ILL CONSIDERED: TUNE OF THE MONTH

NOVEMBER REWIND: Attention-worthy sounds from the last month or so, spanning noise rock, ice pop (?), machine punk and full-throttle jazz.

ILL CONSIDERED – Dervish

Full-flowing fast-flowing freewheeling jazz action with a shitload of rock attitude, Dervish explodes with energy. It’s the kind of thing that pricks the ears of uninformed non-jazzers like me because of its vaguely Comet is Coming intro, but then ups the thrills by dismantling all brakes and going for the burn. Never-resting drums promise a sweaty, over-extended jam in a packed room (one day). Don’t yet know if Dervish is typical of this fiercely prolific band, but it’s more than enough to warrant a look-in.

M(H)AOL – Gender Studies

It’s pronounced MALE. They’re from Dublin. Gender Studies is from their debut EP. Songs about misogyny and violence against women. There’s a hard, machine-like intensity about the rhythm … Send-era Wire, maybe. Words spoken, not shouted. ‘Why don’t you study my gender?’ – a challenge more than an invitation. Heavy broken bass. Head nod groove. Post patriarch punk?

AGABAS – Children of Adam

Noise rock with hardcore vox and thrash ‘n’ roll pace. You might think it’s some kind of Entombed-Huntsmen-Cave In face peeler – and it is. But Agabas call it death jazz and sure enough, buried in the tumult, there IS wind instrumentation. Check the breakdown then wait for a bigger blowout while beaster chords pound the background. Noisy non-4/4 from Trondheim, Norway.

DORCHA – Honey Badger

It’s not the moto-rific intro and freaky oscillations that hypnotise (great though they are). It’s the cool, swirling avant-pop perfection of the switched-up second half. This is where Honey Badger ascends from earthly form into something icy yet warm. Resist? You won’t. Sublime cold weather listening, it’s over here.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind
amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

A HALLOWEEN SLOWDOWN

Type O Negative might be a bone-crushingly obvious choice for Halloween. But that’s because they bone-crushingly OWN the goth metal Halloween soundscape, and if previous Halloween blog posts have been a bit fallow for haunting Type O replays, this year it’s full harvest – been end-to-end back-to-back Type O Negative albums all week.

And because the Brooklyn four bleed love, loss and death from every pore, you know there are deep cuts on every album that fit the season. So, let’s go there. Let’s cut a little deeper.

And slower.

Suspended in Dusk: time to hang.

“Damn me Father, for I must sin …”

From their many epics, Suspended in Dusk must be the slowest and the most atmospherically gothic. Hidden in the back catalogue like a shadow-lurking creephead, it snuck out as a ‘Previously too embarrassed to release’ B-side on the Christian Woman single. Then it loomed long over the digipak version of the Bloody Kisses album – the one with the thrash-punk and pisstaker tracks extracted so the slower, lusher, Type O vision could be revealed.

Which means there’s a fair chance that some ToN fans won’t even have heard it. That’s not going to change with this blog because I’ve got fewer readers than Michael Myers has facial expressions, but so what? Suspended in Dusk is pure gothic suspense in vamp’s cloaking:

“With every victim I pray for my own death

And as much as I love the night

I curse the moon’s eerie glow

This bloodlust that drags me to forever

The toxic rays of dawn that condemn me to limbo.”

Across eight and a half minutes of trademark Type O layers – groaning downer riffs, cavernous hymn-like surges, twilight-tinkling keyboards, funeral bpm – Pete Steele inhabits the vampire and somehow conveys the hopeless plight of the eternally condemned.

Goth enough for ya? Feel its cold breath right here. Best heard in the lowest of lights. Pair it up with Paranoid for a crawling Type O double.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, BLOODSUCKERS.

DESERT STORM: LIVE

FIRST GIG SINCE THE PANDEMIC. WHO BETTER THAN THIS LOT PEELING STRIPS OFF THEIR HOME TURF?

The Bullingdon, Oxford, October 21st, 2021

Never bought a ticket as fast after seeing a listing … first gig after lockdown/s is going to be Desert Storm? YES. Deep down, I’d quietly hoped the scheduling stars would align like this – surely the most dependably metallic way to break back into Oxford gig action.

