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.
OCTOBER & NOVEMBER REWIND: NEW DAMAGE FROM MR BUNGLE, OUTSIDE LIVE FROM DAVID BOWIE, PUNK RAGE BY BLIND EYE
Halloween feels like an age ago now but it’s worth a mention because it inspired some great BBC 6 Music radio that week. Mary Anne Hobbs declared it Metal Week, which meant that shards of experimental metal shredded her mid-morning playlists – Duma, Sunn O))), Venom Prison, Divide and Dissolve, Boris and loads more. Ace to hear all that cranking out the radio before lunchtime, a proper thrill for the work-at-home brigade.
We got a couple of big-name album releases in October that we just have to celebrate, but first we’ll do our usual Rewind thing with a couple of one-off tracks that leapt pretty high these past few weeks.
DIY, punk, psych, riffs, Russian folk mystery … these are the words you’ll see in the Lucidvox Bandcamp bio. What Amok delivers is post something, but what? It rocks, but there are no hooks. Not really. Instead there’s insistent, mantra-like rhythm and momentum under rough, semi surf-metal guitars. Maybe even a painterly post-Beefheart lick in the second half. Art punk? Who knows. A curiosity piquer for sure.
PIJN: Denial (worriedaboutsatan mix)
Denial is the first track from Pijn’s 2018 album, Loss – 5 minutes of GY!BE meets Pelican-styled metallics. West Yorkshire’s worriedaboutsatan keep the weight intact but build a mechanical, moodier electro ambience that pushes Denial into the darker recesses of the night.
KLEIN: No More Shubz
Wow. Some music seems to work not in genres but in sculptures, but how can you write that without sounding like a total arse? Summery Jane’s Addiction acoustics and vocalisms dissolve into an amorphous blackened space which folds in and out of its 3D self. Like looking off the earth’s edge. How did we get here? True moment of wonder. Shubz this way.
Right, that’s the tracks done. Now for some longer forms.
MR BUNGLE: THE RAGING WRATH OF THE EASTER BUNNY DEMO
It never made sense hearing Mr Bungle described as ‘Mike Patton’s extreme metal project’ when he first joined Faith No More. As we know, each of their albums is the precocious opposite of one-genre limitations, but now we have the reason: their early The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo WAS metal. Thrash. But who knew? Barely anyone – Scott Ian excepted. For everyone else, Mr Bungle were Not Metal.
But 2020 Bungle is. This is Very, Very Metal, as the bastardisation of the logo shows. Anyone looking for Mr Bungle’s cross-genre perversions will be disappointed, but really, who’s not gonna get their oversized old-school grin on to this 56-minute batshit joyride? Mike Patton, Trey Spruance, Trevor Dunn and new recruits Scott Ian (56) and Dave Lombardo (55) annihilate – and they’re having blast. It’ll take a while for the zillion-plus riffs to sink in and the Bungle complexities to surface (surely they’re in there?), but this is one of the least expected and most welcome arrivals of the year. Does it rock? Fuck yeah! Bungle Grind is just one of many full-tilt highlights so buckle up and file it next to your Dead Cross and Anthrax maximum bpms. 100% unlike any other Mr Bungle. 100% Mr Bungle. Of course.
DAVID BOWIE: OUVREZ LE CHIEN
While Mr Bungle are in their fifties playing the music of their own youth, David Bowie was doing no such thing when he approached the big five-oh. In 1995, aged 48, he was doing his last bit of boundary-pushing with Outside and then Earthling a couple of years later.
For anyone who loves mid 90s Bowie and didn’t get to see his live shows of the time, they’re the stuff of dreams – especially the collaborative US tour with Nine Inch Nails. And so this new batch of live recordings from Dallas, October 13th, 1995, is for us. None of the Nine Inch Nails collaborations are included, but the fearless setlist is exactly what we want to hear. No Starman, no Life on Mars, no Ziggy, no Changes, none of the obvious 70s gear. Instead, six tracks from Outside, Look Back in Anger and Nite Flights. Andy Warhol, electrified into jerky, awkward full-rock action. The Man Who Sold the World, revamped bass-heavy atmospheric and miles better. Joe the Lion, roaring. And to hear Mike Garson and Reeves Gabrels lay their untamed gifts all over the show? YES. It’s a crack Bowie band, this.
