ONE DAY AS A LION: One Day As A Lion

DISTORTED AGITATION FROM RAGE/QUEENS TWO

Given that the world has been spiralling to shit, you might have found yourself reaching for angrier music more often. I have. Music that’s got the gravitas, the provocation and the intellect to somehow document and deal with the insane wrong-ness of dumbfuck cops killing black people, and dumber-fuck ‘cenotaph protectors’ destroying Black Lives Matter protests in the false name of monument-al preservation. Dipshits and hackle raisers. No wonder Terrace Martin’s Pig Feet, wrapped and dropped within days of George Floyd’s killing, hits so hard. Pig Feet does not flinch.

Neither does Zack de la Rocha. His full-tilt delivery always captures these moments and even now, aged 50, he’s got the fury – check the explosive verse in Run The Jewels’ JU$T for evidence of that. His voice is the sound of a fight. But with Rage Against the Machine, it battles with another wild voice – Tom Morello’s guitar – and winds up less prominent in the rock orthodoxy of the RATM set up.

Maybe this is why he’s been such a serial collaborator since RATM last put a record out. Those guest slots put his voice up front, give it room, give it oxygen. They make his words flammable.

This is also true of the short-lived 2008 project with Jon Theodore, One Day As A Lion. As a primal drum-bass effort where the voice gets a 5-track vent, it’s way less Rock than Rage – got a raw urgency and a just-produced-enough attitude that’s clammy with rehearsal-room heat. Nothing arena-sized, no anthemic hooks, no guitar, just a very live-sounding gig stripped back to stiff rhythms and hard words. And with Theodore, ex Mars Volta and now Queens of the Stone Age, behind the kit, you know the drums are solid. His beats aren’t minimal, but neither are they fussy. They are, somehow, hip-hop friendly.

One Day As A Lion EP

Life beyond Rage

Wild International‘s petro-fumed groove is the mid-tempo starter that smoulders rather than explodes, like it’s on cruise control looking for a target. Downtuned bass riffs swell for the chorus, thick and sticky not liquid slick, and this track sets the vibe for the whole EP. The tempo (agitation?) picks up for Ocean View, Last Letter and One Day As A Lion, while If You Fear Dying locks onto the same spacious groove as Wild International. Other than that, you know roughly what you’ll get, track to track – unlike, say, Saul Williams’s self-titled conflict-zone masterpiece of hip hop, poetry, electronic, industrial and spoken word from 2004 (where Zack winds the tension on Act III Scene 2 [Shakespeare]).

One Day As A Lion don’t do genre hops and mood shifts. Their force is rough-edged, avant-ish primal rock with urban backbone and no, it wouldn’t hold your attention musically for a full album. But as an EP, as a righteous blast, it works ‘coz you get 20 uninterrupted minutes of de la Rocha flow, and this is the key point. As we know, he’s got that gift for making you BELIEVE – absolute conviction and persuasion every time, and right now we need that voice even if we didn’t know it. JU$T is the 2020 reminder. One Day As A Lion might be more curio than must-have, but as a non-Rage de la Rocha fix, it’s pure. The message remains the same

but it’s 2020.

FFS.

Time is coming
rising like the dawn of a red sun
If you fear dying
then you’re already dead
(If You Fear Dying, One Day As A Lion)

ACRIMONY: Tumuli Shroomaroom

OPULENT CULT STONER FROM SOUTH WALES

ACRIMONY. You can imagine the word being written in some barbed, indecipherable death/black metal logo, an intimidating front for some nihilistic attack. But they’re nowt like that. With Tumuli Shroomaroom, Acrimony turned out a great lost heavy stoner album of the 90s, and even if it’s not lost then it’s surely not much found either. Forgotten? Maybe. And where did they go after this mushroom-baiting opus from 1997? The answer’s probably out there in a galaxy far, far away – Google – but let’s ignore the pull for info and feel some heavy groove instead.

Acrimony - Tumuli Shroomaroom

Acrimony: not death metal

Given that Acrimony hail from Wales, you’d be right not to expect sunburn and skateboards, but it’s not topped with cloud piss and pessimism either. Tumuli Shroomaroom sits with and distinct from sonic titans like Electric Wizard and Cathedral by bringing an earthy homegrown bent – something of the land, the Isles – to their stone-ur.

How so? Maybe it’s the Celt-ish licks and progressions that fleck the record. Maybe it’s the nature-world essence of words like stone, path, firedance and motherslug (eh?) that pepper the track titles. Maybe they just had too many trips to the Brecon Beacons as kids, I dunno.

But I do know this: there are five humongous reasons to nail Tumuli Shroomaroom to your Stoner Recommendeds board, and they are the first five tracks on the album. Let’s do this.

#1: HYMNS TO THE STONE opens the gates with a slow-moving pull into Acrimony’s mega-riff temple and whatever variations emerge through the album, they all come from this colossal bastard root. It’s a slow ‘n low cruiser loaded with anticipation and inner swagger, one of those fuck-yeah grinners with semi-lead over the rhythm – very Corrosion of Conformity but lusher, thicker, fatter. Buried vocals push the guitar up front, making it feel like an instrumental. This is what you call an opener. It’s 9 minutes. THIS IS ACRIMONY.