But before they take the stage in The Bullingdon, it’s APF Records labelmates Battalions, straight outta Hull, whose sludge grooves and downer riffs hit the target hard. Tasty filthy, mmmm. Phil Wilkinson’s hostile screams belie his friendly manner so be warned if you’re a Battalions first-timer, like what I is: his zero melody style is harsh. But it’s a good set and the mood is right.

And Desert Storm?

Nailed-on quality, end to end. Simple as that. Black Bile, Vengeful Gods and The Machine are among the Omens tracks aired in this comically/pandemically delayed Omens album launch party, and soaring Sentinels anthem Capsized is a natural high. Long-term gig anchor Queen Reefer helps stir up a lively bit of moshing – how long since we’ve seen that? – but it’s the gig-ending double hit of Enslaved in the Icy Tundra and Convulsion (wasn’t it?) that vamps it up into something wilder. Colossal tunes, both.

And in the thick of that peak mosh action is Battalions’ Phil, who’s been slamming hard all night already so he gets the Undiluted Commitment to Metal award, no question. Doesn’t even lose his glasses. Or his beard. Respect.

There’s not much more to write because, really, this is a celebration more than a review. When I went to buy some merch – a 7-inch split single – after the gig, I got a “Thanks for supporting the cause!” from singer Matt Ryan.

A riff-heavy pleasure, obviously. Got to get out there and support our bands: we all need each other. But these guys make it easy because the records and the gigs are so fucking good. Hope you’ve got a band or musician like this where you live – and if so, tell us.

WELCOME BACK, Desert Storm.

New Desert Storm album being recorded right now. Tour dates already announced for 2022. New line-up features bassist Mark Dennett who also plays with Battalions

Desert Storm red vinyl 7-inch split single Signals From Beyond
gig souvenir

KARMA TO BURN … NO MORE

R.I.P. WILL MECUM, KARMA TO BURN FOUNDER AND RIFFMEISTER

Plenty of musicians pass away and we can’t comment on them all, nor should we even try. But this one? Karma to Burn have featured a few times in this blog so yes, we’re doing it.

Will Mecum died of a head injury after a fall at the end of April. He was 48. Weirdly, four months later, that’s pretty much still all we know.

It feels like small media noise for a band who, if you got them in your life, seemed like a pretty big name. You felt they were known to everyone in the rock-metal-stoner scene, not least because of their pretty unique format and on-off links to John Garcia. But maybe they weren’t. Maybe they really were still cult.

They were definitely a conundrum. Sometimes you’d play their albums and revel in the greatest of no-bullshit rock sounds, that instrumental riff metal thing that took its cues from the AC/DC, Ramones or Motorhead school of Ain’t Broke No Fix and just rocks like a bastard. Sometimes that’s all you need: pure rock, no solos, no art, no words. The subversive power of guitar-bass-drums amplification.

At other times, you’d get a bit bored by the one-trick repetition and lack of adventure (never the debut though – always killer, that one).

Similar thing live, depending on which incarnation you caught. Last time I saw Karma to Burn was 2018 and it was a good gig but didn’t quite fly for a band you want to be totally smoked by. But Audioscope 2011 – man, that was something. Three badass road dogs and plentee amps upstairs in a pub made for a shit-kicking headliner set. Mecum was into it yet anonymous next to his more animated bandmates, the genial Rich Mullins on low-hung bass and the wildman-unkempt Rob Oswald on drums.

Watch a clip from that very gig. This is the Karma to Burn and Will Mecum that lives on.

Wild, Wonderful Purgatory rocking hard while writing this. It sounds better than ever. And now that K2B have joined the departed, it probably always will.

So long, guys. And eternal thanks for the live introduction to Desert Storm.

THE ARMED: TUNE (IS IT?) OF THE MONTH

AUGUST REWIND: Experimental punks, Norwegian fusion and a St Vincent Metallica stunner – let’s check some musical heat from a cool summer.

THE ARMED – Faith in Medication

WOW. Chin up now, off the floor… there’s so much overdrive on every bit of this OTT attack that you’ll melt yourself trying to make sense of it, so don’t bother. Just marvel and be withered by the sheer insanity of The Armed’s total hyper-ness. Progressive hardcore noise with hooks buried deep in overstimulation, it’s a mind-bending blast of brutal chaos. Be scared. And happy. And scared again. Faith in Medication right here.

