix (both musically and vocally) of Mastodon and black/death metal; like Entombed covering Mastodon on 8-string guitars.

Allusions to other bands sell Slugdge short, though. They sound both like and unlike any other band. The riffs are killer, the leads are great, and the vocals are excellent. The whole catalog, experienced all together is remarkably cohesive. It doesn't sound like a series of three separate albums but one giant space slug of an album.

Tagged with 2017, blackened death metal, Calen Henry, sludge metal, Slugdge, Willowtip

September 8, 2017

Usnea - Portals into Futility

By Justin C. I've been digging Usnea since they're self-titled debut, but when prepping to write the review for their newest, Portals into Futility, I started to notice how often they've gotten tagged with as funeral doom.
By Justin C.


I've been digging Usnea since they're self-titled debut, but when prepping to write the review for their newest, Portals into Futility, I started to notice how often they've gotten tagged as funeral doom. It's not 100% off the mark--the band does their fair share of slow and low--but it's also a bit of a disservice. I know a lot of people don't have the taste for funeral doom, and I wonder if that genre tag hasn't turned some people off from a pretty unique band.

Encylopaedia Metallum currently lists them as "Blackened Funeral Doom Metal," which is a bit better (although that phrase desperately needs some punctuation). Adding "blackened" helps, but it still misses a lot of good parts, like the sludginess, the churn, the atmosphere, and the melodicism. Funeral doom works to extract as much feeling as possible out of a minimalist framework, but Usnea has so many layers going on.

Photos by Pedro Roque.

If you're familiar with the band's last album, Random Cosmic Violence, you'll have a good feel of what to expect. I'd say Portals into Futility is more of a refinement than a leap forward, but there's nothing wrong with that. The blackened shrieks over the doomy atmosphere are still my favorite ear-tickling combo from this band. The blackened vocals remind me a bit of Charlie Fell during his Lord Mantis days, and those are some of my favorite blackened vocals, period. They both just scratch every itch I have. With Usnea, they're also paired with some low death growls and even the occasional chanting.

I think one of the best things Usnea did on this album was to split it into five songs instead of four. That sounds a little weird, but let me explain: They've been eerily consistent with album length--55, 58, and 56 minutes, in that order--but breaking four songs into five has given them better control over the ebb and flow of their music. "Lathe of Heaven" is, by long-form doom standards, a tasty little slice at just over 9 minutes, but the push and pull is done perfectly. A contemplative opening builds slowly into a more menacing churn, almost a slow thrash, accompanied by those low growls. Intensity builds, the blackened howls kick in, and then the song pulls back again. And everybody's contributing something here. You've heard of a walking bass line in jazz? The later part of "Lathe" has what I'd call a "menacing bass line." Similar idea to a walking bass line, but more evil, and completely hypnotizing.

Photos by Pedro Roque.

At this point, you might say, "Justin, you're an idiot. I see that 19-minute-long song at the end. You’ve tried to trick us." You're right (about the song length and possibly about me being an idiot), but the band's restraint earlier in the album is what makes "A Crown of Desolation" possible as a massive album closer. You've got chanting, strangled screams, ethereal bass and guitar, and even a gnarly, blues-y riff thrown in, and it all works. The band has refined their songwriting to the point where they can let all these disparate elements breathe but still combine them into a coherent song, and they haven’t worn you out with a bunch of 15-minute or more songs beforehand, so you can still appreciate what they’ve done.

I'll be honest: At first, I thought Portals was a bit too much of a retread of Random Cosmic Violence, but the more I listened, the more I found that I liked. If any of the multitude of genre tags that's been applied to them appeal to you, you owe it to yourself to give this one a fair shake.

Tagged with 2017, blackened funeral doom metal, Justin C, Pedro Roque, Relapse Records, Usnea

Grift - Arvet

By Hera Vidal. When I think of black metal, I think of harsh terrain and a chill that reaches the bone. It’s quite rare that a record would be considered “ethereal”, but when that record makes use of
By Hera Vidal.


When I think of black metal, I think of harsh terrain and a chill that reaches the bone. It’s quite rare that a record would be considered “ethereal”, but when that record makes use both of its sonic landscape and its folk-like nature to create music that seems to vibrate, then the adjective fits. There is also something else – a memory of something lost that is within reach, but you can’t seem to grasp. Whether that memory is from your childhood or from something that you know experienced in a past life, you can’t deny that there is something magical in Arvet.

Arvet is Grift’s second album, and it sounds incredibly polished. There is something sincere about the record, and the listener immediately feels at ease with its sonic presence. Lyrically, it allows for the exploration of memory and heritage through the immersion of music. The music in Arvet is quiet and forlorn, evoking a deep sense of nostalgia and what feels like weightlessness. It almost feels like you are in a lucid dream and you are watching how events from your past unfold and seem to influence the present. Of course, you are welcome to escape your fate and create something out of it, but the album’s mood makes it clear that, if you are vulnerable, you go back to the familiar.