#2: MILLION YEAR SUMMER pushes that first dose of the homeland – the mountains, the valleys, the rugged – with a Celtic flourish nicked from Thin Lizzy’s Emerald notebook, so of course it’s bloody anthemic and a-rousing as only Celt metal can be.

#3: TURN THE PAGE. Whassis, a short acoustic interlude already? Yep. With a Tea Party-like Zep-ness it makes you wonder whether, given the name, it’s a tribute to Jimmy and his Bron Y non-electrics, but even if not, it’s got that four-seasons vibe and is as dry, bucolic, wet or barren as you want.

#4 VY. A doom-sinister wah kick-off says you’ve woken up in Electric Wizard’s airless fug of a basement bog, but where the Wizard might stick with that doomed tempo and repeat repeat repeat, Acrimony break out and wind it up for a bit, a contrast that makes the return-to-crawl all the more potent. And the solos? Squashed against the wall, sir.

#5 FIND THE PATH. If ever there was meant to be a single from this album, Find the Path with its all-conquering Pepper-era Corrosion riff is mos’ definitely it. Lyrics morph from “We pay the price for thinking” to “Give me some valium” by the track’s end and Acrimony’s path-finding riff heroics are rocking as fuck.

So, there are your five prime cuts but we’re only a third of the way through. What’s left?

Glad you asked. The only thing stopping Tumuli Shroomaroom being 100% proof are a couple of average mid-way moments, like THE BUD SONG’s underwhelming Cathedral yeahs and MOTHERSLUG (THE MOTHER OF ALL SLUGS)’s overlong quest for Epicus Metallicus status. Live, this 11-minute slugathon could well have been an infinite pulveriser, but here it sucks the energy a bit, especially after The Bud Song’s semi dip.

So thank feck for the cod ancient-ness of HEAVY FEATHER – “I was born one million years ago” – whose swinging intro and tingling riffs hurl us right back to Acrimony’s best, and album closer FIREDANCE which flaps around in flare-wearing Cathedral-isms (good ones) before cranking a heavier urgency for the rest of its 13 minutes. Would you sell my soul? WOULD YOU SELL MY SOUL?” Er … yes. Sorry. But yes, absolutely. This euphoric spacer finale is too good not to.

Acrimony’s second album is a fully-realised 65-minute mass of surging riffs and flowing easy-rider grooves. Why they stopped at this record, I don’t know, but maybe they couldn’t have taken it much further anyway. If you look at Sleep’s Holy Mountain, it’s less consistent than Tumuli Shroomaroom and more blatantly influenced (by Sabbath), yet you pick traces of greatness – or project greatness onto it – because of the bloody-minded genre-shifting yawp that came next: Jerusalem/Dopesmoker. But if Sleep had bailed early, would Holy Mountain be revered as genius-in-waiting? Not so much. It’d be low profile and cult – like Shroomaroom is now. Go dig.

THOUGHT INDUSTRY: mOds carve the pig

ABSURDIST PRE-MATHCORE FROM SURREALIST BRAINIACS

For some reason, the late 80s felt like a time when bands of riotous technicolour ruled the rock soundscapes, or were at least allowed to explode and shower the place briefly. Some of them were no-bounce fad balls, some were screwball goof-clowns, and some were genre-colliding pioneer heads. Some were just ‘mad, I am’ knobheads.

But whatever they were, dull wasn’t it. You can’t put po-faced monochrome on albums like Introduce Yourself, Freaky Styley, Time’s Up and Nothing’s Shocking, and the bands who took the best of that crossover wave and rode it into the early 90s – some of them dubbed funk metal, some not – ended up as victims of timing. Colourful came to be the enemy. After all, Poison were colourful. Flamboyance was out, so was irreverence. It’s no coincidence that Anthrax, before Persistence of Time, were seen as the least credible of the big four. Why? Bermuda shorts, cartoons and I’m the Man raps. Grunge – and Metallica’s Black Album – killed that frippery right off.

By the time Thought Industry‘s second album, Mods Carve the Pig, appeared in 1993, the US North West had gone so viral that Kurt Cobain was staring the brink of his own end-time. Through no fault of its own, Seattle stole our eyes off some quality balls, and this album was one of them.

Grunge it ain’t. What happens when you press play?

Mods Carve the Pig by Thought Industry

Thought Industry: not regular

First, a warning: BE READY. Don’t expect to have a minute to kick back or scratch arse while the album warms up because there is no warm-up. There is no room to be a casual motherfucker. Track #1 HORSEPOWERED fires off a hyper assault from the very first scream, a full-on synapse scraper – but give it a minute and they’ll chop out a jazz prog intercept.

Not for long though. They’ll revert to frenzy then forge a full metal bridge. After that, what? A Primus funk blowout?

Yep. What is this shit? Mathcore?