SPECIAL INTEREST – Street Pulse Beat

These New Orleans avant punks have just released their 2016 demos as an album. But this track, from last year’s The Passion Of, leapt out when 6 Music superfan Mary Anne Hobbs aired it the other week. Vocalist Alli Logout introduced it, saying she’d written the song ‘while feeling very lost and in the clutches of co-dependency, and realising that no-one could save me but myself. It’s a love song to the lost.’ Her narrated intro gives way to industrial windscreen-wiper beats where a thick bass throws up a wall of tone more than notes, and deft synths soften the edges to pull you in. Sparse, intense, literate, impassioned: Street Pulse Beat awaits.

HEDVIG MOLLESTAD TRIO – All Flights Cancelled

With moto-riffic pulsations from the off, this track is definitely going somewhere. But where? All Flights Cancelled can only mean one thing: ROAD TRIP – and this is the soundtrack. But when the riff drops out and Mollestad’s solo guitar moves in, it becomes a trip with tone and class and a fiery yet tasteful virtuosity. A new-psyche jam with prog-jazz muscle.

ST VINCENT – Sad But True

What do you make of Metallica’s Blacklist? Curious and wary is the early verdict here, though this is without knowing exactly what it all sounds like. Wary of the number of Enter Sandmen for sure. Wary of all the Nothing Else Mattresses, too. Wary of way too many straight covers … 53 interpretations of 12 tracks is a lot and there’s bound to be some uninspiring duds. Probably from the world of metal.

But St Vincent’s version of Sad But True is bang on. In keeping with her shapeshifting wont, it’s not like the warm 70s analogue of her (excellent) Daddy’s Home album. No, this Sad But True struts a seductive industrial funk groove like a sexy Nine Inch Nails. And the guitar solo? Owned. More like this please. Looking forward to whatever Kamasi Washington does as well.

Don’t forget BANDCAMP FRIDAY

It’s this week, September 3rd – a great chance to support our musicians even more.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind
amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

PLANT AT KNEBWORTH 1990: REWIND THE RADIO TAPE

You know what it’s like. You see a reissue or a magazine profile or a landmark album anniversary or a musician’s death or something and you end up triggered into a back-catalogue sinkhole. It’s part of the music-fan game. We love it.

Unsurprisingly, a bit of this happened after picking up the Robert Plant Knebworth 1990 EP on Record Store Day last week.

I dug out my TDK D90 radio taping of the gig and played it before the EP.

Robert Plant Knebworth tape

Haven’t pressed clunk-click on that one in decades. Beyond the 4 EP tracks (Hurting Kind, Liar’s Dance, Tall Cool One and Wearing and Tearing), what else would be on there?

Not much, I reckoned. Another couple of tracks, maybe.

How wrong.

By the time Rock and Roll played out at the end, I’d noted eight tracks in the setlist. Immigrant Song works way better than you might have thought, while Hurting Kind and Tie Dye on the Highway are solid enough, kinda what you’d expect from Plant ’90. He was rocking his hardest album solo album to date, but vocally not quite home. That would be Fate of Nations and everything solo that followed it.

Jimmy Page joins for Misty Mountain Hop. Ha. Not quite all over the shop, but taut it ain’t. Wearing and Tearing though, that’s a different beast. Forceful and ragged, it snaps you to attention.

Here’s the track listing from the tape. Can you see what’s missing?

Hurting Kind (Got My Eyes On You)
Immigrant Song
Tie Dye on the Highway
Going to California
Tall Cool One
Misty Mountain Hop (with Jimmy Page)
Wearing and Tearing (with Jimmy Page)
Rock and Roll (with Jimmy Page)

Yep. NO LIAR’S DANCE.

So, now I know – finally – what it was that bugged me back at the time. It was having that song cut from the radio airing that I’d conscientiously and fanatically made the effort to tape (nerd is as nerd does). And when you’ve seen or heard the Knebworth version, you’ll know exactly why it bugged the shit out of ma much younger self. It’s a performance and a half, definitely the track of the set. Doug Boyle hits that acoustic so hard.

