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
Robots of the Ancient World. If that moniker--and the accompanying artwork--doesn’t conjure a spaced-out and otherwise smoke-afflicted ethos, I urge you to back away from this decidedly cosmic Kyussian watering hole before it's too late. That's right. This impressive debut is comfortably tied to the generator rattlin’ desert rock of terra firma, yet brings enough psychedelic and astral gravitas to give credence to their cosmos-trawling identity. An appropriate Carl Sagan sample only adds to the ambiance--but really, isn't that an inevitability?
Before this particular scribe gets too mired in the nitty-gritty, let’s make two facts abundantly clear: 1). Cosmic Riders is a highly enjoyable album, quite possibly one of the genre’s best this year, and 2). as an up-n-coming stoner/desert/doom crew, Robots of the Ancient World can hang, quite comfortably, with the best of ‘em.
Instrumentally, you’ve undoubtedly heard something of a similar ilk--although perhaps without such a defined sense of nuance. Robots of the Ancient World’s are rockers through and through--pounding drums, groovy bass, and a hard rockin’ pedal-to-the-metal mentality keeps them grounded in the desert department. In terms of the general ambiance called to mind, tracks such as “In My Head” and the aforementioned “Sweet Lady” recall blazing sun and burning rubber, more so than psychedelic starlit soul searching. Given the album as a whole, however, neither “thick” nor “hefty” feel particularly apt, as the riffs remain expansive. Undeniably fuzz-ridden, yet delightfully light footed. Typically an album that actively encourages mind wandering, rather than constantly demanding attention, will fall under my spit-shined critical lens. Not so here. The (comparatively) relaxed second acts of “High and Drive” and the titular “Cosmic Riders” don't constitute mere background noise in the slightest, but their expansive and subtle nature demonstrate a very calming effect. Surely the modus operandi of these interstellar Robots, if the intro to “High and Drive” isn't enough of a hint.
A true highlight of the guitarwork is the solos--few and far between, but excellent nonetheless. See the back half of “Sweet Lady” for a particularly sweet lil’ fretboard diatribe. These exploratory guitar-centric moments work incredibly well to draw the listener in. While the central riffs never feel stale, the solos serve as glimmers of particular interest. The issue with the majority of stoner rock of the astral variety is a tendency to fall too far into the abyss. Robots of the Ancient World are quite proficient at letting you drift, but occasionally reeling in the tether.
This quality is only strengthened by the fantastic vocals, which I've seen compared, interestingly enough, to both Danzig and Jim Morrison. The former is certainly apparent--look, for example, to the self-assured gruffness on “God Particle/Oblivion Stone.” In terms of the latter, while Mr. Mojo fanboyism is, quite possibly, my greatest pet peeve, I'm frankly inclined to agree. A certain chiller-than-thou poise proliferates the entire package, adding a level of emotion that has been unfortunately lacking in the genre’s recent deluge of shout-into-the-void delivery. That said, rather than residing in languidity, he's capable of turning it up a notch--an expansive, distant, and at times mournful howl. When this is pushed to the limit, he tantalizing walks the line, stretching each note to a frayed edge. It suits the tone and shape of Cosmic Riders quite well.
Again, this is an impressive debut. In fact, the only vague misstep in sight is the penultimate “Five Eyes,” which feels overly long given its position in the album's mesh. At six and half minutes, this is an excellent track carrying some unnecessary baggage on burly shoulders. Otherwise, Cosmic Riders remains compulsively listenable and relentlessly enjoyable. It’s a noticeable step up from their self-titled debut, which frankly says a lot on its own. More than representing maturity, however, Cosmic Riders serves as a declaration of Robots of the Ancient World’s intent: to join the impressive entourage of PNW bands toiling to reinvigorate the spirit of rock. To this end, their debut credits the genre’s foundational elements, but doesn’t turn tail when prompted to deliver music that feels just unique enough to spark interest. Cosmic Riders comes highly recommended.
