Astral Noize: Stoned Jesus

Read all about it, Jesus is back, and he’s high: read the Astral Noize review of Stoned Jesus’ new album Pilgrims here.

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Astral Noize: An Interview With Skullcave

As of recent I have been travelling through the space–time contiuum via Skullcave’s debut album Fear, and I must compel you to join me. Should you choose to return to this mortal plane, read the Astral Noize interview with them here.

Burnt By The Riff: Palms

When those squares at NASA finally use that top secret sunlight ear trumpet device¹ they’ve been working on to figure out what noise sunshine makes, they’re going to find that it’s kinda mellow but also kinda heavy, and I’m gonna say, I told you man, I told you, it’s just like Palms’ sole, self–titled album, Palms knew, Palms knew man, then I’m going to stop talking to myself and go lay in the sun listening to Palms.

Characterised by reverb, shimmering guitars, light drumming and Chino Moreno’s clean vocals, Palms is mellow to the point of inducing slow motion. Even the artwork (just look at it. Revel in that glory) seems to have been designed with taking it easy in mind.

Consisting of former Isis² bassist Jeff Caxide, drummer Aaron Harris, guitarist Clifford Meyer and Deftone’s Moreno, the closest it comes to these better known bands is the chilled–out material of the the latter. As such it is more alt–rock then metal (post– or otherwise), there to be sunk into rather than charged along with. It’s generally slow, and the aforementioned shimmering guitars, reverberating vocals and swelling synths create a floating sensation, particularly on fourth track Shortwave Radio. Nothing is in a rush, and when it does get heavy, such as in Mission Sunset, it tends to build up into a My Bloody Valentine–type squall rather than shifting straight from quiet–to–loud.

That said, the sense of pacing is just right; laid back can be too laid back if nothing happens, and Moreno carries some of that signature Deftones tension with him in that breathy croon. Vocals that initially appear to be mellow, upon inspection, often turn to something like that feeling of picking up on a double meaning a second late:

I slipped into your sight,
but didn’t feel anything deep inside[…]
The closer I am,
I notice something’s wrong with you. (Future Warrior)

After four and a half minutes of lyrics along the line of ‘I will never say goodbye, for anything/No I would never say goodbye’, Shortwave Radio finishes on

Ascending into heaven,
while staring into hell.
You’re staring into heaven,
descending into hell.

Through the six songs there is this push and pull, generally between a narrator and a abstruse, knotty lover who tends to only ever assume, or be described in, cryptic terms. However, rather than harshing the mellow, this gives Palms an exploratory feel as it drifts along with these turns and tensions. The running lengths reflect this, running between from five and a half to 10 minutes and averaging at just under eight minutes, but feeling deceptively, rather than tellingly, long. Nevertheless, its laid back nature makes this album good summer listening, drifting along, love life problems and all.

I watched the day go by – Mission Sunset

  1. May not be real.
  2. The seminal post–metal band, not them other lot.

Yob Song By Song: Burning The Altar

We’re putting the band back together.

We’re not on a mission from God.

Wherefore in the Year of Our Lord nine and two thousand, doom would be upon mankind, not in floods and plagues, nor in thunderbolts and smitings, nay, but truly Yob did sayeth ‘Dudes, we’re putting the band back together, we got a new album coming out, it’s called The Great Cessation, Sanford Parker from Minsk recorded it for us, it’s gonna be totally sweet’¹. And the shepherds from Profound Lore did sayeth, ‘Niiiiice, man’, and did go forth with CDs/vinyl/medium of choice into the Promised Land.

And, wherefore, The Great Cessation, as it was told it would be, was Yob’s great recommencing. (OK, enough of that). Yob having disbanded in 2006, drummer Travis Foster contacted Mike Scheidt in 2008 about reconvening. They played a few gigs, then decided it was time to really crush some hopes and dreams and start dispensing the doom again.

