Author Archive

Sweet Leaf.

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

 

 

Black Sabbath are, for the most part, un-fuck-with-able. There's a timeless aura to every Sabbath track, and an air of almost too-cool effortlessness by which every song passes through your eardrums. Case in point, "Sweet Leaf". It's been a favorite song of mine for years upon years now, and it fits the bill for "classic Sabbath" in every way possible – a tremendously groovy blues crunch, a paean to that most holiest of herbs, a quick midsection freakout and a return to minor pentatonic glory, all topped off with Ozzy's signature vocals. Here's the thing though – it's all ups and no downs. I'm not just speaking to Iommi's riff. I'm talking about the general tone: weed as an indispensable element to the Sabbath image. Even the non-metalheads out there can conjure the image of the basement stoner, pleasantly and unobtrusively enlightened, using his dad's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" LP as a joint-rolling surface. It's all ups, man. 

Enter Primitive Man. Primitive Man give us the downs to Sabbath's ups. Their take on "Sweet Leaf" reflects an experience similar to my own with marijuana. It's unrelenting, misanthropic, and oppressive. The classic bluesy stomp is drawn out, off-kilter, and full of warped menace. The vocals, instead of the Ozzfather's trademark wail, are indecipherable, orchestrated chaos contained within walls that shift and sway in accordance with a deranged beat. Primitive Man feel too big for the room, each element straining against the boundaries between metal and noise. Instead of fuzzed-out stoner metal, we get viscous sludge. Instead of a danceable middle section, we get a raw blastbeat and a glimpse at clarity, only for everything to slide back down into a pitch-black void. When some semblance of that glorious riff emerges from the gloom, it's a relief from the murk, but not from the song itself. It still sits there in the back of my head, replaying itself over and over, a reflection of twisted paranoia and schizophrenic terror. This is not a happy song anymore, and there are two sides to every coin.

 

Primitive Man's cover of "Sweet Leaf" is availble only on cassette via Tartarus Records (unfortunately, they are currently sold out). You can listen via bandcamp.

Thanks for reading,

-Arvind

A retrospective list, of sorts.

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Hello, anyone reading this! Thanks for clicking on the link that brought you here. What follows is a list of albums and songs that I enjoyed this year (2013). Keep reading, and hopefully you discover something new!

Top 10 Albums of 2013 (These numbers are completely arbitrary, except for like, the top 3 or so. It's best to look at it as more of a collection than a list).

Honorable Mentions:

Batillus – Concrete Sustain, for being the funkiest metal album ever to be released.

KEN Mode – Entrench, for reminding me that hardcore is not dead, despite the new Black Flag’s best efforts.

Deafheaven – Sunbather, because it has a pink album cover and some angsty shit going on. And also it’s shoegaze, I guess.

Vastum – Patricidal Lust, for being the most un-sexy album ever written about sex, and for reminding me that old-school death metal is not a thing of the past.

Cult of Fire – ?????? ?? ????? ???????? (Editor's note: while the preceding letters may show up as question marks in your browser, they are actually Sanskrit characters), for teaching me more about Hinduism than six years of Hindu sunday school did, and for the best use of a sitar in 2013. 

10. Merzbow – "Takahe Collage" (Handmade Birds)

I haven’t kept up with Merzbow’s extraordinarily prolific career over the past few years. I was surprised this last April when I saw an email from Handmade Birds Records detailing a limited edition release from the master of harsh noise. Inspired by the Takahe bird, this collection is an hour's worth of absorbing, ear-scraping industrial noise, but differs from his previous output in that it uses something that isn’t typical of a Merzbow release – rhythm. There’s a beating heart to these tracks, whether a deep industrial crunch (“Grand Owl Habitat”) or a drum machine (“Tendenko”).

 

Grand Owl Habitat

 

9. Wolvserpent – "Perigaea Antahkarana" (Relapse)

I could label this record as the best funeral doom record of the year, but that wouldn’t quite be correct. I could also label it as the best black metal release of the year, but that wouldn’t be right either. This is a band that has masterful control over dynamics – volume, atmosphere. In “Perigaea Antahkarana”, Wolvserpent provide a sonic template that melds field recordings, noise, drone, funeral doom, and black metal into something completely unique. The nature sounds, alongside the desolate, windswept atmospherics provided by Blake Green and Brittany McConnell give a sense of total, naturalistic immersion. Cascadia would be proud.

