Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stone Temple Pilots Stone Temple Pilots

Stone Temple Pilots
Stone Temple Pilots

It seems that with a band such as Stone Temple Pilots, either you like them or you don't, without much middle ground or indifferent feelings amongst the masses. From the beginning, some have continually dismissed their sound, claiming that they were simply riding on the coattails of Seattle artists including Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. On the other hand, those of us who have been hooked after hearing Core and those songs that have been subsequently stuck in our heads since 1992 have come to love whatever mix of pop-influenced psychedelic grunge that this somewhat dysfunctional family of four have in store for us with each and every album. After countless breakups, solo projects, drug addictions and rehab stints, 2010 finds the original Stone Temple Pilots back with another great, self-titled rock and roll album. If you love them and what they have done in the past, you're in luck. If you have never cared for their sound, chances are you won't find anything mind-blowing here. This is front to back, start to finish a true Stone Temple Pilots record and a great one at that.

With 2010's self-titled album, there is less of the grunge crunch from Core and a lot more attention placed on melody and pop sensibility as with Purple and Tiny Music. Each song is well written with corresponding guitar hooks and vocal lines that are sure to stick in your head as did Stone Temple Pilots' early material. Scott Weiland's voice is both strong and rich, yet not as powerful as it once was. The album's production relies a great deal on layered vocal lines that are placed in all of the right places where the songs need an extra something to get the point across. Both Robert and Dean Deleo provide world class guitar and bass work, with extremely tasteful playing that lays back in the pocket and provides what is appropriate at the all the right times. Eric Kretz has matured a great deal musically on this record, though he has always been a great drummer indeed. This album finds Kretz playing percussive parts that are much more solid and straight forward than what we have heard from him in the past. The album opens with "Between the Lines", one of the albums more straight ahead tracks that features some of Weiland's best lyrical contributions including the line "even when we used to take drugs" repeated over and over again as if he is referring to his substance-filled past with a smattering of tongue-in-cheek humor. "Take a Load Off" and "Dare If You Dare" feature open, celebratory choruses with Weiland's vocals taking the higher octave and are some of the finest moments musically in the entire career thus far for the Pilots. With a nod to the 1970's influence that has always been at the forefront for this band, "Huckleberry Crumble" sounds a lot like early Aerosmith with a strut that would give any classic rock band a run for its money. The new self-titled album also features some light-hearted pop numbers with "Cinnamon" and "First Kiss on Mars" both of which are full of room to breathe with almost airy writing and production techniques that add to the overall delicate beauty of the songs themselves. On a side note, kudos to the Stone Temple Pilots for including some absolutely gorgeous album art from artist Shepard Fairey that is both simple and tasteful, adding to the overall package itself.

All in all, it's great to see that the four original members in the Stone Temple Pilots have what it takes to do what they always have done after all these years. Whether you love them or hate them, they have proven once again that they are indeed a great rock and roll band, no more and no less. -Andrew Bryant

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Devil's Blood-The Time of No Time Evermore

he Devil's Blood
The Time of No Time Evermore

Dutch band The Devil's Blood leave nothing up to the imagination as far as what kind of entity that they are. Equally embracing the dark occult rock sounds of bands such as Black Widow and Coven along with the usual doom godfathers including Black Sabbath and Pentagram, The Devil's Blood set out to create music that is vintage and timeless, both beautiful and evil with some of the most infamous live performances to date from any band in either the rock or metal sect complete with blood soaked incantations and heavy riffage. Combining their dark, psychedelic rock with a love for 1950's Gothic horror culture, they have been a constant in the underground music scenes throughout the world for quite some time and have now began to find their way into the hands of more listeners as their material is passed via word of mouth and in a growing number of publications. What seems to appeal most beyond the dark, occult aura of the band itself, is the melding of classic elements from garage, psychedelic and the heavy rock and roll genres, bringing together fans from all across the spectrum.