But now, with the new RSD EP, we’ve got the audio version so I guess that’s some sort of closure after 31 years. It turns out that my taping was a Radio 1 replay of the gig, not the live broadcast from the day itself – Tommy Vance said so, right after Rock and Roll. It also turns out that Plant also played Nirvana that day, so that’s another one to go and find.

And, if you haven’t seen it, here’s Liar’s Dance in all its windblown brilliance. Check that shirty billow. Boyle on fire and in command throughout. What a player.

While we’re here: RIP Phil Johnstone, co-writer and keyboard player through Now and Zen, Manic Nirvana and Fate of Nations. Crucial albums all, and his part in them was huge.

WHO MADE YOUR 2021 RECORD STORE DAY?

ROBERT PLANT LIVE AT KNEBWORTH 1990? YES PLEASE. AND A MOGWAI SOUNDTRACK? IT WOULD BE RUDE NOT TO….

Finally, after many years of hoping-but-failing, we have a Record Store Day release to buy without hesitation. This might sound strange for RSD fanatics but, for me, the day/event has always been a contrived effort (see Great RSD Swindle? post) despite the good intentions.

But thank Plant for a 2021 turnaround: a nice little twelve incher that collects 4 tracks from Robert Plant’s Knebworth 1990 set. Taped it from the radio at the time and still have the cassette, but when the whole thing got aired on the tellybox, didn’t some halfwit decide to cut Liar’s Dance? There’s something about that Knebworth broadcast that annoyed. Pretty sure it was having one of Plant’s best tracks chopped.

Or maybe that’s an invented memory. Dunno.

Anyway, back to Truck Store and this EP is what an RSD release should be: something previously unavailable, tarted up so it’s a bit spesh (yellow vinyl), not obscenely priced, and for a lifelong Robert Plant fan this does the job in spades, buckets and shovels. Thank you, RSD peoples.

Robert Plant live at Knebworth 1990
Robert Plant at Knebworth: keen as mustard

RSD 2021 part 1 didn’t quite end there. Mogwai’s ZeroZeroZero soundtrack stuck its tongue out and taunted a budget stretch. Shit. Went home to ponder and check some audio online first, which sounds ridiculous because it’s Mogwai, and Mogwai fucking rule, right? Yes. Especially this year.

Then again, it is a soundtrack. But a few seconds’ worth of random ZeroZeroZero samples said yeah, get it or forever be fool. Of regret.

Mogwai ZeroZeroZero white vinyl
Mogwai ZeroZeroZero: who can resist?

So, a much better Record Store Day at this end. How was yours?

Robert Plant Knebworth tape
Just waiting for Cassette Store Day

OWLMASK: TRACK OF THE MONTH

APRIL REWIND: A CHASE THEME FROM OWLMASK

Been a long time, hello again. Are we well?

This blog is getting a bit of a rethink so these new-sounds Rewinds might not feature much more – changing perspectives and all that. Not sure. But until then, here’s a trio of underexposed catches.

OWLMASK: Gesh Uru

You’re on the run. This is the music that’s over your shoulder.

Like a systematic raygun attack wrapped up in rigid retro electronics, Gesh Uru emits paranoia. Anonymously mechanical – think Portishead’s Machine Gun but strip out all vocal and bottom-end – and awash with electro vibrations and pulses, it expands while you listen. Gets bigger. Creeps up. Or is that the paranoia??? Check it right here. And Boo Cook, aka Owlmask, is half of Forktail too so give them a go for an occult folklore fix.

BORED LORD: The Weapon of Sound

Ah yes … righteous digital artillery from the church of rage – kneel before Bored Lord and submit to a RATM vocal sample pushed through a megawatt drum ‘n bass beat. Perfect for metal heads (sorry…).

LILITH: Deliciously

If things are going a little too well in your world (said no-one, 2020-21), Lilith will put the stoppers on it. Slug-tempo despair and spectral goth, right outta … Arizona. Yep. The desert. Admittedly, funereal punishment ain’t really working for me in these COVID-heavy times, but this airless hole struck a chord – maybe even two – and a track’s worth of oppressive crush is just about do-able.

(while you’re scrubbing about Lilith’s pit, check Oxford’s Undersmile for similarly brutal slo-mo kicks. Just make sure you let a crack of light back in your life afterwards, eh?)

