Saturday, January 29, 2011
Setting heavy metal's evolutionary clock back to the stone-age days of Saint Vitus with their debut Volume One was seemingly not enough for San Jose's Sleep, who decided to time travel all the way back to the pre-historic days of earliest Black Sabbath with their second album, 1993's Sleep's Holy Mountain. Indeed, while Kyuss' Blues for the Red Sun and Monster Magnet's Spine of God are more frequently cited as the most influential and important albums in launching the American stoner/doom metal scene, not even these landmark releases compare to Holy Mountain for sheer devotion to unadulterated doom and copious weed consumption. In fact, as monolithic opener "Dragonaut" descends into a bass solo at its conclusion, one would be forgiven for expecting the band to segue straight into "N.I.B." -- such is their similarity to classic Sabbath. Instead, they grind into "The Druid," which despite a quick nod to the Sabs' "Electric Funeral," actually begins to establish Sleep's personality, as riff upon massive riff in the form of songs like "Evil Gypsy/Solomon's Theme" and the groove-heavy "Aquarian" flow from the speakers like molten lava. In an age of machine-gun double-bass drums, Sleep's most startling quality had to be their seemingly endless patience. As they slowly embark upon the mammoth power chords of the title track and "From Beyond," they also prolong the buildup of tension before delivering a final release of cathartic proportions. Besides greatly inspiring next generation doomsters like Electric Wizard, such unwavering dedication to weed would also set the stage for their controversial and unfortunate swan song Jerusalem -- featuring a single, mind-bending 52-minute track.
Sleep - Holy Mountain - Cassette tape on Earache Records
Originally going under the moniker Vaalkyrian, Andreas Stoltz (vocals/guitar) Thomas Nilsson (bass) and Urban Wikstrom (drums) eventually changed their name to Hollow upon the recruitment of second guitarist Marcus Bigren. Feeling that the name of their band perfectly fit the mood setting of their personalities and musical tone, Hollow released their debut album "Modern Cathedral" in 1998 with the accompaniment of progressive rock chords and a love for classic Rush and Queensryche.
Hollow - Architect Of The Mind - CD on Nuclear Blast Records
The name of the album was taken from a section of a Childcraft book on health, and you probably can't find a better collection of childhood angst, phobias, and concerns. The drums pound and the guitars shriek and squall mercilessly, all while Mr. Anus and Mr. Horribly Charred Infant scream apologies/warnings/pleas like, "Pleeeeease don't spank me/I'm too big to be spanked!" Occasionally it congeals into something that resembles an actual song, as on "Not Fade Away" or "Jenny Tried to Kiss Me at Recess," but mostly the instrumentation just provides a backing track to these little slices taken from adolescent nightmares.
Happy Flowers - My Skin Covers My Body - Cassette tape on Homestead Records
Friday, January 14, 2011
Released before the group was forced to change its name to Dinosaur Jr. by an obscure psychedelic group, the band's debut, Dinosaur, is a noisy, impressive, but uneven array of pseudo-hardcore numbers, sonic experiments, and sprawling hard rock. Although the band doesn't land on any one distinctive style, its ambition of marrying Neil Young and Sonic Youth sounds intriguing, and it has enough outstanding moments to indicate that the group was capable of the stylistic breakthrough it achieved on You're Living All Over Me.
Dinosaur - S/T - Cassette tape on Homestead Records
The Swirlies' first full-length album melds noisy guitars, samples, and sweet girl-boy vocals into a disheveled take on dream pop. Where so many dreamy bands polish their sound into pristine oblivion, the Swirlies create a hazy atmosphere that is evocative and unpretentious. Blonder Tongue Audio Baton -- named after a vintage tube equalizer -- combines the elements of the band's early work with more complexity. Songs like "Bell" and "Vigilant Always" juxtapose gentle and brash moments for a spontaneous feel, while "His Life of Artistic Freedom" expands on the Swirlies' noisy, experimental side. The group also shows off their accessible fuzz-pop on the album's centerpiece, "Pancake." The combination of Seana Carmody's demure vocals, big guitars, and burbling Mellotrons makes for one of Boston's most memorable pop moments since the Pixies' "Gigantic." The crunchy rhythms of "Tree Chopped Down" and "Wrong Tube" complement Damon Tuntunjian and Carmody's limpid vocals beautifully, and the sweetly noisy "Wait Forever" sums up the Swirlies' homemade noise pop aesthetic. A mainstay of early-'90s indie music, Blonder Tongue Audio Baton still sounds fresh today.
Swirles - Blonder Tongue Audio Baton - Cassette tape on Taang Records
After the Three O'Clock went out not with a bang but with the whimper of 1988's too-slick-by-half Vermilion, bassist-songwriter-leader Michael Quercio joined his buddy Scott Miller's band Game Theory in 1990. (Quercio had produced Game Theory's 1984 EP Distortion, and Miller had contributed "The Girl With the Guitar (Says Oh Yeah)" to the Three O'Clock's 1985 release Arrive Without Traveling). Unfortunately, Game Theory was in a state of flux at the time, and Quercio only contributed to a trio of re-recorded songs on Game Theory's final release, the compilation Tinker to Evers to Chance, and a 1989 fan club release, "A Child's Christmas Saving the Whales," of note to collectors both because it's a very funny faux children's story and because it includes an otherwise-unrecorded Quercio ballad called "Water" that's among the loveliest things he's ever written.
Permanent Green Light - Against Nature - CD on Gasatanka Records