Saturday, February 7, 2009

Throwing On The Switch!

SOLENOID – “Solenoid” CD ’08 / ’09 (Buzzville, Bel) – Does anybody else ever do this? You’re poking around on the ‘net and all the sudden you find yourself face-to-face with something real cool-looking. Ok, ok…not that cool-looking…this is just an R-rated site, after all. No, here’s what happened. I’m bouncing around, scoping out bands and lo & behold, I find myself staring at a picture of 2 hairy dudes playing Flying V’s. Oh, there were other people in the band but that’s the image that jumped out at me. You see, over the years I’ve learned one thing: when a metal band’s got tough-looking guys with lots of hair, beards & pointy guitars, you pay attention. Accept, Mastodon, Bible Of The Devil…you get my point. So, I stopped in my tracks & took a look around. Everything looked right: all the influences, the comments and the link: “U.S. Distribution.” How long you think it took me to follow that bad boy? And of course, after selecting 2-day shipping, I realized it was Thursday & UPS doesn’t deliver on Saturdays. Shit. So you do it too? You order something you think might be bad-assed and then torture yourself until it comes? “Tomorrow it’ll be tomorrow,” “What if it was really out-of-stock?,” “What if it sucks?” And then you finally click “tracking” and it says “Out for delivery.” Yes! Now all that’s left is to go outside and get that little brown package off the porch…

I put this CD in, as I have so many times in the past, always fearing the worst…mediocrity. In a lot of ways, if something is a living piece of shit, it makes it easier to take. At least that can be the fodder for a funny review. But, when the first chords of “Out In The Cold” came roaring out of the speakers, I had a fucking feeling. Then, “Down The Dream” followed and the feeling grew strong enough to place sharp metallic fingers around my neck and begin to squeeze firmly. When something sounds like vintage Motorhead and ups the ante with lead guitar work like Robbo supplied in “Another Perfect Day,” I’m all ears. Then comes “Her Peace” and I’m all ears, heart, soul and gonads. This is just a superb, otherworldly song that goes to every visceral part of the human metaller’s body and ravages it with pure greatness. If you can imagine a perfect combination of yeah, Motorhead, but also a tad of Dillinger Escape Plan, Trouble and even Austrian obscurity gurus, U8 (not kidding, motherfrickers!) you’re on the damn trail. The haunting middle section of this song gives me the kinda chills that Santeria’s “Haunted Heart” did last year and the killer production job by Chris Tsangrides (man, it’s nice to hear his name again) only serves to magnify it. But we’re far from done. Through “One Armed Man,” “Angelspray,” “Short But Swell” & “Puppeteer,” this crew simply brings the hard-assed beating, a massive torrent of rifftastic, Flying V-thru-Marshall-driven, post-NWOBHM/thrash/stoner/’70’s hard rawk that is gorgeous thing to be slayed by. One thing this band does in particular, which hardly ever gets mentioned these days, and which I always have loved is the simply nasty rhythms they employ underneath the guitar solos. One guitarist lays down a volatile bed of churning, roiling groove while the other throws open an industrial-sized can of whoop-ass in the guitar solo department. And then, they switch off! Or, they lock together in a Thin Lizzy-style harmony. It’s gorgeous, let me tell you! I’m about to nominate this pair (Arend Hamelryck & Roel Paululssen) for sainthood. And, that’s not to take away from the raw-powered throaty vocals of Frank Homolka, who’s rugged enough to approximate the Lem-meister but still has enough melody in his pipes to make a monster like closer “Divide” his personal stomping ground.

If there’s one thing I hope that you readers take away from this review, it’s not to underestimate the level of how good this disc is. It is everything that the word “rawk” means to me and it is the kind of release that defines what I’m looking for when I troll the net in the name of Raysrealm. In fact, the only thing better than this majestic assbuster of a platter is the fact that, while released in Europe in 2008, it didn’t become available in the States until late January ’09. So, if the spirit moves me (and Colossus doesn’t release 10 albums this year), I could still give this sucker a Top 10 ride. That’s called having your cake and eating it too. 10.0

BIRCH HILL DAM – “Birch Hill Dam” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Stoner rock has a lot of arms & tendrils that spread like either a tarantula…or a disease, depending on your perspective, I suppose. Of course, like thousands of guys & dollies, I loved Kyuss and Fu Manchu (still do) but like many genres, have gotten weary over the years, of the countless semi-flaccid sound-a-likes. Of course, there have been some good ‘uns, like Australia’s Datura & now Massachusetts’ BIRCH HILL DAM. The name was the first thing that caught me on this one. I like it: different, geographical, can stand the test of time, not getting dated. And the music deserves it. These 4 guys take the groove of the stoner realm guide it in the direction of a heavy Southern vibe, bringing names like COC and the NOLA scene to mind. Right off the bat, they impress with “Bed Of Nails.” Sure, Joe (bass) & Matt (drums) lay down a mutha of rhythm for Mike’s ragged vox and Sam’s hammering guitar to lash onto and batter the listener. It’s the tempo shift midway through, however, taking things into a pulsing, leaden breakdown that raise this to a higher plain. All along the way, numbers such as “Soul Giver” and “Gasoline Fiend” continue to capitalize on this deft swing of power, all leading up to the patient, mounting 6-minute monster closer, “Dark River.” I’m reminded of the bluesy class and raw emotion, both band-wise and in Mike’s vocals, of another really cool band Sixty Watt Shaman, who rose above the pack to produce some truly excellent and memorable music a few years back. Buy now. 9.0

