DRORE: Tapeone

SPLASH METAL: THE BOG YEARS. Brutal sludge, straight outta Oxon

Tapeone starts with toilet humour. Literally. 40 seconds of what sounds like a giant piss, but if you ride it out then you make it into the lurching dirtball that is Skinjob, aka Tapeone’s track one. And at this point (piss excepted), Drore are probably what you’d expect – or at least, not un-expect – from a band made of two ex-Undersmile and a Crippled Black Phoenix: heavy, muddy, mid tempo business as usual. Until, that is, a ferocious double-kick screamcore blast, as unhinged as it is unexpected, shreds all preconception…. WTF???? Undersmile, gothic grinders of punishingly slow doom. CBP, widescreen purveyors of fluid spacebound psyche. Ne’er a gallop between ’em, ’til now. That’s Skinjob. That’s Drore. 

Drore Tapeone

So, compared to the parent bands, Drore are a very different kettle of scaly ones, packing feral sludge and noise overload into four concise scabs. Hippy Crack growls like … hell, I’m gonna bring the Big M in here: Metallica. Specifically, 2003 Metallica. St Anger Metallica. Great album (no, not joking) and, in the title track’s pre-verse riff, one of Metallica’s most primal moments … utterly monstrous, and Hippy Crack’s got the same growly churn going. Greys channels dank nightmare squalor, while Fukbags (the best Trainspotting character that never was?) even allows a sliver of post(ish)-metal to break through and ease, just for a mo, the full mettle racket that is Tapeone’s fetid stock.

When Drore opened for OHHMS last month, they came across as a band who make Massive Fucking Noise just because they like making Massive Fucking Noise, and the EP captures the MFN easily – listening to it after a live show is not a let down, not at all. The distorted scuzz-mammoth filth with the hostile slacker vibe is very, very much intact.

File somewhere near: Fudgetunnel, Godflesh, Greymachine, Louisiana metal, Part Chimp, Harvey Milk, St Anger, an open sewer


NEWS!!! Make space for Tapetwo, coz it’s just been recorded. NEW DRORE SHIT, ready to drop. Stand clear of the splash zone.



OHHMS: live review

OHHMS / MAMMOTH WEED WIZARD BASTARD / DRORE @ THE CELLAR, OXFORD, 13/02/2017

What a bonus. Turn up at the Cellar for the OHHMS/Mammoth double-header and find that Drore are on the bill as well, making it a triple ugly. NICE. Except that Drore are not nice, not at all. Staggering out from Undersmile’s RIP with scabby song titles like Skinjob and Fukbags, Drore are ruff, scuzzy, sludgy grrrowly FILFF, and unlike Taz and Olly’s so-slo Undersmile, this lot play the mid and fast field with stacks of gear shifts and double-kick beatdowns. Always noisy and never melodic, there’s a thick grunge whiff but not in the Seattle sense … nah, this is grunge the Godflesh way, pissed out of toxic wastepipes and topped off by pained hell-o shriekage from Taz and Crippled Black bassist Tom Greenway. No doubt about it, Drore create a world all their obnoxious own and it’s a proper ugly thrill. No wonder they bagged a few Terrorizer column inches last year.

Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard made it into some end-of-year album lists in 2016 so this gig was always gonna be a chance to catch what they’re all about, but their static doom reps somehow underwhelm a bit tonight, ‘specially after Drore’s violent discharge.

No such underwhelm for Canterbury’s OHHMS though, a band who seem stupendously fully formed given that they’ve only put out two EPs, but if you came here expecting oceanic transcendence a la Bloom (massive) and Cold (even massiver) then you/we are out of luck because that version of OHHMS is not in the building. A mere half hour of stage time means it’s New Stuff Only tonight, and they hit it hard. With tracks like The World upping the pace and packing in some aggressive Pelican-ese riffs, we might have a bolshier, denser OHHMS heading our way … let’s see what The Fool brings in March, eh? The only thing lacking tonight is TIME: not enough. And for a band like OHHMS, that just ain’t right.

*update: just read that one of the gig highlights – drummer Stephen Frame – is Drore no more. Ach! News is over on the Drore bacefook page

 

One More Time With Feeling

SEPTEMBER REWIND: NEW NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS, AND GAME OVER FOR UNDERSMILE

September 2016 was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds month. Not for the first time this year, loss has dominated a new work by a major rock artist who, it seems crass to say, can be trusted to handle it with honesty and grace.

One More Time With Feeling, the black and white film documenting the making of Skeleton Tree, showed at Oxford’s Phoenix Picturehouse as part of a national screening the night before the album’s release. And as you’d expect, given the circumstances, it’s an intense, almost physically emotional viewing experience. You watch Nick Cave’s disorientation, bewilderment and scatter-brain distraction as he talks around What Happened, while he and the band somehow piece the album together in the WH aftermath.

Skeleton Tree provides the film’s axial structure, its spine. Each track is performed in the order it appears on the album, interspersed with interview cuts – in taxis, hotel rooms, studio, performance space, office – with Cave, with his wife, with the Bad Seeds. Then there is Cave’s inner voice too, dropping in a first-person narrative flecked with self doubt, notes (“I must remember to be kind”) and deprecating humour.

