The latest from Witnesses is a dark and gloomy affair, and it is one you’ll be glad you had.
Greg Schwan is the force behind Witnesses – he is the composer and he plays many of the instruments, with a few collaborators and guests, including Matt Kozar (Ebow and guitars), Kody Ternes (vocals), and Scott Loose (making an appearance on the title track). The music is hard to pigeonhole, although it can certainly be described in the case of Doom II as doom metal expanded along (and crossed over) additional lines. It is bleak and full of misery and suffering. If that sounds intriguing, then we are getting somewhere.
“On This Black Ocean” opens with one minute of heavy, crushing riffs, steady and all doom. The music breaks to a bass line and a melodic voice that begins the narrative. This is a theme album, with a clear dramatic arc. From the published summary, “The album consists of six songs about a plague born at sea, which makes it to land, to a village that hopes its story will not be forgotten.” Timely. “On this black ocean / we were sent with a warning / but days ago we lost sight of the shore / the captain went mad / and down below they’re showing signs.” The juxtaposition of the soft voice and the plague theme along with the sudden clubbing guitars is not merely compelling, it is captivating. “I Hope Their Prayers Aren’t Answered” is next, and it begins in a frantic clapping frenzy. The doom settles in and the story continues. In the middle of this 11+ minute song, madness and fear take hold, and the music is discordant at times. The first half ends with the title track, a single cymbal note repeated, then desperate passages; percussion, violins, and the guitar again. The devastating guitar. And there we are, not halfway through yet.
Look, this is not a traditional doom album. It is not catchy. But the compositions are fully realized, rendered, and fascinating, and the theme and music are heavy. I think it is excellent. What I am going to do now is dig up everything I can find that Greg Schwan has published and listen to it. Recommended.
Doom II is out today, Sunday May 31. Bandcamp has it, and Soundcloud and Spotify. Imperil your expectations and listen.
California cataclysmists Xibalba are back with their fourth full-length release, Años En Infierno, and it is one to bring the house down.
From their home in southern California, Nate Rebolledo, Brian Ortiz, and Jason Brunes have come together again to sow ruin on the path before them. Their music is described on the band’s Facebook page as Death Metal / Doom / Hardcore – all those fit. Their catalogue up to the release of this new one shows a propensity for the tonal low end with crushing doom riffs transitioning to full speed death passages that touch on thrash. The result is a full force aural benison that shows you everything and lets you live. With more than a decade of experience under their belts, the new album fulfills the promise of their earlier music and works an even finer musical balance.
“La Injusticia” starts the set off with a message of violence and a thirst for revenge. Pummeling guitars and percussion make the case that no quarter is to be had throughout. An instrumental interlude follows (with vocalizations), and then the hypertensive “Santa Muerte” roars into your ears. Speed is king, interspersed with heavy hammer falls, and then another instrumental, “Saka.” The album takes a turn after the first four songs toward an outright volcanic explosion – rather like the glowing pyramid depicted on the cover. Two raging chaotic storms lead to the finale, “El Abismo I” and “El Abismo II.” In some ways invoking the masterful “El Vacio” from their earlier album Tierra Y Libertad, this closing epic in two parts is darker and more … upsetting. In the first part, melodic vocals about forests of blight where souls come to die are crushed and ground to dust by thunderous interjections. The soft voice comes back, only to be crushed again. There is a message here. At least I heard one anyway. The second part starts with aggression and loud anger before turning somewhat reflective, and even cosmic. A journey is described in the music, one of the soul and of the mind. It is an excellent way to close this volume of the band’s music, wrapping up the range style and expression that make the whole. Recommended.
Años En Infierno is available now in hardcopy at Southern Lord, and digitally at Bandcamp. It is streaming all over, too. Other Xibalba merch can be had at Closed Casket Activities. If you want physical copies of anything you better get on it while you can.
The resurgence of Sorcerer continues with Lamenting of the Innocent, their third long form album.
Sorcerer has its beginnings back in 1988 in Stockholm, Sweden. They recorded a couple of demos that were well received, and they played several shows, but ultimately they disbanded in the mid nineties. The stirrings of a resurrection began about fifteen years later. One thing led to another and, in 2015, Sorcerer’s first full-length album, In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross, was released by Metal Blade Records. Two and a half years later The Crowning Of The Fire King came out, and now we have the new one. The current lineup is Anders Engberg (vocals), Kristian Niemann (guitars), Peter Hallgren (guitars), Justin Biggs (bass), and Richard Evensand (drums).
