Long-running Indiana doom band calling it quits
Sad news for doom fans surfaced Sunday night, as Indianapolis band The Gates of Slumber announced their break-up. Singer/guitarist Karl Simon posted the following statement on the band’s message board:
Some of you may have noticed that Jason quit The Gates of Slumber this past week.
So, yeah. it's done. I always said I'd never go on doing TGoS without Jason, I don't think anyone ever really believed it, but yeah, it's done. I did start the band, but McCash has been my best friend for the last 20 years, the last 10 in this damn band. He wrote amazing music and was a killer person to be around on the road.
Somewhere about 3 years back s**t started to change, and it's ended with him quitting. I'm sure he needs the break, probably from me... I'm starting to *kind of* get the hint.
So yeah. It's done.
Lousy as that news is, fans have the band to thank for an exceptional body of work, especially 2008’s Conqueror, 2009’s Hymns of Blood and Thunder, and 2011’s excellent The Wretch. Thanks for the music, guys.
Outstanding third album to be released October 1
When I was listening to In Solitude’s new album for the first time a couple weeks back, I was trying to pin down exactly why I liked it so much more than 95% of all metal albums I have heard this year (and I’ve heard hundreds). After some thought I realized that “Sister” is the most complete embodiment of what I want from heavy metal, what I’ve considered are the most crucial elements that make a truly great metal record: flamboyance, melody, theater, escapism, menace, and power.
Though the fact In Solitude are deeply rooted in heavy metal tradition is terrific - their slavish devotion to all things Mercyful Fate has been well documented – I always felt that if they really wanted to make a statement, they’d have to do a lot more than just recycle the sound and aesthetic of “Don’t Break the Oath”. And have they ever done so in spectacular fashion on the new record. Fans got a good taste of the Swedes’ new direction when the title track surfaced a few weeks ago, and a new song “Pallid Hands”, which premiered at Decibel yesterday, shows just how rich the album sounds.
Lean and streamlined, “Pallid Hands” distances itself from the usual post-NWOBHM European metal and expands the sound with guitar tones that echo the classic Scorpions records of the 1970s, and most noticeably, a very strong post-punk element, drawing from the cleaner, more melodic sounds of Killing Joke. In so doing, the slightly cleaner, more spacious sound allows singer Pelle Åhman to ditch the King Diamond-isms and create his own persona. His singing is revelatory on this album, and no better than on “Pallid Hands”. And make no mistake, while the band is dipping their collective hands into waters outside the ‘80s metal realm a little, they never betray their metal roots for one second. By making a few subtle changes they’ve created a striking hybrid sound, culminating in a near flawless record. This is next-level stuff.
Sister comes out October 1 on Metal Blade.
Remember when this was supposed to be a huge deal?
In the summer of 1983, KISS was at a crossroads. Their 1982 album “Creatures of the Night”, while an admirable return to form after a series of very patchy records, failed to generate the sales the band and their label desired, and one of the only positives was that they’d just played three triumphant concerts in Brazil, including one in front of 130,000 people. With a new album in the works that July and August, and desperate to sell albums, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons decided to play the last card up KISS’s sleeve.
Take the makeup off.
Never ones to shy away from carnival barker-style hype, Stanley and Simmons, with Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent in tow, decided to stage an “unmasking” on live TV to coincide with the release of the album “Lick it Up” and the video of the same name. With label PolyGram not exactly in the band’s corner, a special live event was staged at the terribly late hour of 11 in the evening on September 18, 1983 on MTV, where VJ J.J. Jackson introduced the new-look KISS to the world.
While the stunt didn’t exactly catapult the album’s sales, they were an improvement, eventually certifying gold in the United States three months later. And despite looking completely out of their element at first – Gene openly admits to feeling lost onstage without his demon persona that first tour – it kicked off a period of modest rebirth for the unmasked KISS. The next three albums would sell decently, helped a great deal by the popularity of MTV and the burgeoning metal scene, with a new generation of kids discovering their classic material. By no means are they classics, but that period, especially 1983 to ’85, yielded some good music, with “Lick it Up” and 1985’s “Asylum” going on to be a pair of very underrated gems. Best of all were those singles – “Lick it Up”, “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, “Heaven’s on Fire”, “Thrills in the Night”, “Tears are Falling”, “Who Wants to be Lonely”, and the gleefully silly “Uh! All Night” – which helped keep the band afloat during what was in retrospect quite an identity crisis, but which, save for two, have been criminally ignored for the past 20-plus years.
