May 19, 2019

Caspar Brötzmann Massaker – The Tribe & Black Axis

By Craig Hayes. It takes a bold (or entirely reckless) band to deliberately destroy all the signifiers and motifs that define the music we hold dear. But that’s exactly what German guitarist Caspar Brötzmann and his avant-rock power-trio Massaker set out to do in the late 1980s.
By Craig Hayes.


It takes a bold (or entirely reckless) band to deliberately destroy all the signifiers and motifs that define the music we hold dear. But that’s exactly what German guitarist Caspar Brötzmann and his avant-rock power-trio Massaker set out to do in the late 1980s. The band butchered all those characteristics that help us identify and connect with the music we love, and then they endeavored to fashion something compelling out of the wreckage. Bold, for sure. Fucking reckless, indeed. Successful, unquestionably.

Many other noisy alt-rock innovators from the 1980s – see groups like Swans, Big Black, or Sonic Youth – found more international fame than Caspar Brötzmann Massaker ever did. However, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, who were as much audio terrorists as they were music makers, are about to enjoy wider exposure thanks to deafening music merchants Southern Lord. The label is remastering and reissuing Caspar Brötzmann Massaker’s first five albums, beginning with the band’s harsh and visceral 1988 debut, The Tribe, closely followed by their heavier sophomore album, 1989's Black Axis.

Caspar Brötzmann grew up in the shadow of his father, Peter, a free jazz saxophonist of some note. The younger Brötzmann was well aware of avant-garde music, growing up, but the elder Brötzmann definitely wasn’t a fan of the wild bohemian hard rockers who appealed to his son. The younger Brötzmann was left to his own creative devices, and the uncompromising music he made corrodes the foundations of rock while still paying tribute to Brötzmann’s guitar heroes, like Jimi Hendrix and Japanese underground legend Keiji Haino.

Brötzmann rejected formal training and took a ‘fuck virtuosity’ approach to his songwriting. Dissonant chords and mountains of feedback were seen as legitimate means of expression – as were warped tunings and teeth-rattling distortion. Brötzmann explored the palpable potential of volume + intensity + volume + (you get the picture), and Caspar Brötzmann Massaker were notably confrontational in their heyday.

Thirty years down the line, the band's debut, The Tribe, still sounds utterly unique and equally enthralling. Untamed tracks like “Blechton” and “Massaker” see fierce metallic riffs batter shards of hybrid art-rock and psych-rock, exposing the dark heart of The Tribe in the process, which often oozes menace. Elsewhere, the “Time” and “The Call” are fed into a no wave meat grinder – producing unorthodox albeit hard-edged songs, constructed out of twisted and tarnished scaffolding.

It’s all mind-bending magic, of course, and Brötzmann’s murmured vocals and oblique lyrics (which are scattered throughout The Tribe) only add to the unnerving and unhinged atmosphere. Brötzmann and his bandmates corral the chaos as best they can on The Tribe and they somehow manage to make music that’s as bleak as a row of rusting and collapsed factories and yet is overflowing with sizzling six-string insanity. Pounding drums and propulsive bass add to the mayhem, and The Tribe’s remastering captures Caspar Brötzmann Massaker's volcanic strengths in all their amp-melting glory.


The band’s second album, 1989’s Black Axis, features more impressively tight and expressively uninhibited interplay. (It also showcases the continued development of Brötzmann’s idiosyncratic guitar technique.) Like The Tribe, Black Axis was recorded at legendary jazz studio FMP in Berlin, but Brötzmann was so tall he could "barely stand up straight" in the rehearsal room. It might be wishful imaginings on my part, but you can almost hear that uncomfortable positioning boil over as bitter and crooked riffs are hurled at the listener on Black Axis.

There’s a heavier percussive punch to the album, mixed with a raw sense of physicality and starker industrial rhythms. The mesmeric mechanics of “The Hunter” calls to mind a critically adored industrial band like The Young Gods. And the mantric tempo on much of Black Axis fuels its hypnotic pulse, especially in the screeching/droning/transcendent depths of the album’s 15-minute title track.

The echo of Hendrix’s wildest adventures still resounds on Black Axis; see the scorching guitar on tracks like “Mute” and “Tempelhof”. There are plenty of anarchic noise eruptions throughout, and flashes of jazz and funk arrive, only to be wrenched inside out. Squalls of guitar eradicate easy handholds and, to be honest, much of Black Axis feels like Caspar Brötzmann Massaker are purposefully fucking with us as much as with themselves, which suits the band’s modus operandi to T.