The epic metal sound of Sorcerer is presaged by the introductory piece, “Persecution.” A dramatic and foreboding minute to say the least, leading into “Hammer of the Witches.” The music is a little bit like King Diamond, except without the falsetto and with more complex percussion. Or maybe Rainbow’s “Gates of Babylon” if it had been produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. [OK, before I get angry DMs, that’s a joke] What does stand out in this song is the fullness of the sound owing to very well arranged guitars, the excellent drumming, and the mad guitar breaks – clever lead breaks like I haven’t heard before. Most of the songs on the album are quite long, with four of them being eight minutes or longer, and the shortest full song running nearly five minutes. Like latter-day Iron Maiden, you might say, except again with a fuller sound, fresher lead work, and Engberg’s unmatched voice. There are some slower pieces, like “Deliverance” which is essentially a ballad, and those with a modest tempo like “Age of the Damned” and “Condemned” – Indeed I suspect it is songs like this that gave the “epic doom” moniker to Sorcerer. I usually mean something different when I call a band a doom metal band. Whatever label we might use, the music is in a classic metal style, it is well executed, and it will appeal to fans of the aforementioned bands. They have found a lane and they are driving it well.
Lamenting of the Innocent is available now on all streaming platforms. You can buy a download at Bandcamp, and you can get LPs, CDs, t-shirts, and whatnot at the band’s shop (links below).
With live in-person music events on an indefinite hiatus, streaming events are becoming more common. Clutch has been holding short livestreams for a few weeks nowfrom their rehearsal space, the Doom Saloon. Yesterday they cranked it up a notch by holding a three-hour concert event through the LiveFrom Events platform with Saul, Blacktop Mojo, and Crowbar as openers. It was not the same as being there in person, of course, but it was a lot fun.
The started about 25 minutes late, just like a regular concert. Before each band, some promotional material was run, interviews or merchandise links or release announcements, that sort of thing. And then the bands each played from their respective remote places.
Saul was first up. Their music is melodic and guitar-driven, reminiscent of Breaking Benjamin. A quartet from Iowa, Saul has been gaining momentum in the last couple years. They clocked a solid 30 minute set to break open the afternoon, playing their hits and closing with “Brother,” their best known song. The production was topnotch on their end – Saul was the only band using more than one camera, and they even had a light show.
The feed headed south to Fort Worth Sound Studios in Texas for the next show. Blacktop Mojo creates a heavy sound that is a blend of bluesy southern rock and grungy riffs. The band has a new EP coming out Friday called Static, and they played a couple songs from it. You can look forward to raucous live sets from these five when we can all get back together again. As a bonus, you can count on some fancy footwork from the lead singer Matt James. They closed their set with “Come Get Your Coat,” from their recent album Under The Sun, and it was a great send off.
Before the next band took to stage, the promoter ran several ads. Not surprising, and after all, at a show or especially a festival we are always bombarded with vendors selling things. It didn’t run too long and it gave me a chance to grab another beer.
The penultimate band was New Orleans’ renowned veteran skull crushers Crowbar. Broadcasting from what looked like an underground bunker, founder and frontman Kirk Windstein was in fine form. The band brought some sludge and doom to the show, with the occasional nod to a classic Motörhead style. The first two bands were new to me, but I have seen Crowbar a number of times and so I was really looking forward to this performance. The band definitely delivered the monster riffs and the menacing vocals we were all hoping for.
The headliner was next, and leading up to Clutch’s performance, the “Willie Nelson” video was played. Then we heard the familiar lead-in that always means Clutch is about to hit the stage: “If I ever get my hands on a dollar again, I’m gonna squeeze on it until the eagle grin.” Ah, the memories.
Playing from the Doom Saloon itself, this performance looked very much like the shorter livestreams Clutch has been broadcasting except this was a full set, 14 songs. Here is the list:
“Who Wants to Rock?”
