Tuesday, November 29, 2016

(Delayed) Music Review #89:
Electric Wizard
Electric Wizard
Rise Above Records

Electric Wizard. A band that countless Doom acts have cited as major influence in their music, an influence that is not hard to see the reason behind. Many bands appeared in the 90's, such as Sleep, Katatonia, Anathema, etc., and began laying into the sound Black Sabbath had debuted years prior. All of these bands had their own interpretations of the genre- some were slower and groggier, some were heavier and more brutally angry. But in my opinion none of these bands grasped the idea as firmly as Electric Wizard. The band's debut is a legendary one, and although it appeared years after the likes of Sleep and Anathema had their say, Electric Wizard's 1995 eponymous gets practically everything I expect of a Doom metal album right.

Electric Wizard is powerful, loping, almost serene in it's trudging splendor. It's slow, fuzzy crunch combines elements of the early 90's metal with the band's reinvigorating sounds. This album's introduction of new ideas was, in layman's terms, revolutionary. The album shines much in the department of epics, specifically the title track and 'Behemoth', which lives rigorously up to it's name as a gargantuan, practically filthy track filled with the best sludge you'll ever hear. The musicianship is excellent; Electric Wizard is a three man team of Jus Osborn, Tim Bagshaw, and Mark Greening. This lineup was one that remained intact until around 2003 (circa We Live), where Greening and Bagshaw departed only to be replaced by Justin Greaves and Rob Al-Issa respectively. This original lineup is perhaps the most dynamic and musically-virtuous the band ever got, for the stamina and skills of these musicians has been unparalleled by many of their peers. The parts where the band shines are particularly in the Sabbath-like sections, i.e. where there's more rock and roll influence, such as title track (as well as 'Wooden Pipe' I suppose) and 'Stone Magnet'. These two act as bookends to the album, being the closer and opener respectively, which sort of adds to both the songs and album's quality. Both have similarites; both are dark, muddy and heavily distorted, However they are sort of the more traditional/easily digestible tracks. They make a listen-through of the album both a comfortable yet and the same time new experience. 

EW's debut is nothing short of a spelling out of the greatness of the band's potential. It's a mind-bending, mind-altering experience from start to finish. Highly recommended. 

 2016 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Music Review #97:
No Idea!

Two or so months ago, I wrote a review for the Floridan doom metal band Floor's debut, their self titled. In the review I praised everything about the album, calling it "a masterpiece of doom metal music". A few months have passed and after listening to the album several times over, I've come to the realization that it wasn't nearly as good as I thought. The vocals by Steve Brooks were downright unlistenable at times, the album was annoyingly flat and one-note through the majority of it's run-time, and the the album was so short that it wasn't really even a lasting experience. I also stated that I loved the "punk" elements in the album, to which I've also come to realize are nonexistent. The closest it comes is Brooks' clean vocals, but as aforementioned, those are borderline not passable. 

This rapid barrage of epiphanies sort of felt like a cop-out to me, as I'd had so much respect for creativity that wasn't really even there in the first place. I felt like I cheated my own emotions. I needed some solace, some recompense from this band I had liked so much. Thus, I moved on to their second album, titled Dove.
Thank the gods. Everything I thought I liked about Floor's debut is here in actuality, and it is goddamn glorious. There's actual punk influence, actually good vocals, and that wonderful sludge is still palpable. Let's be a bit more specific, though.

I've always liked fusion bands, especially when it comes to metal. So when I discovered Floor's punk and hardcore punk (which they most likely learned from playing with Spazz in '94) aspects to their overall doom metal style, I was thrilled to say the least. These were sort of just hinted at on the self-titled, but here they are flagrant. The wonderful thing however is these aren't the only influence on this record. Floor takes elements from classics like Black Sabbath, from the hardcore punk movement of the 70's and 80's, and about everything in between. In order to do this correctly though, Floor would have had to make some drastic changes:

1. Be more energetic.
2. Be more melodic.
3. Blend in with each-other musically
4. Tune down heaviness in order to showcase slightly more complex songwriting.

