Myrkur – M


Now that winter has passed, and with it any last chance of actual snow, the best accompaniment for listening to this record – apart from the darkness of night, natch – is fog. Thick grey dark ffffffog, the fog that really fucking HANGS. John Carpenter Fog.

Failing that, pissing-it-down rain will do – in fact, anything but mystique-stripping midday sun or soul-death flouresence. M, see, is spiked by shards of black metal.

Not that you’d know that from the opening bars of Skogen Skulle Do with its choral voices and waltzing violin sweeps… rustic, serene, unmetal in extremis. An undead scream and swell of horns may well usher in the Threat of the Ominous, but even this is swept aside by luscious pop gothic til the hornswell returns and hints at the sinister ahead. ’tis compelling, beautiful and far from isolated on this all-over-the-place debut… the plaintive piano/voice of Nordlys (shades of Tori, Under the Pink) and Volvens Spadom‘s folksome acappella bring frosted perfection. When Myrkur sings, she’s with angels.

But such melodic abundance means that when the ugly does appear – as in the black metal shred that flays second track Haevnen – it’s ferocious and ultraviolent by contrast. Haevnen‘s feral blasts are fleeting, cut short by hooks so sweet that your head spins… how can that become this within seconds? On one level, mad as a bag of bats. On another, stupendous turns of pace and mood, and that’s the way M works: fluid shifts between extremeties. The middle ground skirts with Eurometal trad-ness, but it’s those outer edges – beast and beauty – that work best. M’s mellow transcends metal completely, and so massive is the divergence from the vicious that there’s a Fantomas-like absurdity of extremes. You could well imagine Patton M careering between the vocal poles of Myrkur’s M.

So who’s behind the slick-yet-schiz 37 minutes? Myrkur – Amalie Bruun – handles voice, guitar and piano, while Mayhem/Ulver-sourced names are among the hands that flesh it out (Ulver’s Garm produces), which could be why there’s no shortage of texture, as with the Sigur-esque guitar coursing through Oybt I Skoven’s pop-metal sheen, or drama, like Norn‘s sleepy tranquility after the carnage wreaked by Skaol. Thing is, not once do you feel that these tracks do not belong together, coz they absolutely do. There’s a common aesthetic. Is it black metal?

Not for the many many hatemongers out there who destroy the idea that this album, this artist, has any credentials AT ALL: not BM, not ‘kvlt’, nothing but Relapse-hyped PR fakery. Somehow, these people think that online aggro is justified.

Unnecessary. Let’s move on.

Is Myrkur of black metal? No doubt, yes, but the crucial thing is not what she is/isn’t – we’re just dealing in pointers and indicators, after all – but just how bold, wintry and weirdly thrilling this record really is. A sprawling White Album mess of a double that ventures even further and longer would be a shit-hot follow up. 

Released 2015 on Relapse Records


GY!BE: live review

Warwick Arts Centre, Oct 22nd 2015

Louder, heavier, noisier, DRONIER … if those words go some way to describing how Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress compares to previous GY!BE records then those same words go all the way to describing Asunder live v Asunder studio: on stage, GY!BE 2015 are an electrified maelstrom.

At the start of the set, hope flickers. Literally. It’s the first word of the night but it’s unspoken, projected instead onto the film-shorts backdrop while the band file onstage one-by-one and take to their instruments – a violin two-bass two-drum three-guitar ensemble – to build that b.i.g. drone opener. This all happens without fanfare or salutations, like a choreographed rehearsal between long-term friends… if the crowd were absent, it would not matter.

Post HOPE, where do Godspeed take us? Far away from The Everyday Normal, that’s where. Asunder gets aired – Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’ and Piss Crowns Are Trebled are both heavier and hairier than you dare imagine – as does the madfuck spiral that is Mladic. And while there are moments of calm and light, as you’d expect, those moments are Flee Ting and Power Less in the face of the night’s amplifier overload. Strands of Sunn O))), Metal Machine Trio and Earth all push through in the drones and the noise, and though it’s pretty tough going at times, the reward – typified by Piss Crowns’ stupendous fuck-off-and-cry climax – are those surging crescendos and brink-of-collapse payoffs that Godspeed make their own.