I can’t be the only one who wishes they’d dragged out “Thrills in the Night” and “Tears are Falling” on their recent “Monster” tour, right?
Carcass's long-awaited return highlights a spectacular week
Album of the Week:
Carcass, “Surgical Steel” (Nuclear Blast):
When Carcass announced they were in the process of recording their first album since 1996’s “Swansong”, all fans wanted was a record faithful to the band’s sound enough to stand respectably alongside their best work. Two years removed from the disaster that was Morbid Angel’s “Illud Divinum Insanus”, any apprehension at the prospect of another attempted death metal comeback was fully warranted, but somehow, miraculously, the exact opposite has happened, as “Surgical Steel” is not only a very worthy effort from Jeff Walker and Bill Steer, but it ranks as some of the best work Carcass has ever done. A sleek combination of the savagery of the groundbreaking “Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious” and the refined melodies of the classic “Heartwork” – this despite the absence of Michael Amott, whose contributions to “Heartwork” were crucial – “Surgical Steel” delivers, in spades, everything that has been missing from metal as of late: power, melody, personality. Starting off with the supreme confidence of overture “1985” and opener “Thrasher’s Abbatoir”, the album builds momentum more and more as it goes on, culminating in a sensational second half highlighted by “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”, “Captive Bolt Pistol”, and “Mount of Execution”. Of course, this is all carefully constructed to evoke feelings of nostalgia among fans, but it’s done with verve. The band is clearly having a blast – Walker’s trademark snarl, as well as his delicious lyrical wit are in fine form – and the feeling is palpable in the music. This is as joyous a death metal album as you will ever hear, and every bit as spectacular a comeback as Iron Maiden’s “Brave New World”, Celtic Frost’s “Monotheist”, and Accept’s “Blood of the Nations”.
Also out this week:
Anathema, “Universal” (Kscope): Released on both CD and DVD, this performance at the ancient Roman theatre of Philippopolis in Bulgaria is exactly the kind of definitive live document Anathema fans have been waiting for. Sublimely performed and gorgeously filmed, and with particular attention given to their last two albums – 2010’s “We’re Here Because We’re Here” and 2012’s masterful “Weather Systems” – it’s a beautiful snapshot of the band at their prog-meets-pop peak. The “prog” tag will forever prevent the British band from achieving crossover success, despite some of the prettiest post-Britpop stadium rock songs to come around the pike in years, so they’ll just have to be one of rock music’s best-kept secrets. Hopefully this release can introduce new people to Anathema’s music.
Ashes Of Ares, “Ashes Of Ares” (Nuclear Blast): Former Iced Earth singer Matt Barlow is back with a new band, a new collaboration with former Nevermore guitarist Van Williams and fellow Iced Earth alumnus Freddie Vidales. Not surprisingly, this feels like a cross between the swaggering power metal of Iced Earth and Nevermore’s more aggressive sound, which is all well and good, but despite a few good moments (“On Warriors’ Wings”, “Move the Chains”) the songs just don’t measure up to the level of those two bands. While it’s great to hear Barlow back at it again – he remains one of metal’s elite singers – it’s a shame that he doesn’t have better, more consistent material to sing.
Bombus, “The Poet And The Parrot” (Century Media): This week’s biggest surprise, and one of the year’s for that matter, this is an extraordinary second album by the Swedish band. It’s not every day you hear a combination of Melvins-style sludge, NWOBHM flamboyance, and full-throttle Motörhead rock ‘n’ roll like this, let alone as catchy as this album is, so while the influences are obvious the vibrancy of the music is impossible to resist. Also featuring a unique dual-lead vocalist setup, this is a rampaging record that doesn’t deserve to be overshadowed by the other high profile releases this week. Listen to the album in its entirety here.