These are some big steps that are difficult for any doom band to take. First off, Floor's debut was obviously not one that was melodic or energetic. The guitars monotonously cranked out usually 5-6 note variations, but extended to three or so minutes. Where the complexity really shined through was the drumming. Jeff Sousa didn't really feel like a doom drummer like Chris Hakius- he wasn't nearly as slow and trudging as one might expect a drummer of his kind to be. While this factor could have been utilized to great effect, it unfortunately was not. Dove fixes that by having Vialon and Brooks easily keep up and making actually great, fast-paced songs. Blending was another big problem for Floor; by each other the band was fantastic, but they lacked the cohesion to create thought-provoking music like they should be. I tend to chock this up to playing on only splits for the 10 years before their first record, so they weren't exactly familiar on their own just yet. Dove is much better about that; like I said before the band is much better paced about than before, mainly due to them being much more melodious. Finally there's the issue about heaviness. What of the biggest things Floor's known for is their crushing, laboriously unforgiving heaviness. But this also created a problem: Floor couldn't continue only crunching out ultra-heavy riffs without risking musical integrity. So on Dove they made a choice to tune it down. A hard choice it might have been, but it worked wonders for the band's aesthetic. There was more room for better bridges, more interesting vocal harmonies, and much better stoner effects than before.

The tracks themselves are wonderful. Unlike the criminally short run-time of the debut, Dove cracks a healthy half-hour. This much more lengthy album length is due to the whopping 18 minute long title-track epic, who's quality rivals that of Sleep's Dopesmoker. If you are at all missing the heaviness of their 90's work or their debut, then I suggest you check out either the epic or'Floyd', the latter being more akin to "Kallisti" from the S/T. But like I said before the best songs are those that are more fast-paced, and for that I suggest the aforementioned 'In A Day' or my personal favorite 'Figure It Out'. Although the production and volume mixing can be a bit wonky at times, at others it can be so well mixed (like at the end of 'Figure It Out') that it becomes almost entrancing. 'Namaste' would be okay, however it suffers from a short length and badly produced/sung vocals. Overall though, Dove has a fantastic track-list that I just can't stop coming back to.

Dove is much more of a romp through an essential doom release than Floor's prior effort. Everything shines from the increased musicianship, improved production, and far better written songs. Floor's Dove, for me, is the new doom standard.

2016 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Originally written for Metal Music Archives on 11/16/2016.
Visit the site at www.metalmusicarchives.com

Friday, November 11, 2016

Music Review #96:
Post Society
Century Media

The Odd Voivods are back with a gargantuan EP, titled Post Society.

Unlike most other bands, Voivod hasn't really lost much momentum as the years have gone by. Owe this to the uniqueness of the band's sound or influence or what you will, but no matter the reason Voivod hasn't (at least to my perceptions) had a dip in stamina.

A lot has changed over the 32 years following the band's debut; Voivod's blurring of the lines between progressive and thrash metal has made fruition of countless genius ideas that seldom other bands have even considered. So with all this taken into consideration- how is their new EP?

For one, Jean-Yves Thériault has been replaced after three decades, instead taking his place is Dominique Laroche. Rocky's metal repertoire is scarce, however he has played for blues musician Steve Hill. Other than that the lineup remains unchanged. Music-wise, Voivod goes back to their roots. The progressive inclinations of prior albums like Nothingface or The Outer Limits are a bit less prominent as they once were. Instead, what Post Society really is is a thrash metal release. This isn't really surprising when looking at Target Earth, an album that was very much just thrash-oriented. The only truly progressive song on this album in my opinion is that of 'Polluted Alcohol', an epic that goes through a variety of different stages in real Voivod fashion. Combine this with the classic monotone vocals of Snake, then you've got a song for the ages. The other songs are good too, but like I said they're all more run-of-the-mill thrash songs (which might I add is not in fact a con) which might be enjoyed more by others. Other than that the Hawkwind single 'Silver Machine' gets a cover on here, also true to Voivod's name. Something I've always praised the band for is their covers, and they haven't disappointed me yet. It is a bit lesser than the original; lacking the space-rock element makes the cover have a more stripped down feel than the original. Nevertheless the band cleans it up and makes for one hell of a song. Fantastic.