SPIRITS BURNING – “Alien Injection” CD ’08 (Black Widow, US) – The Left Coast’s SPIRITS BURNING have all the ingredients working of being a worthy successor to Hawkwind on this sci-fi packaged disc, apparently their 4th. Even adding to the mix are contributions from luminaries like Michael Moorcock, Daevid Allen & at least one member of Hawkwind. Still, I’m left coming away from my several listenings a bit confused and with kind of a headache. Simply put, SPIRITS BURNING have too much going on. Rather than the lysergic-drenched drive that takes you away in the best of the Hawksters, SB pour so many things into their sound that it sounds like Phil Spector gone deranged. Also, some of the vocals/spoken-word passages, especially those by the one male voice here are downright irritating. I love most Black Widow Records stuff but this is one they could’ve done without. 4.0

IL BACIO DELLA MEDUSA – “Discesa Agl’Inferni d’un Giovane Amante” CD ’08 (Black Widow, Ita) – Now this is more like it. Black Widow comes through in flying colors, with this, the sophomore effort from IL BACIO DELLA MEDUSA. Here’s where I come in on this very nicely-packaged piece. I was but a wee lad of 19 or so when I was watching a late night concert TV show in the mid-‘70’s. Suddenly, an Italian band appeared called PFM. The guitarist reminded me, visually, of Tony Iommi on first sight so I watched. Certainly not sounding like da Sabbuff, they instead purveyed a notable blend of jazzy rock coupled with elements of folk. And that’s what IBDM reminds me of here. Not PFM clones, don’t get me wrong, but I get the same feeling of a band who has some serious progressive chops and yet who use it in an engaging, improvisational manner. Everything from searing wah-wah guitar leads to washing organ fills are the order of the day here, coupled with the non-intrusive use of sax and acoustic axe that reminds me of Jethro Tull. It all fits together nicely, used in long tracks that flow, move organically and never wear out their welcome despite their length. Such cool stuff, and another feather in the cap of Massimo and the folks at Black Widow. I want to hear this band’s previous stuff now. 8.0

TALISMA – “Quelque Part” CD ’08 (Unicorn Digital, Can) – This one came to me from the folks north of the boarder at Unicorn Digital. Of course, coming in the same grouping as the blistering new effort from Karcius may seem to set up an unfair way-to-go for the all-instrumental TALISMA. Still, they are a decent band & do some good work here. Actually, one thing I like about their album from the get-go is the fact that, for a modern day progressive rock album, it is not 70 minutes long. 43 minutes, just like the old days. Most of the songs, in the 3-5 minute range, feature a melodic atmosphere laced with often-acoustic guitars and very introspective, calming vocals. The band does occasionally flair up into things more aggressive like “Ibliss” & the 9-minute “Cassiopeia,” which ranges into jazzy areas mid-song and sports some ear-turning guitar work. TALISMA may not send you running to the rubbish bin with your Brand X albums but it’s a pleasant enough listen all the same. 6.0

SARDONIS – “Sardonis” 7” EP ’08 (Electric Earth, Bel) – Well, well, well. The name Roel Paululssen should be familiar to ya’ll as he’s one of the guitarists in stars-of-the-update, SOLENOID! Now, here he is in this 2-man band SARDONIS, along with drummer Jelle Stevens and the results are very good. A 4-song EP released gloriously on 7” vinyl, this record would enter a category called “instrumental doom.” That sound ok? I know, I know, these pigeon-holes. I start my listening here with a small glint of trepidation as I’m always skeptical of duos. Let’s face it, these days you get 2 guys and chances are it’s going to sound more like the White Stripes than early Death. Well, “Nero D’abola” starts and while it’s not bowling me over, I’m still relieved that this is real metal. Spacey doom rumbles along at an even pace that loses nothing in the bass department due to operating sans 4-stringer. “Skullcrusher AD.” Don’t you just love a title like that. Call me the old man metaller, but that just makes me pine for the days of Hellhammer & Master demos. Even better still, the cut shows this twosome developing a personality, as it escalates with some early ‘70’s melody. Moving on to Side B of the EP, “MOR” sees the band upping the adrenalin factor. Think the one of the more ripping Saint Vitus tunes from, say “Hallow’s Victim.” With that, SARDONIS puts a cap on things with their strongest number, “Sick Horses.” This one sees them hitting on all cylinders, bringing in elements of psych-doom, even extreme metal as well. It’s really nice to receive a record that has such a pure DIY ethic as this one and actually comes through with the goods. Reminding me, in that way, of the early U.S. Christmas stuff, I see a nice future in store for SARDONIS. 8.5


Mark said...

What great reading, Ray! Nothing like my cup of Sunday morning java, and a trip to the Realm for some quality tales of bearded men with pointy guitars tearing it up! SOLENOID does rock righteously, and I loved the writeup about FATHER SON AND HOLY GHOST - that's just the type of thing you'd send us tapes of back in the day.

I hereby request a writeup for WITCHSMELLER PURSUVIANT!

raysrealm said...

WITCHSMELLER PURUVIANT!!! Yes! This must be in the future...we must meet this fear head-on! Oh, I can't deal with coffee, by the way, never have been able to. A McDonald's fountain Coke is my AM poison.