The Devil Wears Prada, “8:18” (Roadrunner): Long regarded as a joke by metal fans older than the age of 21, the popular kiddiecore band has actually been streamlining their sound as of late, subtly moving away from the lazy hardcore clichés, towards something more disciplined and genuinely heavy. So does that mean The Devil Wears Prada is finally making good music? Of course not. The songs churn out heavier riffs than in the past, but the songwriting is still painfully unimaginative. In addition, breakdowns and glitchy studio trickery are overused like any other metalcore hack band, and songs are made unbearable thanks to the whining singing on tracks like “First Sight” and “War”. There’s no whining in metal. Go away.
Eyes Set To Kill, “Masks” (Century Media): A cynic would say this Phoenix metalcore band’s only lot in life is to be featured in Revolver’s “Hot Chicks” issue every year, but for all the milking of Alexia and Anissa Rodriguez’s images, and despite some painfully unoriginal attempts at songs, the vocal hooks just barely hold this fifth album together. The only aspect of this band that’s showing any improvement, Alexia’s singing will not distract discerning ears from the nu-metal churning and choppy metalcore cadences, but pop-infused tracks like “Lost and Forgotten” and “Where I Want to Be” will make younger crowds happy.
Felix Martin, “The Scenic Album” (Prosthetic): When an album cover features a 14-string guitar, you know exactly what it’s going to sound like: music created solely for guitar nerds, with all the focus on flash and dexterity, featuring compositions too impenetrable for audiences who don’t hang out at Guitar Center all day. To his credit, the Venezuelan Martin comes up with some intriguing combinations of jazz, funk, and even tango to go along with his prog metal leanings, but all the gimmickry, all the notes, all the whimsicality leaves you wondering why any trace of soul has been left behind.
Grave Miasma, “Odori Sepulcrorum” (Profound Lore): While Carcass deservedly attract the bulk of attention this week, fans of the more primal side of death metal will be equally elated by the arrival of Grave Miasma’s much-anticipated full-length debut. Warmly recorded by Jaime Gomez Arellano yet dense enough to envelop listeners and towering enough to evoke the kind of ominous power this form of music demands, the UK band immediately establish themselves among death metal’s elite with this album. Evoking the cavernous morbidity of Incantation’s seminal “Onward to Golgotha” yet confident and brash enough to throw their own ideas into the mix – the inclusion of Hammond organ is inspired – this foursome make one hell of a statement. This is essential 2013 death metal.
GWAR, “Battle Maximus” (Metal Blade): I can’t remember the last time I ever liked an entire GWAR album, but this, their thirteenth, is the closest in ages I’ve come to fully recommending one. Dedicated to the memory of Corey “Flattus Maximus” Smoot, who was the band’s creative force – at least musically anyway – it feels like there’s some genuine passion, some piss and vinegar, to go along with all the shock rock histrionics, and it makes fir a surprisingly fun listen. Granted, the music still has a bad habit of slipping into forgettable, repetitive thrash/death, but there’s enough good material here (“Madness at the Edge of Time”, “Torture”) to make fans plenty happy. For everyone else, there are eight or nine albums you should buy this week instead of this one.
Pinkish Black, “Razed To The Ground” (Century Media): The Fort Worth duo wowed me early last year with their first album, and after signing with Century Media – as surreal a home for a noise/no-wave duo as you’ll ever find – they’ve quickly returned with a follow-up that builds mightily on the already highly unique sound of the debut. Dark enough to appeal to fans of vintage goth and post-punk (think Suicide, Bauhaus, and Killing Joke) yet powerful enough to have metal critics like yours truly waxing ecstatic, Pinkish Black’s music straddles genres in a way that few others can match, and anyone who likes daring music regardless of genre will be floored by this outstanding follow-up. The setup remains the same – drums and keyboards exclusively – but the sounds Daron Beck and Jon Teague coax out of their instruments make you forget just how minimal they are, especially on the pulsating title track, which feels like a krautrock interpretation of a John Carpenter movie soundtrack. Echoing Scott Walker one minute and Godflesh the next (just listen to “Bad Dreamer”), a lot more range is shown on this album yet the core Pinkish Black sound is never deviated from. Two records in, they sound absolutely commanding.
