Runescarred’s first full-length release, The Distant Infinite, is a raucous affair. While the band has only been around since 2017, it is peopled by veteran metalers Ven Scott (vocals) and Tim Driscoll (guitar) of Dead Earth Politics fame. Rounding out the lineup is Skunk Manhattan (A Good Rogering) on guitar, Payton Holekamp (Southern Front) on drums, and Josh Robins handling the bass.
The vocals on The Distant Infinite sound a bit coarser overall than on the band’s first release, We Are. On the new one, songs like “Hexit” are, vocally, more like Megadeth and less like the Savatage sound of the earlier EP. The guitar breaks are more cut loose here, too, wilder with a high level of ravaging. “Poison Oasis,” Mammoth,” and “Inviting Rivers” are the singles released so far. Of these three, “Inviting Rivers” gives you the best idea of the what the album sounds like overall – fast guitars, rapid-fire percussion, and strong vocalizations. The other two a great songs, too, just a little different, with “Poison Oasis” pushing on the theatrical and “Mammoth” inserting an occasional melodic episode. My favorite track on the album is “Twisting Flesh.” It has a complex construction with variegated vocals and a beautiful, lyrical lead break five minutes end. The song stands out on this album the way “Beyond the Realms of Death” does on Stained Glass – it fits in perfectly with the others and at the same time has a uniqueness that heralds a grand future for the band. This solid release sets up Runescarred for an excellent 2020 touring year. Recommended.
You can hear those three singles now on many streaming services. There is also a cover of Iron Maiden’s “Moonchild” out there that you do not want to miss, and the We Are EP is waiting to be listened to. The full album The Distant Infinite drops on February 21, 2020. The band is selling some merchandise on their Facebook page (link below), and you can get digital stuff at iTunes and Spotify. And if you happen to be in or near Austin, Texas, drop by the launch party at Kick Butt Café on Feb. 21st.
Ripple Music, the unrivaled Doom Metal label, has launched Turned to Stone, a new series of splits. Chapter 1 is Enter Galactic Wasteland featuring three tracks each from Mr. Bison and Spacetrucker.
Mr. Bison inhabits side one. They are a band from Italy, and their music is full of vibrato and slow builds. There are a lot of drifty, ethereal elements cushioning the strong blues-soaked guitar advances. All three songs are about seven minutes long, giving the musical theory behind them time grow and discover itself. The names of the songs even signal the sound of the compositions: “The Grace of Time,” “The Stranger,” and “Oracle Prophecy.” You know what plane you’re on when you take off, but you are not exactly sure where it is going. Free your mind.
Spacetrucker leads us through the second half of the journey, and their jam is less trippy and more earthshaking. Also a three-piece, this band puts the guitar right in front with their opener, “Nosedive,” where it blasts a path wide open for the barreling bass, drums, and vocals. The lead breaks are aggressive, and the tempo is on the speedy side of the doom spectrum. The next song is “Distant Earth,” where we slow down a little, reflect on our place in the cosmos, and let that guitar tell us the story. “King Cheeto” is the closer and runs like a single – just under three minutes, it is a sharp crack on your skull.
Mr. Bison and Spacetrucker are an expertly curated pair to open the Turned To Stone series. With a split, you want two bands that go together but that do not sound too much alike. Yes? That’s what you get here. Enter Galactic Wasteland needs to go in your daily rotation now. Recommended.
You can get the digital at Bandcamp. Even better, if you subscribe to Ripple Music there, you get all the new releases automatically. Physical versions are also available in different vinyl shades but they are almost sold out already, on Day 1.
The new full-length album from Svarttjern is an intentional attack on your senses. From thrash to riff and back again, Shame Is Just A Word has a reach beyond black metal.
The band first coalesced in 2003 then went through a sound-finding evolution that ultimately lead to their first album, Misanthropic Path of Madness, released in 2009. They have stayed on point ever since, putting new music out every two or three years, largely in the same habitat. Always reliably grisly and reliably loud, Svarttjern minds no master and puts down exactly what they want. Shame Is Just A Word is a tour through the band’s cosmography that shows you the corners and the center of their music.