 

Within the Light of Fire

 

8. Dressed in Streams – "The Search for Blood" (Colloquial Sound)

Dressed in Streams are anonymous. They only release their (his? her?) music on cassette. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, open your ears to the actual best black metal album of 2013. The term lo-fi has become something of a misnomer in the music community. Indie bands often mask shoddy songwriting behind a layer of tape hiss, to give it that “grassroots” quality that seems to have ingrained itself into independent music. Dressed in Streams act to the contrary – the production is minimal, yes, but the raga-based compositions stand for themselves. These two songs are a masterclass in midtempo black metal. The wandering synths twist and turn over the visceral, menacing chaos, and when a riff finally emerges from the middle section of “No Atonement”, I experienced an auditory sensation similar to the first time I ever heard Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”. Sorry Kurt Vile, but this is how lo-fi is done.

 

No Atonement

 

7. SubRosa – "More Constant Than The Gods" (Profound Lore)

There must be something in the water in Salt Lake City. While my fair hometown has become known for epic black metal bands like Caladan Brood and Gallowbraid, SubRosa are a different beast entirely. Featuring Rebecca Vernon’s soulful yet melancholy vocals and two (!) electric violins, combined with the presence of a few absolutely crushing riffs, “More Constant Than The Gods” is a stunning achievement. The band doesn’t sink into the depths of funeral doom, however. Each track is buoyed up by almost hopeful choruses, that (in another genre) might encourage singing along. This contrast between fist-pumping hooks (see: the magnificent riff that opens “Cosey Mo”) and heart-wrenching melody (”Ghosts of a Dead Empire”) make “More Constant Than The Gods” a tremendously compelling listen.

 

Cosey Mo

 

6. Pharmakon – Abandon (Sacred Bones)

This was the heaviest album of the year for me. “Abandon” is, for lack of a better description, completely fucking brutal. Melding elements of death-industrial, power electronics, and adding a healthy dose of sheer aggression, Margaret Chadiet has created the best noise album of the year. The physicality that’s present in this music is incredible – the opener “Milkweed / It Hangs Heavy” opens with an eardrum-tearing screech, and then segues into a layered, dense piece replete with rattling metal, and high, uneasy synths, while “Ache” and “Pitted” open with industrial blasts of mind-bending noise. No other album this year put me on edge as much as this one did. Chadiet’s vocals are something else entirely – her tortured screams are off-kilter, throat-shredding, and frightening as hell. I can’t wait to hear more.  

 
 

5. Inter Arma – Sky Burial (Relapse)

I’m a sucker for Americana. I love Springsteen and Neil Young. So it’s only natural that I love most metal projects that combine American folk stylings with the heavier side of things. Inter Arma falls square into that category. Psychedelic, mind-altering, immensely spacious prarie-tinged sludge that doesn’t skimp on acoustics or melody. What’s not to love? The best parts of this record aren’t even the metal ones (although the kick drumming on “‘sblood” is heavy as a ton of bricks) – they’re the pensive, somber meditations, rife with noise, even sometimes a theremin, that convey a mood so melancholy, so cosmically fatalistic that I can’t help but reflect on the universe. See the combo of “The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)” and “The Long Road Home” for a wistful acoustic guitar that over the course of fifteen or so minutes, evolves into a charging, blastbeat-filled finale, or the heartbreaking, wandering melody of “Love Absolute”. This is a record that shifts between western not-quite-country and incredible doom with sublime effortlessness, and that alone is reason to love it.

 

'sblood

The Long Road Home

 

4. NAILS – Abandon All Life (Southern Lord)

Remember how I said Inter Arma was cosmic? Yeah, Nails are the opposite of that. Totally grounded, in-your-face, and with a sound that feels akin to a sledgehammer making contact with your face. This is aural violence, without compromise. “Abandon All Life” is only eighteen minutes long – for some bands, that would constitute an EP, but not this one. Nails say everything they need to say, and don’t overstay their welcome. From the huge opening seconds of “In Exodus” to the closing moments of “Suum Cuique”, Nails make a statement: a gigantic middle finger in your face and a “fuck you” to anyone who dismisses them.

 
 

3. The Body – Christs, Redeemers (Thrill Jockey)

When we spoke to The Body’s guitarist/noise wizard Chip King, he told us that his biggest goal with his music was to make his guitar sound as little like a guitar as possible. It’s safe to say he’s succeeded with this record. The Body have only gotten better at melding their unique, sample-filled sludge with rumbling noise to create a truly unique sound. That sound is at an apex on “Christs, Reedeemers”. Again featuring the haunting vocal talents of the Assembly of Light Choir, alongside a host of guest musicians, The Body paint a picture of misanthropic and violent nihilism. It also helps that it’s crushingly heavy – when I saw these guy perform, the walls literally shook.