(the second CD in this live series, No Trendy Rechauffe from Birmingham, December 13th, 1995, has just been released. Similar tracklist but some good switches too. Stream it if you can or check davidbowie.com for whatever comes next).
BLIND EYE: BLIND EYE
Not an October release but definitely new enough to incude is the first release from Nottingham’s Blind Eye. Devoid of all finesse, this is fast, loose punk hardcore with no smooth edges and even less polish. Early Motorhead, Discharge and Minor Threat inform the abrasive pace, except for 9-minute closer End which swerves into the kind of burnout you’d get from The Heads. Wakey wakey.
Yet again, September was Slayer heavy – it often is, don’t know why. Maybe it’s because a fair few of their albums got released around this time of year: Divine Intervention, God Hates Us All and Repentless all came out in Septembers past, Seasons in the Abyss was October. Maybe it’s because my own Slayer initiation was at the start of uni when a second-year student did me a Reign/South tape and Slayer finally clicked. Either way, Slayer fits autumn. Something feels very right about having your cool-aired mornings soundtracked, sped up and brutalised by Repentless and the still insane, still wholly OTT God Hates Us All. Dave Lombardo kills, but so does Paul Bostaph.
Anyway, new stuff? Not got round to much in September, so this will have to do.
KING BUZZO – Gift of Sacrifice Buzz Osbourne put out his second solo acoustic album late August. Wrapped around Trevor Dunn’s elegant upright bass, it charts Melvins ground – I swear Housing, Luxury, Energy hangs off half a Stoner Witch riff or something, haven’t worked it out yet – but draws different textures and is, at times, mournfully heavy. There are no drums. There is no electric guitar. If you like Melvins, and especially Melvins Lite’s Freak Puke, you’ll take to this. Gift of Sacrifice is pretty short (35 mins) and the last 2 tracks are less essential, but the rest is easily Buzz/Dunn cool enough to justify your time. How his first acoustic album, This Machine Kills Artists, compares, I don’t know. Never bothered with it. But this one channels Melvins’ odd-spook very nicely.
Elsewhere, Budos Band and similarobjects – Amon Tobin psyche with Squarepusher turbo squelch? – barf collider-scopic worldly trips.
And some very exciting new stuff for October: Robert Plant – Digging Deep: Subterranea anthology, released Oct 3rd Clipping – Visions of Bodies Being Burned, released Oct 23rd Carcass – Despicable EP, released Oct 30th Mr Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, released Oct 30th David Bowie – Ouvrez le Chien (Live Dallas ’95), released Oct 30th
JULY & AUGUST REWIND: JAZ COLEMAN, CLIPPING AND DUMA BRING THE URGENCY
What’s the big metal news of the last month? Metallica’s S&M2, of course – unless you hate Metallica, in which case the simultaneous ending of their Metallica Mondays gigs will be the bigger treat.
The S&M2 release won’t be exactly the same as last October’s cinema version, though I’m not sure what’s changed (haven’t played the DVD yet) but let’s hope it’s nothing too major. The original cut was musical cine-manna to me and damned near untoppable.
Right then, now for some scattered new tunes, including Nairobi noisecore from Kenya’s most extreme musical export. Probably. And you’ve GOT to stick around for that … haven’t you?
FRAN LOBO – Monster
Danceable industrial beats infused with liquid, near-gospel vocals …Fran Lobo’s Monster feeds our musical need for connection, shared experience and movement, somehow blending hard-edged rhythm and soul in a very heavy duty hip shifter. Welcome to a new church.
SHACKLETON/ZIMPEL – Primal Forms
Got 17 minutes to fill? Try this hypnotic body-soul stretch of hum, thrum, clarinet, electronics and shiteloads more. Always moving, always shifting focus, Primal Forms feels like an unfolding voyage through jazz-minded primal trance. To where? Wherever your headspace dictates. And if that happens to be an imagined mountain ensemble with urban tech trappings, fair enough.
CLIPPING – Say the Name
Candlesticks in the dark, visions of bodies being burned. So goes the chorus. No punches pulled, it looks and feels like social comment even though it continues the horror themes of There Existed an Addiction to Blood last year. But you’d expect nothing less from Clipping, and whatever concept drives their next album Visions of Bodies Being Burned (due in October), it will be timely and it will say something. Check the lyric video for Say the Name.