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind
amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

WU-LU: TRACK OF THE MONTH

JANUARY REWIND: WU-LU STOPS YOU DEAD

What day is it? What month? Oh yeah, Lockdown 2021. Time as we once knew it has been rubbed out.

Anyway, VERY short Rewind to kick off the new year coz full lockdown has drained all time and energy and this post really should have 1) been posted in January, and 2) included more stuff. BUT …. what a tune, if you’ve not heard it yet.

Bandcamp Friday is today, don’t forget. Support somebody if you can.

WU-LU: South

There are great tracks. And there are great tracks that stop you dead. South is very definitely the second type. Producer-instrumentalist Wu-Lu’s restless beats are hyper-charged and on the move, loaded with pent-up energy … you just know something’s gotta give. And it does. It explodes in a harsh primal scream you can bodyslam to. Terrace Martin’s Pig Feet was the track of the year in 2020 no question, and South’s street action is already in the running for 2021. FEEL IT. South is this way.

HOLY FAWN: Candy

This is a year old but popped up last week and struck a chord or six so here goes. Cold Mogwai post-isms with dream-state vocals floating/drowning all around, you’d put money on a black metal scream and pace change to rupture the serenity. But Candy doesn’t do that. It just teases it in the background, instead pushing a martial rhythm to up the power. Get their Black Moon EP right here.

What else happened in January? Bowie five years gone, of course, but we don’t have time to reflect on it here. Hopefully a Bowie post soon. And Melvins and Tomahawk announced new albums – Working with God (Melvins, Feb) and Tonic Immobility (Tomahawk, March).

2021 already getting better.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind
amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

2020 MUSIC: 4 MORE ALBUMS

Did you check these three beast albums of 2020 in a previous post? Feeling stuffed? Nah, course not. IT’S CHRISTMASSSSS…. so here’s some extra musical scoff from 2020. Non-metal this time, but still rocking hard like Rudolph on ‘roids.

JEHNNY BETH: To Love Is To Live

Savages’ Jehnny Beth out-savaged her band with I’m the Man‘s distortion fest, the first single from her solo album. No wonder Atticus Ross pops up throughout. No wonder she was down to support Nine Inch Nails this year. But, as with NIN, there’s a ton more variety and nuance here, from the icy sky-scraping opener I Am to the heart-acher piano and hushed breeze of The Rooms. But it’s Heroine that steals it, the kind of skitty jazz flutter that could have blown out from Bowie’s Blackstar band. A soulful, magnetic trip.

WIRE: Mind Hive

This could be a companion to Jehnny Beth’s album. Articulate, artful and fully capable of menace but opting for classy restraint, it’s well clear of one-dimensional ruts. But this is Wire, so this is obvious. Biggest surprise? The addictive Cactused, whose backing vocals make Wire-y pop perfection.

GIL SCOTT HERON & MAKAYA McCRAVEN: We’re New Again

Gil Scott Heron’s I’m New Here is so good that its 10th anniversary spawned two new collections. One is an expanded version of the original with an extra disc of tracks. The other is this, We’re New Again: a re-imagining by jazz drummer Makaya McCraven. And if that’s not the perfect frame to look again at Gil’s poetic street wisdom, I don’t know what is. The original’s cool electronics get switched for organic beats and tough swing, especially on New York Is Killing Me and Me And The Devil. I’m no jazz buff and hadn’t heard McCraven until this. But it’s a very smart reworking of an already great album.

JULIAN COPE: Self Civil War

Yeah, this was a welcome start to the year. Back when lockdown hadn’t been invented, the Arch Drude dropped Self Civil War and, cliche alert, it was a return to form. Cope is always essential, but not all of his recent projects sustained longer interest beyond the first fawning, as noted here. But this one does. Bookended by a couple of stretched out guitar sprawl epics like wot he used to do, Self Civil War earns repeat listens. Puts a smile on, too – see You Will Be Mist and Berlin Facelift. Much needed this year.

So that’s that for another year, a few highly nutritious non-pork scratchings from 2020. And I couldn’t even write words for Clipping’s album Visions of Bodies Being Burned, because I don’t know how to.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS! And check these other 2020 records and music highlights if you haven’t already.