Written by: The Administrator
If you run in the death blues circle, (an admittedly select group,) you are undoubtedly familiar with 20 Watt Tombstone. Hell, if you like blues rock or stoner doom in general, there's a good chance you've heard the name. These guys play a down 'n' dirty amalgamation of ZZ Top-esque groovy southern blues rock with a grimy Clutchian desert-rock edge. In other words, these are hard rockin' tunes from the backwoods. There's nothing flashy in their formula: just heavy riffs, gritty vocals, and the spirit of Americana.
20 Watt Tombstone's next release is a brief-yet-tantalizing affair: a 2-track EP featuring two bangin' cover songs. Side A is a rollicking cover of the (oft-underappreciated) "Just Got Paid" by the aforementioned ZZ Top. Side B, a rendition of "Midnight Train to Memphis” by Chris Stapleton, offers a slightly more somber--although no less hefty--side of 20 Watt Tombstone. Though small in stature, this release packs a damn fine one-two punch.
Written by: Blackie Skulless
On Hallow’s Eve, the newly formed label Wise Blood Records, based out of Indianapolis, dropped one of the hottest albums in the occult rock circle. Vexing Hex summons phantoms from the rural graves of Illinois, and their first full-length record Haunt is as strong as it is captivating. Though the cover may lead you to expect something extreme, this is actually a full-plunge into the calmer world that bands like Ghost have been dishing out.
With that in mind, you can expect everything to be injected with spooky instrumentation and clear vocal articulation. The classic horror film auras surround the keyboard and electric organ passages, which are built around rather mean riffs. To top it off, your vocals get a layer of howls and moans to back up what already feels very concise, getting a bit operatic at times. What helps Vexing Hex’s approach stand out is the suspense factor that doesn’t lead into anything overly intense. Instead, drops of doom metal influence come in.
Written by: Continuous Thunder
In the world of heavy psych-rock, the majority of influences often come from the rock bands of the ‘70s, and if we’re honest, the modern bands more resemble hard rock and early heavy metal. Ultimately, this is understandable; modern heavy psych likely comes from a desire to trace heavy music back to its roots, and the origin of heavy metal is often, though not without contention, considered to be Black Sabbath’s 1970 self-titled debut. As such, many of the sounds and aesthetics emulated in heavy psych come from the time period immediately before and after that key event. You rarely hear modern bands going for the sound of the true psychedelic rock of the mid-’60s, and that’s why The Sonic Dawn is different.
Hailing from Denmark, The Sonic Dawn completely embrace original psychedelic rock in ways few modern bands do, right down to the floral shirts and mustaches.
Move aside, typical intro. In a tidy break from the normal band bio hullabaloo, Märvel have brought a genuinely intriguing story detailing the release of their latest. As they tell it: back in the primordial aughts, three Swedish exchange students in Denver found themselves in an exciting situation--after being picked up by a US indie label, the original vers kion of this EP was recorded. And then...it didn't see the light of day. This was due, firstly, to the label not releasing it as planned, and, secondly, the untimely demise of the master tapes in 2008's Universal Studios fire. Thankfully for us slumbering Villagers (and you as well,) the four tracks that constitute Märvellous have been reborn anew.
This current iteration of those lost songs is not, however, an exact replica. In the band's words, "we wanted to play, produce and record the songs as well as we possibly could." And so here we are, listening to the pseudo-original tunes from a band who have since gone on to prove themselves worthy to shoulder the burden of rock 'n' roll revitalization.
This review (in its unadulterated form) was originally published in April, but, as today saw the re-release of an expanded version under Ripple Music, we thought it would be appropriate to break out this ol' writeup. The following is an edited and updated version. - Ed.