So yeah, it’s an experience more than a gig, and if you want fanboy precision about tracks played then this review ain’t the place. All I wanna do, as a Godspeed-live first-timer, is somehow convey the thrill of the show: it IS heavy, it IS noisy, it IS intense, and it IS vast – the orchestral enormity conjured by just eight people defies belief.

When the whole thing ends – band members departing one by one, instruments left and locked in feedback harmony – there’s much to reflect on, not least the massive, near-physical power of music (when it’s in the right hands) and the transient chatter that passes for much of our day-to-day. Sometimes you need a break from life to get yourself realigned. Two hours of Godspeed will do that.

Seismic rock, visceral beauty. Nothing less.


OXFORD WHEATSHEAF, August 27, 2015

Funny how some gigs just feel like home. Last week, Steve Harris was at the O2 with British Lion – upstairs, no less – so when a metal legend is that close, you gotta go. MAIDEN: the Iron One. No wonder it was packed, and yet for all the musicianship and energy and sweat and conviction of the Lions, not to mention the bass-gun pointing from ‘arris (classic), their anthemic mid-tempo Maiden-lite didn’t really roar …. solid enough but kinda careful. Made me want to dig out some Maiden proper.

Tonight in the Wheatsheaf, though, is a different kettle of scaley ones. I know next to nowt about Morass of Molasses or Mother Corona EXCEPT for the promise of heavy stoner action from Reading and Didcot respectively, so I am completely in their hands – and they abso-fucking-lutely deliver.

Morass of Molasses: mid-tempo, bottom-heavy rifferama, lifted by spacious bluesy flow. GO SEE THIS BAND. They’ve got an EP out called So Flows Our Fate and the only downer is that it’s only four songs long (apols for buying CD not vinyl after the gig, Morass fellas. Mr Bones tried his best).

Mother Corona, another trio, rock a similar path except they do it with a drummer vocalist and – if my eyes ain’t doing porky lies – a bassist with five strings. Oh, and the World’s Biggest Mother Corona Fan is on stage at all times ‘coz no.1 fanboy seems to be their very own guitarist Lee, who can’t help showing his big big love for what songwriter Dave (drums/vox) pulls together:

“Dave writes the songs, it’s awesome, he’s … a prick!”

“I am,” agrees Dave.

Can’t possibly comment on a stranger’s prick-or-not status, but what we can comment on is Mother Corona’s stellar stoner-age grooves, as you might expect from a band who’ve been on the road with Orange Goblin. Nice bit of psyche shimmer on the guitar, clean Billy Corgan-ish vocals, faultless devotion to rocking out, this is infectious stuff. Vertigo Terror, Back to Hell and Reburn (I think) are among the Corona chewns getting the ‘sheaf going, while mid-set covers of Sabbath (Into the Void – natch – and Sabotage mother lode Hole in the Sky) stoke things further and a closing I Wanna Be Your Dog are pretty perfectly pitched in my book. GO SEE THIS BAND.

Like I said, some gigs feel like home. Best of the year so far pour moi.


Did you see Dearly Beloved tearing round Blighty with Swervedriver the other month? No? Then you missed a pretty brisk support act so it’s only right that we spread the love and support the support with a few words about their 2014 rekkid, Enduro. Since snapping it up at the Oxford show (sold by singer Niva Chow, no less) it’s become a real Fast-Gro listen this past month: ten-tracks jammed with snagging hooks, propulsive bass and boy-girl vocal swaps that steer the Canadian four piece well clear of all-guy r.o.c.k. stereotypes.

Back at the Oxford O2 – the gig with zero audience participation, remember? – it was the bass that nicked your first impressions, mostly because singer/four-stringer Rob Higgins wasn’t shy of actually playing the fucker and giving it some action, not just in a rhythm sense but in that bass-as-guitar kinda way as well, stoking up a thickened fuzzbed for the rest of the Dearlys to play off … feel the warmth. And when you find that the Enduro album was put together en Mojave in Rancha de la Luna – studio home to Kyuss, Desert Sessions, Masters of Reality and the just-returned Goatsnake ffs, to name just four – with Dave Earthlings? Catching at the helm then you start to join some dots. Perhaps there really is a bit of Joshua Tree dust trapped in DB’s attack? Seeing the boho-intense set-up at Rancha in the Los Angeles episode of Dave Grohl’s fckn brilliant Sonic Highways series, it looks impossible NOT to be infiltrated by the environment, and our very own Sheffield Monkeys are proof of that. Got the arctic stripped right off ’em.