The opening song, “Prince of Disgust,” is a pile driver, fast and heavy, and it sets the table for what comes next. The music and vocals are more decadent than gloomy, more indulgent than ritualistic. Songs like “Frost Embalmed Abyss” have a straight-forward metal structure – solid guitar riffs, linear set-up from one section to the next, growling yet decipherable vocals (mostly in English), and a short, whirly lead break late in the song instead of just past the halfway mark. Songs like “Ravage Me” are more syncopated, thrash-based tirades, a theme particularly revealed in the meticulous drumming. The set tilts back and forth between these poles. The closer is the title track and it functions as a kind of summary of the whole album, a clear declaration that Svarttjern means what it says and that this music is not for the faint of heart nor weak of spirit. There is a genuine guttural, basic human aggression in these songs. You can hear it as a throwback to the grand days of Norwegian Black Metal, or as an homage. In any case, whatever else you hear in it, the heavy hammer you are looking for is there.
It is a solid set, straddling several genre and sub-genre lines while consistently delivering a weighty sound. As such, there is a broad appeal here to fans of metal music in general, not just Black Metal specialists. Svarttjern does not have any US tour dates listed on their social media right now, and only a couple European ones, so if you want to hear them, Shame Is Just A Word is your best bet. Recommended.
Rebirth By Blasphemy is the new release from Midnight, out January 24 from Metal Blade Records, and it’s a scorcher.
I have always thought of Midnight’s music as Punk first and Thrash second, probably because the early Eps made a big impression on me, and because of the attitude of the that music. It was very Punk. Maybe labeling really doesn’t matter all that much, but it does you give you some idea of what you’ll hear if you are new to the band, or in this case, the person. The force in Midnight is Athenar, who has been the face (typically shrouded) of the underground band for almost twenty years, writing all the songs and playing on the instruments on the studio recordings. Along with a seemingly endless string of Eps and splits, Midnight has risen out of the shadows in the last decade, propelled by their full-length releases Satanic Royalty (2011), No Mercy for Mayhem (2014) and Sweet Death and Ecstasy (2017) on Hells Headbangers Records. Rebirth By Blasphemy is their fourth long play.
The album starts out howling with “Fucking Speed and Darkness,” a song filled with heavy guitars, rough vocals, and undeniably catchy hooks. The title track is next, and it has an anthem-like twist – everybody will be singing along with this one at the live shows. By the time you get to song #3, “Escape the Grave,” you’re hooked. The musical structure has all the heavy elements fans of the earlier albums will be looking for: speed, growls, short lead breaks, and memorable choruses. Over the years the songs have gotten longer, and have moved away from Punk a little toward the thrashy metal corner of the spectrum. Rebirth By Blasphemy has a lot of old school metal in it, and it works in as an intoxicating blend of intention and execution with a primal sensibility. It is heavy music from front to back and a welcome follow-up to Sweet Death. Recommended.
If you can’t wait for the whole set to drop, head out to the launch party Friday January 10th at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. It is open to the public and it is going to be a wild evening. Look for Midnight on the road – they are playing several dates here and there including Decibel Magazine’s Metal & Beer Fest in Philadelphia in April and the Northwest Terror Fest in Seattle in May. Their Facebook page (link below) has more information on their live shows.
Heavy groovists Seven Planets have a February release that will help you rise above the winter gloom: Explorer.
With roots in West Virginia, the band’s music is guitar-driven instrumental groove, loaded with boogie, blues, and funk, all wrapped up in a heavy desert vibe. The two guitarists, Leonard Hanks and Jim Way, are joined on the album by bassist Mike Williams and the steady and clever drumming of Ben Pitt. No vocals. With this music, you do not miss the physiological voice because the instruments do all the art, leaving no gaps. Even with the proliferation of instrumental bands in doom and heavy music in recent years, Seven Planets stands out with its spacey construction, its cohesiveness, and flavorful riffs that are all its own.