As obnoxious as it is to have people stoically refuse to admit that rock is, in fact, not dead, it's more obnoxious still to have a critic point out how patently absurd that statement is. So I'll refrain from falling down that particular rabbit hole. Needless to say, LA’s Void Vator plays some damn fine rock ‘n’ roll with the best of ‘em, and, from all accounts, they've got nowhere to go but up. This past April saw the release of Stranded as a 6-track EP, but here, after catching the eye of Ripple Music, it has been re-released as an album, with 2 brand new tracks in tow. If there was e’er a time to dust out the cobwebs and get back into chorus slinging high energy rock, yer looking at it.
Biographical material indicates a similarity to bands as diverse as Nirvana, Pantera, Megadeth and Foo Fighters. An eclectic mix, yes, yet oddly accurate. Take quite literally any track here--let’s say "Nothing to Lose" or the dynamic "Put Away Wet," for argument’s sake--and you’ll find the best elements of the aforementioned lurking mere inches below the surface. Bottom line: if you want your rock to have it, Void Vator wears it proudly. Short tracks. Grin-inducing solos. Blatantly air guitar-able riffs, which create and subsequently release kinetic energy like one taking a boltcutter to a tightly wound coil. Straightforward head-bopping groove. Aggressively present drums. Some of the more earwormy vocal melodies I’ve heard in a very long while--and this, I mean genuinely.
“Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” riffs Grohl in some long-forgotten internet video. Rock may live and/or die by the guitar, but within the genre confines, a band’s staying power is often dependent on the vocalist’s ability to write the kind of chorus that get trapped in your head for days. Here, Void Vator succeeds remarkably. Take standout track "Inside Out," which features a hook that wouldn't go amiss in a newfound single from Audioslave or (the oft-neglected) Manman God. Lucas Kanopa’s classically gruff voice has the golden ability to inflict nostalgia-ridden glee, and if your track delivers a reaction of that pedigree, you’re doing something right. From an industry standpoint, “radio ready” has, unfortunately, become a bit of an unfortunate insult. Stranded deserves a wide audience, plain ‘n’ simple, and they’ve got the potential in spades. This album's high octane strains have graced the Sleeping Village's halls a multitude of times this year, and will likely receive some attention as we compile our end of year lists. It's dangerously repeatable, to the detriment of a certain stack of promos.
This re-release includes two new tracks: "Everything Sucks" and "Monster." The former is a bit of a wildcard, featuring a doomy intro that launches into a particularly nihilistic and punky brand of garage rock. It's a lot less subtle than the rest of the tracks herein, and feels a little under-baked on it's own. That said, the asymmetrical intensity between the respective halves provides substantial interest. "Monster," on the other hand, feels like a very complete track, undoubtedly ready and able to fill the all-important closer position. This lil' number has a delightfully unrestrained quality, and feels like an accurate summation of the general vibe Void Vator continue to nail.
Critically, the catchiness of each track does depend largely on the vocals. Personal preference, no doubt, but a thicker guitar tone might make these catchy-as-hell riffs a little heftier in stature. There's a thin line between remaining accessible and beating up your audience, but as it stands now, the guitar sounds a tad thin. But that aside: perhaps most importantly, Void Vator aren’t boring. If that sounds like a grossly under-applied veneer of accomplishment, know that dynamism and maintained interest are...startlingly rare. For a genre that has historically gotten by on singles and lots of filler, packing a punch with all 8 tracks is a victory. Let there be no doubt: as long as high energy bands like Void Vator are doing the rounds and writing kickass tunes, rock ain’t going anywhere. Keep fighting the good fight.
Void Vator’s (highly recommended) Stranded was released Nov. 22nd, 2019 from Ripple Music
There’s a certain timeless appeal encapsulated by Ireland’s Withered Fist. Their doomy approach isn’t drenched in excessive distortion, nor tempered by stoner metal’s typical head-in-the-clouds mentality. Rather, assertive melodic overtones, attention to compositional interest, and a seemingly no-nonsense attitude, sets apart their debut EP--entitled This is My Mountain--in an admittedly crowded field. This Irish doom rocking duo is, simply put, solid.