 

 

 

 

 

2. TIE – Ulcerate – Vermis (Relapse), A Pregnant Light – Domination Harmony/Stars Will Fall (Colloquial Sound)

Okay, this might be cheating. But both of these records I think were better than number 3, but not as good as number 1. So it’s a tie. I hate making lists. Ulcerate are often labeled technical death metal, which I disagree with, based on the fact that their music is so goddamn good that the term “technical” does it a disservice. “Vermis” is chock full of intricate fills and hairpin tempo shifts, yes, but below all of that lurks a roiling nausea, a churning black ocean that envelops the senses and sickens the mind. Truly frightening, yet strangely listenable and an incredible testament to the power of death metal, bolstered by the mind-blowingly fantastic drumming of Jamie Saint Merat (check them kick drum triplets at the beginning of “The Imperious Weak”, and then tell me you didn’t nod in appreciation).

 

On the other hand, we have the phenomenal dual EP combo of “Domination Harmony” and “Stars Will Fall” by Ann Arbor “purple metal” band A Pregnant Light. The band’s mastermind and sole member Damian Master runs the excellent cassette-only label Colloquial Sound (which, coincidentally, released the Dressed in Streams record that can be found on this list). A Pregnant Light is what results from a mix of Joy Division-esque post punk and catchy guitar hooks, all wrapped up in blackened ambiance. The wispy, melancholy “Heat Helps These Flowers Grow” is a perfect example, with its somber acoustic intro and indie stylings. Ditto “My Life Outside The Party”, which showcases Master at his most poppy without sacrificing grit or intensity. There really isn’t any other band that’s making this kind of music – beholden to black metal, yes, but also not out of place on your indie friend's post-punk playlist.

 
 
 

1. Locrian – Return to Annihilation (Relapse)

This album took me four months to really appreciate. Locrian are always a band that emphasized atmosphere over technicality, but on “Return to Annihilation”, they’ve found the perfect balance. The wandering, starstruck drones are still present – see the title track, or “Panorama of Mirrors”. It takes a while to get into, but the scope of this album is incredible. It goes from intimately quiet to titanically huge, sometimes within the scope of the same track (see the jaw-dropping closer, “Obsolete Elegies”). I could wax poetic about the musical details, but the real reason that this was my favorite record of 2013 was because it became something personal for me. I feel a connection to each of the songs, and I’ll never grow tired of listening to them. Despite the length, they fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, creating something greater, more elegant, and more devastating than the sum of its parts. If that isn’t grounds for being the best record of the year, then I don’t know what is.

 

Return to Annihilation

Panorama of Mirrors

 

 

Tracks (Again, in no particular order, except for number 1)

1. Deafheaven – The Pecan Tree – While “Sunbather” didn’t quite click for me as much as it did for some other folks, this song is pretty much perfect in every way. The riff that comes in around 8 minutes is stunningly beautiful.

 

2. Russian Circles – 1777 – I didn’t discover Russian Circles “Memorial” until too late (hence why it isn’t on my list), but this track is absolutely gorgeous in every possible way. I think it’s the best song they’ve ever written.

 

3. Dressed in Streams – No Atonement - See the #8 album on my list. There’s a riff that pops up in the midsection that’s like chocolate for the ears, if chocolate were black metal.

 

4. NAILS – Wide Open Wound – It's as if an elephant stepped on my head.

 

5. Paysage d’Hiver – Offenbarung – A masterpiece of ambient black metal. Haunting, distorted, painful, depressive, wintery, mountainous, tremendous.

 

6. The Haxan Cloak – The Mirror Reflecting, pt. 2 – Dark ambient at its finest. “Excavation” was another record that I really liked, but couldn’t squeeze into this list. The drop that hits around the 4 minute mark is amazing.

 

7. Wolvserpent – In Mirrors of Water – See the #9 album on my list. I especially love the violin that dances in and around the synths. It creates this wonderfully bleak feel.

 

8. Locrian – Obsolete Elegies – Tension builds, releases, builds again, subsides, explodes, catharsis. The last three minutes are a purging of the soul, replete with blastbeats and a riff that descends from on high like the wrath of heaven itself.