Probably not – it’s too wayward, and anyway mathcore wasn’t even A Thing back then (was it?), but Thought Industry are/were hard core musos for sure. They play a lot, they play a lot fast, they switch at warp speed, they fry, and that’s just the opening track but there’s no chest-beater machismo or brow-scrunching hardman angst here – the aggression is musical: scalpel precise, yet free-wheeling. Mr Bungle’s attention-deficit splatter would be an influence if Bungle had been older, but looking at the dates, they were contemporaries. Bungle’s big number 2, Disco Volante, was still two years unborn at this point.

But we mention Mr Bungle because Mods Carve the Pig is also hyperactive and overstimulated, and this is why the saturated-colour hybrid funked-thrash and crossover metal of the late 80s feels like a factor in their sound. Death Angel mixed it up on the brilliant Act III. The Beyond got busy and tinny on Crawl. Primus and Fishbone’s goof-off masked big-time muso talents. Steve Vai crammed a career’s worth of ideas into Passion & Warfare, a masterpiece of colour and theatrics.

Thought Industry orbits this kinda mutoid prog space, hardcore style.

NO SKIN

Anyway, back to Mods. After HORSEPOWERED’s blistering flay and DATERAPE COOKBOOK’s low-life beat-writer lens, we get GELATIN’s wicked, fast-sliding intro riff and outlaw-tough bass under a grinding little groove that’s upended by a what-the-feck waltz of a lull (for a minute) and a volte-face to a lacerating chorus (NO … SKIN). Then repeat. Sort of. Chaotic to the end.

And this is how it goes throughout the album. WHITFIELD is hardcore funk but no jollies. BOIL cools the temperature with a fearsome rhythm that revels in quiet creep till shattered by a blast beat. As for MICHIGAN JESUS …. how do you fancy Minor Threat loaded with thrashers’ proficiency and a la-la-la chorus? Demented, speed-punk catchy and the hookiest track of the album for sure.

Then, maybe, the peak: SMIRK THE GODBLENDER rams clipped thrash riffs into clean-pick arpeggios, a Helmet semi groove and a ton of other touches that demand ears not words, and that’s typical of this untypical record: it IS groove metal, of sorts, though it’s not always obvious. The fluidity is astonishing.

And even if the gentlest offering, the acoustic PATIENTLY WAITING FOR SUMMER, doesn’t always convince – it’s like the vocal melody can’t find a way in to the music – so what? It still bores awkwardly into your head. Cool instrumental exit, too.

HALCYON PRICK ABSINTHE LOADED

While you’re trying to catch up to the music, open out the artwork and decipher the lyrics you missed – just don’t expect it to make sense. Not literally. Halcyon prick absinthe loaded are the first four words. Thought Industry’s aesthetic is its own World, like those Dead Kennedy inner sleeves, except TI’s storytelling is much more oblique, surreal, gonzo, beat, squalid, conceptual. And with Salvador Dali’s ‘Apotheosis of Homere’ on the cover, the artwork’s an art work. Check the typography cap-O quirk too.

But the last track has none of those literary elements. TO BUILD A BETTER BULLDOZER drops the vocals and winds up the pace with a fiendish rhythm-riff intro and some Discipline-ery King Crimson guitar interplay. Shit, man. Stripped of word and voice, a fearsome prog band is revealed.

FRIED

Would you listen to this album every day?

Perhaps not, unless frazzle fry is a state you’re striving for. Then again, in the years since this album came out, mathcore became real and System of a Down reached millions, so maybe Mods Carve the Pig’s hyperactivity doesn’t sound like that much of a big deal to new ears. I don’t have that perspective. I got it when it came out and it sounded so unlike anything else that it shocked, but it compelled too and it stands up now because it’s aggressive, colourful, hyperactive, musical and unbound by genre codes. Free and visionary. An obscene talent.

So if Mr Bungle, Dillinger Escape Plan, Faith No More, Primus, Galactic Cowboys, Infectious Grooves, System of a Down, Voivod, Devin Townsend and any of their restless genre-crossing ilk are twitching among your grooves, yet Thought Industry passed you by, check this album. Every track explodes.

And if you’re hooked, here’s a tip: album #3, Outer Space is a Martini Away, is at least as good.

But that’s for another day.

mOds carve the pig: assassins, tOads and gOd’s flesh

Dustin Donaldson – drums and percussion
Brent Oberlin – vocals and bass
Christopher Lee – guitars left
Paul Enzio – guitars right

Released 1993 on Metal Blade

Thought Industry - the band

Thought leaders

PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS: Feed the Rats

PIGSX7 OXFORD GIG APRIL 10, 2019. HERE’S WARM-UP REVIEW #2

  1. Psychopomp 15.06
  2. Sweet Relief 4.39
  3. Icon 17.00

Look at those numbers. Look at the bloody LENGTH of it. Exciting, eh? Especially when you’ve already capitulated to Pigsx7’s debut release The Wizard and the Seven Swines, which is itself a 22-minute purge of damaged psyche and slamming riffs.

Debut full album Feed the Rats looks like it does a similar thing, even before you play it. This is a Good Sign because Wizard’s stretched-out scorch was a win win win win win win win. Can Rats match it?