Satyricon, “Satyricon” (Nuclear Blast): Hard as it is to believe, it’s been five years since Satyricon put out the very good “The Age of Nero”, a record that continued to show the Norwegian black metal veterans still had plenty of good ideas. This new album, though, sees Satyr and Frost tinkering even more with their sound. Kicking off with a series of songs that are so carefully, similarly measured in pace that they tend to blend in among each other if you’re not listening closely, the album hits its stride on its fifth track, and doesn’t look back. It still sounds very much like present-day Satyricon, Satyr snarling atop unusually dynamic, warmly recorded arrangements, but the rug is pulled out during the outstanding “Phoenix”, a ballad that trounces Watain’s much-hyped “They Rode On”, thanks to guest singer Sivert Høyem. Capping off a diverse second half is the near eight-minute “The Infinity of Time and Space’, which feels less a black metal song than a clever combination of post-punk and progressive rock. This album might annoy purists who want nothing more than straightforward black metal, but for those who appreciate adventurousness and experimentation this fine album is well worth hearing.
A Storm Of Light, Nations To Flames (Southern Lord): The New York City band, always a class act, are in good form on their fourth album, their rigid, almost industrial take on doom metal this album’s most distinct quality. Featuring sparse, dry production by Matt Bayles, the album’s lack of density allows for melodies to creep tot eh forefront more often, both from guitars and vocals, which is never a bad thing.
SubRosa, “More Constant Than The Gods” (Profound Lore): Two years after making a huge impression with “No Help For the Mighty Ones”, the Salt Lake City band sounds a lot more comfortable and confident on this superb follow-up. Firmly rooted in doom metal, SubRosa is unique in two ways. First, violinists Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack are central, creating stirring melodies that fill the place where a lead guitar would normally be used, as well as letting loose searing, haunting atonal drones that heighten the tension of the music greatly. In a way it echoes Americana, and indeed the music is imbued with a strong influence of the darker side of American folk music, and coupled with an expansive quality that reflects the vast, unforgiving western environment, the violins bring a rustic, forlorn quality to doom that no other band has ever equaled in the past. The second crucial aspect to SubRosa’s music is singer/guitarist/songwriter Rebecca Vernon, whose vocal style is unique for metal, more a reflection of 1990s indie rock and ‘80s goth, and on this record her singing is more assertive, displaying more range than on “No Help”. Adding gravitas to this already haunting and viscerally powerful record is the highly personal quality of the lyrics, as Vernon delves deep into her own moments of tragedy – namely the death of her mother – which only makes the listening experience richer. Led by such tracks as “The Usher”, “Cosey Mo”, and “Ghosts of a Dead Empire”, this is an astounding album – one of the year’s very best – and in so doing SubRosa immediately establish themselves as a true American original.
Tyr, “Valkyrja” (Metal Blade): The pride of the Faroe Islands, Tyr left longtime home Napalm Records for a lucrative deal with American heavy hitter Metal Blade, and while the band has been make a concerted effort to build a grassroots fanbase in North America since 2008, their seventh album finally has them sounding assertive enough to pull off a significant breakthrough. Tossing in some strong melodic riffs that echo classic heavy metal and the robust sounds of Amon Amarth, it complements Tyr’s Viking metal shtick perfectly, not to mention Heri Joensen’s singing style and the band’s use of vocal harmonies. Of course, the Faroese tracks on every Tyr album are a highlight, and “Grindavisan” and “Fánar Burtur Brandaljóð” show yet again how Scandinavian languages are perfectly suited to heavy metal. Most interesting, though, is how Joensen’s English compositions are their best since 2008’s “Land”. Usually the band’s weak spot – the lyrics can get hokey – tracks like “Blood of Heroes”, “Hell Hath No Fury”, and “Another Fallen Brother” evoke power and confidence well. Even the ballad “The Lay of Our Love”, featuring Liv Kristine, is pulled off with sincerity and grace. Capped off by as good a cover of Iron Maiden’s “Where Eagles Dare” as you’ll ever hear, this is a marvelous statement by a band that, while consistently good, needed a creative kick in the pants.
