Music

Review: Sabbath Assembly – Quaternity

Sabbath Assembly-Quaternity-cover

“Humanity is doomed.”

Quaternity is the third album from Sabbath Assembly, a bizarre rock band that formed to recreate the hymns of apocalyptic 1960’s religious cult The Process Church of The Final Judgement. Their first record (Restored to One) caught my attention because their original singer was Jex Thoth, which was enough of an endorsement to at least check them out, even if they did sing about God and seemed more than a bit ‘churchy’. Spend a little time with this band, though, and you will soon discover that there is nothing traditionally Christian about their music or philosophy.

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Review: Iron Hearse – Deal With It

 

Iron Hearse Deal With ItIt’s always a pleasure to get hold of a new Iron Hearse release, specially as they have only made us wait a year since the last one (Get In The Hearse, released March 2013).

As the 40-second preview video above shows, the band haven’t deviated from their usual horror-film inspired lyrical themes, and with any luck, they never will. All 9 tracks on offer here stand up to their previous releases and while they don’t do anything amazingly different, they manage not to sound like they are aping their earlier material (even though they are, like AC/DC and Iron Maiden have done for 30-odd years, but it’s still possible to enjoy listening to them).

Iron Hearse don’t do anything unique, but they do play some of the best straight up pub doom-rock you’re ever likely to hear. We’ve heard it all before, but now it’s heavier, the playing is tighter and everything is a bit louder than last time. (more…)

Roadburn Festival

So… I’m Not Going To Roadburn This Year

2013 was a landmark year for me. I achieved three lifetime ambitions in twelve short months. My band recorded their debut album (which I’m proud to say will be released soon by an actual record label!), I completed a degree in English language and Literature and I attended my first ever Roadburn festival in Tilburg, Holland with four friends.

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Soundtrack: Paul Ferris – Witchfinder General

Paul Ferris Witchfinder General soundtrack

The world famous De Wolfe Music Library are re-issuing some of the rarest and most sought after soundtracks from their 100 year history. Among them is Paul Ferris’ soundtrack to the 1968 classic Witchfinder General which starred Gothic-horror legend Vincent Price in the title role.

The film was directed by Michael Reeves (The Sorcerers, Castle of The Living Dead, She Beast), who died suddenly in 1969 aged just 25. Witchfinder General was his last film.

Telling the story of the sadistic and brutal Matthew Hopkins (the eponymous Witchfinder General), this was a controversial film upon its initial release, with many of the more graphic scenes of violence being cut. The director’s tragic death added to the film’s notoriety and helped forge the cult status it has today.

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Aranya Witch Mountain

Aranya – Friction/Refraction EP’s

I found this Portland, Oregon based band through Witch Mountain. Their vocalist Uta Plotkin is the founding member of this band, which plays live and records in between her Witch Mountain activities. Aranya’s music is a little different from WM’s more traditional sludge/rock/doom, and takes a more progressive approach.

Uta happens to play the viola (and I think piano as well), having had classical music training growing up. She makes good use of the viola in Aranya, playing some solos and melody lines to add variety to the otherwise guitar-based songs. I’ve noticed that many of her vocal melodies sound like viola or violin melodies, which is kind of interesting. I don’t know if it is intentional but it gives the music a unique feel that sounds completely different to the way most bands approach vocals.

Friction and Refraction are two separate, self-released EP’s that when put together, make up a short album’s worth of music. The first one, Friction, deals with “sexuality through heat metaphors” and it’s counterpart contains “five songs of reflection and rejuvenation,” to “soothe the beast.”

Aranya - FrictionFriction is made up of mainly aggressive, punkier material, similar to that found in the debut A Violent Birth album (released as a CDR in 2009). The four tracks pass by quickly in a blur of energy and passion that is difficult to make sense of.

This is, of course, intentional. The more time you spend listening to Aranya, the more you realise that everything they do is deliberate.

Being the sexual part of this binary experience (including the title), it doesn’t try to be too high-brow or deep. This is the animal, primal part of the two EP’s, as illustrated by the erupting volcano on the cover.

It’s exciting and intense, but it is over all too quickly, leaving the listener with a mild sense of disappointment and asking themselves “is that it?”

Friction is the passion, senseless intensity and ultimate meaninglessness of sex condensed into four songs.

RefractionRefraction is a much more introspective listening experience. Its five tracks are slower paced and more melodic than Friction with darker lyrics.