But despite all this desert talk, Dearly Beloved aren’t stoner behe-moths hanging round a night light on a never-ending jam to infinity. They’re sharp, lean and schooled in the 3-minute arts, and first track Enduro fairly flies off the bat with White Denim hyper-ness and a rubber riff rebound. Buried somewhere in this kickstarter is one of THE names in the whole of desert rock-dom – yes, reality’s master hisself, Chris Goss – but to be honest, you can’t really hear him. Maybe a tiny bit.

(you can’t)

Still, his very presence is a pointer to the Enduraesthetic because although Dearly Beloved are punk energy – think Pulled Apart By Horses without the screamo – they weave in some Goss-like space and sensibility too, as on Astor Dupont Payne and the gently reflective Ether Binge. At the other end of the Enduro scale is a full burn Guile of Pricks (great title) and the twisting Not My Pig, a dirt-low filth riff punctured by space, bass and Niva’s detached vocal cool. Album highlight right there.

At 28 minutes end to end it’s a short set, but it ain’t short of adventure – stick it on and get a feelgood hit for the summer. Check ’em out right here.


OXFORD O2, 22 May 2015

This is awkward.

On stage, Dearly Beloved. In front of them, NOTHING. Beyond the nothing, at the back of the room, punters. Must be a bad smell coming off that band coz it’s a big gap and it feels like a void, yet it doesn’t deter DB from hitting it like headliners. Maybe they’re used to big spaces. They are from Canada.

The problem here isn’t the music (and there’s no repulso whiff either, thank feck). It’s age. See those whip-thin 19-year-olds ready to Destroy the Void with kinetic energy and mass kickass? Exactly. Not bloody here, are they? This is a Swervedriver gig, which means that when Dearly Beloved look out from that stage, they see history: the early middle agers. Poor bastards.

But if they’re gutted they don’t show it, impressing with short multi-riff tracks, stacks of gear shifts and upfront bass that’s warmthickwarm with Royal Blood yet flanked by guitars for a proper desert-punk attack. Listening to their Enduro album, recorded down at the Joshua Tree with Dave Catching and a walk-on from no less a maestro than Chris Goss, they do not disappoint on CD either.

With Swervedriver, you know exactly what you’re gonna get: tunes and melodies roughened just enough by pedal-action, volume and distortion. Simple enough, innit? Not much looks to have changed since they were on this very stage in 2008 except that they’ve now got a new record out, Mick Quinn from Supergrass is standing in on bass patrol and everyone here is seven years balder/fatter/greyer or, at the very least, just seven years older. Adam Franklin still looks to me like he should be in Clutch, but the local rag has a different band in mind.

I picked up the Oxford Mail today,” says the soft-spoken frontmanfella. “It had a Swervedriver feature that we did.”

[slight pause]

“They printed a picture of the Thurston Moore Band.”

Nice. Still, no-one here’s in any doubt about who Swervedriver are and for a sizeable few it’s a chance to live it up like 1995. Me, I’m just after a few of those glory-day faves at High Volume – not diehard enough to be chasing the new album, but a chance to hear Raise/Mezcal gems live and loud? Shityeah, and when For Seeking Heat, Deep Seat and Rave Down land pretty early it’s clear we’ve got a crowd-pleaser ahead. Son of Mustang Ford spikes the pace and Franklin still looks right at home coaxing mini storms from that frayed Jazzmaster, so much so that you just start to wonder and hope … maybe they’ll cut loose with a full-squall never-ender? Will they? But it’s a distant hope because tonight’s not the time. Tonight’s about the tunes, and on that front the best is definitely saved til last with a brace of Mezcal highs – locomotive surf-psyche beaster Last Train to Satansville (their greatest 6 minutes 45, no?), and the woozily muscular Duel to finish. THIS is why you come and see Swervedriver live: a Mezcal Head finale and muted hearing for the walk home. Mission accomplished.


