It’s Thursday at three in the afternoon and Clutch pops up suddenly with another live stream, this time unannounced. I don’t usually like surprises but this was a good one.
They played three songs again with no repeats from the first two streams: “Sucker for the Witch” from Psychic Warfare, “Passive Restraints” from that EP, and “Smoke Banshee” from Pure Rock Fury. That last one is a teaser for a new studio recording of the song that shows up tomorrow on Spotify.
There were 3,563 people watching as the livestream ended, a considerably smaller number than the other streams, but that was obviously because Sneak Attack was entirely unannounced. Well, not entirely – they mentioned last time that they might do this. Two hours after this one ended, more than 20,000 people had viewed it. So far, as of now, the first one has 132,000 views and the second one has 107,000 views. People are liking it, I’d say.
Another great show. Subscribe to Clutch’s YouTube channel, and opt in for notifications if you want to know when these streams are happening.
Heavy rolling thunder emanates from the Green Mountains with Barishi’s third full-length release, Old Smoke.
Barishi’s first album (self-titled) came out in 2013. At this beginning, the lead singer was Sascha Simms, Graham Brooks played guitar, Jonathan Kelley was on bass, and Dylan Blake handled the drums and percussion. Two years later, the band self-released an EP titled Endless Howl. I could not track down the first album, but I did listen to the EP. There were four fairly short songs (compared to the new one, anyway) on it, beginning with the discordant aggression of “In The Hour Of The Wolf.” Then there is “Smoke From The Earth,” which starts out with choppy syncopation before turning melodic and then adding in vocal screams, harsh and terrifying. “Endless Howl” is the third track, and it opens with a machine gun guitar riff and ends only after complex musical showmanship. These three songs were so different from each other I was expecting maybe a ballad from the last song, “Snakeboat.” Heh-heh. No, it starts with a somber death metal sentiment and then folds in noise and anger and chaos. The result is dizzying and entirely original.
Barishi signed with the Season of Mist label and released Blood From The Lion’s Mouth in 2016. The songs were mostly in the 4-5 minute range and they varied in tone and structure throughout. The gruffness and ferocity of Simms’ voice is evident throughout and yet the music itself is overall less urgently aggressive than Endless Howl. More approachable, perhaps. The themes are gloomy and ancient, and the songs are heavy and dark. The title track stands out, as does “Death Moves In Silence,” for the musical solemnity they exhibit. Even so, it is the 9-minute epic “The Deep” that stays with me the most from this release. Something about the guitars remind me a little of Baroness and the percussion sits in my ears more with this piece than the others. The song is patient and does what it sets out to do in its own time. Excellent.
Old Smoke is the newest one, and it is very different from the earlier work. Sascha Simms left the band after Blood From The Lion’s Mouth, and of course when a band gets a new vocalist that is a fundamental change, but the differences are more than that. The band started out as an instrumental trio before Simms joined and with his the departure the band was an instrumental trio again, at least until the vocals got sorted out. Maybe that gave them a different perspective on song writing. There are six songs on Old Smoke and three of them run over ten minutes, two pass the six minute mark. The first thing you notice, then, is that there is more instrumentation here and less vocalization. Guitarist Graham Brooks took over on voice in addition to all the guitar work, and naturally he sounds different than Simms. Brooks creates deep dark vocals that are coarse in just the right way to complement the other instruments. The feeling is more eldritch on Old Smoke than on the earlier music, and the sound has a thicker feeling to it, a compositional heaviness that supports and enhances the parallel sharp and nimble lines and moments throughout. The title track (clocking in at 13:25) is the one I have played most often. The variety across the songs combined with continuity of the overall arc of the set means that, even with stand-out songs or favorites, listening to the entire album gives you the best experience. There are no songs you feel like skipping. Barishi is often categorized as sludge metal – on Bandcamp they also get the death, stoner, and prog tags. What they are is heavy; what they are is metal. They are also now in my permanent music rotation. Highly recommended.
You can get Barishi merch at Season of Mist (link below) as well as the CD and vinyl versions of Old Smoke. Bandcamp has it too, plus streaming and download options.