Pigsx7 Feed the Rats CD cover

Feed the Rats: ugly thrills

With Psychopomp, you don’t have time to think about that – straight in with a no messing, bam-bam-bam riff and Baty in immediate full vocal hurl. It’s an abrupt, Pigsx7-style wake-up that picks up exactly where The Wizard and The Seven Swines disintegrated.

Thing is, your head tells you it’ll calm into a purer Sabbath-influenced groove

no chance. Psychopomp shakes that kind of lame-o conditioning right out, and Pigsx7 aren’t Sabbath knock-offs anyway, are they? Too rough, too jam-based, too psyche/d. You sense that, like it is for many of us, Year Zero for direct heavy influences is somewhere in the 90s at the noisier, more ragged end of the desert/psyche/drone scenes.

Psychopomp rams all that stuff together in a quart-hour charge: early Desert Sessions twists (flickers of Fatso Jetson?), Heads-like space-rock afterburn, Kong-sized mega riffs (six minutes in, ‘kin HELL) and brief Boris-worshipping ponderosa are all there, shoved in a bag and dragged without care up a northern peak. Bruising. By the time you reach pomp’s end you’ve had four minutes of squalling heavy charge and galactic wah. Fucking magic.

Did that meet expectations?

‘course it did. We know what we’re getting by now. Sweet Relief does what it says, but it’s relief in length only. Rammed with tarmac-splitting bounce, it shoves you through to a storm-force battering from all sides.

The beyond-massive Icon starts with a riff classick, Baty gets buried by guitar leads, the rhythm’s uber-tight and we’re caked in Pigs glory all over again – an over-amplified shitstorm you don’t wanna leave. The last five minutes is pained repeat and jarring battery:

HOLD ME ….

ICON ….. FESS”

Meaning? Dunno. But the lyrical fragments that come through match the music’s exhale, and even without knowing the words, Baty’s delivery gushes existential.

In a 2018 round-up, buzzed by the enormity of King of Cowards, I wrote that Feed the Rats perhaps didn’t quite match The Wizard and the Seven Swines. Wrong. The Wizard crash landed from nowhere and had surprise on its side. Feed the Rats had summat to live up to and it went for the Full Ugly: gut-busting endurance with a soul-cleansing pay-off.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. Worth repeating: it’s physical.

.

  • File next to Gnod, Sleep, The Heads, Part Chimp, Drore, Rollins Band, early daze Monster Magnet
  • Feed the Rats: released 2017 on Rocket Recordings, get it on Bandcamp
  • No time for a King of Cowards review before the gig, so we’ll see you on the other side. Unless Shockmaster bulldozers us first (pleeease)

PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS: The Wizard and the Seven Swines

PIGSX7 PLAY OXFORD THIS WEEK. HERE’S THE FIRST OF A COUPLE OF REVIEWS TO GET US WARMED UP

Nothing says WE’VE ARRIVED quite like sticking a 20-foot monolith outside your house on the day you move in, and this track is very much on those making-a-statement lines – an immovable, rough-edged pasting of fried motorik, asteroidal burnout and howling catharsis. Punk Sabbath for the post-Sleep generation? Welcome to the first shot from Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs.

But if you got here by GNT or some other radio darling from album #2 King of Cowards, strap in and gear up for something far less concise.

This little brutey clocks in at 22 minutes. All one track of it.

the-wizard-and-the-seven-swines

Prog? No. Primal? Shit yeah. The opening riff is coiled, up on the balls of its feet and ready to shift, like rock-ist Oneida launching one of their head-fucking long-forms but, as you’d expect, much rougher in its horizon-bound momentum.

Then comes Baty. Matt Baty. The Voice. Less a vocal than a hurl into the Spent Zone, he forces total lung capacity into every word and is vein-bulger hoarse before he even gets going, yet it’s not a macho metal hard-fest scream or anything contrived like that. His is an all-too-human bellow and is a massive part of what makes this band the way it is. No-one else sounds like them.

So, after the opening repetitions and moto rhythmics, what happens in 22 minutes of TWATSS?

(after two years with this track, I literally only just noticed that acronym when I typed it here. An accident? Maybe. But then again, these guys also have/had a band called Khunnt, so who knows?)

5 minutes: RIFF DROP. Floor-opening bottom end, a hulking motherfucker bulked by four-string filth, lifted by post-rock arcs and then fully grooved by insistent badass bass.

By now, Pigsx7 are beginning to sound apocalyptic. We’re in a transition to somewhere – or steeling ourselves for something.

8 minutes: ANOTHER RIFF DROP. Heavy as – ah shit, it’s gone again. Is this the bridge? As if. But change is a coming, you can smell it.

10 minutes: PSYCH’S OUT. Spacier, less dense, almost krautrocking were it not for Baty’s clipped yelps and barks.

12 minutes: SLEEP. The slowdown. The beating. A one-chord pounding, straight outta Dopesmoker and (we now know) the sound of Pigs to come.

18 minutes: FALSE ENDER. One last gasp in this endless end and we’re almost back to that Oneida trance thing, but by now everything looks and feels different.