As the music continues to play, you realize that this album is meant to be an experience, and one that takes you away from the present. The melody balances the vocals, allowing the vocals to shrine through, but it doesn’t take the listener from appreciating the music. It’s incredibly atmospheric in nature, allowing the listener to project their emotions and thoughts onto the music. What I love most is its subtlety, allowing various degrees of sounds to come through. The various instruments, vocals, and sounds used throughout the album makes it intimate, as you are sharing something with Grift. Whether those are memories or the heritage of a culture passed sonically, you can only wonder why Grift chose to share it with the listener.

There is also interesting sounds used throughout the album. You can hear the sound of bells, of owls hooting in the night, and of what sounds like campfire crackling in the distance. It adds layers of warmth to the forlornness of the music, and the usage of various vocals give it a story-telling effect. It reminds me of Skuggsjá’s A Piece for Mind and Mirror, as the tonalities used are incredibly reminiscent. There is a strange comfort in listening to Arvet; there is something about it that triggers something distant. Whether it is the aforementioned nostalgia for something within reach, or whether it’s the magical nature of the album that triggers a memory, you cannot deny the authenticity and genuine nature of Arvet.

All in all, Arvet is an album with incredible production, set subtleties that allows the music to come alive, and allows you to interpret its nostalgic nature as you desire. A great album on the first listen, each subsequent listen lets the mind wander and explore the meanings behind it. There is always something to come back to when you pick up Arvet. Explore the depth, emotions, and concept of heritage at your own leisure.

Tagged with 2017, black metal, Grift, Hera Vidal

September 5, 2017

Dvne - Asheran

By Calen Henry. Asheran is Dvne's first full-length album. Their earlier output is a mix of Beastwars and The Sword, heavily influenced by Frank Herbert’s Dune universe. The strength of this mix had Asheran on my wishlist months before its release.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Eli Quinn.

Asheran is Dvne's first full-length album. Their earlier output is a mix of Beastwars and The Sword, heavily influenced by Frank Herbert’s Dune universe. The strength of this mix had Asheran on my wishlist months before its release. The final product exceeds all expectations and shows amazing growth for the band.

Asheran sheds the overt Dune themes in favour of an original sci-fi concept and adopts my favourite metal meta-genre, "kitchen sink metal," a genre-independent melting pot of influences, all cohesively integrated. Khemmis are the most prominent example; rooting their sound in classic doom but bringing all manner of traditional metal and doom into the mix.

Dvne's sound is a sludgier concoction that mixes in a dizzying array of other influences; Elder, Baroness, Mastodon, Gloson (though probably more accurately Neurosis), Tool, and Alcest. Moment to moment they sound like dead ringers for other bands without actually copying them. These passages shift quickly into others and mesh with Dvne's original sound extremely well so they never actually fall into a true "sounds like" groove. Though no longer Dune themed their sound still calls back to Frank Herbert's influential series through the use of traditional Middle Eastern riffs and scales throughout the album.

Much like Khemmis, Dvne's formula works because their songwriting is excellent. Jumping between musical styles is always in service of the songs and never sounds like an exercise in self-aggrandizement. The songs swirl through acoustic passages, lyrical guitar work and sung vocals, and some of the heaviest fuzz I’ve heard outside a straight up sludge metal band. They've managed to craft one of those rare albums where its accessibility belies its complexity. The album can easily slip by when played in the background but rewards careful attention and repeat listening.

Asheran stands alongside Elder’s Reflections of a Floating World as one of 2017's best. Though similar, both records complement each other; Dvne's breadth of sound to Elder's depth of sound.

Tagged with 2017, Calen Henry, Dvne, progressive sludge metal, stoner metal

September 3, 2017

Pestilence - Malleus Maleficarum

An Autothrall Classic. I often liken the world of metal music to the Greek pantheon. In it, there are gods, titans, heroes, priests and worshipers. Worshipers do their best to imitate the various gods
An Autothrall Classic. Originally published here.


I often liken the world of metal music to the Greek pantheon. In it, there are gods, titans, heroes, priests and worshipers. Worshipers do their best to imitate the various gods, patching together their many aspects into something resembling metal music, but rarely worthy of any but the most dim recognition. Heroes are those bands which rise to the challenge of the gods, upping the ante with faster speeds, technical arrangements, and modern production values that their deities simply never had at their disposal. Priests act as ciphers, directly aping the words and music of their exalted, keeping it alive throughout the decades and causing endless rebirth cycles of their genres, elements, and so forth through the crowds of worshipers. The gods would be the most famous, successful or even notorious bands. The big names: Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest, and so forth. Bands so famous that they can launch and sell out world tours, support their great grandchildren through college with ease, and will survive on VH1 'best of' specials until the end of time. But then there are the titans...mighty forces of old who were 'defeated' or cast down by the gods, despite their infinite prowess and crafting of the very foundations of the form.