Ulcerate, “Vermis” (Relapse): If there’s one down side to the latest album by New Zealand phenoms Ulcerate, it’s that it arrives one week after the triumphant return of progressive death metal masters Gorguts, whose “Colored Sands” raised the bar as far as technically oriented death goes. Unfortunate timing as that is, it shouldn’t diminish what Ulcerate accomplish on “Vermis”, for it, like Gorguts’ album, is an exceptional exercise in intricate brutality, audacious enough to test the limits of the genre like the band has always done, yet always mindful that the song is far more important than instrumental chops. As a result the nine tracks on this record keeps listeners on their toes, alternating between thoughtful melodic passages and movements featuring staggering physicality. If asked to choose between the two albums I’d go with the latter, but in all honesty if you’re a fan of death metal, you need to hear both.
Windhand, “Soma” (Relapse): One of several top-notch bands coming out of Richmond, Virginia at the moment, Windhand specialize in a classic, melodic form of doom, but as an enticing twist they keep listeners at an arm’s length while doing so. Suitably dark and entrancing, creating the sort of luxuriously gloomy moods that Sabbath and Candlemass did so well, the music is made all the more seductive thanks to the indecipherable, hazy, heavy-lidded singing of Dorthia Cottrell. You don’t know what she’s carrying on about, but you want more of it, like being led by a ghostly apparition deeper and deeper into a murky forest. Before you know it, you’re enveloped by the 30-minute “Boleskine”, with no hope of ever leaving. And nor do you want to, so you let the album repeat, and repeat, and repeat.
Wolvserpent, “Perigaea Antahkarana” (Relapse): The Boise, Idaho duo of Brittany McConnell and Blake Green first captured my attention three years ago with their intriguing debut album “Blood Seed”, and this follow-up continues that distinct hybrid of primitive black metal, doom, and drone. Much more roughly hewn than Wolves in the Throne Room or Agalloch, Wolvserpent nevertheless similarly draw from their Pacific Northwest environment, the riffs ragged, the drumming minimal and almost martial, atmospheric touches sparse yet effective. This isn’t music about drinking tea beside a bonfire in a cathedral of cedars; it’s written from a harsh environment, where the elements possess a power that greatly overshadows humanity, and the music reflects it exceptionally well.
Psychedelic doom upstarts deliver excellent second album
One band I haven’t been able to shut up about since I started here at Headbang two years ago is Canadian band Shooting Guns. And for good reason too, as they’ve quickly built a reputation as being one of the country’s best heavy music exports of psychedelic doom this while playing only instrumental music and putting out all their recordings themselves. 2011’s stunner of a debut album “Born to Deal in Magic 1952-1976” was one of that year’s best albums, and was nominated for Canada’s illustrious Polaris Music Prize in 2012. Now they have a new album ready to come out on October 15, as well as a proper label behind them in Easy Rider, and it builds on the momentum the previous record kicked off.
One thing I marveled at was how “Born to Deal in Magic” approached four genres often prone to severe self-indulgence – doom, psychedelic rock, space rock, and krautrock – with a phenomenal sense of discipline, unleashing songs in the three to six-minute range with hooks that were as gargantuan as the riffs. On “Brotherhood of the Ram”, however, the quintet expands on their hybrid sound greatly, stretching songs past six, seven, nine minutes. While the previous record so skillfully balanced conciseness with heaviness, Shooting Guns go for flat-out massive on the new one, ranging from slow, Sabbath/Sleep jams like “Real Horse Footage”, to the murky blues-driven “Predator II”, to the brooding, atmospheric “Go Blind”. Topping it all, though, is the transcendent, lysergic, nine and a half-minute “Motherf***ers Never Learn”, which careens at a deliberate yet manic pace, its Can-meets-Hawkwind feel coming across like a combination of “Master of the Universe” and “Mother Sky”, the beat unwavering, the swirling synths spiraling skyward. Recorded straight to analog by Chad Mason and mastered by former Monster Magnet guitarist John McBain, “Brotherhood of the Ram” is flat-out filthy, yet rich at the same time, reminiscent of the deliberate, abrasive quality of Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats’ landmark “Blood Lust”. It’s one of the best albums of the year, and can be heard in its entirety via Soundcloud below. Play it very loud.