Like the eternal beast, Voivod walks on. Is there a stop for them in the future? Who knows. At this rate these guys show no obvious signs of stopping. Post Society is pretty good. Yeah.

 2016 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day! 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Music Review #95:
Grand Funk Railroad
E Pluribus Funk

One of the better power-trios out there, Grand Funk Railroad (like many other hard rock blues rock bands) made their debut in the late 60's, specifically 1969. Bands of their caliber were popping up left and right, including but not limited to Led Zeppelin and Humble Pie, but GFR were able to make something of themselves rather well. A year after it was released the band's debut hit gold certification in 1970, their second album following suit. In 1971 GFR hit what was possibly the most prolific moment of their career, performing a live show at Shea's Stadium, with their ticket sales equaling that of the Beatles and their show in 1965. The only difference being The Beatles' took weeks to achieve, whilst Grand Funk took only three days. So it is pretty safe to say that the band was at their peak in the early 70's, at least commercially. When it comes to reviewing the music however, sales from other people are irrelevant to personal opinion, so here's my opinion on Grand Funk's first three years.

Grand Funk was doing very well for themselves it's true, but their album faced mostly critical panning regardless of their sales. This could be for a variety of reasons, but most likely the band was thought to not distinguish themselves from the flood of hard rock bands emerging in 1969. Now don't get me wrong, there were factors that differentiated these bands, but they were rather general and well-encompassing. On one side you have the loud and proud, bands that relied mainly on distorted guitars and blasting sound. On the other you had bands that experimented a bit more, incorporating more classic blues/bluegrass into their heavy style- a more progressive style if you will. I believe Grand Funk belonged mainly to the former category, while Humble Pie, Zeppelin, and Uriah Heep belonged to the latter. In general the bands from the more eclectic camp were lauded by critics and were (anecdotally) more likely to be cited as influence for bands in the future. Grand Funk, Thin Lizzy, and other bands like them remained more a product of their time rather than a lasting emblem of history. This is not to say that Grand Funk should not be given commended for their style, which as aforementioned they were in their early days. However it was obvious that after 1973's We're An American Band, thought of generally as the band's opus, GFR started to sag under the weight of their overbearing swagger and cockiness, becoming almost comical in their musical undertakings. Regardless it is always a treat to explore bands in their prime, and luckily in the same year of that famous performance, GFR released two albums, the second of which we'll be checking out today.

E Pluribus Funk, whose title is a jeu de mots of the United States' then-motto "E pluribus unum", was released in November of 1971. As previously mentioned, it is the second album the band released in 1971, the first being Survival. Survival wasn't as much of a commercial success as albums that preceded it, nor was it a creative one. For example, drummer Don Brewer never quite enjoyed the sound of the drums on the album due to producer Terry Knight's insistence that he cover the skins with tea-towels, a technique he learned from Ringo Starr in the 1970 Beatles film Let It Be. E Pluribus Funk tosses these inane ideas and substitutes it for a more raw and conventional construction. Knight's production quality is very organic, like many other blues bands at the time, making the record easily retain a 70's quality of sound. The track list for this album is quite short, but makes up for it with a few extremely good choice tracks. 'People, Let's Stop The War' is a funky, crunchy power trip, titularly repeating the same jargon in circulation throughout the decade. You know, hippies might have been taken more seriously if they made more music like this- just saying. 'Loneliness' is one of GFR's best; an orchestra-aided ersatz-progressive rock epic who's slow tone actually musters up some pretty legitimate emotional material.

All in all if you've heard of Grand Funk and you wish to get involved this isn't the worst place to start. It's a good introduction, and a good showcase of the band's talents. I'd say "magnum officium" to this one.

 2016 - The Frying Pan & Thatcher 
Have a nice day!