 

 

If you got this far, thanks for reading! I appreciate it.

 

- Arvind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

FIVE SOUTH AMERICAN RAPERAS

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
  •  
  • KWUR all-star Music Director and world music aficionado Henry Osman has compiled a list of 5 South American female rappers that everyone should hear! Check it out below:

     

     

    5. Miss Bolivia – Alta yama – http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=_II-AG9gEBA

     

    Miss Bolivia, Buenos Aires’ premier underground cumbia-rap superstar (I know that’s an oxymoron), goes on what looks like a super-awesome road trip and dances on traintracks (safety first!). I’m jealous.

     

    4. Leidi Li- Mate a mi novio – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG-4ZMyz8YI

     

    This may sound like low quality beroom-rap, but Leidi Li is actually Li Saumet, Bomba Estéreo, one of the biggest bands to come out Colombia in the last few years. “Mate a mi novio” (I killed my boyfriend) lets Saumet shed her pop veneer and embrace the song’s hazy, almost intergalactic beat.

     

    3. Alika – Jengibre 0 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Lh25OQpd1k

     

    Gorgeously shot, Alika elevates the sparsely populated Argentine Northwest to a new level of cool; she breakdances on ancient ruins, salt flats, and mountain sides, wears some really cool sunglasses (1:24).

     

    2. Ana Tijoux – Shock – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=177-s44MSVQ

     

    Tijoux’s had the most crossover success of all the raperas here, but she’s also the most overtly political. “Shock” highlights protesters and activists from around Chile, directly attacks both Pinochet’s legacy and the conservatism of the Catholic Church, and weaves in references to Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine,” which is the song’s namesake.

    1. Princesa- Más fuego – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ej8s1wgGMIQ

    She is a princess, has a fucking face tattoo and “Más fuego” looks like the best block party ever. What else do I have to say?

FIVE SONGS TO LISTEN TO, CURATED BY THE BODY

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, we talked with avant-garde genrebenders The Body (consisting of guitarist/noisemaker Chip King and drummer Lee Buford) after their incredible show at Apop Records. We were able to wrangle a list of songs out of them, ranging from gloomy post-punk to poppy folk. Check em out!

FIVE SONGS TO LISTEN TO, curated by THE BODY:

1. The Cure – 100 Years

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSr0aeHYMSc

2. Electric Light Orchestra – Mr. Blue Sky

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjPqsDU0j2I

3. Kate Bush – Hounds of Love

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VerK4zwMRQw

4. Big Star – Daisy Glaze

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS6M80aY2KE

5. Fleetwood Mac – Planets of the Universe (demo version)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcyIs2E7sp8

 

Huge thanks to Chip and Lee for their time. The Body's excellent new record "Christs, Redeemers", is available via Thrill Jockey Records (!!) and can be purchased here. Stay tuned to Thought Forge Sundae to hear a full interview with The Body soon!

World Keeps Sinking: An interview with Northless + FIVE MORE SONGS TO LISTEN TO

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Milwaukee's best sludge purveyors NORTHLESS just released a terrific new record, entitled "World Keeps Sinking". It's 60 minutes of pummeling, uncompromising metal, and we were fortunate enough to be able to ask guitarist/vocalist Erik Steinglein a few questions, as well as wrangle a segment of FIVE SONGS TO LISTEN TO out of him. 

KWUR: Can you introduce everyone who worked on "World Keeps Sinking"?

ES: Absolutely. I'm Erik, and I played guitar and did vocals. Nicholas Elert played guitars. John Gleisner played drums. Jerry Hauppa played bass guitar. The record was recorded by Shane Hochstetler at Howl Street Studios, was mastered by Carl Saff at Saff Mastering, and was co-released by Cory von Bohlen (Halo of Flies Records) and Adam Bartlett (Gilead Media). Paul Jeffrey did the artwork. They worked on the record a ton (just not the music side), so I am including them.

 

KWUR: On this new record, your sound is tighter, and a little bit sludgier than your previous split with Light Bearer. How do you think your sound has changed, if at all?  

ES: I think the new record definitely shows more of our progressive influences. 90's math rock, and 70's prog rock are huge influences on us collectively. To play stuff like that, you have to play tightly, so I think that motivated us to shape up our chops. I also think the newer material is more melodic in retrospect, though I wouldn't say that was intentional. As a band, we do what feels best at the moment. We don't try to write to fit a certain style or expectation. Learning how to record music on my own also opened up the ability to heavily scrutinize material during the writing process, which I think led to a more cohesive finished product overall.