DUMA – Lionsblood
Duma’s album is reviewed in this month’s Metal Hammer. They’re a two-piece from Nairobi. And once you’ve heard this track, you’ll be giving massive credits to Mary Anne Hobbs for playing it on the radio at 2.50pm on a Thursday afternoon on BBC 6 Music. It’s like being trapped under a pneumatic drill with black-metal screams. Total overload and a mind-clearingly hostile assault …. burn your ears through Bandcamp then open your eyes to the lo-fi creepster vid.
BLACK AND RED – On the Day the Earth Went Mad
Jaz Coleman hooks up with didgeridoo ace (yes) Ondrej Smeykal under the BlackandRed banner to give us exactly the kind of thing we want and need from His Jaz-ness – social comment with a bruising backdrop. Unlike his Killing Joke voice, there is no roar from JC here. Instead, On the Day…. sees him singing with restraint over crunching electro menace, intermittent shards of distortion and church-like symphonic swells, forging elegance and class from destruction and collapse. It’s the sort of thing Ministry should have grown into but never did. Looks like Coleman stepped up instead. Good job.
If that wasn’t enough of a Coleman hit for the month, he and Youth put out their Occular record – not a Killing Joke wannabe but an ice cool flow of instrumentals. Get a sample.
MAY & JUNE REWIND: FINNISH PUNISHMENT, FUTURISTIC FOLK, HARDCORE TRASH AND OTHER NEW SOUNDS FROM MAY AND JUNE
Fancy a bit of Triptykon in a summer solstice heatwave? Nope. Not. At. All. But, now that the clouds and monsoon squalls have returned AND THE NIGHTS ARE DRAWING IN, we’ve got a brief opening to revel in some typically darkened heft from Thomas G Warrior and ensemble. Requiem (Live at Roadburn 2019) is the full Requiem suite, live with the Metropole Orkest, completed specially for a one-off performance at the Roadburn festival. The new piece is the centrepiece: the half hour Grave Eternal, pitched black and long between parts I and III, Rex Irae and Winter. Heavy as a funeral.
Oxford behemoths Desert Storm launched their new album Omens in May. The previous album, 2018’s Sentinels, wasn’t just Desert Storm’s best album to date but one of the best metal releases of the last two years – file under Grizzly Bastard Rage and Groove. How does the follow-up follow that? It might be asking too much of anyone, and on first listen Omens sounds sombre, maybe even serious. Definitely less of the outward bodyrock vibe, if that makes sense. But it is loaded with commanding riffs and starts to reveal itself after a couple more listens. Desert Storm do not fail, more words will follow.
Away from metal, here are some other standout tunes from the past couple of (still weird) months.
TERRACE MARTIN – Pig Feet
OK, this ferocious track got priority status in the Lockdown Music: Week 12, but its power has not waned, even though the news is moving on. Mandatory listening and viewing, I reckon. For all of us.
HELEN MONEY – Coil
Cellist, composer and, on this track at least, post-rock gnarly dronemaker, Helen Money’s Coil takes Thee Silver Mt Zion’s delicate grandeur and smears it with King of the Slums’ canal-water dank. Doesn’t it? Definitely getting a whiff of Manco Diablo in there. But where KOTS linger at street and below, this track also soars way above the grime.
CASPAR BROTZMANN MASSAKER – The Tribe
Continuing the Southern Lord reissues, none of which I’ve got round to yet, The Tribe is another reminder of Brotzmann’s wild noise rock guitar assault from the 80s and 90s. Sheets of noise and moan. Whether we can last a whole album of longer tracks is a different story.
C DIAB – Street Scenes
There’s something both ground-level loco-motive and mountain-high questing about this instrumental, percussion-less voyage. When you learn that C Diab is Canadian and based in Vancouver, you paste your own visions of infinite plains and towering geological spectacle all over it, no matter how reductive that might be. Sigur Ros-ian swirl with tension-built motion.
SHARRON KRAUS – Tell Me Why
Folk melodies, naked vocals, delicate instrumentation … so far, so traditional. But there’s an ish. When the gentle electro (is it?) oscillation pulses ‘neath the acoustic, it somehow transforms the track and turns it into a part-ancient/part-sci fi hybrid that’s wholly addictive.