Within metal music, this translates to those bands who wrote classic, excellent albums that for whatever reason went over the heads or out of reach of the starved masses in the 70s and 80s. There are a great number of these titans, and though their power source may seem long since diminished, some have seen a rebirth in the years of late, through the concentrated worship of an underground of devout cultists that have simply never given them up. For myself, Pestilence would be one such entity, both my favorite Dutch metal artist since the dawn of the power chord, and the band responsible for two of my hands-down, absolute favorite metal albums period, in death, death/thrash or any other sub-genre. But Pestilence are also a band of transitions. No two albums really sound the same, unless you count Resurrection Macabre from 2009, which seems to be a time capsule back to the pristine dementia of their first two full-length efforts.

By 1988, Pestilence were a band entering a transitional phase that bridged the thrashing roots of their demo days with the surge in extremity many artists were twisting into what we have now long lavished as the death metal genre. Here on their debut Malleus Maleficarum, you can hear both the sire and the child; the former through the crisp, punchy precision and frenzied mosh pit energy that explode at nearly any second on the album; the latter through the hoarse, festering vocals, the cold and clinical lyrics and production, and the muted speed sections which are stupendously good. Martin Van Drunen, at his career best on both the Pestilence records he was involved with, was in my opinion the most distinct and impressive frontman in death metal. Others have been impressive, no doubt: John Tardy, Craig Pillard, Chris Reifert, Jeff Becera, or even Chuck Schuldiner before he decided he was going to become a pseudo-intellectual cosmonaut. But for myself, it was Van Drunen who brought this all together, with a bruising, tortured weight to his vocals that is rarely matched about 20 years and 20,000 death metal bands later. His vocals were a little fainter here than on Consuming Impulse, sounding much like a chain-smoking malpractice surgeon serial killer who just escaped hell and wound up at the local emergency ward.

But he's not the only engine that keeps this titan lurching forward. Marco Foddis is a hammer-adept who operates at a high level of precision running either high or low speeds, with a clean polish that seemed rather uncanny compared to many of death metal's other prototype drum mixes. Patrick Mameli, the band's core and general, has written a non-stop, 38 minute barrage of surgical riffing which stands among the best in all of death and thrash metal, with an obvious proficiency above and beyond the average axe-slinger of his day. He performs both bass and guitar here on the album, and while the former is a little subdued in the mix, the rhythm guitars are enforced by Randy Meinhard (on his only Pestilence album, before Patrick Uterwijk would step in) and barely give you the time to notice. Armed with a proper Kalle Trapp knob twiddling (he has also mixed and produced work by Destruction and Blind Guardian, among others), Malleus Maleficarum has a pinpoint, eerie but honest tone to it, which seems strangely haunting even by today's far more advanced parameters.

But really, it's all about the vocals and the riffs. While the album is not necessarily as brutal as its brilliant, crushing successor, it creates a faster paced, technical environment in which the mad doctor flourishes his scalpels and begins a series of careful, taut incisions that maximize the pain and bleeding of the unfortunate patient. Tracks like "Extreme Unction", "Systematic Instruction", "Cycle of Existence" and "Bacterial Surgery" move with some the most violent, breakneck speed thrashing since Slayer's Reign in Blood a few years prior, all the while vomiting forth a series of unforgettable riffs that are both menacing and rather unique for their day. There is far more than just speed to this band, the compositions themselves are impressive, and the album never leaves you hanging on a guitar line even bordering on uninspired, as Van Drunen howls above the seething mass a slew of serious business lyrics that made most thrash and death metal of the 80s seem absolutely infantile by comparison.

Followers of false belief praise idolatry
Worship statues made of stone the adoration
Depiction of the gods in human shapes
Inhuman rituals, biblical transgression
A weapon in your right-hand, in your left a rosary
The polytheistic-monotheistic war
Believers of Almighty prepare to die
Explain to me, what are you fighting for?

For a closer examination, try the bridge riff and terrifying lead at 1:00 of "Subordinate to the Domination", which breaks for a dual speed/chug tag-team like a sped-up "Raining Blood". What of the frolicking, plague-stricken rhythms of "Chemo Therapy", which play out like a cancer ward patient uprising? What of "Commandments", with its creepy acoustic plucking that cedes for an escalation into turbine powered thrashing violence? The wormlike, gnawing death mutes that thread themselves through "Parridice"? The album even offers a few hints at instrumental grace, like the doomed acoustics of "Osculum Infame" placed against a background of swelling synthesizer and screeching, wailing electrics. Or the morbid, brightly blooded chords and dire melodies of the title track, which serves as an intro to the thrashing lead-in to "Antromorphia".