What I like about this EP is the sense of depth that the songs have. Lyrically, they are just as avant garde and weird as the rest of Aranya’s output, with esoteric references and metaphors that don’t always register on first listen. For me, this is one of the band’s greatest strengths. They don’t dumb themselves down in an attempt to pander to a wider audience. I can’t help thinking that this may prevent them from gaining a larger following, but I don’t imagine they care. The fans they do have are too busy enjoying the music.

After the sexual frenzy of Friction, this second EP can feel quite bleak and depressing in places. Again, intentionally so. Both recordings manage to manipulate the listener’s emotions and take them on a journey. They have no control over the destination, and are required to put their faith in Uta and her band. Hopefully they will be able to deal with the results!

Refraction features some unusual instruments such as trombone and accordion on the track Chicory Key. Hearing the old squeeze-box instantly put me in mind of ‘Allo ‘Allo. Though it’s possible that the band have never seen the show, it did make me smile!

Both EP’s are dedicated the the memory of Cyan Wunderlich, a friend and supporter of the band.

You can stream Friction and Refraction for FREE (alongside other releases) before you decide to buy, from the Aranya Bandcamp site:

aranya.bandcamp.com

www.aranyamusic.com

Copyright © Steve Wilson and The Third Realm, 2014

Goatess Doomwych

Interview: Goatess Doomwych

Born again

Back in 2012, I started work on a self-published art book documenting the first three years of my record label. The book would have interviews with each band I had released to go alongside the pictures. The Goatess had already designed my logo and the cover of Planet Doom Volume 2, my second compilation CD, so I decided to approach her for some cover artwork. Seeing as she was the cover artist, I thought it might be cool to interview her and have a section in the book all about her artwork and the bands she’s done album artwork for (which include Pentagram, Church of Misery, Stonehelm and the forthcoming album from my own band, Iron Void).

Things started off well, and the Goatess section was shaping up to be the strongest section of the book. Unfortunately, I was a bit overworked at the time, balancing a full time job, running the label, a part-time Open University degree and my band commitments (it was a busy time!). The book suffered as a result and the release date kept getting pushed back further and further. In the end, I decided to keep the cover art and the title, which I used for the Doomanoid Records third anniversary sampler The Story So Far, but the book itself never saw the light of day.

Here it is at last, the original interview which we conducted via Email in 2012. (more…)

Black-Sabbath-13

Album: Black Sabbath – 13

I was as surprised as anyone to hear the news that Black Sabbath would be reuniting with Ozzy Osbourne after over thirty years for a new album. The result is an album that has the potential to divide opinion between fans both old and new. While I did not find the album that appealing on first listen, beyond some catchy vocal hooks from Ozzy, it began to grow on me after a few repeat listens.
Rick Rubin’s production seems a little clinical at first, and the very clean sounding mastering accentuates this. After two or three plays, though, it sounds less harsh to me. This may be down to nothing more than the fact that I listen to a lot of underground recordings that have a far less polished sound. Rubin has perfectly captured Tony Iommi’s signature guitar tone while allowing Geezer Butler’s bass to cut through the mix. The only sore point for me is the snare sound, which sounds a little thin. This may work better for fast songs but it just doesn’t resonate enough here for my liking, creating a pronounced gap between each beat.
In an ideal world, the line up would be complimented by original drummer Bill Ward. Disappointingly, this did not occur. Instead, the drumming duties are handled by Brad Wilk, formerly of Rage Against The Machine. This might seem like an odd choice for the band that are rightfully regarded as the godfathers of doom metal. This is a clear example of the ‘Spinal Tap’ thing, the band foregrounding the three ‘musicians’ at the front, backed up by a faceless drummer. Judas Priest did this exact same thing for years, and it does spoil things somewhat (imagine Iron Maiden with Nickleback’s drummer instead of Nicko!). Fortunately, Wilk provides a solid performance worthy of any of Sabbath’s past drummers.
sab13Black Sabbath 2013 (minus Bill Ward)
Album opener ‘End of The Beginning’ is based around a slow, repetitive riff that is reminiscent of their classic track Black Sabbath, even down a tempo change and jam for the middle section. These moments of deja-vu occur throughout the album. Echoes of the Paranoid and Sabotage albums are clearly audible and the band make no attempt to hide this. The most obvious example is the ending of ‘Dear Father’, which repeats the rain and thunder intro of the band’s eponymous 1970 debut. It would be easy to deride Sabbath for approaching the album this way and accuse them of deliberately retreading old ground but I think they’ve made the right decision. These flashbacks from the classic 1970’s Ozzy-era create the impression of the band coming full circle, echoing their own question: Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?
The songs are mid-tempo and mostly range from five to eight minutes in length. This gives the band time to jam and add some classic Tony Iommi guitar solos. Iommi doesn’t do anything new, but there is no reason for him to try this late in the game. There are no fast three-minute head banging numbers on 13 but this adds to the doom-laden vibe of the overall record and will not receive any complaints from me.