Burning The Altar is the track that began Yob’s second coming. Howling wind is interrupted by a bass slide into a guitar tremolo–picking with lots of reverb, discordant and thick whilst underneath the bass lumbers along with the drums. The following main riff is a semitone movement (think of the Jaws theme tune – te/doh/te/doh), a one–fret movement between Bb and A with heavy palm muting and open stabs on the downbeat. After a scream, the vocals enter Ozzy–style; ‘Burning eyes brim with tears/Heavy heart clenched like a fist/Grasping hope with hands in flames’ before the screaming starts at the chorus with ‘Burning the altar/Ashes billow across the sky’. Life is suffering, but closer to something like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road² rather than the first of Buddhism’s four noble truths:

The ignorant rule the weak
With iron law and wrathful deeds
[…]Trumpets to the fall
Hollow psalms
The drums of war
Beating the stretched skin of the fallen.

Tyranny, despotism, death, war, inhumanity – this song may as well have been called Burning The World. The riff that follows on from 7.08, which utilises an Arabic–sounding scale, features a sick descending hammer–on pull–off flourish that sounds like it’s echoing up from a stone vault. Over many listens these lyrics, combined with the lurching semitone riff and creeping lead guitar, reminded me, besides the aforementioned The Road, of :

[…] somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs
[…] what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Comparing a song largely consisting of two chords to W.B. Yeats’ The Second Coming might sound improbable, but think of this comparison on the basis of the theme of horror; the movement of these chords, combined with the apocalyptic imagery, conjures the image of a colossus ominously trudging its way to reshaping the world. Indeed, the album artwork for the remastered version that Relapse put out in 2017 is of a celestial plane being plunged into turmoil, with lightening bolts flying around and birds/winged monkeys flying up out of an abyss.

Verily, most mightily pleasing a commencing for that of a great cessation.

¹Probably.

²’He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the interstate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe.’ The Road, Cormac McCarthy.

 

Song By Song: Age Eternal

In chapter nine of Wuthering Heights Heathcliff loses his shit and skips town for three years. Eventually he reappears in God’s Own Country¹ to chew gum and kick ass, without Emily Brontë ever specifying where he went on his gap yahs. This is an important bit of character formation, but nevertheless, I much prefer it in Batman Begins when Bruce Wayne drops off the face of the earth and the film shows him learning martial arts in Bhutan, or in The Two Towers when Gandalf brawled it out with The Human Torch for one hundred and fifty–two rounds, or how The Count of Monte Cristo includes eight years of Edmond Dantès learning card tricks, weightlifting and how to hotwire cars.

Point being, what happened when Yob called it a day in 2006? Did the former members of Yob save Gotham City? Save Middle Earth? Dig their way out of prison islands? Chew gum, kick ass and become the anti–hero of a lengthy Victorian tragedy/romance/gothic novel which students of English Literature shall forever continue to endure? Travis Foster and Isamu Sato may well have done any of these things for all that anyone seems to know about them during this period. On the other hand, in either late 2005 or early 2006, Mike Scheidt formed a generally–forgotten band called Middian with Will Lindsay of Indian and A Storm of Light and Scott Headrick, bassist and drummer respectively.

Going by their own description, Middian were ‘very much in the vein of YOB, but more angry and mid–paced on average, but still with roots in slow doom and the cosmic vibe that was a part of YOB’². As such, before listening to their sole album Age Eternal, I was expecting it to be a mid–paced trudge and and a poor man’s Yob, forgotten because it was forgettable. As it turns out, I am a poor man’s critic, and Age Eternal is actually rather good.

Doom only in part, it has a different feel to any Yob album. It contains the aforementioned aggression, with opening track Dreamless Eyes coming in fast with punk discordance and the vocals entering with a head–splitter of a scream from Scheidt. It is a diverse listen, with a big slow down of pace five minutes in, and throughout the album the riffs move around a lot more than Yob’s typically do. The teak–thick ending of Dreamless Eyes gives way to the echoing, glassy guitar of second track The Blood of Icarus, just before the rest of the band enter with the sort of riff that makes it hard to move from the floor. The eponymous Age Eternal is light and fluttering where The Celebrant is aggressive, and closing track Sink To The Centre spends a while with a guitar tolling like a bell, but none of that merry shit, more like when Ice–T sampled Black Sabbath and rapped about being in the wrong fuckin’ part of town. This track is more Yob–like, slower and weirder to digest than the other tracks, eventually freaking out into a big psychedelic outro.