With The Time of No Time Evermore, the Devil's Blood give it their all with this first full length released in late 2009 in Europe and finally here in the states this year. On this album, the music leans more towards the psychedelic and folk rock elements than before. Still present are the strong Sabbathian riffs, though they are a bit more few and far between than on their previous E.P's. Musically and vocally, The Time of No Time Evermore brings to mind Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane, and Heart along with the ever-present influences from the occult rock great of the late 1960's and early 1970's. One strong aspect that sets The Devil's Blood apart from similar artists are the strong and clean female vocals sung by a vocalist known as F. the Mouth of Satan, whose vibrato and tone venture into a form of almost operatic performance at times. The songs themselves are decent rock songs, dealing with both celebratory and despairing subject matter throughout. For me, the strongest song that stands out as a highlight is "Christ or Cocaine", a perfect hybrid of some long-lost Pentagram track and Don Felder's "Heavy Metal (Takin' a Ride)."

The Time of No Time Evermore is perfect for those fans of such bands including Witchcraft, Blood Ceremony, and Black Math Horseman. If you like these dark, throwback sounds, chances are, you won't be disappointed. The Devil's Blood has finally poked its horned head through the thick haze of smoke and is now ready to take on the world with this one. -Andrew Bryant

Monday, May 31, 2010

Hank Williams III-Rebel Within

Hank Williams III
Rebel Within

Country music today is a crock, with clean living and a pop music slickness that is sure to keep all of the true outlaw greats spinning in their graves. However, there are a handful of artists who are fighting hard to keep the Southern twang and rebel attitude prevalent in their music, with the true spirit of country alive and well as the culture dies slowly with every feathered haircut and auto-tuned vocal track. No surprise due to his genetics, Shelton Hank Williams III is a true outlaw who lives by his own rules, ain't afraid of a good fight, and could drink us all under the table. His newest record, aptly titled Rebel Within, is a return to form for Williams, bringing back more of the Lovesick... and Straight to Hell sound to his music, with more of a vintage production quality that really gives some hoot and holler to his old-time, shit-kicking approach to the craft. III had something to prove with this one, as it is his last on Curb Records, an entity that he has constantly battled over his releases for many years. This fight has fueled his rebel fire with this one making it one of his best, if not his finest indeed.

To say that alcohol has a lot to do with Rebel Within would indeed be an understatement, as it is overflowing with whiskey soaked tales of booze, bootleggers, and debauchery. Opening things up with "Gettin' Drunk and Fallin' Down", one of his more traditional sounding songs, Hank and company keep things steady with this mid-tempo piece that explores the plain-old, good fun had in a night with too much to drink. Both "Rebel Within" and "Tore Up and Loud" bring more of the rowdy, hellbilly feel to the album, combining elements of both honky tonk and heavy metal with each. The title track embraces the act of giving into sin and explores the lighter side of drinking, drugging, nasty lovin', and all imaginable combinations of the three together. "Looking For a Mountain" features some strong Dobro runs from Andy Gibson and tells of the endless struggle in running from the law back into the mountain hollers to avoid getting busted by the authorities yet again. Barring any vivid details, I am almost certain that a great deal of us who have grown up in and around Appalachia, myself included, can identify at least partially with this one. More booze related anthems added to the roster include "Drinkin' Ain't Hard to Do" and "Drinkin' Over Momma", the latter being a slice of comic relief at the end of the album as it describes a distraught family as they mourn the loss of their rambling mother who started "drinkin' at the age of sixty-one." Williams also knows that any good country record has to have a few slow numbers, ones that can really embody the heartache and lonesome nature of the territory. With "Gone But Not Forgotten" and "#5", slow waltz feels accompany the stories of lost love and heroin addicts' lament respectively.
As a proud East Tennessean, I have to say that "Moonshiner's Life" is by far my favorite track overall. This track is raw and moving, with an almost bluegrass feel to it, complete with great fiddle melodies from none other than Billy Contreras, no stranger to the Knoxville music scene. This selection is a tale of the legendary Popcorn Sutton who is the most famous moonshiner in the history of bootlegging, making his living creating some of the strongest concoctions known to man.