The vocals might be ripped from a ragged black metal hand-me-down, but the beats, drones and processed fuzz on this track nod to Blanck Mass more than black metal. Maybe. Then again, what do I know? Anyway, this one plays out like a rapid exit from a carnival spiked with the bad stuff … metallic psyche with nightmare visions.
SCANNER – Step Ahead
Dreamworld travelscape. Whispered words and constant movement. Spectral flames and stretched realities. Or maybe just a fucking gorgeous slice of semi ambient Scanner. Yeah, that’s it. Transport yourself here.
TRASH TALK – Something Wicked
New hardcore needed ? Here’s a nice little 89-second wakey-wakey. Never heard them before, despite their 15-year life, but seeing that Thomas Pridgen – Pinnick Gales Pridgen, ex Mars Volta – plays drums is pushing the intrigue button a little harder.
Fewer new tracks than usual, as will most likely be the way with these lockdown Rewinds because exploratory radio listening is a little bit reduced, but we’ll give it a go. A couple of new albums got spun though, like Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. Viscerals is as raging and space fried as you want, further pushing the Pigs’ move from hammer-heavy sprawls to concise beatings, and with Crazy in Blood they’ve gone and done a proper earworm. Not just the riff either, the chorus is knockout.
And Mind Hive by Wire is – on first listen – rich and involving, something that demands proper attention. Which it will get very soon.
OK, on with those tunes.
THE LEAF LIBRARY – An Edge, An Ending
Whirring semi-ambient soundscapes in persistent motion, warm crackles on the beats, not a million miles from worriedaboutsatan’s intimate beats. It doesn’t really need the vocals – by the time they come in, the track is lodged in your head as an instrumental – but the voice doesn’t detract either. Could it be the soundtrack to a free-flowing bike ride through city streets deserted by corona? Yes. It was. Do it.
GNOD & JOAO PAIS FILIPE – Faca de Terra
7-plus minutes of percussive trance and hypno repetitions – intriguing stuff, complete with dark turn and guitar spirals mid track. No bludgeon or infinite punishment, it’s too intricate and upbeat for that, yet the Gnod spirit flows strong in this new collaboration. Check it here.
MINISTRY – Alert Level
Borne out of lockdown, we have all-new Ministry. With Bill Rieflin’s recent passing, there’s been a lot of Ministry played round here so this is timely and EXCITING. Sure enough, apocalyptic visions and a no-messing riff run grooves in your head like mid 90s Prong, then … not much else. Even with former Tool man Paul d’Amour on bass, and even with our sky-high Ministry love wanting it to be great, Alert Level lets your attention go and drops to background. Will its simplicity work better on an album, like NWO does? Or will it never cut the Ministry mustard? Let’s see.
We’re all in it, but still … fucking hell. That was the month that was, still is and will be for all our foreseeables. The COVID 19 lockdown, thee mighty psyche scrambler.
Which means that the appetite (and time) for All New Sounds is a tad reduced, but there we go. Fewer tunes and words than usual this month, sign o’ the times. Music is ever-present but we’ve got different needs and moods right now, and that’s why new gear from Nine Inch Nails (YES), Old Man Gloom (DITTO THAT) and others feel like such colossal gifts, so let’s celebrate those in a min. First, a couple of worthy new underground sonics.
TORPOR – Two Heads on Gold
Nippy this is not. Earth-paced beats slip between dense sheets of surging, droning distortion that make for a deliberate, imposing slab of machine doom, given depth and space by the spoken word. Ready?
THAMMUDU & MISHTI – Body Negativity
Industrial meditation music. For one. Chase the haunting, just-out-of-reach melody while never quite escaping the nightmarish pull … check it here.
NINE INCH NAILS – Ghosts V / Ghosts VI
Big, big surprise, this – NIN just announced they’ve put 2 new albums out ahead of their planned release dates and made them free to download. Go read their statement at nin.com, thoughtful and concise as ever.
OLD MAN GLOOM – Light of Meaning / Darkness of Being
These are generous moves from our musicians, and we’ll no doubt be seeing a lot more (Metallica Mondays and Michael Stipe’s touching No Time for Love Like Now demo are two more things keeping spirits high), but what can we, the fans, do?
Keep being fans. Keep sharing tips and buying music. Use your local record shop’s mail-order service (if they have one) to help them survive this crisis, buy the merchandise that you might not normally. Order albums in advance from record labels, as encouraged by Old Man Gloom, because it gives the label some money up front. Check the #loverecordstores campaign.
