Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sit back, tune in and rawk!

THE CHAIR – “The Chair” (Transubstans, Swe) – On and on, the stoner rock cloning goes, but where it stops seems to be Sweden’s Transubstans label. Reason being, over the last year, while I’ve gotten a lot of stuff supposedy all “Kyuss-ed out” and all “Fu-Manchu-ed up” from various sources, this imprint seems to have a handle on what makes things rawk…differently. Right from the get-go, I find myself drawn to this quintet, as opening cut “House” reminds me of something Trouble might have done on either the self-titled Geffen disc or “Manic Frustration.” Yeah, pretty freakin’ cool and these guys let it rip from there on out. The 2 guitarists don’t head for Thin Lizzy double harmony territory as much as they remind me of a kind of heavy-blues pairing of a young Clapton and maybe Koss from Free. Their over-driven leads match nicely in cuts like “Slither” (no, not the mediocre Velvet Revolver tune, this is much better) and “September.” Vocalist Chris Lee Smith (who is American) has 3 names and a voice & a half, not in terms of multi-octaves but in a strength that hits me as nearly a cross between early Chris Cornell & Jack Bruce. Another thing that wins me way over about these guys is that they also have the patience to let some tunes build and explore, with enough of a hint of psych (think the German Elektrohasch label) painting and shading corners to allow for some real colour to emerge. Then, they’ll turn around and invoke an absolutely delicious hook, like the one in “Shamrock City” that’ll have you thinking of ‘70’s hard rockers Starz. Whatever the reasons, and they are multi-fold, THE CHAIR is nothing to take sitting down as they really stand out! Ouch! Ok, so I’m not a comedian but this is one serious rawk band, so buy their disc now! 8.5

THE GATES OF SLUMBER – “Conqueror” CD ’08 (I Hate, US) – Things used to be so simple. You had doom metal and it was Trouble & Saint Vitus and a poor boy like me could understand it all. Then, somebody came along, maybe one night while I was sleeping to my dusty cassette of “Hallows Victim” and decided there would be sub-genres: doom-death, melodic doom, sludge-doom, funeral doom…hell, maybe there’s even wedding doom. Graduation doom? Well, with all that in mind it is such a breath of fresh air to these grizzled ears to hear a band who are unabashedly and simply…DOOM. In case you’ve been behind a door for the last few years, or at least have not been to one of the many doom fests around the country, THE GATES OF SLUMBER are doom. Oops, that’s DOOM. They are from Indianapolis and, even though I’m from Baltimore I won’t hold that against them (a little NFL history there). See, they’re great at what they do. …SLUMBER, fronted by Karl Simon (guitar/vox) don’t pull any punches. They’re not trying to re-invent the wheel, they’re only trying to crush your skull as the 8 tracks on offer here prove. This band have simply gotten better with each release, honing their deliberate to mid-paced plundering by sharpening the melodies each time and this time, getting their best, most leveling production job from current hot-hand, Sanford Parker. But the description of the impressive consistency of this trio (rounded out by Jason McCash – bass & Bob Fouts –drums) is not meant to imply the songs are unidentifiable. Opener “Trapped In A Web” gets on enough of a high-horse speed wise to remind you of the faster Manilla Road stuff and the 16 ½ minute “Dark Valley Suite” is an impressive smorgasbord of tastes and textures. Never doubt for a moment, however, that this is doom all the way and anyone in love with all albums from “Born Again” to “Nightfall” will lap it up like a cold beer on a hot day. Is it icing on the cake that Karl Simon actually looks like a Viking? Oh yeah, and he’s a hella nice dude, too. 8.5

IRONWEED – “Indian Ladder” CD ’08 (Small Stone, US) – GREATDAYFORUP were a band from Albany, the capital of New York. Why am I mentioning Albany’s “capital-hood?” Is that a word? Well, I’m trying to do anything I can, you see, to make this review somewhat interesting. The fact is, GREATDAYFORUP (what a weird band name!) disbanded and guitarist Mike Vitali has re-emerged with IRONWEED. The more obvious fact however, when listening to this disc, is that it has precious little to offer that hasn’t come before. IRONWEED can play, they can lay down the thick stoner riffs and are pretty damn tight as a band. Singer Jeff Andrews roars gruffly with a kind of southern flair but the songs just don’t stick to your ribs, ‘least not like Aunt Bee’s mashed potatoes. See, this is just one of those records that despite being on a good label and having killer cover artwork just doesn’t have anything you can latch onto song wise and that’s Boredom City. 4.5

ROADSAW – “See You In Hell” CD ’08 (Small Stone, US) – Damn, I wish this one had the cover art of the Ironweed disc. See, the front of this one is about as un-interesting-looking as you can get and yet it’s a pretty cool listen. First off, ROADSAW is a seriously “rawk”-sounding name. I’m thinking of one of those things you see when you’re stuck in a back-up due to construction and some huge, hairy dude is cutting up a piece of the asphalt with a big, sharp-looking circular device that’s also noisy as all get-out. Anyway, to be honest, “See You In Hell” doesn’t come off quite that lethal or nasty but, for this band’s first effort in a number of years, it’s gotta be a cool listen for their fans, as I was buying in and I’m not all that familiar. Basically, ROADSAW mine the classic rock terrain of the 1970’s for their riffsman ideas and then let enough stoner-ooze drip over it to please the heavy rock fan of today with ideas from Deep Purple to Mountain showing up here & there among the Sab-4 nods. The songs, especially “Leavin’” and “Receive,” are a bit surprising in their melody and the whole record, while no classic, is still a butt-kicking listen. 7.0

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