Do yourself a favor and let your hair down, throw on your boots and up your horns with this one. Rebel Within is one of those albums that will make you want to drink even more when you have already had enough and is sure to keep you going strong when you are in one of your whiskey moods. Drink, dance, fight or....well you get the point. -Andrew Bryant

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Dead Meadow-Three Kings

Dead Meadow
Three Kings

Dead Meadow is one of those bands that is fine with the way that they have always sounded. They have found what works, mastered these unique psychedelic drones, and have continued to release material that falls into their thick stoner haze as they continue down this path that they have chosen. The majority of fans know exactly what they are getting with each record and would not welcome the idea of Dead Meadow changing anything, exploring new territory, or giving their magical mix any sort of modern twist. Most like these gents just the way they are.

Dead Meadow's seventh outing, Three Kings, is a combination of live concert album, corresponding film (highly reminiscent to Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same), along with a few new studio tracks added into the mix. With Three Kings, the production is raw, fuzzy, and full of a primitive grit that gives Dead Meadow so much more of an effectiveness in their swirling mix of psychedelic space blues. Like their studio albums, absolutely nothing is overproduced on this live venture, adding even more of a vintage organic feel to the music that is already drenched in the hazy vibes of the late 60's and early 1970's. The live material ranges from all points of their repertoire with each song as strong as the next, despite some being newer material. Dead Meadow gives a stellar performance on each selection, living up to what is delivered on their studio material, at the same time expanding and elaborating when it is needed during the set. Another strong aspect to the live material is the fact that the audience noise has not been edited out at any moment, giving applause and crowd noise throughout. Jason Simon's voice is propelled loud enough to where his soft, almost delicate delivery is not drowned amidst the strong wash of Orange ampage and thundering drum parts.

With the five new studio songs, there is a bit more room to breathe than with previous material. Everything is spread out, almost sparse at times, and without the large wall of sound that usually accompanies most of what Dead Meadow has recorded. The sound is still massive, however much more dynamic for the most part throughout. "That Old Temple" features some phenomenal drum breaks by Stephen McCarty, bringing to mind a bit more Deep Purple and Hendrix influence than before not only on the percussive end of things but also in the vintage riff selections and placement. Another highlight from this new material is "Beyond the Fields We Know" complete with eerie female vocal accompaniment and some of Jason Simon's best guitar work to date.

Three Kings is a great addition to anyone's existing Dead Meadow catalog and also a great introduction to a band that continues to grow in popularity, as they live by their own rules and keep a sound that is extremely lo-fi and vintage. The new material shows great promise in what we have in store for us in the future and the live selections are a testament as to just how great this band is both on record and in a live setting. -Andrew Bryant

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Twilight-Monument to Time End