Robots of the Ancient World's Cosmic Riders was released March 26th, 2019.
As of late, reviewing anything under the voluptuous roster of Kansas City’s The Company has become a bit of a struggle--it’s honestly difficult to come up with constructive criticism to balance out the radiant fanboyism. Young Bull’s excellent Midnight Climax came out last year, but I'll be damned if it doesn't fit the pattern of relentlessly high-quality content, contributing to a certain, well, bullish trajectory. Worth a review? You bet.
If you don’t like music of the pugilistic variety, get ye gone. Characterized by coursing coarse-grit riffs and rhythms that recall Motorhead at their harshest, this debut takes genre expectation by the horns and wrestles it into submission with merciless mud- smeared aggression. Gravel gargling roars punctuate a rowdy, rollicking, and otherwise uproarious atmosphere. With a vicious punky streak and a sludgy swagger, Young Bull is like unto stoner metal as a Panzer is unto motor vehicles. Not transcendent, so much as willing 'n' able to pulverize anything in its massive path.
Given the quality of standout tracks “Horned One, “13 Reasons,” and “Chainwhipped,” Side B tips the scale, resulting in an album that feels slightly off-balance. That said, the break in formula these tracks provide is welcome. Tempo changes aplenty, combined with a distinctly hard-rockin’ and high-octane approach, pave the way to a satisfying…title track. As it were.
YOUNG BULL - Midnight Climax was released June 2018 from The Company, and comes highly recommended.
Once I know something about a musician’s character, separating that knowledge from the fruits of their labor can be, well, a laborious affair. In the case of Red Beard Wall, that certainly isn't a bad thing. Judging from our interactions, I have gathered that whatever the red-bearded frontman Aaron Wall does, he does with the utmost enthusiasm and fervor. Take, for example, his online comments, which remain an ALL HAIL hailstorm of goat and flame emojis. His persona’s omnipresence feels remarkably sincere, and is always realized with noteworthy vivacity--which, in turn, results in a unique sound solidly founded on glorious zeal. Less we get too highfalutin, let me state the obvious: Red Beard Wall is also really fucking weird. Rest assured, this slumbering villager likes weird. Weird is what gets me up in the morning, and The Fight Needs Us All is the epitome of this oddball brand I have come to wholeheartedly enjoy.
Several months back we ran a brief review of “The Warming,” lead single from the Wall’s sophomore effort. While recycling may be in bad form, these are words I stand by: “Red Beard Wall plays a wickedly cacophonous brand of sludge--a brutal slugfest between the hooky pseudo-melodic stylings of Torche or Helmet, and the bayou groove of NOLA’s finest...this is sludge rock at its best--thick, unique, and relentlessly repeatable. It’s a rabble-rouser, a neck-snapper.” At the time, “The Warming” seemed a distillation of the components that make this project so special...and now, given wider vision, I consider it the focal point of the album. No question: “The Warming” is truly the hottest track amongst a cabal of barn-burners.
The obvious first stop on the road to dissecting the Red Beard Wall methodology is the two-tongued vocal style, split between throat-wrenching screams and along-the-riff cleans. It’s a real Jekyll/Hyde situation, and throughout the album, Wall continually pulls off the odd juxtaposition with a delightfully bludgeoning grace. While contrasting vocals certainly aren’t new in the world of sludge nor rock, there is little out there that demonstrates a similarly visceral approach. And while this dichotomy has always been the outfit’s strongest suit, both forms of delivery have improved significantly from debut in several ways. The screams are increasingly savage, in the pent-up-animal sense of the word. Conversely, Wall’s cleans are employed with increased regularity, adding a much-needed melodic focus to the pummeling riffs.