It is Clutch Week at the T-Shirt Inventory Project. It is a complete coincidence that Clutch started doing livestream performances from their rehearsal space, The Doom Saloon, this week as well. I hope you are watching those on YouTube and I hope you are wearing Clutch shirts while you do it.
New music from Cirith Ungol in 2020. Things are finally starting to look up.
The name of the band comes from J. R. R. Tolkien’s writing, but I didn’t know that when I first saw the King of the Dead album at Stonehenge Records in Muncie, Indiana. What a cover painting (by Michael Whelan)! This was in the early 1980s and I had never heard of the band, didn’t know they were from California, or even what they sounded like. I put the record on and the first song started, “Atom Smasher.” I still remember the opening line, “Welcome to the brave new world! The future’s here or haven’t you heard?” The music was heavy, the vocals were out of this universe, and the guitar break was completely different from anything I was used to hearing. I was hooked. My favorite song on that album is “Master of the Pit,” which I still play surprisingly frequently decades later. I remember trying to find more music from the band and I couldn’t. Their first album, Frost & Fire, had been released in very small numbers and no copies had made it to rural Indiana where I was. I had to wait.
The band released two more albums, One Foot In Hell (1986) and Paradise Lost (1991). The former one is a killer, and you know from the jump (“Blood & Iron”) you are in for a wild ride. Their fourth album didn’t have quite the punch of the first three, but there is still a lot to like there. The writing might have been on the wall about the end of the band but I didn’t want to see it. Heedless of my wishes, in the early 1990s, the band broke apart.
Twenty plus years later, Cirith Ungol resurrected, with the lineup largely intact. The band today is comprised of long-time members Robert Garven (drums), Tim Baker (vocals), Greg Lindstrom (guitar), and Jim Barraza (guitar). Added to the pack is Jarvis Leatherby whose running the bass now. They sound great together, like no time has passed. The big question for me was always going to be Tim Baker’s vocals. His voice was so big and unique back in the day, and you could hear the force he exerted every time he sang. On the new album, Baker’s vocalizations are slightly smoother than on the earlier albums, but there is no mistaking him, and there is no question that this is Cirith Ungol music. The dark fantasy themes are there in the songs, the epic guitar structures, too. You can hear the classic metal forms in the writing, the heavy rhythms creating a fortress of sound for the voice and lead guitar to rise around and leap out. I like the album all the way through. The three songs that stand out for me are “The Frost Monstreme,” “Fractus Promissum,” and “Forever Black.” Especially “Fractus.” I can’t get it out of my head. It is a pounding anthem with an amazing lead break and lyrics you can’t forget, like, “Do we cower in the shadows or step into the light / Embrace the blinding fury borne of chaos’ holy might / Rise up from the darkness, put an end to wicked schemes / Or do we bow our heads and follow someone else’s dream.” Whether it is the 1980s, the 1990s, or the now, that sentiment is going to speak to people.
Forever Black is out now. Grab a download at Bandcamp, or get the CDs and vinyl while they last at your favorite retailer. This is exactly the album I was hoping for from Cirith Ungol. Highly recommended.
If you like your metal with a medieval story woven in, Dark Forest has a new album that fits the bill. Their fourth release, Oak, Ash & Thorn, is a well-crafted set that stands out among fantasy-oriented heavy metal music.
I have listened to all sorts of metal over the years, and I remember with admiration fantasy bands like Omen from way back (and Manowar and Iced Earth) and even individual albums like Fates Warning’s Night on the Brocken, which had a fantasy theme. You could argue The Sword’s Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth albums land in this genre, too, and they are highly technical metal. Then there are bands like Battle Beast which are fantasy-themed but push more in the stadium anthem direction. Another lane is folk metal, with bands like Korplikaani and Finntroll being good examples. It goes on and on. It is good to stretch out from time to time and listen to music at least a little outside your usual arena. If you are feeling adventurous and want to take the challenge, give Dark Forest a try.
