Dutch doom lords Onhou further the devastation with their second long-player, Monument.
Onhou came together in Groningen, Netherlands in 2016. They play sludge and doom metal accentuated with synth auras. They loosed a self-titled EP on the world in 2018, and then their debut full-length album, Endling, in 2019. Somber, cold, and devastating, Onhou’s music demands your attention. According to the Metal Archives, the band is Henk (bass), Arnold (drums), Alex (guitar), and Florian (keys).
There are four long tracks on the new album. First is “When On High.” It starts with heaving guitar indulgences, adding in growling vocals atop the monstrous rhythm. The keys show up later in prominence, slicing like heavy, sharp swords. Moments of reflection are howls in the void. “Null” is more veiled in its threat, more sinister in its tone. Like a lurking monster on the edge of the shadows, impossibly large and unstoppable. Death and black metal vocals are echoing insinuations that are realizable in any given present. In the release notes, this remark is made: “Whereas the band intended for their debut to be uncomfortable, Monument drags you ever deeper into dark, withering worlds where time is gruesome and unforgiving, and the echoes of what once was have long since been lost and forgotten.” You feel that deeply on “Null.”
Side two opens with “Below.” When the music begins, you strain to listen. As it grows and builds so does your apprehension. The music is claustrophobic, dungeon-like. The doom guitar riffs drop at about the two minute mark and all hope is lost. The vocals are torturous, sometimes disembodied. Disturbing is not a strong enough word to describe this music. The set ends on “Ruins.” The feeling of a lost ancient place is palpable as the music surrounds you. You are in a spot that was devastated in the past by you know not what. The worry is: has it gone? The composition is some of the most haunting music I have heard in a great long while. Indeed, the entire album is an unforgettable experience. Highly recommended.
Monument is out on Friday, December 9th through a joint venture between Lay Bare Records and Tartarus Records. In the US, Bandcamp is the place to get it.
Instrumental doom band Stones of Babylon unfurl their second full-length album, Ishtar Gate.
Stones of Babylon is from Lisbon, Portugal. They play a psychedelic-infused brand of instrumental doom. They came together five years ago, and have released a demo, a live album, and the debut long-player Hanging Gardens. The band is Alexandre Mendes (guitar), João Medeiros (bass), and Pedro Branco (drums).
What’s the album about, you ask. “Somewhere in Babylon, in a space almost lost in time, the eighth gate of the city was erected. Like any door, the Ishtar Gate symbolizes access to coded worlds, the closing of crossroads, or simply the thunderous force of power.” When you peruse the track list, you get a further idea of the geographic and mythological locus of the themes explored in the music. In any case, with instrumental music you can make it about anything you want when you listen. However, in this case, the music matches the theme perfectly and knowing the ideas behind it all improves the listening.
There are six long tracks on the album, starting with “Gilgamesh (…and Enkidu’s demise).” The riffs are massive and extra buzzy, filling the space around you ears. The first lead guitar enters a couple of minutes in, and a little later, the Middle Eastern nuances of the music step into the spotlight. The pairing of these seemingly divergent attitudes is one of the main sources of the music’s strength. “Anunnaki” follows, stepping in with a lighter approach than its predecessor. Quiet and cautious, the music builds slowly. You wait more than two minutes for the wall of guitar to bowl you over. “Pazuzu” begins with a spoken narration (from The Exorcist) introducing the evil spirit for which the song is named. To me, the riffs on this song are the most threatening so far – they generate at least trepidation, if not fear. The quieter passages, then, stage an anticipation that evolves quickly into dread. Well done.
Side two: “The Gate of Ishtar,” “The Fall of Ur,” and “Tigris & Euphrates.” The final three songs are where I was absorbed fully into the music. Each track is quite different, and yet they go together like movements of a larger whole. You can listen to one at a time, but I think the experience is greatly enhanced by taking it all in at once in a single sitting. I love instrumental doom music and Stones of Babylon does it right. Highly recommended.