The Wheatsheaf, Oxford, May 9 2015

Is this going to be Undersmile‘s big year? Already they’ve done the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands, and new record Anhedonia has gone top of the Terrorizer charts by bagging its Album of the Month accolade in the current issue. This, surely, is Big News, and with rumours flying that tonight may well be their only Oxford gig of 2015, there’s a feelgood homecoming buzz about the Wheatsheaf. Lotta smiles, lotta chatter.

But before Witney’s super-strength export close this Buried in Smoke event, we’ve got a support set from Essex troupe Earthmass – and with a name like that you just gotta deliver, right? But before we can find out, singer/guitarist Chris Houghton makes for the mic for a quick word.

I know you metallers are a sentimental lot so I just wanted to say that … well, my nan died yesterday.”

Oh … bummer. ‘sheaf crowd twitches. Not sure what to do with this information.

“So this is for her. She never actually heard us play, which is probably for the best. It would have fucking killed her.”

And once first track Awake/Crisis cruises from sparse intro to bruised-up pounding, you know he’s right coz Earthmass do spacious post-metal the Isis way: clean bits, raging bits, gut-growling downtuned crunch, mebbe even a scrape of Tool’s discordant prog spook. Very nice, Earthmass chaps. Very nice indeed. Looking forward to giving that Collapse CD some heavy rotation.

But if mid-tempo riffage is just TOO DAMNED FAST for your slothmetal tastes, and instrumental breaks just TOO DAMNED CHEERFUL for your subterranean nightmare vision then you can always always always turn to

u   n   d   e   r   s   m   i   l   e .

Yeah. The pace stops here and when they step up, they say nothing. Not. A. Word. All those pre-gig smiles and chit-chat are long gone when Hel and Taz, white dresses catching spectral light, take centre stage side by side and the band prepare to unfurl Sky Burial: haunting, drowning, none heavier. Probably. Atacama Sunburn, possibly tonight’s peak ‘mare centrepiece, showcases the extremes of their expanding sound as delicate post-rock quiet makes way for scream-in horror harmonies from the depths of the grim. Fearsomely intense, Undersmile utterly inhabits its own world, locked in while we look on like cult metal Stockholm Syndrome captives. As one punter puts it on the way out, ‘There’s no-one like ’em. They’re in a field of one.’

Second that. An acquired taste yes, but no-one  and that means, no-one  does doom quite like Undersmile.

Anhedonia by Undersmile and Collision by Earthmass, out now.

More Oxford gigs and stuff at Buried in Smoke

A tad heavy, brothers


Record Store Day was the big news for April and the record shops are now getting back to normal, assuming they had a ticket to the RSD party in the first place. I put a few thoughts down meself in the last post but if you wanna chew on some no-messing wordage from someone with all the right credentials – music obsessive, full-time traveller, workaholic – check the fanatic, Henry Rollins, and his post last week for LA Weekly. Lean fat-free writing, as ever.

Best bit of new listening this month has been Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, a beast of a debut from a two-band Seattle veteran who’d not played music for five whole years until, one SoCal day driving on Interstate 805, the radio planets aligned and forced an epiphany somewhere around San Diego. The track? War Pigs. The epiphan-ee? Tad Doyle.

Now there’s a name to ponder, alongside a few others: Tad, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Seattle. My confession is that aside from a split-cassette promo – Tad with Clutch, how good is that??? – from 1995, mes collection is shamefully Tad-less. Why? No good reason (well, student budget was probably the reason) so Inhaler, 8-Way Santa and the like are on that years-long list of stuff to look out for at CD fairs. Right now though, thanks to Terrorizer’s Feb interview, we’re here at the very start of Tad Doyle’s new era – and the future looks VERY solid.

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth turn out a primal, earthy blend of doom-rooted post metal, as you’ll know for sure when first track Lava comes hulking out the speakers like Megabeefus Neurosisus on a downhill run. Other tracks stretch out and hint at something bigger, more spiritual – check the quiet ritual summoned by The Immutable Path, or the Salvation-era Cult of Luna dynamics at play in Empires of Dust … no wonder Neurot Recordings were the Chosen Ones to cut the Brothers loose, for it is a mighty roar. Small band too – Tad guitar, wife Peggy bass, Dave French drums, that’s it. Keep track of all things BOTSC right here.