Oak, Ash & Thorn is the first album I have heard from this band whose members include Christian Horton (guitar), Josh Winnard (vocals), Pat Jenkins (guitar), and Adam Sidaway (drums). I went back and did a deep dive on Spotify to catch up on their earlier releases before listening to the new one, and what I heard was solid writing and technical acuity. The themes are fantasy themes with a focus on English folklore. The new album points an eye toward the three sacred trees of England (see the title) and gains its launching point from a Rudyard Kipling book published more than 100 years ago. Very specific.
The album begins with a one and a half minute long intro, a nice quiet lute-like refrain with running water in the background. The first full song, “Wayfarer’s Eve,” opens with a piercing guitar, then a second, followed by a cavalry of percussion and rhythm introducing an epic tale. The vocals are clear and melodic, putting the listener in mind of a tale told by a travelling bard. The music is metal, and no mistake. Technical, precise guitars trounce along at a fast pace, and there is are excellent, well-paced lead breaks at just the right moments. There is a lot of production in the compositions – by that I mean there is a ton of harmony, the guitar often playing as a second voice along with the vocal. The songs are fairly long, most in the five minute range, with a couple of sevens and one just short of twelve minutes. The songs are virtually all fast-paced, even the short instrumental closer that sounds like a single. In all, it is an excellent, solid set. Recommended.
Oak, Ash & Thorn is out now from Cruz Del Sur Music and streaming everywhere.
The third album from Lord Fowl has a classic rock sensibility with extra fuzz on top for good measure. Glorious Babylon is a great summer jam that is right on time.
The band is Jon Conine, Vechel Jaynes, Mike Pellegrino, and Michael Petrucci (now Van Hartley). They popped into existence in New Haven, Connecticut in 2007. Their first release, Endless Dynamite, came out two years later to the sheer delight of the locals. Moon Queen followed three years later with a similar sound of good time rock and roll. The first impression that enters my head when one of their songs starts to play is a burbling 1970s nostalgia, an earnest this-is-how-I-am-feeling-right-now vibe with the amp on overdrive and the soft fuzz engaged.
This new one continues along similar lines, harkening to the earlier work and taking a step ahead as well. The footing is surer on Glorious Babylon, the compositions a bit tighter. The flavor has matured a little and they do sometimes twinkle of Thin Lizzy (like the press release reads) if TL got an update into the contemporary psychedelic stonerish situation we often find ourselves in these days. Some songs, like “Glorious Babylon,” are kick ass rockers, and others, like “The Wraith,” are more serious and ponderous. “In Search Of” goes full space boogie and “Fire Discipline” is full of punchy guitar riffs augmented by echoing lead breaks. The band takes you on a tour of what they like to play, and it is a good ride to be on. They are a little bit like contemporary bands such as Black Coffee and maybe even Dirty Honey, but while you can detect a nuanced ecliptic of these bands, you wouldn’t mistake Lord Fowl for anyone else. Their third album is the best one so far and it is a good sign of things to come. Recommended.
Glorious Babylon is out now. You can get CDs and vinyl from Small Stone Records through Bandcamp; downloads and streams in the usual places. Do it up and get your buzz on.
Clutch gave us another 16-minute livestream today from the Doom Saloon. I loved it and so did the 8,909 other people who watched live, I bet.
The three songs this Thursday afternoon were “Noble Savage,” “The Face,” and “Earth Rocker.” They are streaming these live performances through a standard laptop camera for the video, but the audio is improved and not the just the laptop mic. Neil Fallon said that they are planning on getting more cameras and making further upgrades as they work through this early experimental stage but that streaming equipment is hard to come by just now because of the understandably high demand.
The big news from today’s live stream comes in three parts. First, they are going to keep doing these and they are working on the schedule. It is best to subscribe on YouTube and click the notifications icon to find out when new ones are happening. Second, they might do some of these completely unannounced – this one was announced yesterday on social media. And third, they have tentatively planned to keep doing streams (live shows, etc.) even after the in-person shows start up again. After all, once they figure out how best to do it, there’s no real reason not to continue on with them once the world comes back.