Ishtar Gate is out now through Raging Planet Records in digital, CD, and vinyl. For this one, I would go with vinyl. The music lends itself to the form.
Legendary doom metal band Candlemass release their thirteenth studio album, Sweet Evil Sun.
One of the earliest and most influential doom bands to ever rise, Candlemass formed in Sweden in the early 1980s. Few question the significance of the band’s first full-length album, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986), and, for me, it is a record I can return to time and again with no loss of awe. I greet each new Candlemass release with a sort of luxurious expectancy, and I have never been disappointed. The most recent long-player, The Door To Doom (2019), continues to get regular spins in the den, and there is no doubt Sweet Evil Sun will receive the same treatment. Candlemass is Johan Lanquist (vocals), Lars Johansson (guitar), Mappe Björkman (guitar), Leif Edling (bass), Janne Lind (drums).
The characterizing elements of the music are massive guitar riffs, sweeping melodic vocals, and mesmerizing lead guitar work. The choruses tend to be memorable, even catchy, and the reliable structure of the songs creates anticipation in a state of recurring temporal existence that is unswervingly rewarded.
The first of nine songs is “Wizard of the Vortex.” It opens with a clobbering riff that is tense and foreboding. When Johan Lanquist begins to sing, the trepidation grows. An early guitar flourish sinks the hooks in deep enough for measurable permanence so that when the instrument returns halfway through you are ready for the bigger presentation. The opening thunder returns, and the music moves toward its resolution. It is clear we are on the path. The next track is the title piece, and I have heard it before because it was released earlier as a single. This song shows clearly what the album, in its completely unfurling, will reveal.
“Angel Battle” is one of the heaviest pieces on the record, and that gives it high starting marks. After the intriguing dirge-like opening, the guitars turn more active, pressing the advance. “Black Butterfly” similarly inspires dread, calling forth some of the vibes I remember from the first time I heard Rainbow’s “Gates Of Babylon,” but with the signature Candlemass guitar sound and expression. “Goddess” is the final song, appropriately mournful. The last word is the short yet formidable outro piece “A Cup of Coffin.” The album is excellent. It is exactly what I was expecting and hoping to hear. Highly recommended.
Sweet Evil Sun is out now through Napalm Records. Investigate the possibilities at the links below.
Witchfinder brings out another great record with their third full-length album, Forgotten Mansion.
The French psychedelic doom quartet Witchfinder is Clément Mostefai (vocals, bass), Stanislas Franczak (guitar), Thomas Dupuy (drums), and Kevyn Raecke (keyboard). Since their first album dropped just five years ago, they have been on a winning streak with Hazy Rites two years later, and the well-received Endless Garden earlier EP this year. Their newest album is some of the best music they have made so far.
“Approaching” has a trippy, psychedelic ramp that pushes into a classic doom guitar drop. The vocals are cast from the distance in an echoey framing which pulses perfectly inside a mind that has achieved an altered state. The lead guitar segment that first appears is laid back and effective, setting up a tempo shift and that offers a mid-song lift, providing fertile ground for the following Iommi-inspired riff. The construction of the song is a credible integration of psychedelic entreaties in a doom architecture. “Marijuana,” which features Haldor Grunberg adding vocal depth, puts the lead guitar near the front, placing it as a signpost for the changes that follow. Here again we have the beautifully heavy, fuzzy riff and rhythm that carries the water for the ethereal vocals. Excellent. And then “Lucid Forest,” the shortest song so far at a mere five and a half minutes, slides in trippingly and lightens things up a little. It is still heavy, of course. It seems more reflective to me than its predecessors, changing the mood a might. The keys are more prominent in my ears, too, and the lead guitar break stands out.
“Ghosts Happen To Fade” is my favorite track. I like the entire album, but this one lands just right in my ears and brain, touching a place with the guitar that hadn’t been activated yet. The vocals are more sinister here, and that has an appeal as well. “The Old Days” wraps things up and brings back the straightforward doom at the front of the track. The music turns up the psych knob halfway through and reminds us of the range of the band. The album is solid psych-doom through and through. Recommended.