Caspar Brötzmann Massaker’s desire to explore the darkest reaches of minimalism and maximalism sees them navigating post-punk and experimental gateways, as well as tearing open all manner of strange and pummeling musical portals. In the end, all that volatility means Caspar Brötzmann Massaker’s music is near impossible to classify – let alone describe.

Ultimately, it's that combination of Caspar Brötzmann Massaker’s innovative temperament and unrestrained methodology that lies at the heart of their appeal. Most bands are all too easily cataloged and duly marketed to the masses, but decades after their birth, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker still sound like eccentric outliers. It’s not even that alternative music hasn’t 'caught up' with Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, it’s simply that the band were genuine subversives making abrasive and aberrant art.

Caspar Brötzmann Massaker are constantly in flux on The Tribe and Black Axis – endlessly exploring the possibilities of their anti-music/music while simultaneously destroying and remaking their songs at the exact same time. Most importantly of all, by disregarding the rules of rock, and ignoring arbitrary genre boundaries, The Tribe and Black Axis remain daring, defiant and wholly challenging albums to this day.

NOTE: After reissuing Caspar Brötzmann Massaker's first five albums, Southern Lord are planning to release a collector’s boxed set featuring extensive liner notes and artwork by Brötzmann, including a hand-numbered silkscreened print signed by the artist. Details of that venture are forthcoming.

May 13, 2019

Dreadnought - Emergence

By Calen Henry. Dreadnought’s fourth elemental themed album, Emergence, carries on the band’s signature sound while tightening it up. Pulling back from the dizzying density of A Wake in Sacred Waves, it's the band's most direct album but it doesn't sacrifice any of their intensity.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Mark Facey

Dreadnought’s fourth elemental themed album, Emergence, carries on the band’s signature sound while tightening it up. Pulling back from the dizzying density of A Wake in Sacred Waves, it's their most direct album but it doesn't sacrifice any of their intensity.

Emergence is still, at its core, piano-heavy blackened progressive rock. The driving tremolo riffs and shrieked vocals are still prominent, as are Kelly Schilling and Laura Vieira’s lovely piano-accompanied clean vocals and Jordan Clancy's intricate drumming. Flute, saxophone, and keys all make appearances, as with earlier releases, but Dreadnought sound more focused than ever before.

Photos by Kyle Gaddo.

Their first three albums showed ever-ascending progress towards the progressive zenith of A Wake in Sacred Waves, their busiest, heaviest, jazziest, and most dense album. It eschewed some of the dynamic push/pull between heavy and ambient found on Bridging Realms but lost some of the impact of their sound on that album. Emergence brings it back and does it better than on Bridging Realms. There is more defined separation between the band’s main styles; metal, piano-driven rock, and ambient. The sections are also less meandering than on previous albums giving the record a more immediate, less ethereal quality. Sections are more defined, making them stand out so, upon repeated listens, they build familiarity faster than before. The whole album is more immediately gripping while still giving a lot for the listener to dig into. Songs are still long, the compositions are still dense, but it all works and flows better than anything else in the band’s catalog.

Emergence is an excellent entry point into Dreadnought's catalog as well as a refreshing refinement of their formula, but anyone new to the band would do well to check out their other albums. Even though Emergence is their best work they haven’t released anything less than “extremely” compelling.

May 10, 2019

Spirit Adrift - Divided by Darkness

By Calen Henry. Nate Garrett’s solo doom-project-turned-touring-band, Spirit Adrift, returns with their third album, Divided by Darkness, and it’s a stunner. Curse of Conception was one of my favourite albums of 2017 and Divided by Darkness makes it seem like
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Joe Petagno

Nate Garrett’s solo doom-project-turned-touring-band, Spirit Adrift, returns with their third album, Divided by Darkness, and it’s a stunner. Curse of Conception was one of my favourite albums of 2017 and Divided by Darkness makes it seem like a test-run.

It transcends prior efforts and genres altogether into simply "heavy metal", but not in the modern traditional metal sense. Rather, it embodies heavy metal’s history to make something new. There’s the plodding doom of the first album, and the faster death-adjacent traditional metal from the second, but it's mixed with a newly front-and-centre 80’s sound; laced with synths and organ (even the Mellotron's signature 3 Violins patch), the guitar tone hearkens back with faintly reverbed cleans and squealing leads. It's even got mid-solo key changes and a Vibraslap. The pieces all fit together wonderfully, playing not as a rehash but a modern ode to classic metal.