Monument to Time End

When it comes to black metal, most would not consider the United States to be a major force to be reckoned with. Norway simply cannot be matched as far as impact and brute force goes in this extreme sub-genre, yet lately American bands have been growing in leaps and bounds in respect to the innovations within black metal, bringing this often mis-understood and infamous music into the light so to speak and giving a growing fan base a glimpse into this world that is both dark and beautiful. Signed to Southern Lord Records, Twilight is a collective of American black metal musicians who have come together under this moniker, bringing one of the most aggressive sounds to the ever expanding roster of this style in the States.
With their second album, Monument to Time End, core members N. Imperial (Krieg, N.I.L.), Blake Judd (Nachtmystium), and Wrest (Leviathan) bring forth an expanded lineup including Minsk's Sanford Parker, Stravros Giannopoulos from the Atlas Moth, and Aaron Turner who hails from both Isis and Old Man Gloom. If you know anything about any of these individuals' other material, you can pretty much guess what you will be in store for with this particular album. As a whole, the record brings together the classic elements of black metal and adds certain bells and whistles that give Twilight it's unique sound. A great deal of the music gives more atmospheric and even psychedelic twists to the mix, yet still remaining true to the dark and heavy music on the album. Opening track, "The Cryptic Ascension" begins with varied dynamics and a tempo that is far from hectic blast-beats, relying heavily on a strong sense of groove. This opens things up tremendously, as the majority of the album follows suite, concentrating on the dynamic direction of each and every song. The vocals have more of a high rasp to them, which is always a strong asset in my book, avoiding the death-metal growls all together while still conveying plenty of agony and distress. Other highlights include the more straight-ahead black metal sounds of "Convulsions in Wills of Fever" and "Decaying Observer", two of the albums heaviest by far.
Overall, Monument to Time End is a great sophomore effort that is sure to gain Twilight the ground it needs to become one of the most talked about metal records of 2010 as it brings something to the table that will satisfy fans of heavy music ranging from doom, to black metal. Though each and every member has their own full time bands that occupy their time, this album has a strong sense of congruity and harmony that none of these other bands have given me in the past. Twilight has something about it where every thing is in it's right place and thus deserves a place up on the shelf with American black metal behemoths including Wolves in the Throne Room and Aggaloch. -Andrew Bryant

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson
True Love Cast Out All Evil
buy album here

There aren't many stories out there that are as tragic and unbelievable as that of Roky Erickson. One of the most influential figures in all of music spanning from a forefather of psychedelia to inspiring rock and metal musicians, Roky is one of those that everyone likes and is ultimately rooting for despite all that has been stacked against him throughout the years. To say that this album has been one of the most anticipated albums for me would indeed be an understatement. I love anything and everything that Roky Erickson ever uttered, from the psychedelic staples of the 13th Floor Elevators to the dark, horror-rock from the 1970's. They are all prime cuts as far as I am concerned and I was always sure that he had more tricks up his sleeve and lots more stories to tell. Well, low and behold the time has come and True Love Cast Out All Evil has lived up to everything that I hoped it would, representing a better life that Erickson has always been destined for and finally receiving.

Produced by Will Sheff of Okkervil River, this album is quite somber at times, but ultimately beautiful and anthemic, celebrating many selections from the catalog of a man who is one of the best and yet forgotten songwriters, musicians, and human beings in the history of rock and roll music. Though I hate to make this comparison, this album is highly reminiscent of all of Johnny Cash's American Recordings with Rick Ruben at the helm. Like the American Recordings, True Love Cast Out All Evil is stripped down and somewhat sparse at times, leaving the focus on Roky and his songs without layering obnoxious orchestrations and wanking guitar solos over the song at hand. As a whole, this album has a strong country feel to it, the majority being acoustic in nature with Erickson's voice not as strong and wailing like it once was. Will Sheff and Okkervil River did great job in creating a lush pallet on which Roky could place his music, evening throwing in several noise sections scattered occasionally to give a nod to his psychedelic past. Opening up with "Devotional Number One", taken from an extremely primitive recording at Rusk Maximum Security Prison for the Criminally Insane, Sheff sets the tone perfectly placing this scratchy track with Roky on a an almost out-of-tune guitar and one of the most sobering moments of any album to date. The album thens skips to the present with "Aint Blues Too Sad" on which Roky delivers one of his most heartfelt lyrics, "Electricity hammered me through my head, until nothing at all is backwards instead." Just hearing him sing this line gives me chills, knowing that he has lived to tell the tale of intense shock therapy and the struggle with schizophrenia every day since. Other highlights include the country waltz feel of "Be and Bring Me Home", the upbeat "Bring Back the Past" on which he speaks of his positive outlook on the future, a new take on the dark classic "John Lawman", and the weeping pedal steel on the album's title track.