Forgotten Mansion is out now through Mrs Red Sound Records. Bandcamp is the place to go in the US to pick this one up.
Faith In Jane sets a new standard with their latest album Axe To Oak.
In only ten years Faith In Jane is already releasing their eighth album. Pretty amazing. The trio from Maryland – Dan Mize (guitar, vocals), Brendan Winston (bass), and Alex Llewellyn (drums) – play psychedelic rock on a heavy, grungy plane. Expect extended jams and musical journeys into the unknown.
The first song on the album is the nine-minute exploration “Whiskey Mountain Breakdown.” They are starting off with their trump card – this song is amazing. I have always been a fan of the longform heavy music creations, and this one has to go into the queue for heavy rotation. The song has a pounding pulse and is at the same time beautifully lyrical. Mize’s voice is perfect for this manner of music and his guitar work flows and rages.
“She Moved Through The Fair” comes next, and it is a somewhat contemporary arrangement of a traditional ballad. It is surprising to hear and it fits perfectly in between the opening epic and the following song that challenges first in endurance and ingenuity, “Enter Her Light.” A bit slower in its opening bars, “Enter Her Light” casts a darker shadow with its sinister tones than do the preceding songs. The lilting moments, having a different context here, carry a distinct message and sentiment.
Side two features more radio-friendly lengths in its tracks while maintaining the established sense of peregrination, despite the apparent contradiction. “Heavy Drinker” has a noticeably weighted fuzz and it is indeed a good song to sit down and drink to. I can verify that with personal experience. “How Many Ships Sail In The Forest?” is an unusual piece in that its pace is particularly slow while its length is the shortest on the set. Perhaps that is only notable to me. The guitar is amazing in this instrumental song, as is accompanying bass line.
“Axe To Oak” and “The Seeker” are a natural pair. The former has a heavy groove while the latter is more laid back and very much in the grunge dimension with a big flourish at the end. One seems to flow into the other, and it works in both directions. These two songs are a great way to wrap up an incredible album. Highly recommended.
Axe To Oak is out now through Grimoire Records. Links below.
The new album from Deadly Vipers, their second, is a welcome stop on the international stoner road: Low City Drone.
From Facebook, “Deadly Vipers is a French stoner-rock band from Cabestany.” There really is not much information in the press materials, and I had not heard of this band before so I find myself a bit adrift. On their FB page there is a little more, for those who are willing to browse. We find that the first album was called Fueltronaut and was released in 2017. That’s about it. The music is a fuzzy, bluesy stoner rock affair, and I am all in for that. Drop the needle.
It all begins with “Echoes From Wasteland,” a song that has a slow build leading to, as promised, extra fuzziness. It is a nice intro piece that sets up “Atom” nicely. The vocals are sassy and the guitar is cantankerous. There is a turbulent spacefuzz section where we appear to be wandering in the cosmos. Soon enough, never fear, we gain orientation and everything turns out all right. “Low City Drone” shows up next, with all the expectations that a title track bears on its back. Even without the titular nomenclature, it is clear that this nine-minute song is the center of the record’s universe. As it goes on, the music begins to weigh you down in a familiar, comforting way, nearly building a codependence where anxiety creeps in on the thought of the song ending. The guitar work here is amazing and the vocals are defining.
In other parts of the set there are fascinating nooks and crannies, places of both zest and rest. Take each on its own terms and avoid comparing any instantiation to another because they are not necessarily fellows. “Welli Welloo” is a tasty up-tempo bumper that is worth a second listen. “Last Rise” is a slower track, and it has a wonderfully dooming feel to it that I really liked. The lead guitar will eat you alive. The cool down is “Big Empty,” a well-paced, reflective bit that that shows up at exactly the right time. As I said, I hadn’t heard of Deadly Vipers before but I am glad I know about them now. Recommended.
Low City Drone is out now through Fuzzorama Records. In the US, Bandcamp is a good place to pick it up.
Mountain stoner band Wizzerd throw down the fuzz on their third full-length album, Space‽: Issue No.000.