The forward-facing vocals, while not flashy or aggressive, get the job done with a workmanlike flair. Harmony and melody reign, regardless of the weight of the track in question--look to the contrast of “The Dread” and closing track “The Journey” for an indication of Carl King’s obvious abilities in the vocal department. The former is markedly hefty and aggressive, yet never feels bogged down in its own presence or import. On the latter track, King deftly handles a simple chorus and some particularly gentle passages on the back half, seemingly approaching the affair in a straightforward and upbeat manner, which feels, I must admit, quite fresh.
The instrumentals, which are all handled by the multi-talented Justin Maloney, are simultaneously monolithic and lighthearted. Truly a quality that, when combined with the aforementioned vocals, lends This is My Mountain an understated dynamism. The title track, by way of example, has moments that soar, and moments, in turn, that feel mere steps away from sludgy peat-bog thick riffage. Withered Fist avoid stagnation with grace. As a result, the lengthy tracks contained herein feel nearly half their respective lengths. All told, this duo has set themselves up quite nicely for a debut full length. This EP has been gaining a lot of airtime as of late, and I’m anxious to see what more they are capable of.
Withered Fist - This is My Mountain was released January 2019. Listen to "The Journey" below, and check out Withered Fist on bandcamp.
Sometimes, an album I place on frequent rotation for review simply...well, never leaves rotation. It becomes so integral to my listening habits that the notion of writing a review becomes almost antithetical, because to write a review is often an admittance that it's time to wrap up my thoughts, take a break, and move on to other releases. Where Light Goes to Die, the sophomore effort from Atlanta's hard-rocking HOT RAM is, needless to say, such an album.
This power trio have been waiting a long damn time for this write-up, so let's get to it!
In many ways, HOT RAM appears to hit the ground running as a fairly prototypical doom/stoner rock outfit. Thick and bluesy grooves. Relaxed and expansive vocals, with just enough pent-up aggression to merit that sweet sludgy association. Fuzzy riffs that stretch and wind with a laid-back mentality and an exploratory spirit. That's all well and good--I mean, honestly, what else are we really here for. But alas, HOT RAM conquers the expected tropes with ease, and, fairly immediately, demonstrate that they have much more in store.
Where Light Goes to Die is, at heart, a hard rockin’ album, and it is this quality that took me most by surprise. HOT RAM fire on all cylinders with marked consistency, performing with the braggadocious air of a demin-clad classic rock outfit, without delving into the airy arena of radio-friendly singles. It’s like if Accept or early Judas Priest were converted by the Church of Misery. This mix of high energy riffage, pounding drums, and bass with ‘tude on one hand, and psychedelic meanderings on the other, is pretty damn potent.
The guitar feels fairly staple and straightforward in its approach, but it becomes apparent quite quickly that mere amp-worship ain't necessarily the name of the game. Take, for example, the frantic scale climbing that marks the finale of "Tribes of Titan," or the delightful sidewinding riff on (psych standout) "Petra," or the grinding aggression of "Nova Caesari," or the earnest rollicking of "Snake River." It is to their great credit that these tracks, and indeed every song here, feels like a very unique entity in the album's overall fabric. There's nothing here that should be cut, or refined, or even trimmed. As much as I love the genre, we all know the truth of the matter: in the hazy confines of stoner rock, sophistication and brevity aren't always the qualities most sought. HOT RAM throw that stereotype in the woodchipper, delivering six massive (yet varied) bangers.
I just listened to this album in full for the sole purpose of determining which track is my favorite. In conclusion? I genuinely cannot make that determination. Yer just gonna have to grab this HOT RAM by the horns and experience it in full unadulterated glory. Be part of the reason these guys get a little more attention. If it isn’t obvious thusfar, Where Light Goes To Die comes highly recommended. But yet, the question remains: will it leave constant rotation as a result of this review finally being unveiled?
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!