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
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.
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.
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.
I dug out my TDK D90 radio taping of the gig and played it before the EP.
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.
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 shite out of ma much younger self. It’s a performance and a half, definitely the track of the set. Doug Boyle hits that acoustic 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 played Nirvana that day too, 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.
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.
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.
So, a much better Record Store Day at this end. How was yours?
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…).
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?)
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.
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).
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.
Everyone knows it’s been a weird year. But who stepped up, musically, to make lockdown bearable and even enjoyable?
Here’s a shout out to those music-world bods who gifted us and made 2020 a hell of a lot more sane.
Of course Metallica. They released S&M 2. They did a drive-in show. They recorded stripped versions of Blackened and Would? from their homes and streamed an unplugged set. But best of all, they launched Metallica Mondays, right at the start of lockdown when we most needed some anchor points to stabilise our confused heads. What a move: put a whole gig online from any year at the same time every Monday. A weekly date. And they did this for the whole of lockdown #1, which meant about 26 consecutive weeks.
Best bits? The rambling, and always touching, Lars introduction brought a smile every time. The way Fuel kicked open the Munich 2015 gig. The House of Vans set from 2016.
But the 2019 Manchester set is the ultimate repeat view. Pissing-down rain made for many dramatic rock band visuals – the water spattered Master of Puppets drums being one, a drenched Trujillo doing Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth) straight after Rob and Kirk’s I Wanna Be Adored doodle being another (find it at 1 hour 6 minutes).
ROBERT FRIPP AND TOYAH WILCOX SUNDAY LOCKDOWN LUNCH
Did not see this coming. The diary entries that Robert Fripp put up during the height of lockdown offered an insight into his dedicated, reflective self. But these Sunday lunch performances with wife Toyah? Insight of a wholly different sort, the warmest of weekly invitations. Toyah always vibrant. And Fripp? Take your pick. Doing odd duets, cranking out Sweet Child O Mine, doing Nirvana… yes, it really happened and much more too. Got to love Fripp’s laugh at the end.
Bandcamp already Do the Right Thing by musicians. And when the pandemic threatened musicians’ survival, Bandcamp stepped in with an initiative to support them: Bandcamp Friday. For any music bought on the first Friday of the month, Bandcamp waived their fees so that artists got more of the revenue. Perfect thinking. I found myself trying to buy something (and mostly succeeding) on each of those Fridays.
PRE-ORDERING NEW MUSIC
OK, not a legend in itself because it’s a verb, but it’s a behavioural change that struck me this year and, like Bandcamp Fridays, became another Right Thing to Do.
It’s Old Man Gloom’s doing. By pre-ordering their new album(s), they said, the record label (Profound Lore) would get some money in. Pre-order and you help keep things afloat. Deal. Same with picking up a pre-order down the local record shop … get some cash their way, help them survive 2020’s financial shitstorm. If you were going to buy the album anyway, be prompt if poss.
And you know what? It’s been fun doing this. It’s revived the excitement from adolescence when you just had to buy an album the day or week it came out. It’s easy to lose that experience as an adult. Reserving some purchases for physical release day brought a bit of it back. Nice.
DANNY CAREY’S PNEUMA DRUM CAM VIDEO
If you need meditation, this is it. This video makes you feel good to be alive. HOW DOES HE DO IT??? And how can watching someone master their craft somehow make it even more mysterious than when you hadn’t seen it? The ‘reaction’ videos get addictive, especially when it’s teachers doing the reacting. This is a great reaction video, mostly for the guy’s valid reason for not getting into Tool, and then his crestfallen expression at the end. You feel for the guy and love the fact that another Tool conversion is made. This drum teacher reacts clip is another goodie. OK, must stop. Wormhole beckons. But the star of all this is Danny Carey.
BBC RADIO 6 MUSIC
Or, whatever your chosen radio station is. Because our broadcasters have been unsung heroes in this shit year as well. Programming was changed just enough to reflect the bigger communal spirit. New features brought in listeners and recognised key workers.
As a listener, at home every day, I felt like we really were in this together. And the broadcasters did a stellar job of getting the balance right without being gauche, superficial or patronising. They entertained and informed and kept spirits up. MASSIVE THANKS TO 6 MUSIC (and not just because we’re friends with this guy).