Malleus Malifecarum is unstoppable. It's a beast, superior to more successful thrash albums of 1988 like ...and Justice for All, So Far, So Good... So What!, or The New Order. Yes, it was that good, even among the highly admirable company of that year's many other masterworks, like Death's Leprosy, Coroner's Punishment for Decadence, and Voivod's Dimension Hatröss. The album delivers on all fronts: musically and lyrically. I would cite 'emotionally', except that the album is so highly successful at estranging emotions in favor of its volatile, murderous melange. There is not a single note here, even within the lead bursts that I would alter. It's a prime example of almost everything I loved about the late 80s progression of thrash metal from its crude roots of broken glass, street fighting feel-good misanthropy through its bachelor's, master's and finally PhD in artistic expression. Though this isn't my favorite Pestilence album, it's every bit as flawless as Consuming Impulse, disintegrates the vast percentile of other metal albums of the past 22 years until they become dust, and belongs at the forefront of any thrash or death metal collection of taste. No gods, new or old, can keep this titan buried forever.

Tagged with 1988, Autothrall, Hammerheart Records, Pestilence, thrash metal

September 1, 2017

Youngblood Supercult - The Great American Death Rattle

By Karen A. Mann. Listening to The Great American Death Rattle, the third release from Topeka, Kansas, quartet Youngblood Supercult is like stumbling across an old T shirt from a long ago rock festival from the ‘70s.
By Karen A. Mann


Listening to The Great American Death Rattle, the third release from Topeka, Kansas, quartet Youngblood Supercult is like stumbling across an old T shirt from a long ago rock festival from the ‘70s. You know, the type of show that would have been labeled an “All-Day Super Jam” and would have involved copious amounts of weed, Budweiser and beautiful girls in cutoffs and tube tops. Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult and Black Oak Arkansas were probably on the bill. Finding that old shirt won't necessarily bring back memories-- they're too hazy-- but it will bring back a feeling that you had a good time, even if the day ended with you puking in the parking lot.

If Youngblood Supercult had existed then, they probably would have played that festival, too. Their hazy take on heavy blues -- mixed with a generous dose of English doom and Southern rock -- would fit right in with the era’s best classic rock bands. The band’s debt to Sabbath is obvious. Guitarist Bailey Smith has spent a good amount of time worshiping at the Church of Iommi with a few side nods to Robin Trower. Still, they sound less retro than simply familiar, like a song you loved years ago, but whose title you can’t quite recall.

Their promise was evident on their 2016 album High Plains, which cemented their distinctive sound, described by the band as “a sinister, fuzzy ride through a lysergic version of the Midwest.”

Youngbood Supercult delivers on that early promise with The Great American Death Rattle, the band’s second release with vocalist David Merrill, whose high, lonesome voice contrasts nicely with Smith’s impressive sludgy riffing. Blasting through nine songs, the band alternates between head-bobbing slow-burners and revved-up ragers. Even when the songs are bathed in a gauzy echo, drummer Weston Alford and bass player Brad Morris keep the groove earth-bound and on-point.

There are no bad songs on the album, but at least three are true standouts. The first is “Draugr,” a plodding, ominous tale that includes some of Merrill’s most creative lyrics, in this case about an undead mythological creature.

Crackling from the forest floor,
As ancient graves become no more.
Clawing from the sacred ground,
Delight in that horrific sound.

Overturned, the tombstones lie,
Upon the earth as Hell arrives,
And every creature fears their fate,
As blood flows from perdition’s gate.

Immediately after “Draugr” is “Wormwood,” a rager with riffs as expansive as as a wide-open sky. The Great American Death Rattle ends with the album’s best song, “Sticky Fingers,” which extols the virtues of the sweet leaf with a fuzzy, chugging riff and Merrill’s most soaring vocals.

I’ve got sticky fingers and a bowl full of embers,
My mind is alive and my body surrenders,
The flower of life opens portals unentered,
And finally my eyes can see.

With The Great American Death Rattle, the band makes a pretty significant leap forward in their songwriting, musically and lyrically, resulting in one of the best releases of the summer. It should be no surprise that Youngblood Supercult was invited to play this year’s Psycho Las Vegas, the modern heir to the debauched rock festivals of yore.

Tagged with 2017, Karen A. Mann, psychedelic rock, stoner rock, Youngblood Supercult