Scheidt with short hair. Weird.

Repeated and spaced–out listens (referring to the passage of time, rather than mental state) impressed upon me how good this band really was. It is unmistakably Scheidt playing, but Middian were very much their own band. After this one album, Middian would end under unfavourable circumstances. Unfavourable, rather than unfortunate, as they were effectively sued into paralysis by another band going by the name of Midian, based on the other side of the U.S. in Wisconsin, who issued a cease and desist order in October 2007. Only Middian’s (two d’s) side of the story is readily available, but it looks like Midian (one d) weren’t happy with Middian’s (two d’s) attempts to placate them, and the situation escalated into a federal law suit, which ended with Middian (two d’s) not being allowed (two l’s) to sell their album, being dropped from Metal Blade Records, and disbanding in December 2007.

Having done a bit of research, Midian of one d did not make good on all that litigation by giving the world some decent music. However, as Buddha probably once said, the silver lining to this cloud of shite is that the death of Middian would lead to to the second coming of Yob. As Middian wound up, Scheidt was approached by Foster, fresh from saving Gotham City, about playing a Yob reunion gig. Aaron Rieseberg was recruited to bring the four string thunder (presumably Sato was still busy saving Middle Earth). The gig was good. The gig was loud. Tracks were written. An album was planned. Much like Heathcliff, Yob were back to chew gum, kick ass and play doom.

  1. Yorkshire, of course.
  2. https://web.archive.org/web/20070420214903/http://www.middian.org:80/bio.htm/

Yob Song by Song: The Mental Tyrant

 

File:The Thinker, Rodin.jpg

Photo courtesy of Andrew Horne.

Doom encourages insight. As mentioned in Revolution, it is the metallic subgenre best suited to and most closely aligned with the concept of enlightenment. Most of Yob’s music digs deep and soul–searches, but it is in their clean, sombre material, such as Catharsis, Marrow or the first half of The Mental Tyrant, with the grace and flow of that mournful, descending C5/Bb5/Ab5 chord progression, complete with flanger and volume swells, where this sentiment really rings true.

With this introspection, it takes three and a half minutes for the intro to evolve into a distorted form, then another couple of minutes to evolve – or rather, to degenerate – again, the chord progression breaking down into ugly sludge. All in all it takes 10 minutes for the vocals to enter, the longest for any of Yob’s song. This ‘degeneration’ makes me wonder who or what the titular mental tyrant is. The lyrics, containing the lines ‘Vast fear/Disguised as wisdom’ and ‘Constant desire for virtue, the higher/Achieve the right to judge our brethren with a smile’, refer repeatedly to hierarchies. They could be about Yob’s lyrical bête noire of organised religion, but remain equivocal enough to be open to interpretation. In particular, Scheidt has stated that he has suffered from depression¹,²,³ and whilst it’s easy to write meanings into songs that the author did not mean, I did wonder if the title of this song was a reference to mental health. Given this lyrical ambiguity, whilst very much not a certainty, it’s possible, which is one of the strengths of this song; digging deep and soul searching.

Talking of strengths, I also like how after nearly nineteen minutes of riffing Yob have the imagination to put throat chanting and drums that sound like they were recorded in a canyon to tape, and then have the audacity to end for a couple of seconds before a chugging re–entry.

Closing notes on The Unreal Never Lived : this album was released on Metal Blade in 2004, just as the New Wave of American Heavy Metal was on the ascendancy. Stablemates/sparring partners included As I Lay Dying, Immolation and Unearth. While not exactly doom’s heyday (has doom ever had a heyday? Can doom have a heyday? Do the words doom and heyday go together? Does heyday go with anything?), I can imagine Yob thinking that they had ‘made it’ to some extent – after all, Metal Blade is a major label, founded by early Metallica–promoter/discoverer Brian Slagel and the one–time home of Slayer. Furthermore, although Yob’s story is an ongoing one (they recently announced the completion of recording for their eighth album), this album is considered to be Yob’s best by many. How about that – critical and commercial acclaim. Then when it came to touring to support the album in 2005, bass guitarist Isamu Sato and drummer Travis Foster quit Yob. In January 2006 Scheidt announced via press release that Yob was calling it a day. As such this was to be Yob’s last album before a two year disbandment – their own great cessation.