I don’t know what I have been doing with my life, but I didn’t hear anything from Wizzerd until the Ripple Music split Turned to Stone Chapter III: Wizzerd vs. Merlin. That one turned my head. Stoner mountain music is a real thing. I mean, I always think first of the desert when fuzztones ring, but this manner of music transcends all environments. Doomchild (2016) was the first, followed in 2019 by the self-titled album. And then there are a couple of demos and a string of EPs from Wizzerd circulating in the cosmos – a good chunk of music to make your way through on a journey you will never forget. The band is Jhalen Salazar (guitar, vocals), Jamie Yeats (guitar), Sam Moore (drums), and Layne Matkovich (bass).
The new record has eleven tasty tracks, beginning, appropriately, with “Launch,” which is a ramp of calamity to “Sisters of the Sun.” Listen to the opening bars of “Sisters” and you will know right away which island you have landed on. Happy-go-lucky transforms into a more serious-sounding hammering fuzztone that hangs on to the end, with dashes of guitar enthusiasm. Staying in space, “Supernova” continues the exploration on essentially the same plane. It does feel like the urgency has amped up on this one, and I love the dual guitaring. “Attack of the Gargantuan Moon Spiders” does not take place in space but might as well for the way it fits in with the early tracks. You can feel a down shift, and it is a good, rollicking gear. The psychedelica is kicking in hereabouts and once it gets its tendrils in you, there they stay.
What appeals most to me about this record is the incredible guitar work. The trippyness is fine thing, too, but I will always walk across the room and point at the guitars. There is a loose-form jamminess to many of the passages and those meld better with your psychic self in its altered state, but no alterations are actually necessary to enjoy the music. Watch out for “Space Chase” to give you an adrenaline injection, and “Doom Machine Smoke Break” for a nice hypothetical cool down that is actually a deep dive into the nature of things. This album definitely cooks. Recommended.
Space‽: Issue No.000 is out on Friday, September 30th through Swedish label Fuzzorama Records. In the US, Bandcamp is the easy place to pick it up (once it appears there – at this writing there is only a single showing up … patience).
It was another amazing year at Psycho Las Vegas topped off by Mercyful Fate and Emperor.
Psycho Las Vegas is a standard stop for me. I haven’t been for a couple years because of the pandemic – the fest was cancelled in 2020 and I had to miss it at the last minute in 2021. Needless to say, I was ready to go this year. To make absolutely certain that I do not bury the lead, I will declare yet again that Psycho Las Vegas is the best heavy music festival in the US every year. No other festival has anything close to the variety and depth you see in Las Vegas. My advice: don’t ever miss it.
The bands I most wanted to see this year were Ruby The Hatchet, Mercyful Fate, Emperor, Monolord, Elder, and Mothership. Then there were at least twenty others I really, really wanted to see. The third level was chockful as well. This line-up was stacked (see the set times image to verify).
Psycho moved to a new location this year. For the past few years, the festival had been held at the Mandalay Bay. That was an excellent venue. Being in a casino allows you to stay out of the 100+ degree heat most of the time and really kick back to enjoy the music and booze and weed (recreational marijuana is legal in Las Vegas). There was a day club stage outside, but it played mostly at night, and even though the heat is brutal, without humidity, the weather outside is quite tolerable once the sun goes down. In 2020 at the Mandalay Bay, there was an event stage in an arena, a lounge stage, the House of Blues venue, and the outside stage in the evenings. Tons of music, easy to get to, all great.
This year, the festival moved to the Resorts World facility, which is only partially finished. There was an outside day club stage there, too. Then there were five other stages. The Rose Ballroom is what it sounds like – a stage set up in a giant room. The Dawg House is a sort of sports-bar-looking venue, and RedTail is another bar, a bit more serious in tone, with a small stage in it. There was also a stage set up in the food court. And finally, there was the event stage. The thing is, the event center hasn’t been built yet, to this was a huge tent –you know, with a metal fame, and imagine it forty feet high. It was big enough, surely. The main drawback was no seating; strictly SRO. Oh sure, there were a few chairs and stools in the VIP section, but not many. Indeed, this is my only real criticism of the event: the lack of seating. Of course, I am not as young as I used to be so maybe that’s why it got to me.