Following Flight of the Ostrich (2008) and their self-titled 2012 release, Explorer is the third full-length set from Seven Planets. The shorter songs pop, giving off a Bakerton Group glimmer – “206,” “Vanguard,” and “The Buzzard” especially. The longer pieces have more of a nebulous doom presence, in some ways ethereal, and reminiscent of the sound Seven Planets established in their earlier albums. The warbling “Seven Seas” is the perfect example of this second type, where a bed of solid floating groove carries you along while exploring guitar fingers spark and reach out into the unknown. In “Great Attractor,” the two guitars even go off and explore in different directions at the same time, bringing a broader environment of sound into a greater inclusive whole. The album closes with “The Buzzard,” a sharp, insisting punch wearing melodic robes. Taken together, it is like experiencing eight separate micro-doses that ebb and flow and blend into a gaining collective that outpaces the sum of its parts.
There are no tour dates listed on their socials, so keep an eye out for Seven Planets because you want to see them whenever you can. Christopher Berry is now playing bass after the departure of Mike Williams, and the transition has been seamless, by all accounts. The album Explorer will be released on February 7, 2020, and it is available for preorder now at Bandcamp (link below) in digital and many solid forms. After you preorder the new one and while you are waiting for it to drop, listen to the first two on Spotify or wherever you stream. It’ll put you in the mood and give you some idea of what is coming. The new album is in the same cosmos as the first two, but it is also an evolution. Recommended.
Clutch spent a lot of time performing live in 2019 on the Book of Bad Decisions tour, but that was nothing new for them – they are well known as the always-on-the-road band. In March, they made their way across the middle of the country on their way to a European tour in June. Back in the US in July, Clutch hosted their own festival for the third year running, Earth Rocker, at Shiley Acres in West Virginia. Numerous dates followed in July, including Heavy Montreal, and August, including Psycho Las Vegas. More touring in September and October, including a monster set before a sold out crowd at Aftershock in Sacramento. And then there was another stretch in Europe in December. After all of this, how does Clutch wrap up the year?
With three big shows in a row, on the 29th at the 9:30 Club in DC, the 30th at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ, and on New Year’s Eve at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. In these final three performances of 2019, Clutch played completely different sets at each venue, 54 songs total, and on New Year’s Eve, they performed their classic album Blast Tyrant in its entirety. This should be the example of Finishing Strong from now on. What an amazing year.
The band played more than 80 dates in 2019. I didn’t catch them all, but I did see them at six different shows, and each one was a full-tilt rock and roll experience. You can’t go wrong with Clutch, and live is best way to hear them. One thing that is really different about the band compared to others is their constantly changing set list. When many bands go on tour, they rehearse a fixed set and play the same songs at every date. Clutch plays a different set every time.
In interviews, the band has said that they take turns choosing which songs to play. How can they keep that much music in their heads? To make sure I wasn’t blacking out and misremembering this, I looked up set lists for three of the festival appearances Clutch made this year.
Psycho Las Vegas
The Mob Goes Wild
The Mob Goes Wild
Profits Of Doom
How To Shake Hands
The Mob Goes Wild
How To Shake Hands
H. B. Is In Control
In Walks Barbarella
In Walks Barbarella
In Walks Barbarella
A Quick Death In Texas
Spirit of ’76
Gimme The Keys
A Quick Death In Texas
One Eye Dollar
D.C. Sound Attack!
There are only three songs that were played in all three sets, and the crowds love every song they play. It is not merely that they are incredible musicians and can remember all these different songs. In order to be able to shuffle the deck every night and never disappoint their fans, they have to have dozens of memorable songs that people want to hear.
Even after more than twenty five years together, the iconic band from Maryland still produces new music that is embraced by fans. Neil Fallon, Tim Sult, Dan Maines, and Jean-Paul Gaster have been together since the first Clutch recordings, and each new album carries the rock and roll message forward. On any given night, there will be new songs mixed in with older tunes including, and occasionally a cover tune. Every once in a while, they’ll play songs going all the way back to their first couple of albums (“Spacegrass” is from their second full-length album released in 1995 and they played it at Psycho Las Vegas this year). You never know going in what exactly you are going to hear. All you know for sure is you’re going to like it.
2019 was a great year for Clutch. Their Book of Bad Decisions tour continued, they toured Europe a couple times, hit the festival circuit, and made a number of club and theater appearances. They are certainly not slowing down – a case is easily made, in fact, that they are picking up steam. Not much is known about their 2020 schedule yet (not publicly anyway), so let me take a guess. I bet they’ll be on tour all year.