KARMA TO BURN: live

KARMA TO BURN with DESERT STORM at The Cellar, Oxford, June 27 2018.

This is a billing you really don’t wanna miss. Oxford wrecking merchants Desert Storm hook up with hard rock legends Karma to Burn in the none-more-suitable confines of the Cellar.

So. Desert Storm. Drunk-en shambollock. No, hang on – that’s Uncle Will, buffering across the stage mid-set to ruffle everyone’s hair. What we really mean is, DESERT FUCKING STORM: another titanic chunk of metallic heft that pummels and grooves in all the right places, same as it ever did. Journey’s End is the opener, just as it is for new album Sentinels, and it’s a forceful declaration, launching a set that draws heavily on Sentinels and rightly bloody so because it’s a heavyweight beast. Too Far Gone, The Brawl and Gearhead are, if memory serves, among the other new tracks thrown in with old familiars, but it’s the textured maturity of Kingdom of Horns that really leaps out, as it does on the album. What more to say? Another awe-tastic Desert Storm offensive.

Karma to Burn next, straight outta West Virginia-ish. Will they conquer too?

Yes. And no.

The yes is for other people. Cellar crowd rocks out to Forty Four, Thirteen, Eight, Twenty One and whatever the hell else got played. Cellar Loves Karma.

The NO? That’s mine, and it doesn’t feel great to say it. There’s a ton of love for the band from here got the albums on heavy rotation ahead of the gig, finally wrapped up a long-unfinished lost-classic style review of their debut, and am definitely over the karaoke Karma experience of 2013. This one feels RIGHT, especially with Desert Storm upfront. Anticipation is high again.

But that moment when KTB’s Will Mecum wandered through the DS stage, warning bells rang because he looked pretty hammered already. Not fall-over gone, but wavering down the slow-focus end of beered/whatevered. What that means, when Karma to Burn take the stage, is that those mountain ‘spired riffs are crunched and amped and sound right enough, and Eric Cutter and a hulking Evan Devine give it plenty, but it just doesn’t look right – because the guy on guitar lets the riffs do the work without working the riffs. Instead of some attack and right-now presence from THE Karma originator and (let’s be honest) focal point, we got a slow drawling geezer who wasn’t bad but was on muscle-memory auto. It was a distraction and I couldn’t shake it. Funny how, when the music’s all there is – and that is literally true of this band – it ends up not being just about the music. You gotta show up, you gotta PLAY. Like it means something.

So, it wound up feeling like another karaoke job. Twice a bit burned, now. Any more? Better instead to savour clips like this from just a couple of years ago or recall a more vital show you’ve got lodged in the vault of memories (Audioscope 2011 for me: amps stacked higher than the stage was wide, full force rocking in your facials. Much more like it.)

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.

GREENLEAF: live

GREENLEAF / DESERT STORM: OXFORD CELLAR, 29/11/2016

We got one more for ya,” says vocalist Arvid Jonsson, and when that one-more becomes the mid-paced galactic burner With Eyes Wide Open, the best has been saved til last. The band are Greenleaf and-

No, me neither. Zero intel on these guys, ‘cept that they’re Swedish, they’ve toured with Clutch and most of the band are in fact Dozer, so with those kinda post-Man’s Ruin credentials, who wouldn’t hunker down in the Cellar on a f-f-f-freezin November night for the promise of toasty riffage? Especially when you’ve got girder-like support from Oxford Irn Bru-isers, Desert Storm.

Last time I saw Desert Storm was 2014 in this venue with Winnebago Deal, and they rocked it good-time. Tonight? They rock it good-time. With this lot, you just know you’re gonna get a great show, and the fact that two of Indica Blues have pitched up for a live earful shows that Desert Storm have got pulling power – there’s just summat about their riffs and sneaky little 5/4s that pulls you in and keeps you there. The C-word gets bandied about as a reference (already mentioned, go check) and that’s fair enough, but with Matt Ryan’s rough-neck roarin’ and a hefty bit of growl in the guitars, DS have definitely got a metallic High on Fire/Down thing going. Being woefully behind with their albums – to be sorted, promise – the track names passed me by (except for a colossal Convulsion, wherever that’s from), but it’s a sign of the band’s class that not knowing never matters: Desert Storm WILL get you going, and they will deliver the Rock. Guaran-fucking-teed.

After that, Greenleaf have a little bit of work to do. Frontman Jonsson is a singer – a good one – rather than a shouter, but his voice seems a tad thin after what’s just been and so we’ve got a slight pressure drop after the Storm. No worries, though. Favouring up-tempos and 60s vibes (we get the Doors twice – an impromptu Break on Through when Tommi Holappa goes string-busting, and Five to One later on), Greenleaf heat the joint with Cream-y blues and wah action til that spacious mini epic, With Eyes Wide Open, nails the set’s end with a spacey high, Swedish stoner style. Solid stuff, one to keep tabs on. 