The last word in this Rewind is a word of honour for another three-piece:


And we are …???  Motorhead. Now added to the Glastonbury bill they will surely be greeted like the fckn heroes they are, so let’s hope that Lemmy’s strong enough to pull it off and bask in a sweaty all-conquering afterglow of motorheadoration. Illness meant the great man was a shadow with sideburns at Hyde Park’s BST last July, which was a bit difficult to watch, and he’s still looking gaunt if the pics in this month’s Metal Hammer are any indication. As he finishes the follow-up to 2013’s bristling Aftershock, he’s more aware than ever of his physical limitations so there’d be nothing more heroic and life-affirming than a Glastonbury shake-up by one of THE institutions in amplified rock and roll. COME ON LEM.

’til next time!

The great RSD swindle?

Yesterday was Record Store Day (RSD): best day of the year for record store shoppers.

Race down there silly early, wishlist in hand/in head from store email (you are on their mailing list, right?), feast eyes on vinyl goodies, get paws on summat new, feel rightly proud for helping to keep the record stores alive.


Get down there mid aft like a normal, no list in hand/head coz it’ll have been vultured by the earlies, feast eyes on vinyl goodies, recoil from the prices, try to shake off emerging RSDD (record store day disappointment) for the second year in a row, find something that was on your very own non-RSD list, feel proud for helping to keep the record stores alive, reflect on the fact that you do this every week anyway and think, actually, is this whole RSD thing a bit of a con?

OK, not a con exactly but a distortion with a misdirected focus.

Like you, I love music. That’s an understatement, as it is for many of us. We can be compulsive and nerd-like but it comes from a good place – we’re just very very keen. We’ve all got our own obsessions yet we can all get along in the same space, and nowhere is that space better defined than a truly great independent record shop. Those places feel like home, and if you’re lucky enough to have one as your local, you’ve got it made. Every week you can get some music IN YOUR HANDS, and that last bit’s absolutely crucial for those of us bothered by record shops and premise behind RSD: the browse, the immersion, the search, the discovery, the exchange, the thing you take with you. The physical elements of music.

So I feel bad for saying that Record Store Day leaves me feeling a bit cold.

Not the publicity or the occasion itself, or the ready-made excuse for going to the record shop on this very day – that’s exactly what we want and need for our music-dealing havens.

Nah, the bit that grates is its contrived gold-rush. The RSD special editions. The engineered ‘rarities’. The sky-scraping prices – 10 quid for a 7-inch single??? 10-inch EPs that sell for album prices, albums that sell for $$*@!!$!??? Very quickly you feel priced out but, swept along by the day’s momentum, you try to convince yourself that this disc is worth it. You look again. And again. And those repeat looks tell you this: it’s not worth it. It’s a 7-inch single with two tracks that you’ve already got, and it’s a tenner if not more. PUT IT BACK. It’s an RSD selfie – proof of presence, proof of participation.

Hmmm. I used to buy records all the time and I love the records I’ve got. They have their stories and they’re definitely part of mine, but when CDs came along, vinyl became pretty much obsolete. There was no choice but to buy CDs … fair enough. I love CDs too. Now we’re in a vinyl revival, so we’re told, yet it looks more and more like a revival for those who’ve got the cash to spend twice as much per album as a CD costs.

Sorry, but no.That makes no sense to me.

I’d rather buy more music. Vinyl is now saved for favoured bands or special releases, and that’s a subjective thing that’s got nothing to do with what RSD dictates will be released on April the Whatever each year.

So instead of creating a faux collectors’ market each April, why doesn’t RSD do justice to its own name and remember that it’s about the SHOP and the music? I don’t remember seeing it called Limit$d V$nyl Day or Records-Only Day. It’s Record Store Day. Why not turn it into a chance for everyone to buy more music in their favourite record shop? As well as stocking the limit$d v$nyls, indie shops could cut the prices of non-RSD vinyl and CDs for the day. I know that the suppliers have a big hold on what happens as far as stock goes, but as a music fan and record-store customer, this is what would make the day unbeatable. Something for all fans and customers, not just the dawn-start v$nyl grabbers.

I did buy a new CD, but it wasn’t RSD approved. Already it sounds fckn immense and I’m only two and a half tracks in (clue: Seattle). I’ll probably divulge more in a review some other time, but the point is already made – ’tis the music, not the spectacle, that really delivers.

That was my day. How was yours?