On top of that the riffs, solos, and hooks slay. Songs are almost “anti-progressive” and mostly feature a verse/chorus structure with a bridge and a solo. Each part is impeccably composed and performed making the straightforward structure really work. All the instruments lock in and drive everything forward, giving way to searing leads, but Nate’s vocals really seal the deal. His slightly nasally and a bit raspy vocals have always had that timeless 80's metal quality, but this time they’re huge, even more varied and the instruments have gone back to the 80's with them. The big choruses are absolutely belted out, and the quiet parts are cleaner and fuller. There’s not a line out of place on the album.

My one minor quibble is that the mastering is decidedly modern and brickwalled, though well produced. It only slightly hampers the result, but a huge metal record like this, so indebted to the 80’s, deserves a wide open 80's master. That being said, the usual first casualty of a loud master, the bass, is loud and clear and things sound good all around.

Divided by Darkness it phenomenal. It's the best album the Spirit Adrift have released and the best metal album I've heard this year. Play it loud.

May 7, 2019

Leechfeast - Neon Crosses

By Ulla Roschat. I've been a fan of the four piece Slovenian Sludge Doom band Leechfeast since they started oozing their crusty filthy noise and let it drip into my ears and settle in my brain and soul to never completely leave. That was when they released their first full length album Hideous Illusion in 2012.
By Ulla Roschat.


I've been a fan of the four piece Slovenian Sludge Doom band Leechfeast since they started oozing their crusty filthy noise and let it drip into my ears and settle in my brain and soul to never completely leave. That was when they released their first full length album Hideous Illusion in 2012. Quite some time (and some split releases) lies between their first album and Neon Crosses. And quite some time lies between its release in March 2018 (Dry Cough Records/Rope or Guillotine) and this review.

So this is a kind of "late-to-the-party" review, although I wanted to write something immediately after the first time I heard this mind blowing album. It's an album of the category: "listen to it - words can't describe its magic". This is the reason it took me so long to eventually write this anyway, just hoping my words will make you push the play button, so the magic may unleash upon you..., and the magic starts as soon as you do so.

A creepy voice sample of some sermon /church service and slightly dissonant church bells set the mood - unhealthy, somewhat hysterical, moldy and portentous - the mood to embrace the heavy slow riff that thunders down without warning to push you into a river of viscous dirt and filth, torrential and painfully slow at the same time and it carries you into soundscapes and atmospheres of despair, pain, hopelessness and anger. Right from the start the opening track "Sacrosanct" confirms the thematic direction the album title suggests the album is going to take.

Neon Crosses is all about the wounds and pain that are caused by neglected promises of religious salvation dragged into the unrelenting, cold urban neon lights, that enhance all the suffering by creating distorted and warped reflections through the dripping filth of cruelty and indifference. The vocals, be they throaty, bellowing, gnarling, clean or whatever, are an absolute bliss of emotional impact, especially in the following track "Halogen" where dynamic and intensity grow into a heavy ritualistic Doom with melancholic melodies and ambience.

There's a soothing comfort in this melancholy, but that soon gets spoiled by dissonant distortion and an disturbingly abrupt ending that opens an abyss and you inevitably fall into the pitch black "Tar". This song is sonic tar indeed. You can almost feel the greasy, clinging smear on your skin, smell its pungent odor that takes your breath. This is so heavy, slow, gloomy and gluey and still the intensity here grows with every minute the song progresses until the atmosphere gets unbearably depressing.

All this sounds like the dark chants of a church service or funeral march at times, and  again a wailing melancholy seems to offer relief and salvation, but instead it’s faith itself getting carried to its grave. The repetitive ritual, the monolithic riffs, hard hitting drums and bass lines from hell are of a tightness that is as hypnotic as it is overwhelming and only drag you deeper into the darkness like a slow but inexorable vortex of grime and morass.

On "Razor Nest" more and more mechanical, industrial noises, eerie sound samples and radio messages infuse the already uncanny, somber ambience with post apocalyptic images and a sense of insanity and in the end of the song and the album the only repetitive sound left is the hollow stomping of some machine, stripped of all religious meaning.

If you are into this kind of heavy, doomy, gloomy Sludge, you should give Neon Crosses definitely a try. It is a demanding listen, not only because it's relentlessly heavy and slow, but even more so because it's pure overwhelming emotion oozing from your speakers through your ears into your heart.

And if you get the chance to attend a live show of these guys, don't miss it, it's an experience.