 

WINNEBAGO DEAL – live@The Cellar, January 18th 2014

It’s a bit of an Oxford spesh tonight as Winnebago Deal break their mini exile for a Cellar blast with Desert Storm in heavy support. Tickets are door-only and demand is high so we’ve got a pretty full house from the off, and there’s a definite buzz in the thickening Cellar air. Everyone’s up for this.

Here’s how it starts:

8.00pm Cellar doors open

8.10 first band starts

8.21 first mosh breakout

Yep, it’s one of THOSE nights – fast and physical, and that’s no surprise when Act 1 is Flack Blag, a Black Flag covers band featuring the Winnebago Bens. Blag and their two vocalists rip through Flag classics like Rise Above, Six Pack, Thirsty and Miserable, Depression and Slip It In without break or breath, finally shutting the set down with a mighty My War.

As they dismantle their kit, Melvins spill out from the between-bands PA to plant fat riffs back in our heads and that’s EXACTLY the right prep for Act 2: Desert Storm. Cue mighty rockin’ and bellowin’ and more rockin’ – the Storm know how to intoxicate the punters with a good-time brew, and tonight they do it by the keg load.

Armed with stacks of riffs and breaks and tempo changes, all threaded by a taut-but-just-loose-enough elastic groove that swings in all the right places, there’s no denying there’s a massive Clutch vibe coming off this crew – and that is meant in every way as a compliment. Pantera have been described as groove metal but, great as they were, to me they seemed a bit rigid for that tag. A bit too PRECISE. Tonight, however, that tag fits. Clutch fans, latter-period Corrosion of Conformity fans, get out there and support this band when they next have a stage.

Where Desert Storm had Melvins, Winnebago Deal have Huey Lewis and the News. Yes, Huey and his current affairs buddies waft across the Cellar while the band handover is made, as if we’re being slipped a sly sweet melody to counteract the evil anti-melody that awaits.

Winnebago Deal: heroes to many, gods to some, and a mighty kick in the head to everyone  who crashes their scuzzy orbit. I’m no diehard Deal-er but I do remember seeing them at the Wheatsheaf a few years back and the live version of the band obliterated the CD version – louder, faster, more brutal, more everything and tonight, it’s the same. They have not mellowed. AT ALL.

Tonight is nothing less than a total shitstorm.

You want grooves and breaks? Go anywhere but here because WD’s punk thrash ‘n roll offers no remorse, only assault. Seriously. The Line Up, Takin’ Care of Business, Manhunt, George Dickel and the Karma to Burn-esque instrumental Dead Gone all get played I think but really, it’s pointless trying to recognise tracks because it’s too loud to hear anything.

Better instead to soak up the screech and the fury, the flailing limbs and low-clearance surfing and enjoy it (yes) for what it really is – a spectacle. When Winnebago Deal are in town, you get battered.

By music.

End of.

Karma to Burn – live@Bullingdon Arms, Oxford, July 2013

No-frills power-trio Karma to Burn bring guitar-bass-drums fury to the Bullingdon. Or do they?

As we know, Karma to Burn are all about the expected. End-to-end riffs, no vocals, no experimentation, no frills. They do not deviate, they do not change: certainty is their currency and you pretty much know what’s coming up – an hour or so of shit-kicking, dust-and-gasoline guitar hooks ground out by three grizzled road-dogs bonded by a volatile history of bad drugs, bad attitudes and band break-ups. Seeing the reunited Will Mecum-Rob Oswald-Rich Mullins line-up nail the Audioscope headline slot a couple of years ago was a proper treat, and now they’re back to give us more.

But before West Virginia headlines, Oxford must support. That honour falls to local heroes Desert Storm who charge the Bully with infectious, Clutch-inspired rhythm ‘n groove and supreme confidence. Immense.

Karma to Burn take to the stage almost without anyone noticing. And as the first notes crunch forth tonight, something’s not quite right.

Who’s the drummer?

And where is the bassist?

First question first. By not following Karma’s personnel moves last year, I missed the fact that drummer Rob Oswald left not just the band but music itself, sick of the lies and compromises at the business end of the music business. He got out.

As for the bass space … it remains a void. Rich Mullins never shows. Nothing is mentioned.

So for a band who trade in certainties and absolutes, this is an unsettling start. Does Will Mecum (guitar) plus a drummer (Evan Devine) count as a Karma to Burn experience?

Sonically, yes. As soon as those amps push Mecum’s Karma-sized riffs out, the doubts diminish and grins emerge. This music isn’t sophisticated, it’s as stripped down as you can get – there aren’t even any solos – and yet, live and loud in a small venue, it unleashes a very primal urge to just ROCK OUT. The Bullingdon back room does exactly that, whirling into a mosh as the wordless tracks blast past. Job done. And with job done, Mecum and Devine swiftly depart.

Whether this two-piece format is Karma to Burn’s future is something we don’t know yet. Losing Oswald’s unkempt wildman intensity is one thing but if Mullins’s genial cool is AWOL too … that’s a hefty personality deficit for a band who are pretty minimal to begin with. Tonight they pull it off – I think. Let’s see what happens.