True Love Cast Out All Evil is already at the top of the list for 2010's album of the year and I have to agree with all who have made this claim thus far. I would not dare to say that this is a "comback" record because for so many of us, Roky never went anywhere. Let's just chalk this one up to yet another great record through which many old and new fans alike will rediscover one of the finest musical minds that this world has ever seen. And if anyone deserves anything close to that, that man is most definitely Roky Erickson-Andrew Bryan


Shadows of the Shapeless
buy album here

When a description reads, "Six Hundred and sixty six possessed Orange Amps under water," chances are, I will give it a whirl. Kongh, a doom metal outfit hailing from, you guessed it, Sweden formed in 2004 with three individuals from different musical backgrounds with one goal in mind, to be as loud as humanly possible while having as much fun as they could. Simple enough, yet as so many in this genre try hard and fall short, the Swedes seem to have what it takes to bring this music to fruition each and every time. Mark my word, there must be something that Swedish parents feed their children or elements added to the drinking water to give them the ability to make the music that they do. In addition there must be a massive stockpile of vintage Orange Amplifiers in each community center and as each young person chooses to pick up a guitar or bass, they are automatically given some of the best sounding amps in existence with some of the crunchiest, meatiest tone that you will find across the globe. In the past six years, I can't tell you how many Swedish bands have blown me away with some of the best heavy music out there, including Witchcraft, Graveyard, Horisont, and now Kongh whose newest album Shadows of the Shapeless was just released on Seventh Rule Recordings.

As noted above, the three members of Kongh come from a variety of backgrounds and simply want to be big, loud and have fun when making the music that they make. What comes across is a highly intelligent mix of doom, black, and experimental heaviness that keeps things fresh and interesting without boring the listeners with the same-old-same-old drones that so many other similar bands' sounds rely on today. What first jumps out with Shadows of the Shapeless is the great mixture of darkness and light and the corresponding contrasts that are exhibited on this record. This tension and release is especially present in the guitar work of David Johansson in that he has carefully crafted his playing to range from both heavy and distorted to pretty and clean. This dichotomy serves each song extremely well in opening up the arrangements and giving the listener some variance from the expected slow dirge and mammoth assault that comes with most doom metal outfits. Johansson's vocals also vary from being raspy and harsh to more melodious sections that are sung rather than screamed, each being placed in just the right sections as the music needs at the time. This duality of Kongh brings to mind early Neurosis and even Opeth at certain points, bringing both thunderous brutality and beauty into their music as they add dimension to the overall experiences associated with the band itself. Drummer Tomas Salonen is an extremely tasteful player who knows just when to throw a swing feel on a certain section and a primitive pounding on another. Rounding out the rhythm section, bassist Oskar Ryden remains mostly in the lower register, filling the gaps with rumble and thus providing the perfect root bass playing that a trio of this caliber needs.

With only five songs, Shadows of the Shapeless clocks in just below the one hour mark, giving each track the time it needs to be developed without being monotonous and boring. All three members of Kongh perform an integral part in keeping the music structured yet organic, allowing the songs to breathe and gain volume, momentum, and intensity at all points necessary. This gives the entire record a continuous flow that connects all five tracks together as one cohesive piece of music that proves itself as a strong album time and time again. With both their music and direction, Kongh reminds me a great deal of Yob, a heavy American three-piece powerhouse and I would almost bet all my chips on the fact that Yob has had a large influence on this band and their sound. Nothing at all wrong with that though, because you can't get much heavier than the mighty Yob and the impact that they have had on the doom scene.

As a whole, this album is very heavy and great addition to Sweden's stellar roster of metal bands. The only bad thing about this album being so good is the fact that, like most heavy music coming from this particular area of the globe, it might be several years before we can actually see Kongh live. Oh well, until then we can just throw on Shadows of the Shapeless and make our walls shake and windows rattle until the neighbors call the authorities. -Andrew Bryant