We’ve been through the mill. And so have Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. It’s like they came of age during the track, starting out lithe but ending it burned, hardened, scarred, thicker set, complete. They’ve been somewhere and taken us with ’em, but no-one quite knows where. It’s all about the journey, man – and the sheer bloody force of it all: a turbulent, never-ending blast. Whatever it is that’s driving Pigsx7, it’s made a merry hell of a first release.

How can they follow it?

The Wizard and the Seven Swines: released in 2013, get it on Bandcamp

Cover image taken from my download from Pigsx7 bandcamp site

OM: Conference of the Birds

MATT PIKE GOT HIGH ON FIRE. SLEEP’S OTHER TWO WENT OM

When Sleep shed the literal Sabbath-isms of Holy Mountain and truly came into Being on Dopesmoker (nee Jerusalem), they revealed more than a so-deep-it’s-molten devotion to the transcendental power of repetition – they revealed a canny knack for bending time itself. On paper, not much happens in Sleep’s then-final one-track statement: minor variations on a riff, stacks of same-chord bludgeon, scattered solos, spread over an hour and a bit and all at a seemingly sloth-like tempo. Yet somehow, that hour never ever drags. I don’t know why. Sloth is a misnomer because that shit’s a real eye opener, pointing out some sort of Way whether you want it or not, warping your perception as it does so. Things ain’t as slow as you think you think.

On paper, not much happens in Sleep’s then-final one-track statement: minor variations on a riff, stacks of same-chord bludgeon, scattered solos, spread over an hour and a bit and all at a seemingly sloth-like tempo. Yet somehow, that hour never ever drags. I don’t know why. Sloth is a misnomer because that shit’s a real eye opener, pointing out some sort of Way whether you want it or not, warping your perception as it does so. Things ain’t as slow as you think you think.

Sleep’s rhythm keepers, bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius, create exactly the same time-distortion thing with Om. When the trio dissolved, Sleep’s evolutionary end point was Om’s beginning, a beginning which freed them to go for the cosmic jugular with long, meditative excursions laced with heavy reps. Dopesmoker is Om’s template, but with one massive difference:

No Guitars.

Yep, the band that made one of THE most definitive, uncompromising Heavy Rock statements of all time birthed a duo who don’t even put guitars on their records. Question is, does it matter? Nope. This band’s on a trajectory all of its own and that means it demands to be judged on different terms. There’s still a ton of weight in Om’s records, but the difference is more in the way we listen – the lack of axe, the arch metal instrument, compels us to drop any preconceptions about what Om/ex-Sleep should sound like… stoner/drone/doom-lite, none of it makes sense. Om aren’t metal and they’re barely even rock, certainly not on the surface, but with Hakius’s tumbling rhythms and Cisneros’s propulsive distorto bass thickness, they definitely flow. Om’s musical currency is m-Omentum, pure and simple.

OM album cover Conference of the Birds

Atop that glutinous drum ‘n bass brew, the cleaned-up vocals give Om their third definingelement. Now even more of a monotone than it was on Dopesmoker, Al’s voice just sort of hangs there, a soft human drone levelling out any musical peaks and dips underneath. Crucially, this emotional void – in delivery, not literal content – is precisely what makes Om Om. That detachment accentuates the music’s repetition, brings a mantra-like calm to the tracks and threads a Constant through every track, and whether it’s achieved through design, vocal limitation or both, his style works as an effect and breathes a mesmeric calm to the records.

With such an unwavering sense of self and purpose, it’s no surprise that Conference of the Birds offers no real variation on Variations on a Theme, the Om debut. It has two tracks, both around the 16–18-minute mark, but if there’s one argument for picking up a record that’s pretty much the debut continued, it’s in this: At Giza.

Lean, clean and taut, and maybe even a tad delicate for the hardheaded Sleep/Om devotee, side 1’s At Giza marks an evolution of the Om thumbprint.

Floydian in its Set the Controls galactic ambience, dramatic in its pace and tension, At Giza is quiet and spacious, maybe even nimble … unlike the ultra evenflow of other Om tracks, this track actually builds to something. After slowing to a stalker’s near-silence halfway through, soft drums – the warmest, closest drums you ever heard – signal a colossal surge and climax and sure enough, we get one of those Moments. Flip the record over and Flight of the Eagle is Sleep-heavy by comparison, a dense-from-the-off work of low-end bass action that trundles Om-ward with glue on its wheels, true to the debut: the hypnotic pull is complete. Put it on heavy rotation and let it sink … in. Deep.

Released 2006 on Holy Mountain
Tracklist:
At Giza (15:55)
Flight of the Eagle (17:27)

This review was first posted on Julian Cope’s Head Heritage site back in 2010, and I’ve revised it very slightly so it makes sense in a post-Om/reactivated-Sleep world. For a Cope-ian reading of Om’s debut album, gorge on his Album of the Month review of Variations on a Theme.

KARMA TO BURN: Karma to Burn

Long before they became road warriors for centre-line rifferola shorn of all but rock’s barest necessities – guitar, drum, bass, no words, no solos – Karma to Burn were a different beast for one record only: their first one, cut loose in 1997 by Roadrunner Records, and a lost classic by anyone’s measure.