Finally, a brief last word for Bill Rieflin RIP. Anyone who plays on stage with King Crimson is among the most gifted musicians around, so this is another big drum loss for 2020. For a more brutal Rieflin hit, head back to this landmark album.
FEBRUARY REWIND: BLACK-HELL INDUSTRIAL… PROGRESSIVE DEATH AND YES-CORE METALS… CAVERNOUS POST JAZZ… TRIP-HEAVY MINDMELTS AND POST-SCHLAGENHEIM COMEDOWNS. AND DAVID BOWIE.
Some mildly cheerless fare scattered throughout this Rewind – Sightless Pit, Blood Incantation, Pulled by Magnets – but then again, it is still winter. If that’s not your thing, there is at least some new David Bowie. And if new David Bowie leaves you cold …
… best not even go there.
SIGHTLESS PIT – Kingscorpse
Grimmest first. Skitter beats carry disembodied harmonies, industrial noise buries them and a black-metal styled death voice burns through. The sound of humanity’s incineration? Nuclear winter? We have destroyed ourselves and are face to face with hell. That’s what this is. Lingua Ignota is in the band, corpse stench right this way.
BLOOD INCANTATION – Inner Paths (To Outer Space)
Nothing about this says death metal. The first four minutes are aggressive metallic prog, but then we get the escalation and then we get the DM hit – briefly. Like John Carpenter’s The Fog, the threat recedes. Much is hinted at, so it’s no wonder that Denver’s Blood Incantation are top 10 in Kerrang’s Top 50 Death Metal Bands Right Now list and in Metal Hammer’s New Noise feature. Death metal isn’t my thing, but have this lot got crossover appeal? Maybe. Hidden History of the Human Race is their second album.
HUNTSMEN – Ride Out
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, this 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. Mandala of Fear album is out in a couple of weeks.
PULLED BY MAGNETS – Those Among Us
We’re going wholly non-riff now, but this track has a heaviness that comes from metal’s fringes. Jazz drummer Seb Rochford – Polar Bear, Sons of Kemet, gazillions of others – pushes cavernous dubby slo-mo here which, for a non-jazzer like me, seems within sniffing distance of Metal Box and an avant Sunn O))) voyage. Check it here.
DODMEN – Drawn Circle
Stuart Maconie played this on his Freakzone this Feb. Turns out it’s not 2020-new, more a 2015 vintage, but when you chance on stuff this good, who’s counting?
Play this straight after Pulled By Magnets and it’s a pretty neat sequence – Drawn Circle has a similar pace, same drone backdrop, same massive sense of space and time. But Dodmen have guitars. And they use their loose, heavy slacker attack to hypnotic effect, piling on the layers and distortion to reach some sort of transcendent frenzoid. It’s nearly 11 minutes but everything is underplayed. Everything except the volume and the anticipation.
BLACK MIDI – Sweater
Another 11-minute sprawl, this time from musical eggheads black midi. Nothing like the instant mania of Schlagenheim, though it was part of the same sessions, Sweater just got released and is … calm. Deliberate. Possibly meditative. Possibly feeling around for a direction. But when those first, awkward guitar notes land, you know exactly who you’re cavorting with. Stick around for a midi life catharsis.
DAVID BOWIE – Nuts
The February Big One. Nuts is the fifth of six drip-feeds from the Is It Any Wonder? EP of Bowie rarities, and Nuts is the one that grabs. Why? Because it’s an Earthling extra, and 90s Bowie surely scores highest on the thrill-ometer for unreleased material (Black Tie, Buddha, Outside and Earthling unearthings? Yes please).
According to Mary Anne Hobbs, who played it first and is a Proper Insider for Earthling-era Bowie, Nuts was meant to be a bonus track on Earthling but then the idea was dropped. Would it have worked? Not as an album track, no, and Earthling definitely doesn’t need a bonus track to ruin the flow. This belongs on a bonus EP or mini album. Nuts is pretty much instrumental with spoken fragments (‘What would you rather be doing?’) – if you think of that break in Little Wonder where the whole track drops a bit and loses the voice, the piano and the big beats, Nuts motors along with that kind of vibe. Inner calm amid the superficially frantic. Drum ‘n’ bass, Bowie style. And that, obviously, is more than gift enough.