I did feel a little bit bad for people who were at the resort but not attending Psycho because at least four of these stages could be heard rumbling throughout the resort, well beyond the individual venue. That never really happened at Mandalay Bay because the one lounge stage in the casino area had a fairly laid back line-up. Not so this year. Can you imagine having booked vacation here not knowing Psycho was going on and having to listen to blaring metal for three days straight every time you tried to geta slice of pizza or go to the casino? Ugh. Hey, it was great for me as I was there for the music, but it didn’t go over very well for some of the other guests.
On Thursday before the festival there is Psycho Swim, which is basically a fourth day in front. Normally, this is held outside at the day club with just a few bands. This year, sets ran all day outside (it was pretty hot part of the time), and there was a parallel track at the RedTail venue. Psycho Swim is a separate ticket (for GA folks), but anybody could listen at RedTail, with or without a ticket. That is a nice bonus.
Ulver was a last-minute scratch we heard about on Thursday. It is unclear exactly what happened but, even though the visas were approved, there was some other problem that sprang up at the last second … “due to unforeseen circumstances with their local embassy, the band is unable to acquire necessary documents for all of its members to complete their travel and therefore won’t be able to perform.” That’s a bummer, and it is true that Satyricon also had dropped out fairly late in the game as well – another tough revelation. Still, I would stack this line-up against any festival this year.
The toughest choice on Thursday was Salem’s Bend started on the RedTail stage at 8:00PM and Elder started on the Ayu Dayclub Beach Club stage at 8:10PM. Brutal. But, Elder was slated to play again on Saturday on the Dawg House stage. Saved by the double set. As it turned out, it started raining and the Ayu stage was shut down during Elder’s set. That is something you definitely do not expect in Las Vegas. But that’s all right, too, because the music went on until 3:00AM or so at RedTail. And, Elder played elsewhere at 1:00AM anyway, so they got their set in. One big advantage of festivals in Las Vegas is that there are no curfews so playing late is not a big deal at all.
First band I wanted to on Friday was Sanguisugabogg at 11:00AM. Yes, in the morning. Mothership was the biggest surprise of the day for me. I like their music a lot, but had never seen them live. They put on an amazing show and moved right up to the top of my list of bands never to miss. The big story on the first night was Emperor, a band that hadn’t played in the US for sixteen years. It was absolute black metal mayhem in the big tent on Friday.
Behold The Monolith and Gatecreeper played at the same time on Saturday and that was a tough choice, to be sure. I flipped a coin and went to Behold! The Monolith. A tough choice but no losing options. The most important band on day two for me was Ruby The Hatchet. I absolutely love that band and somehow had never seen them perform in person. Jillian Taylor was incredible, and the entire band takes your breath away. I could have left at the end of their set and been happy with the weekend. The headliner on Saturday was Suicidal Tendencies, and I missed that show because I have seen them a half a dozen times in the past twelve months and, also, I had a few edibles over my limit and needed to sit down for a while. No seating in the event center so I went to the casino for an indeterminant amount of time.
Sunday was Mercyful Fate day. There is no way to overstate the anticipation. Melissa is one of my favorite albums to this day, and I started to listening to Mercyful Fate even before that, with their self-titled EP. I have seen King Diamond on stage many times, but never Mercyful Fate. Their performance is one I will remember on the last day, I swear it. It is what I remember most from Sunday, but there was a lot of other amazing music as well, like High On Fire and Monolord and Creeping Death. There was so much happening that day it is hard to keep it all in your head.
I try to always go to Psycho Las Vegas. For me, it is a vacation – I don’t photograph the festival or write articles about it. This right here that I am writing is a reminiscence as much for my benefit as anybody else’s, put down so I can look back on it later and remember it all again. I have already grabbed a ticket for Psycho Las Vegas 2023. I do not know where it will be held, but wherever it is, I will be there. See you then.