 

1. http://www.toiletovhell.com/yob-is-love-cats-the-cure-and-depression-with-mike-scheidt/

2. http://factoryworkermedia.com/2015/03/19/interview-clearing-a-path-with-mike-scheidt-of-yob/

3. https://noisey.vice.com/en_us/article/rpnnmr/yob-mike-scheidt-interview-clearing-the-path-to-ascend

 

 

Yob Song by Song: Kosmos

I’m not sure how this song makes me feel. Happy? Sad? Happy to be sad? Sad to be happy? Goddammit.

Listening to Kosmos, I found myself trying to figure out what makes it, and in turn, Yob, so distinctly, well, Yobbish. This track is not their fastest, nor their slowest, nor their lowest, nor their most diverse. Maybe it’s the guitar tone, but tone tends to be one of the easier things to duplicate – how many Swedish death metal and Entombed–loving bands bought Boss’s HM2 pedal after hearing Left Hand Path? – and what other band could be mistaken for Yob?

However conjured, Yob apply this feel, this density, within their continued use of that genre most eldritch, horror. As you, my loyal readers, will no doubt recall,  I described preceding track Grasping Air with another rather Lovecraft–ian term ‘pervaded with unspeakable dread’. Despite the new age title, for its first four minutes Kosmos lurks and slithers, until the pace picks up with a call and response section between the lead guitar and rhythm section three minutes in. Even then things stay trudging and dissonant.

However, when placed next to the lyrics, this atmosphere of horror presents a cognitive dissonance. I had planned to close this piece with a pithy comment like ‘You are not one with the cosmos’ or ‘I wonder what Alexander von Humboldt would make of that’ (maybe not that pithy then), but that would be to ignore lyrics like

Each breath one with the all
Hearts pulsate with the mantra
Vibrant in the kosmos

or

Subsonic sage drones reach to the stars
With ancient insights into the kosmos

I’ve said it before, but sometimes the pace of a song means more than the band showing you how fast they can play. Doom is slow, not just because its instigators want to sound like Black Sabbath and Sunn O))), but because this slowness allows for and encourages insight. There’s time to think; it’s cerebral, rather than physical. You don’t see many moshpits at doom gigs. However, where this philosophical approach works well with a certain kind of song, such as Catharsis or Marrow, here it left me confused. Kosmos oozes horror, and as such it’s still an effective piece of music, but I find it hard to align my chakra when I’m expecting Ktulu (I’m spelling it like Metallica, tough shit Lovecraft) to come flapping out of another dimension and expose me to the true nature of reality and thus drive me mad. This song is just too ugly to inspire any sense of peace.

The Winter of Our Content XIX: Alcest, Kodama

Alcest pioneered blackgaze (so I’m told¹), and black metal certainly does seem to be the point of departure for Kodama. Alcest mix tremolo picking, blast beats and snarled vocals with push and pull, echo and delay, space, instrumental sections and clean singing. And crucially, in the context of this being an album for winter–stricken times and climes, black metal’s defacto misanthropy is exchanged for melancholy. Alcest are a French band, and my French is très mauvais, but going by interviews and translations of lyrics², this is sad, not angry, music. Kodama draws from Princess Mononoke, an anime about Japanese folklore which thematically addresses being caught between two worlds. Lyrically, this adds up to themes of vulnerability, alienation and loss of ability and freedom running through the album, with third number Je Suis D’Ailleurs (I Am From Elsewhere) closing with ‘Je me sens étranger’ – ‘I feel foreign’.

Alcest could join Agalloch as spiritual playlist companions, but they could just as equally be played next to The Cure. Kodama sounds cold and feels cold, but even when frontman Neige is snarling, the tone has a lightness to it. It is illogical to describe a piece of music as simultaneously dark, melancholic and uplifting, but this duality is what defines Kodama.

  1. https://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/article/yvpydk/alcest-kodama-interview-premiere
  2. http://www.darklyrics.com/lyrics/alcest/kodama.html#1