“Brotherhood of the Ram” will be released on clear vinyl October 15. And believe me, this record will sound incredible on wax. Visit Easy Rider Records for more details.
Listen to "Brotherhood of the Ram" here, or stream it below.
Swedish band combines sludge and melody on surprising new album
Fitting somewhere between metal and hard rock, Swedish band Bombus is an interesting anomaly. Bucking the current trend in that country, where bands channeling late-‘60s and early-‘70s heavy rock has been de rigueur for the last few years, the Gothenburg foursome sound more modern, playing sludgy music very inspired by the Melvins, yet at the same time regularly dip into the NWOBHM and the oeuvre of Motörhead for inspiration. While those influences might sound obvious and done before, Bombus actually manage to create a very distinct sound, heavy but hooky, and featuring a very effective dual lead vocal approach by guitarists Feffe and Matte.
Their 2010 self-titled debut album went over very well in their home country, reaching number 12, and the much more confident new record “The Poet and the Parrot” is not only sure to improve on that, but attract attention from outside Scandinavia as well. The album will be released this coming Tuesday, September 17 on Century Media, and I’m happy to premiere it here. Listen to it below, and enjoy one of the more pleasant surprises of the last couple months.
Rhode Island duo continue to grow on new album
I’ve always been very conflicted about Rhode Island band The Body, going back to their debut album “All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood”. Here’s a duo, guitarist Chip King and drummer/programmer Lee Buford, that shows extraordinary creativity in putting together as rich sounding a take on sludge/doom as you’ll ever hear, that record utilizing some 30 extra musicians, including the Assembly of Light women’s choir. King’s vocals, though, have always been the sticking point. Delivered in a harsh, abrasive shriek, the glass-half-full analysis would be to say he’s adding a tortured element to the music, an atonal counterpoint to the massively heavy yet richly melodic music. A more cynical way to put it is that it’s a lazy cop-out by artists who can do everything but contribute that last, crucial ingredient: truly engaging lead vocals. After all, if you can’t sing, just scream. No one’ll care, especially today’s extreme/avant-garde metal audiences. Right?
Yet when I listen to The Body’s new album “Christs, Redeemers”, I find it clicking a lot more than the band’s past work. King’s vocals are still this band’s weak spot, and always will be, but this time around the sheer density of the arrangements has won me over. A good example is the fascinating “To Attempt Openness”, which premiered this week at Pitchfork and can be streamed below. With Buford’s martial beat, King’s dense, hyper-distorted layers of guitars, and the choir’s sumptuous melodies, music envelops you, taking you in deeper and deeper, but then segues into moments of pure noise, during which King’s vocals become a lot more harrowing, no longer a mere annoyance. It’s a tremendous moment on a record that has made me rethink my whole opinion on The Body, and is well worth a listen.
“Christs, Redeemers” comes out October 15 on Thrill Jockey. Pre-order it here.
photo by Angela Owens
Black Sabbath guitarist still battling lymphoma
As Black Sabbath’s North American tour wore on, you could notice signs that this tour cycle for the “13” album just might be the last go-round for the trio of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Ozzy Osbourne. Butler told the Chicago Sun-Times the rigors of this tour is taking its toll and he can’t see the band doing it again. When I saw Sabbath a few weeks ago in Vancouver, as strong as Ozzy was for the bulk of the show, his vocal stamina deteriorated so badly at the end they had to cut two songs from the set list. Meanwhile, Iommi, who was the picture of dignified, stoic strength onstage, has been battling his lymphoma all the while. And according to a post on his official website, he recently returned to hospital for more treatment. He writes:
Well we've finished the US leg of our world tour. It was a bit longer than I would have liked as I've already been in hospital having another infusion. The tour was amazing though, you always hope it's going to go well but you never know, it's great to look out and see so many people of all ages. The new songs have been going down well, we've played them enough now so we're comfortable and that helps the performance. Many thanks to everyone who came to see us, South America next, and just like Australia this is a first time for Ozzy, Geezer and me together. All the best!
As he mentions, Sabbath’s world tour will hit South America in October, followed by an extensive UK/European tour in November and December. If you live in any of those places, don’t miss this chance.
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