It’s the anomaly in the Karma catalogue. But is it the best thing they ever did?

Karma to Burn debut album cover

The Karma to Burn debut: a masterpiece. Except for the cheap-tack artwork

Emerging into the late 90s post-desert/post-Seattle vista, their first album drew on both of those scenes but twisted them just enough to make a record that had its own identity – like it belonged with them, but stood in its own space too. Less geologically huge than the Kyuss behemoth, and far less self conscious than the grunge second wave, KTB’s debut flickers with goth-ish smalltown shadows.

Contributing to this is the very thing they’re best known for not having: a singer. Though there were short-lived links to John Garcia back in the day (revived later with 2010’s on-form Appalachian Incantations bonus disc), the vocalist on Karma’s first full-length is Jay Jarosz, who… well, exactly. WHO? No idea. But his boot-scraping drawl more than does the job on the debut, especially on Joy Division’s Twenty Four Hours. Can you imagine John Garcia laying into that with his desert-dried sandpapered pipes? Me neither. You need some sort of anonymity to pull that source off, and by my reckoning Jarosz nails it right on.

Opening tracks Ma Petit Mort and Bobbi Bobbi Bobbi (I’m Not God) are – musically – pure Karma, shoved along by Will Mecum’s pile-driver rhythm, but the difference between Karma Then and Karma Ever Since lies in where those tracks go. They don’t end as they start. Bobbi Bobbi Bobbi has not one but TWO singers (heresy?) and the two-pronged vocal fork turns it into a wild eyed anthem, with Octavia Lambertis’s untamed soar flying strato-high while Jarosz hauls it out by the baritones. It’s about as far away as you could get from the later Karma to Burn ethos, but you can hear the track in three-piece instrumental form easily enough. It turns up just a year later, retitled as Three, at the back end of Wild Wild Purgatory (KTB have a habit of rerecording their own stuff). Is it good? Sure. Better? No, but we’ll get to that later.

Back in Debut Land, we’ve got atmos to contend with – Six Gun Sucker Punch flips from lysergic stupor to switchblade aggro, while (Waltz of the) Playboy Pallbearers lures like a serial killer, and it’s moments like these that define the KTB debut. The smell of Nowhere, USA, the faint bad-head of trippy ingestion. You can feel it in the hazed start to Mt Penetrator. Where Kyuss cranked it up in the desert night so they could jam colossal, Karma to Burn sound like they retreat to the foothills to pour moonshine, do ouija and break shit. Or people.

Tracks five, nine and twelve are the instrumentals – Eight, Thirteen and Six, if you want their titles – and though this shows where Karma were heading, we didn’t know that back then, and we definitely didn’t know that numbered instrumentals would become EVERYTHING. Again, we gotta mention Kyuss because they’d already set a high bar for wordless segues like Caterpillar March on Blues for the Red Sun, and Corrosion of Conformity and Down were putting instrumentals in records just like Sabbath and Zep did decades earlier. Riff masters, all. But Caterpillar sounds like it was always meant to be an instrumental, as do Without Wings and 2121313 from CoC’s Deliverance. Karma to Burn’s Eight doesn’t. Eight is a full-length, full-form track with verse-bridge-chorus bits in all the right places – it just doesn’t have any vocals. Which could be a bit lacking, right? But somehow, it lacks nothing. It really fucking works, as do Thirteen and Six.

In fact, everything works. No sub-par moments, no boredom drop offs, and the moodier turns – Joy Division especially – could only have been pulled off by this version of the band: the one with the singer. It’s those shades and shifts that make Karma to Burn’s debut more of a complete listening experience than the riff-onlys that came after, and that’s why it’s the album that gives the most. Sez me, anyway.

But is it the real Karma to Burn?

You gotta say no. The singer was a record-label compromise, and if you’ve ever caught the band on a good night backed by stacks of amps, you’ll know that stripped and lean is where it’s at.

And there lies the Karma to Burn paradox.

To be continued???

KARMA TO BURN PLAY THE CELLAR IN OXFORD, JUNE 27 2018. DESERT STORM ON SUPPORT DUTY. DO NOT MISS

SHORTPARIS: nacxa

Restless moves and fidget dance. The underlit Factory warehouse band, fired up by frag-ment-ology. New waves for the art-house in your headspace.

Talkin’ shite. What is Shortparis?

When Mary Anne Hobbs first played them on her 6 Music Recommends show, gushing with unbound enthuso after seeing them destroy some festival or other, she mentioned Joy Division – something about the shadows and the intensity. The track was Beceno (all the titles are in Russian script, which I can’t type properly), and if Beceno is your first Shortparis exposure then it’s damned hard to shake those joy-di visions from your mind’s eye: robust paranoia, unseen twitchiness, confident uncertainty, rock-not-really. Nikolay Komiagin sings with a high pitch that pulls Beth Gibbons’s tense nervosa to mind, and Beceno’s on-the-run mood could fit Portishead’s Third, though it’s the only track that could. The rest of nacxa is way more up. Way more DANCE.