Festive greets to anyone who found this post! If you want exhaustive 2020 music tips, go to a proper source. If scant and quick is more your bag, here are three beasts that go down heavier than a frozen turkey on Christmas Day.
Ready? Let’s get stuffed. More to follow in later posts.
MR BUNGLE: The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo
You know what it’s like when you haven’t played Slayer for a while and then, when you do, you’re left grinning and pulverised by their OTT? Giddy disbelief at the relentless ferocity in a song format. And it feels so good because it’s like coming home.
This is what Mr Bungle 2020 captures too. Despite, or maybe because of, the pant-shittingly brisk pace whipped up by three core Mr Bungle mentalists and two Big Four godheads, it’s probably the feelgood album of the year. It’s frantic, vital and comes with a shitload of commitment and prep. Scott Ian said that to nail the complexity of the riffs, he broke them down into 1-2 minute parts and spent days at a time on a single fragment. Said he changes what he’s doing 93 times during Sudden Death. Said that only when he got up to 214bpm in warm-ups was he ready for the shows. Said he got arthritis from practising so hard. Coming from one of the longest serving riff meisters in thrash, this says a lot about the work that went in and you can really hear it. Theory nerd and scales master Trey Spruance had to learn how to play metal again so he could get through a track, then a gig, of intense metallic shreds.
Weirdest of all, they did all this to service a bunch of tunes by their 1986 teenage selves. Could it join the all-time thrash greats given that it’s both 30 years late AND of the time? Who knows. But the one thing you can’t escape is the love and affection oozing out of these speed metal grooves – love for the genre, for the source demo and for each other. This is not a band going through the motions.
And the more you learn about the backstory, the more magical the whole thing becomes. One day it might even become mythical: like, did it actually happen? It’s a proper sideways take on a reunion. But Bungle had the tools, brains and work ethic to do it. Treat of the year.
OLD MAN GLOOM: Seminar VIII Light of Meaning and Seminar IX Darkness of Being
The late Caleb Scofield was honoured post-humously on Cave In’s last album, Final Transmission. Now his distinctive bass force and song-crafting talent is honoured again on this double release by Old Man Gloom. Fucking hell. Every Gloom album is an event, such is their absurd mix of metalcore, drone, static, sci fi terror and primate myth-making, but these two albums hit a combined gear that shifts them nearer to their peak Seminar II-Seminar III-Christmas run. Has the loss of Scofield given the music a heavier purpose? Very likely.
Across the two discs we get the full range of OMG moods and modes, amplified by Nate Newton, Caleb Scofield and Aaron Turner all sharing vocal duties. Also getting a mic spot and shaping the music is Stephen Brodsky – not a previous Gloom member but absolutely blood family. And the Cave In touch is obvious on tracks like Final Defeat and especially Death Rhymes, an acoustic sledgehammer to the gut and a peak moment from both sets. At the other end of the OMG spectrum, By Love All Is Healed‘s lyrical sensitivity is obliterated by Turner’s sub-human roar. And so it goes on. 11-minute sprawls, one-chord hammerings, deep space terror, super short concrete blasts, aching heavy beauty – all the Old Man Gloom elements you know and love, spread across two full-lengthers. Headphone bliss.
HUNTSMEN: Mandala of Fear
Never heard of this band until Stuart Maconie played the track Ride Out on his Freakzone show. Here are my words about the track from that month’s Rewind:
‘YES. Not the opposite of no, but Yes the band – because if that early vocal doesn’t remind you of Jon Anderson, you’ve never heard Jon Anderson. And if you have heard him, you’ve never heard him over a super dense prog thrash attack that’s Rush-taut (how tightly packed is that rhythm guitar?) but way heavier. Shit me, it feels good. Of course, Huntsmen’s Anderson is part-time and gets blown into next decade by a metalcore breakout, making this one of the most exhilarating tunes of the month.’
It’s all still true. And the rest of this double-disc album? A monstrous metallic rock effort. Doom and prog tinged but not remotely downer or indulgent. Aggressive vocals and clean harmonies. Flashes of brutality balanced by space-psyche soar. Everything in its right place. If Pelican had more range AND male-female vocals, this might be where they’d end up. A proper hidden gem.
So that’s that, three masterful metalworks from 2020. Check the next couple of posts for other 2020 music highlights.