Captain Graves isn't a new name 'round these parts. We interviewed this extraterrestrial bringer of destruction (in conjunction with Advent Varic) a few weeks back, and I'll be damned if his vision of apocalyptic planetary demise didn't strike a certain nerve. You see, we Villagers appreciate a good turn of phrase, even if the scribe in question is intent on our inevitable violent expiration.
And so we bequeathed The Captain his very own review column within our humble halls. Herein, he'll be chronicling dark and heavy earthly music that suit his judicial tastes. Our time here is limited...so enjoy these recommendations while you still can.
First up: Texas' own Forebode.
Sometimes a band has a almost-but-not-quite grand debut, the kind of album that bears the weight of rookie flaws, but speaks of something larger to come. And then, sometimes, said band delivers tenfold on their next outing, absolutely shattering notions of sophomore slump. And sometimes the groggy-eyed scribe who said he'd review the album in question in a timely manner spends two months mulling over how best to put his emamorment into words. And that lands us here, with Wolf Blood’s II spinning for what seems the umpteenth time.
Wolf Blood is one of those bands who revel in throwing a bevy of ideas at the wall and hoping they stick. Unlike most who engage in such reckless activity, these folks are really damn good at making sure it all stays up there. It’s purely original stuff, and in this business, that's a significant and rare quality.
Sometimes a track is entirely made by its intriguing instrumentation, its complex composition, or an otherwise original modus operandi. Sometimes a unique voice or lyrical theme serves as the hook that gets you in the door. Not so here. In the case of True Enemy, the latest single from Budapest’s Vanta, we're here for one thing and one thing only: that goddamn riff.
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about--or you will in short order. Just hit play below and succumb to that inevitable bludgeoning. This is a gravel-crushing steamroller of a riff, plain and simple, and nothing stands in its way. Like a mossy sasquatch stomping around whilst strapped into mechanical armor, Vanta is seemingly bent on wanton destruction. Your eardrums (and spinal column, no doubt) stand little chance against this churning distortion and brobdingnagian swagger. Seldom is the Sleeping Village’s conclave of ink-splattered scribes slapped upside the head with such massively belligerent riffage, so if I’m blathering at this stage, just assume I’m utterly concussed.
The vocals are appropriately violent, working with the guitar to provide an absolute sludge onslaught. A filter effect gives the vocalist a particularly intimidating aura, and lends the entire package a distinctly industrial persona. Vanta describes themselves--perhaps obtusely, but honestly accurately--as “Black sonic river.” I’ll be damned if I know what that means per se, but it sounds about right. These guys rip, tear, and obliterate their way through the doom/sludge umbrella, leaving little behind but shreds and twisted metal. If you’re feeling like a pick-me-up may be in order, we highly recommend you try on True Enemy for size.
Cloistered high in the Sleeping Village’s Ivory Tower, amidst the industry of scratching quills and churning parchment, this particular scribe enjoys a moment of reflection, now and again. Without getting preachy, today’s topic is an unfortunate trap that I find myself falling into: I pigeonhole certain genres (and, by extension, bands) as intellectual, operating in contrast to those who are driven by emotion. As a thought process that unconsciously promotes a high-over-low-brow mentality, it’s particularly dangerous when this becomes a system for ranking the quality of music. The takeaway? There are multiple factors that define a band’s sound and approach, and if you approach new music assuming otherwise, you miss out. Case in point: Bather. With a bio that refers to Thomas Hobbes’ civility-be-damned exposé of humanity’s ugly underbelly, William Etty’s Musidora: The Bather 'At the Doubtful Breeze Alarmed, and the poet James Thompson’s Summer, it’s apparent that this Columbus, Ohio quintet approaches art from a decidedly well-read standpoint.
But does that mean their sound itself is stuffy and esoteric? Not in the slightest. Sonically, Bather recalls the good ol’ early days of ‘core, before everything was brought down by uninspired breakdowns and drenched in sappy lyricism. Y’know, neutered. They eschew the jubilantly punk oriented sound of the earliest acts--i.e. Agnostic Front--but 90’s frontrunners such as like Indecision’s Unorthodox, Integrity’s System Overload, or perhaps Hatebreed’s Under the Knife get you in a similar arena of hardcore spite and sasquatchian riffage. Promo material rightly compares Bather’s furious sound to Destroy the Machines, the debut album from metalcore tough guys Earth Crisis. Aggressive, dense, misanthropic. Throw in a healthy dose of death-tinged sludge for good measure.
Influences aside, Bather are undeniable bruisers. Drums are clobbered into submission, and the guitar is...weaponized, for lack of a better word. Whether chugging or thrumming, this tone is walloped around like a bat wrapped in barbed wire. The riffs themselves, while mighty, exist largely as a staging ground for muscular vocals, which act as the debut’s hooven glue. Like a wasp-stung muskox, this guy grunts and yelps with vivacious intensity. He alternates between styles of delivery with a certain abandon that, while seeming wild, is undoubtedly calculated. This expressive range lends Bather a dynamism that is frankly stunning for such a belligerent brand of ‘core. Look the the chorus on “All Dark Rooms,” or to the moments between chugs on “Birds,” where the vocals are particularly repugnant (and this, of course, in the best sense of the word). Thick, brooding, swathed in sweat. Even the more straightforward delivery on “The Path” utilizes a burly knuckle-dragging swagger, which is, in time, counteracted by a higher pitched tone. It’s both brutal and nuanced. A hard balance to hit.
As a result, nothing here feels stale. Take, for example, the aformentioned “All Dark Rooms,” which adjusts the tempo and general atmosphere, bringing the aggression from a boil to a menacing simmer. Similarly, closing track “Leaves Like Bones” changes the pace to a near-dirge at points, which is a well-played distraction from the fury of prior tracks. The latter may have succeeded more so as a mid-album interlude of sorts, as a punchier conclusion may have left the audience with a fresher welt. An exceedingly minor complaint, however, because in reality, reaching the end is essentially an open invitation to smash the repeat.
It's grimy, but beyond that, the whole affair is tinged with the miasma of sin. By tapping into the aggression, tension, and brutality of a short life sans society, Bather have done the near-impossible: they’ve crafted a metalcore album that holds appeal for academic riff-addicts. Honestly, when’s the last time you’ve been able to say that about ‘core? This debut is an impressive feat. Highly recommended.
Bather’s self-titled debut will be released April 12th, 2019 from Appalachian Noise Records.
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.
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and heavy enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a certain groggy-eyed and highfalutin' peasantry.