Shortparis: nacxa

Shortparis: twitchy and addictive

But it’s not dance dance. Track 1’s industrial-retro kick with upfront tight-funk bass bounces right back to post-punk – no particular band, more the era and the experimenting vibe. Post-punk something is at play. And then, taut across the tops, is the voice you don’t understand.

Track 2 drops the Horn (Trevor): massive ZTT-style keyboard stabs over stilted bass, gearing up for the Shortparis percussion collective to ramp it up into a worldly electro rhythm thing. It’s a potent mix, perhaps best shown off on the title track – Parisienne nights with dark exotica throb – and the following track’s John Carpenter menace meets Bowie’s Outside: Wishful Beginnings.

Can you pin Shortparis down? Not really. Not beyond a culture-sample soundclash that feels like a guitar band but isn’t. Shortparis ride the fluid, anything-goes rush of Flamingods and Comet is Coming, maybe even Antidote-era Foals, but with different sources. There’s something of the industrial about this lot: danceable, yet not quite celebratory. Primitive. A bit tense.

Download the album and you get two tracks labelled as B-sides at the end. Ma Russie, sung in French, is a synth-heavy funker, and Yqueen ups the machine-rock action with drums that threaten a Nine Inch Nails storm. Shortparis make a global music not ethno-rootsy but rhythm-heavy, urban and nocturnal.

Music for subway nights.

Communal and solitary.

Body music by head people.

(Bowie would have loved it, surely).

John Doran writ large about this crew in the Quietus – a lot of words, if you want to make sense of them – but the album is steal of the year, just TWO DOLLARS at Shortparis bandcamp. Don’t let that price cheapen the quality of your attention, though. This is not background device-filler. Shortparis are onto something special.

DESERT STORMS AND SKELLINGTONS

APRIL REWIND: THE RETURNS OF RECORD STORE DAY, DESERT STORM AND JULIAN COPE. BUT CALEB SCOFIELD DEPARTS.
It was a wet one, but apart from rain, what happened in April?
Record Store Day 11
We love record shops. Never visit a new town without sniffing them out, never pass the chance to frequent the local, and this is why Record Store Day feels like it should be a big deal but ends up being a bit … contrived frothing over forged rarities? Like a weird-o Christmas Day for reco)))rd shoppers. Weird because the list is dished out by $anta well ahead of the day, weird because the toys have been specially made for the event, weird because none of the toys are trulymadlydeeply drawn from your own well. And if you convince yourself into chasing something from this monopoly of taste, and said thing makes it into the shop that day and you’re able to lay fingers on it, you get the privilege of paying through the nostrils. Some Christmas. If you buy CDs and dare not to have a turntable, forget it – zero specials for you, because you are not part of the Record Store Day M.O. It’s a vinyl-only club, a 7–12-inch exclusivity zone roped off from the Greater Good that is music in physical formats. In shops.
So, 2018 played out exactly the same as 2017, just different records to gloss over once the queues had gone. Tom Waits offered a momentary flutter when the Orphans cover loomed, but it was Bawlers, the zero-interest one of the three. Anyway, just like last year, salvation came from the vinyl sale box where Cannots by Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker popped up – didn’t even know such a thing existed, so it’s a welcome and timely discovery given that Walker’s new album is imminent. Ace find from proper browse. Bye-bye Record Store Day. Hello record shop, next week, as usual.

Charles Rumback and Ryley Walker - Cannots LP

This year’s RSD pick-up. From 2016

DESERT STORM: Sentinels
Much more rewarding than RSD’s general waxploitation was Sentinels by Oxford’s own Desert Storm. Fuck me, this is solid. And big. And assured. And if you like your rock to be, er, metallic and groovus, Sentinels should be on your list. When I last saw Desert Storm I vowed to catch up with their albums but, like an arse, I didn’t. Didn’t go beyond Forked Tongues, which is why Sentinels feels like a huger jump. This, surely, is Desert Storm fully formed. The sometimes caricatured vocal tics of the Forked days have gone and Matt Ryan now gives us proper gruff metal range more like the live shows, veering from gut-low ferals to Jaz Coleman anthemics to part-spoken calm. Kingdom of Horns does this brilliantly, a quietly drifting trip that swings a 180 to the other extreme and back.
Tracks like Drifter will no doubt satisfy the Clutch crowd, but Sentinels is more metallic and the closing two tracks, Convulsion and Capsized, showcase Desert Storm’s star quality in 2018. Check the former’s multi-riff orgy – part doomed stoner, part thrash, part Entombed-sized roll – then cruise on Capsized’s slick downtuned power to a closing solo soar worthy of Crippled Black Phoenix. Check it all here, best of luck, fellas.
JULIAN COPE: Skellington 3
He’s back! Last time, it was personal (Skellington 2, 1993). 25 years on, we get the third instalment, a new batch of the Drude’s so-called orphan songs and ‘acid campfire spirit’. If you know Skellington, you’ll know Skellington 3. Stripped down, often acoustic, sometimes off-key yet oft-times Cope-classic melodic (Parallel University, Very Krishna, Catch Your Dreams Before They Slip Away), it’s a ramshackle shot of a fast-moving Cope in songwriter mode. As ever, head to Head Heritage.
Hardcore bass loss
If you’re on the Hydra Head email list, you’ll have seen the subject line that came through around a month ago: The Caleb Scofield Memorial Fundraising Preorder. Then you’ll have done a double take. Memorial? Sadly, yes. The bass player for Cave In, Old Man Gloom and Zozobra passed away on March 28th after a car accident a road toll. He was 39. There goes the blood of some core Hydra Head noisery, all vital to the world of heavy. White Silence: crank it up to deafening.
’til next time.