The guitar itself is utterly sasquatchian--never floundering in whimsy, but remaining rooted in straightforward groove. There’s glimmers of influence here, from the scuzzy heft of early Bill Kelliher, to the head-bopping flow of Siamese Dream-era Billy Corgan. Thick and heavy, the guitar remains a cornerstone for the vocal acrobatics. The back-to-back punch of “Come On Down” and “To My Queen” is a prime example of this technique in practice. And! Lest they be forgotten, the militaristic drums match the riffage in terms of aggression and sheer weight, pound-for-pound. Viewed as a whole, The Fight Needs Us All is a bloody bout, rather than an exercise in instrumental harmony.
The album is compulsively listenable and endlessly enjoyable, yet from a songwriting perspective, there are some oddly paradoxical challenges. The general structure is unique, but that uniqueness doesn’t indicate an overly sophisticated plane of songwriting. This results in a number of Side-B moments recalling--perhaps too strongly--that which came before. Realistically, a weird approach becomes less weird each time you hear it, and for this reason, some variety throughout would accent the potency of Red Beard Wall’s core motif. That said, existing breaks in the formula do contribute significantly to the beginnings of a balance. The doomy instrumental ambiance of “Reverend.” The slower moments of “Tell Me The Future of Existence,” which recalls early Mastodon at their most somber--think “Trilobite.” The alt-rock pace at which clean vocals passages weave between riffs on the aforementioned “Ode to Green.” Given Wall’s obvious ability to seamlessly break (and subsequently bridge) genre expectations, I’m hopeful that the future bodes well for continued experimentation. A wall may be stationary by definition, but with two high-quality albums at this stage, Red Beard Wall is dealing with the kind of structural stability that allows for flourishes. Y’know, ramparts and gargoyles and shit.
The Fight Needs Us All builds on the promise Red Beard Wall previously displayed, and, for the sake of comparison, this album has spent more time pummeling my eardrums than any other this month. It’s ridden with meaty hooks and melodic swells. It’s relentlessly repeatable, passionately aggressive...and just off-kilter enough to merit a double-take. As the soundtrack to a purported revolution, it remains as invigorating as ever.
In sum? Red Beard Wall requests--nay, demands--your presence at the fight. All Hail!
Red Beard Wall - The Fight Needs Us All was released Feb. 22nd from Argonauta Records.
While the ol' scriptorium here at the Sleeping Village has been scantly populated this week, fear not. This particular reeve* has spent the past few days embroiled in pre-review fury--i.e., I’ve been listening to a whole lot of good music, so get ready for some appropriately complementary reviews. In the meantime, however, we’d like to direct your attention to a three-track EP that always finds a way to reinsert itself in the rotation. For demo peddlers, Merlock display resolve and remarkable staying power.
Merlock EP is a fun lil’ demo without pretension or sophistication, the kind of music that results when a band throws down and simply plays a blend of genres that pleases them. In the case of Merlock, that formula is equally influenced by the spaced-out aura of psychedelia, and the hard-rockin’ momentum of trad metal. Merlock is subtly off-kilter in the best of ways, an odd amalgamation of The Jesus Lizard’s intrinsic weirdness, and the astral wanderings of Merlin--albeit abbreviated, and sans brass. The result is a kind of caustic, trippy, and rough-around-the-edges stoner doom, and it lights a little fire in my heavy (metal) heart.
While I wholeheartedly recommend you spend the time and give the three tracks herein their due, a personal favorite from this project is opener “Spiral Nemesis.” Constructed around a bouncy and certifiably hooky central riff, this track is particularly effective at presenting a balance between a rock-solid template and a psychedelic edge. While “Spiral Nemesis” is fairly straightforward--despite a slower psych-oriented passage midway through--it never loses its structural integrity. All told, a very enjoyable track, and suitably representative of a sound I’m hoping Merlock will continue to produce. Listen to it here:
*Effectively a village administrator, a position held by a man of otherwise low stature, responsible for overseeing the manorial motley crew. Sleeping Village Reviews: expanding your medieval-specific vocabulary since 2018.
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.