My main criticism would have to be the album’s length. The last three tracks on the deluxe CD version are by far the weakest on the album and could quite easily have been left out. The Black Sabbath rain at the end of ‘Dear Father’ would have made a perfect ending point. Instead, the tracks that follow give the impression of being added as filler to bulk-up the disc. The market has moved on since the early days of Sabbath, and perhaps an eight song album was considered too short for commercial reasons. The result is another overstuffed mainstream rock/metal album that fails to fully capture the special vibe (for want of a better term) that is present in a lot of underground releases.The only other minor sore points for me are some of Ozzy’s vocals. To be honest, his performance is not really that bad. There are moments, though, when he just fails to hold a note. These are songs sung in the lower register and are largely confined to the first few tracks. It just seems a little strange that no one thought to transpose them into a higher key, or maybe even use a different choice of song, Ozzy’s voice being what it is.

sabclassic

Doom pioneers: The classic ‘Early Sabbath’ line up

There are low points, but they are few and far between, and the album is of a far higher quality than many of the classic rock comeback discs that have surfaced in recent years. 13 is not perfect, and it doesn’t come anywhere near the level of the band’s classic era, but it is worthy of consideration (provided you skip the bonus tracks). Black Sabbath have managed to deliver an album that grows in appeal with each listen and it’s good to have most of them back.
Copyright © Steve Wilson and The Third Realm, 2014
Jex-Thoth-Blood-Moon-Rise

Album: Jex Thoth – Blood Moon Rise

I have been a fan of Jex Thoth since their self-titled 2008 debut. The first offering was a mixture of low-fi fuzz guitar and psyche jamming, but represented a major leap forward in songwriting and performance from their debut EP, Totem, and second full-length is no different. I have read criticism that the first album suffered from poor musicianship, but I never thought that. This one does sound a lot glossier on first listen, though.The most striking change to the band has to be the complete line-up change they have undergone since those first two releases. Two of the original line-up were married (singer ‘Jex’ and bass/guitarist ‘Grim Jim,’ also of Wooden Wand) and are now separated, which I presume accounts for his departure. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter, as the music is as good, if not better than before.

jex band

Blood Moon Rise is a very dark record, and not the type of album that grabs you on first listen. The first time I played it, I was surprised by how smooth everything sounds compared to their earlier efforts. It’s the only word I can use to adequately describe the sound. After a short, moody opening piece, the album starts proper with single ‘The Places You Walk.’ Jex Thoth songs have been described as ‘doom ballads’ in several reviews, and that is definitely the case here. The lyrical subject matters switch between relationships/love back to esoteric occult themes such as the epic closing number ‘Psyar’ (I have no idea what this means without Googling!). So, am I saying that Jex’s lyrics are stereotypically feminine in their themes? Well, yes, I am in a way, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jex clearly knows what she is singing about, and her voice sounds beautiful and is one of the aspects of the band that benefits most from this album’s superior production. It’s been well mastered, too and sounds clear and warm. These two things are important for a Jex Thoth record for one simple reason: You need to listen to this band on vinyl. I have both the CD and LP versions of their first record and there is no comparison. The vinyl wins every time (if only for the Albert Witchfinder sleeve art).

While I loathe the term ‘female-fronted doom band’ for so many reasons, I will briefly use the term here. While I do hate the term, Jex Thoth stand alongside Witch Mountain as an example of that at its best. Also, listen out for Earth cellist Lori Goldston on the last track.
Edit:
Since writing this review, I have bought a vinyl copy of the album. Like Jex’s previous work, it sounds twice as good on my turntable as the digital version I reviewed here. If you can afford it, get the LP. It’s worth the extra cash.
Out now on I Hate Records
Copyright © Steve Wilson and The Third Realm, 2014