MARCH OF THE BIG GUNS

MARCH REWIND: CORROSION AND PRIEST DELIVERANCE THE GOODS. TOOL MAN DOES NAUTICAL OFFSHOOT

Some pretty big names came out to play in March, so here are our customary first impressions of a couple or three. Warning: contains heavy metals.

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY: No Cross No Crown
Not strictly – or even slightly – a March release, given that the vinyl came out in February, but who cares? A new record from a Keenan CoC is a 2018 event, so there’s no rush … everything in its own time. A bit like No Cross No Crown itself.

Corrosion of Conformity No Cross No Crown vinyl

No Cross No Crown: no corrosion of CoC values

As soon as Novus Deus’s heart-beating doom-tinged Thin Lizzy lead-in gets underway and into The Luddite, you sense an enormous record opening out ahead, and so it turns out to be. Up-sized rockage, guitar parts multiplied and solos snaking across the many twists of riff, it nabs the best of CoC and gives it the max factor. Corrosion Complete. Keenan’s Down-time must have done them a ton of good as a four because they’re re-fired with vitality – check Cast the First Stone’s raging burn, check the return of the instrumental interludes, check the southernfrieddoompsycheheft of Nothing Left to Say. It adds up to CoC just doing their thing really, really well. No surprises

except Queen.

Yes. Son and Daughter. YES. Grin your head off at the ludicrous brilliance of heavyweight Queen made over by these unglam non-pomp veterans, then submit to a face-gurning rock-out as Brian May’s timeless riff calls time on Corrosion’s studio return. They must have had a blast doing that one. No Cross No Crown: mature, wizened and quite possibly all we’ll need from a heavy rock set in 2018.

JUDAS PRIEST: Firepower
When you get an earworm two days after your first and only hearing of a track, you know something is horribly right or more-horribly wrong: stride forth Children of the Sun, you metallic hooksome bastard. From where? From Judas Priest’s new Firepower set. Seen the reviews? Best since Painkiller, they say. I didn’t buy any post-Painkiller Priest, so cannot join that comparative choir, but just one run-through of Firepower tells you that this album is wholly unadulterated metal, in Priest’s finest un-adult way. If you grew up with Painkiller, Firepower is a mainline to your adolescence – it is EXACTLY of Painkiller’s ilk. Everything feels either like you’ve heard it before or you knew it was coming, and yet somehow it feels right. Halford sounds no older, the twin leads bleed melody and the Allom/Sneap production insulates you from the world’s daily grind, maybe even from time itself. This is escapist listening. The title track and Evil Never Dies burst with thrash speed, but for the most part we get mid-paced metal that has all the metal/Priest tropes. It even ends with a fucking ballad. And you know what? GOOD. Lone Wolf is the biggest diversion, proving that Priest can pen a dirty lurch equal to Metallica’s greasier Load moments. So yeah, press Firepower and give yourself permission to bloody well enjoy it.

LEGEND OF THE SEAGULLMEN: Legend of the Seagullmen
Danny Carey. Brent Hinds. Holy Tool-odon, what’s this Seagullmen shit??? And can I wipe it off without burning my eyes?

If the name sounds like it fell out of a Mighty Boosh brain dump, so do the music’s characters. We’ve got The Fogger, The Seagull God King and a 400,000 year-old pirate called Redbeard, all mixed up in tales about curses and red tides and orcas and giants and oceanic karma. Hollywood director-animator Jimmy Hayward plays guitar. Hmmm. So far so daft, right? Got some decent chops lurking though (Carey, Hinds, Zappa Plays Zappa bassist Pete Griffin), but aside from Masto-man Hinds and his searing solos – Curse of the Red Tide and Rise of the Giant being two current faves – all other muso pretensions are lost to the epic seafarer metal demanded by The Doctor’s concepts. It’s not the mystical prog opus you might expect or hope – Tool meets Mastodon it definitely ain’t, and it sure won’t be challenging Tool in the sobriety stakes. But if you’re a fan of the players involved, you’re going to want to check it out, and because you’re a fan, you’ll look to give it a shade more benefit than doubt, even if it doesn’t match up to its players’ reps.

Right, that’s that. With Between the Buried and Me (Automata I) and Oxford’s own Desert Storm (Sentinel) also kicking out top notch new jams, as well as the still-unheard Mindfucker by Monster Magnet, it’s been a heavy month with no time for avant adventures. METAL ONLY.

Hang on, what’s that? Anthroprophh just put out Omegaville? Right…

’til next time!