“Pure Rock Fury”
“The Incomparable Mr. Flannery”
“Unto The Breach”
“The House That Peterbilt”
“A Shotgun Named Marcus”
“In Walks Barbarella”
It was so great to see Clutch perform their usual mix of fan favorites and rarities. Well, to be fair, for fans all the songs are favorites. They sounded and looked great. I hope there will be more of these coming up – they certainly do seem to be well received by fans thirsty for live music. Neil Fallon mentioned that the livestream was being broadcast at Chilkoot Charlie’s in Anchorage, Alaska. That’s some reach for you right there. Koot’s! I really miss that place … but I digress. Other bands have announced similar streaming concerts, and a lot of musicians have been doing what they can to reach listeners over the past three months. There will probably be even more innovations the longer this all drags on, but those people who say live in person is music is gone for good are wrong. As soon as it works, we are all going to be out there again. Until then, we’ll keep supporting music as much as we can.
Part of the proceeds from this livestreaming event will go to the Angel Flight West charity (see the link below). And there is a limited Minotaur t-shirt you can buy for only a day or two more (link also below). What is special about it besides its cool design is that some of the proceeds from the shirt sales will go to the Clutch crew who have been idled by the current situation.
Finally, check out the platform, LiveFrom Events. A recording of the entire show is available to watch for a couple days in case you missed it – or if you bought the livestream access, you can watch the show again. Overall this event went really well. There was delay at the beginning, and the chat feature locked up for me most of the time, but I was watching and listening to the music anyway so that wasn’t a problem as far as I am concerned. I would definitely watch another LiveFrom event.
Ohio doom veterans unleash Modern Witchcraft onto the terrestrial plane, their newest studio creation.
Understated in their public personas, Shaun, Steve, Shaun, and Josh are the guitar, vocal/guitar, drum, and bass musicians of Close The Hatch, a Dayton, Ohio-based “post-metal, experimental” band I wish was around when I lived there all those years ago. According to Encyclopaedia Metallum, Modern Witchcraft is the band’s fourth full-length release, with their discography being bolstered by many EPs and singles over the years. Leading up to the new one, their most recent previous release, VI in 2017, sounded to me like more straight-forward doom than some of their earlier, quirkier albums. The new one is the next step on with its clear doom grounding and its intricate assortment of delights.
The mood of this album matches the title perfectly. Melodic wailing in the opener, “Death of Wolves,” cranks up the creepy factor while the sonorous chant-like vocals halfway in have you looking over your shoulder. A strange character of this music to me is that, even though it doesn’t sound like Fates Warning or Opeth, listening to it makes me think of these bands. The solid wall of gloom is likewise somehow inexplicably a reassuring force in the next song, “Hedge Rider.” Up next, the soft beginning of the title track, the whispering story, is twisted by the rending guitars that crack the ethereal atmosphere and turn it hostile. And then “Attunement” goes the other way by opening with calamity and working into soothing passages only to return you to the tearing fabric of the composition’s essence. The writing is rich and complex across the entire album, and the musical performances are at once spiritual and clinically precise. You don’t want to miss this one. Recommended.
Modern Witchcraft is available starting Friday, May 22 from Red Moth Records via Bandcamp. Revel in the music, and the beautiful cover art by Matt Mills.
The inaugural release from the Kent quintet Vesicarum makes you feel okay to be angry. Reign of Terror is a pool of vitriol to swim in while we wait for the world to open.
The “Fuck you I’m in a state of hate” lyric from the song “Midnight Slasher” gives you a good idea of this band’s attitude. The music is methodical, thumping and heavy. Lead singer Glynn Neve sounds like Rose Tattoo’s Angry Anderson looks. The guitarists are Martin Shipton and James Thompson, Orla Blue Reed slaps the bass and the drums are run by Donal McGee. There is a ton of rage packed into this twenty minute set.
The EP has four songs and a two minute cooldown piece at the end. The title track is a slow open, with a build-up death metal fans will recognize and embrace. After 50 seconds of warning you something is coming, the bass gains purpose, the drums start to pound, the guitars rack up a crunch, and Neve starts to sing. Next is “The Sick and the Depraved,” the single from the EP, and it is actively violent. It is also the source of the band’s anthem line, “And just like that another life has gone.” The stand out track for me is “Midnight Slasher,” because I think it creates the most tension and has the biggest punch. McGee’s rolling and punching drums are on exhibit here, and I do appreciate the lyric I mentioned earlier. “Early Warning Signs of a Serial Killer” has a nice punk feel to it, which is a good match to the cadence and the vocalizations. “Undivine End” is the place where you can let some of the negative emotions dredged up in the listening to drain into the ground so you can then get on with your day. Reign of Terror is a good set and a promising start for Vesicarum. Recommended.
Available Friday May 22 from One Eyed Toad Records, you can grab the digital for as little as £3 and Bandcamp.