As a sobered collective of secularists, the Sleeping Village wouldn’t typically welcome a High Priest into our midst. But here we are: praising, with undisguised zeal, the latest effort from these Chicagoan doom-slingers. Such is the power of the riff. High Priest's forthcoming Sanctum is a wondrously enjoyable release, and we’re honored to spread the good word.
Sanctum is an addictive 4-track slab, a well-conceived coagulation of influences. Promo material cites Alice In Chains, Pallbearer, and Trouble, while additionally recalling the group’s genesis at an Electric Wizard show. These are bold comparisons for an untested crew...but comparisons with which I am very much inclined to agree. While the downtrodden AiC style vocalizations and the swirling Wagner-esque compositions are spot-on, I’d argue that High Priest occupy a surprisingly subtle spot in the doomverse. While undeniably (and characteristically) riff-centric, no track here even begins to feel weighed down or drawn out. While melancholic and sorrowful, Sanctum never wallows or loses its delightful dynamism. And while approaching, at times, NWOBHM’s trademark melodic drive, it never feels excessive, nor does it fly off the rails with reckless abandon. In this sense, High Priest demonstrate the genre-melding abilities of Valkyrie, or perhaps even Desolation-era Khemmis. It’s hard to bring something new to the doom game, but High Priest feel remarkably unique in their tempered approach. Bottom line: this EP displays a very modern edge while simultaneously illustrating a variety of sounds that helped define doom and sludge. Not, my friends, a bad place to be.
Sanctum kicks of with the excellent Descent, which remains, to this Villager’s ear, the best thing these guys have ever written. Here, High Priest is firing on absolutely every cylinder. Militaristic drums, decidedly soulful vocals, expansive-yet-immersive riffs that weave and meld with confidence. The twin guitar approach rips with power and precision, and the chorus is an absolute beast. Descent is on course to become a contender for most played track o’ the year, and for good reason.
Beyond this unabashed display of prowess right outta the gate, Creature and Paradigm reinforce initial assumptions. That is, High Priest know how to write a compelling song. As alluded to before, there is little space for stagnation. The tastiest licks and most rollicking riffs are afforded the perfect amount of time in the spotlight. And while that’s all well and good, the latter track, in particular, displays some notably fantastic work in the percussive department. For a band and genre that inherently places such (deserved) emphasis on the guitars, it’s genuinely wonderful to hear such a strong showing from the drummer. Truly a standout performance. Closer Offering, while displaying a certain Troubleing vibe and strong dynamism in the vocal delivery, does feel a tad long. Given otherwise impressive fat-trimming chops, the back half here does feel slow in comparison. As a whole, however, we’re left with a very well executed package.
As riff-worshipers, you and I are walloped with a lot of doom on a daily basis. Keeping that in mind, it’s fair to say that High Priest are going places. Sanctum comes highly recommended. If you need some convincing, listen to Descent below:
Demonstrating adherence to a vague moral code, this particular villager will only review a split release if there's a fair balance between the parties involved. If a split is inherently weighted in an obvious fashion, it's simply not worth touting around a recommendation of the package as a whole. This is all to say that this (fairly mysterious) 2-track from Alberta's Tekarra and Mexico's Malamadre fits the bill quite well, thankyouverymuch. Both tracks here hold up, with graceful ease, its respective end of the bargain, and thus, a successful split is born. At risk of showing all my card, this fine little effort is a slow and exceedingly worthwhile burn.
Tekarra starts things off with the massive Barbaric Tools, a simultaneously deathy and droning slab of feedback-ridden amp worship. As one might expect, this living mountain of a track clocks in at over ten minutes--a slow burn, but ruthlessly effective in it's delivery. Over the course, Tekarra unleashes anticipatory waves of distortion-heavy (and indeed centric) riffage. Supplication before the the amplifier is the name of the game, and if you're new to drone, Tekarra invites you in with a warm tone and welcome arms.
Some quirky soloing and extended bouts of hypnotically intense feedback round out the guitar's delivery, lending the track a sense of character that all-too-oft goes amidst in the genre's more lackluster efforts. It's unique identity is only strengthened by the addition of crushingly heavy vocals, absolutely massive in stature. While everything remains audible, the production does lean towards the reedy side of the spectrum. In some sense, this gets the track a uniquely antiqued feel that, frankly, I've come to greatly enjoy over repeat rotations. For that gut-wrenching punch we've come to anticipate from modern doom, however, a little extra heft and girth will throw these guys in with the heavyweights. It's a great track regardless, and I'm interested to see what these potential heavyweights hit us with next.
But Tekarra aren't the only headliners here, and Malamadre, to their credit, follow up with great aplomb. Without the benefit of vocals, the appropriately entitled Cataclismo makes subtle, sparse, and incredibly effective use of drums to fill the Less a mere necessity, each cymbal hit is a statement. By design, there is limited space for any real crescendo until the very end, and Malamadre actually get by quite well by simply offering minor changes to the riff structure and percussive patterns. That's not to say the back half doesn't make exceptionally great use of noisy elements to draw things towards a natural conclusion. The entire track feels wondrously organic--somehow alien and monstrous, when compared to Tekarra's more deliberate riffage. Appropriately enough, Malamadre state that their "slow and colossal riffs" are inspired by "legends of the great kaiju." Evident enough, and well executed. Cataclismo is supremely effective in building up an inevitable catharsis.