Philadelphia psychedelic stoner band Grave Bathers regale the world with their debut album, Rock N Roll Fetish.
Since 2018, Grave Bathers have been delighting the stoner rock/metal crowd with mood- and mind-altering music. Their combination of doom, groove, and even boogie produces an alluring aural argument for even more of the same – once you start listening, you don’t want to stop. The band is Drew Robinson (vocals), Jaret Salvat-Rivera (guitar), Steve Capitanio (guitar), Davis M. Shubs (bass), and Sean Lafferty (drums).
The album is massive, with twelve tracks mostly running over six minutes each. The opener “Ghost Em All” is an excellent example of what to expect. A peppy, rockin’ riff up front, a dooming slow down with a killer lead guitar break, then a shift back in the to more up-tempo rock-n-riff posture. And then little guitar-driven boogie side of fries to go along with that. Damn.
So, each song is a journey, but they certainly are not all the same. “Brain Thief” starts with a craftsman riff that is a thing of beauty. The vocals are spacier here than in the first song, and a generally more psychedelic feel obtains. O, and there is a wild drum solo in the middle. “The Mole” stalks into different terrain altogether with an eerie, slow intro that builds into monstrous doom riffs then turns melancholy before exploding as the end nears. “Tarman Cometh” sounds at first like a straight-up doom treatise but careens into Clutch territory. The patterns are dissolving, if they were ever there at all. When the title track rolls, I finally stop trying to anticipate what will be next because this could be Dr. John sitting in on a doom session and I did not see that coming. Fantastic.
I could go on and on here, but I think you are getting the idea and it is better if you go right to listening to it instead of reading more of my musings on the subject. This is a grooving doom album with inventive, unstoppable guitars, astonishing percussion, and, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, amazing bass lines. I don’t think I will never get tired of hearing this record. Recommended.
Rock N Roll Fetish is out on Friday, August 5th through Seeing Red Records.
Los Angeles metal band Behold! The Monolith have created a doom-laden masterpiece with their new album From The Fathomless Deep.
Behold! The Monolith have gone through some changes since their inception fifteen years ago. They have released an EP and three previous long-players prior to the latest album. The band has shifted and reshaped since the sudden loss of vocalist and bassist Kevin McDade in a car accident in 2009. Reorienting to a trio on the new album, Menno Verbaten plays bass and sings, Matt Price is on guitar, and Chase Manhattan, drums. This latest music is some of their heaviest to date.
There are six tracks on From The Fathomless Deep. “Crown/The Immeasurable Void” opens the set and establishes a weighty foundation. All instruments, including voice, hit on the first note laying out a heavy front of doom. Slow and monstrous, you can feel the behemoth getting closer as the song moves along. The tension grows throughout and, when you hear a quiet passage, it is positively ominous. “Psychlopean Dread” has a mysterious beginning and melancholy lead work. Verbaten’s gruff vocals churn primordial forces to create meaning from the mist. “Spirit Taker” picks the pace up, and then some. The stabbing guitar riff and rapid-fire percussion catch you off guard and hit all the harder for it. It’s a rager.
Side two leads with “The Wailing Blade,” a song that has a less ominous but more directly threatening tone. It is short and cracking. “The Seams of Pangaea” is a fascinating title when you think of the implications it carries, and the music delivers a full-on expression of the possibilities. The overlayed lead guitar work is exceptional, and the Pink Floydian movement is an experience. The album closes on the eleven-minute epic “Stormbreaker Suite.” This piece has some of the most progressive segments on the record, to my ear, anyway. Over the course of the song, an ambitious array of ideas is explored, and the answers are found.
The is album is very heavy, and it is one of my favorites, not just from Behold! The Monolith, but among the all the albums I have heard so far this year. Highly recommended.
From The Fathomless Deep is out now through Ripple Music. Secure your treasures at the label’s site, or at Bandcamp, like I did.