 

KWUR: What are some of the themes behind "World Keeps Sinking"? Did you have anything specific in mind when you wrote the songs?

ES: Hatred and existential misery are ongoing themes for us, but for this record, I actually was in the midst of a full-blown fallout with some people who were close friends of mine. It was a really fucked up situation that left me in a very bad spot, let's just leave it at that. I channeled all the negative energy I could into these tunes, and it all came together pretty quickly. I would say that 85% of the record was written in the several months right before we recorded in May. Spontaneity can be great. Hopefully I won't go through any shit like that again, though. The next time I won't survive to write another record.

 

KWUR: Can you tell is more about your local scene? I know you guys are releasing your new record through Gilead Media, which is based in Wisconsin. If you were to play a local show, who'd be on the bill beside you?

ES: The scene here is great. There are a lot of diverse bands doing killer things, and it makes for more diverse shows, which wasn't the case for a while there when the metalcore scene had its grip on Milwaukee's penis in the early to mid 2000's. Thankfully, most of those bands and people are gone now, and the creative people who actually gave a shit were left behind to create good sounds.

At this moment, if I could jam with any Milwaukee bands on a show, it would be Group Of The Altos, Shut In, Shroud of Despondency, and Sacrificial Massacre. I'm certainly not saying these are the only good bands from Milwaukee (far from it), but these are the bands striking me right the fuck now.

 

KWUR: Any future plans for Northless? Touring, splits, etc

ES: Yes. We're working on a covers record. It will be either really awesome or really shitty…but it's happening so fuck you! We're also planning to release splits with a couple of bands in late 2014/early 2015…Don't want to announce those until things are confirmed. We'll be doing a small bit of touring this year…8 days on the East Coast in March, and about a week doing middle America places, not really the Midwest. More on those soon…

 

And now, FIVE SONGS TO LISTEN TO, courtesy of NORTHLESS:

Swans- “Coward”: What else can I say? Easily one of the biggest influences on me personally as a musician. Heavy in a completely non-metal way. Totally minimalist and dark. Genre-less. Grim. If you're not familiar, you need to get familiar yesterday. The future happened almost 30 years ago, and we're barely catching up now.

Discordance Axis- “End Of Rebirth”: Not many people can singularly point to their favorite band, but I can, and it's Discordance Axis, specifically “The Inalienable Dreamless” record. It's the most intense record I've ever heard, from any genre. It's bizarre and blazing fast and punishing. This song is one of the most intense pieces of music I've ever heard. I also just plain love blast beats, and Dave Witte's are the best ever. I wish he'd play more of them nowadays…

Portal- “Omnipotent Crawling Chaos”: Metal music as an artform is arguably entering it's 43rd year, if you consider that Black Sabbath essentially formed in 1970. I've been listening to metal for 24 of those years, and I really thought until recently that I had heard everything there was to hear, and that metal music had pretty much reached its apex of silliness and creativity…And then I heard Portal. Out of nowhere they came, completely atonal, devoid of melody, with terrifying timbres recalling the darkest nethers of R'lyeh, or like choking to death slowly on a distant planetary moon devoid of life. This song has always stuck out of their catalog to me for some reason. It's crushing, in every possible way.

Phillip Glass- “Koyaanisqatsi”: So in college I took a lot of Philosophy courses. One of my most memorable classes was an Environmental Ethics class, which in many ways opened to my eyes to so much bullshit in this world. Our professor had us watch the film, and most people fucking hated it, even if they got it. I was simply blown away by the musical compositions in the film, and this was my first exposure to modern, avant garde classical music. I can't choose one section of the piece to suggest, so I'm just suggesting the whole thing since I view it as one solid composition anyway. A must see and listen.

Tom Waits- “I Don't Wanna Grow Up”: Tom Waits is a genius, plain and simple. The man can pen a tune like no one's business. His “Storytellers” record is fucking essential, and this song is about as honest as it gets. The lyrics hit me hard, every time…I guess I'm one of those regretful grown-ups that never wanted to be, but here I am. The melody and guitar tone are so simple and yet beautiful. Tom Waits writes some of the heaviest music ever.

 

Big thanks to Erik for his time. "World Keeps Sinking" is available via Gilead Media, Halo of Flies records, or digitally at northless.bandcamp.com.