Both of these tracks strike me with their ability to take the unexpected and use it productively against the listener. Given Tekarra's runtime, I was expecting a drawn out affair, and yet, not so much. These 10 minutes hardly feel like 5, and that is truly an accomplishment. Malamadre, to their credit, succeed enormously without vocals, utilizing well-conceived and exceedingly deliberate instrumentation to great effect. They work off each other quite well, each illustrating and inhabiting a distinct persona of doom metal's drone-ier side. As a split should.
Tekarra / Malamadre's split was released April 5th, and can be found at their respective bandcamps.
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. With Stranded, their new massive 6-track EP, these boys are currently on the last(ish) leg of a national tour. 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 EP's high octane strains have graced the Sleeping Village's halls upwards of 20 times this past week. It's dangerously repeatable, to the detriment of a certain stack of promos.
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.
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 6 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 March 28th. They are currently embroiled in their Skeleton Crew tour. Listen to the aforementioned Inside Out, and check out remaining dates below:
4.14 Chicago, IL @ Underground Lounge
4.15 Louisville, KY @ Highlands Tap Room Bar & Grill
4.17 Memphis, TN @ Growlers
4.18 Arlington, TX @ Division Brewing
4.19 San Antonio, TX @ The Guillotine
4.20 San Angelo, TX @ The Deadhorse
4.21 El Paso, TX @ RCBG Thunderbird
4.22 Tuscon, AZ @ The House of Bards
Void Vator can be found:
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.
Here’s something I’m comfortable admitting: at first blush, Huelga’s self-titled debut EP made for an exceedingly frustrating experience. Inconsistent. Illusive. Nonsensical. Not, in other words, the terms one might enjoy having applied to their passion project of more than a decade. However, after continued exposure and a certain degree of reflection, it became apparent that Huelga is a remarkable effort with a patently unique perspective. Multi-instrumentalist Michael Fonseca--who brings a background in jazz and an apparent interest in the non-conformist and modernist compositions of Zappa and Ives--isn’t here to recycle wrought notions of genre expectation. Huelga, in other words, operates exclusively outside the bubble of comfortable expectation, and for that reason alone, it’s worth our collective whiles.
Despite appearing to wear the heavy sonic trappings of groove, thrash and (ill-defined) mathcore, Fonseca's approach aligns the project with avant-garde jazz. Thus, from an instrumental perspective, there’s a mind-boggling amount to discuss--especially given Huelga’s 15 minute run-time. Making ample use of squealing leads, melodic dissonance, poly-rhythms, and aggressively fluid tempos, Huelga offers few moments for the listener to sink in and grasp what is actually happening. Riffs meld and adapt with startling frequency, disappearing into the fold one moment, only to reemerge in some vastly redefined form further down the road, shaped by the rolling boil of seemingly spontaneous invention. Even if this isn’t free-form composition in the true sense of the term, the semblance of improvisation is enough to evoke those noise and jazz connections. Intro track “The Very Marrow of Our Bones” is an effective crash course in Fonseca's methodology--in under 3 minutes, one careens through a deluge of colorful melody, downtuned groove, and an oddly harmonious percussive elements. At times "Marrow" feels djent-y in its distorted technical intensity, but churning thrash elements and pull-out-the-carpet percussion prevent anything approaching stagnation. “Chinga de Perro” and the 2-part “No Word for Blue” continue this pattern, although the latter--the album highlight, in my humble opinion--does feel slightly more consistent, due to its use of identifiable melodies across the first half.
Huelga is not clever because its complicated. Rather, it is clever because it demonstrates a complex understanding of modern arrangement, and utilizes the tools it has avaliable to effectively illustrate a central contextual background. Inspired by the Chicano Movement and the obvious stress and violent intentions that arise from a border defined, in many way, by borderline xenophobia, Foncesa is decidedly mission-based. To quote his bio, Huelga “takes a stand against the anti-Latinx, anti-immigrant sentiment that pollutes ‘The Land of the Free’ today.” To this end, the arrangements herein do an inordinately good job at creating--and reflecting--a palpable sense of tension. This particular scribe is a firm believer that art is, inherently speaking, a product of its political environment. In the case of Huelga, this environment feels essential to both the musical impact and approach.
How best to summarize a project that so willingly denies categorization? In short, the musical virtuosity on display is undeniable. That said, intriguing and ear-catching instrumentation does not (necessarily) a good song make, and the absence of traditional structure can make for a jarring listening experience if you’re approaching Huelga on a casual level. But yet, these moments of melodic dissonance, of tempo-shifting blindsides, and of seemingly blatant inconsistency are what define Huelga’s unique sonic assault.
As such, Huelga highlights a truth that we often miss: there is undeniable beauty in the unexpected. Take, for example, the bright chime that claims a brief moment in the spotlight on “Chinga de Perro.” Seemingly uncalculated, it adds an unexpected flair to the full picture, a moment of interest in a sea of interesting moments. Like so many across this debut, this glimmer exudes gleeful revelry in its rejection of expectations. Lack of continuity gives the affair, for obvious reasons, a disconnected and ungrounded aura--a “floating world” feeling where technical aspects astound, but the (seeming) lack of foundation offers a challenge to the audience. In the context of a more prototypical work, this would undoubtedly come across as criticism. Not so here. Fonseca is seeking, it would seem, to disassemble our understanding of the ways in which heavy music can operate. After several encounters, I’ve come to realize that he succeeds incredibly.
Huelga’s self-titled debut will be released April 5th, 2019.
A certain groggy-eyed, highfalutin' peasantry