Cave looks tired. The music is anything but. Weighty yes, but weary? No. Jesus Alone, the first track to be aired from the album, crackles with hypnotic spook while Girl in Amber drifts in and out of time. Anthrocene, meanwhile, is organic, scratchy, night-time glitchy – shades of Radiohead? – right up there with Cave’s latter-day best, and though it’s early days, there’s a touch of Blackstar in the way this album makes you feel: infrequent listens will go a long way. A week after the film, I played Skeleton Tree – side 1 one night, side 2 another – and each time I just stood and watched the vinyl while fragments from the film ran through my head, putting faces into and onto the music. Skeleton Tree might be ambient, pushing the quieter moods from Push the Sky Away, but it is not background. Too compelling. But again, it’s early days and no doubt there is more to be revealed with future plays.

Leaving the cinema on September 8th was a slow, dazed, contemplative drift back into the temporarily inconsequential, and if you’ve lost someone then One More Time With Feeling will bring it right back. It is a draining film to watch, but funny – sometimes – and poignant too; Arthur’s twin Earl appears, and Cave and wife Susie Bick say that they are ‘making the decision to be happy’, to care for each other and everyone around. 

Where does Nick Cave go next? Change was one of his themes in the film – the fact that, after trauma, you are changed on the inside, but the world outside isn’t. How does Cave the storyteller, Cave the live performer, carry on while carrying Arthur’s absence? Things must change… because Cave is forever changed.

Undersmile over

Just read in Nightshift mag that Undersmile, one of THEE heaviest of bands not just from the Oxford area but from any area any fckn where, have split. Not sure what that means for Coma Wall (good for autumn listening, by the way), but half of the band are carrying on in true drudge dread style with new band Drore.

’til next time!

UNDERSMILE live

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

Oxford: the doom inspires

REWIND MARCH

April’s in. March is out. What happened? The return of one of the slowest, heaviest bands in the land, that’s what: UNDERSMILE. And if you’ve ever been within a mile or eleven of their nightmare doomcrawl, you’ll know that’s no exaggeration – last year I stood within a few feet when they supported Beehoover and felt utterly punished by the set’s end. Not exactly pleasurable, yet weirdly compelling … if torpid glacier is a pace you’re partial to. Either way, it was pretty damned cool to see them nab Nightshift’s front cover in March, and it’s an all-round good read so check it out – the band are funny and friendly (everything the music is not), there’s a new word for our vocabulary and you’ll find some highly impressive, though not remotely big-headed, namedrops of Billy Anderson, Dylan Carlson and Mr 2.13.61 himself, Henry Rollins. Why the Big Interview status? Oh yeah: Undersmile have got a new album looming. It’s called Anhedonia.

But you’ll find no review here coz it’s not out til a bit later in April so, as a warm up, let’s turn to 2013’s Wood and Wire. I’ll admit that I haven’t squared up to the Narwhal debut, mostly because I’ve been too scared, but this split album is shaping up to be a proper entry point to the world of Undersmile. For starters, it’s not just them – it’s a split album with Coma Wall, who are … Undersmile? Yes. In disguise. As ACOUSTIC BALLADEERS, faaaaa’ckinnelll!!!

Except there’s no b*ll*dry on show here, I made that bit up. Coma Wall are acoustic though, and the three tracks here – each of them 6 minutes plus – have the same addictive downer harmonies that recall Alice in Chains’ Sap EP, yet the low cello drone and slow-pick banjo on the standout track You Are My Death (it WILL stick in your head) turns the vibe dial to Rustic Americana. Love it. No wonder Dylan Carlson’s been sniffing around.

The flip to Coma Wall’s melancholic drift is Undersmile’s amplified hit: bog-slow and Dopesmoker-huge, the inyerface clarity is well removed from the stoner end of doom, not just because of the recording itself (co-produced by no less than Justin Greaves) but also because Undersmile don’t do that blues-based Sabbath-rooted derivative riffing thing. They don’t chug, not here at least, and they definitely don’t swing or groove. Undersmile pound and lurch, dragging things down with those moaning dead-souls-in-harmony vocals. Sure it’s monotonous on first listen but with extra reps, you find the spaces and the range. The Slint-like unease (Killer Bob), the Neurosis tension (Hives). And it grows, absolutely. Undersmile are no easy ride but one thing’s for sure – they stand apart in this heaviest of rock divisions, and Wood and Wire’s split format could be your way in. Did the job for me.

Digital download of Wood and Wire available at Shaman Recordings, it’s well cheap

Undersmile interview with Oxford’s Nightshift is in the March issue, page 4 of the PDF. Album review on page 5.

Last bit …

6Music went underground on March 21 when John Doran, editor of online sprawl The Quietus, guested on Maconie’s Freakier Zone for a 30-minute special on SUBTERRANEAN WORLDS. Not all of it’s essential but if you’re poking abut the iPlayer it’s worth checking for these two reasons: Lustmord’s ambient industrial menace, and the Butthole Surfers dementedness. Because you don’t really get this stuff on air very often, do you?

And that’s that. ‘til next time!

BEEHOOVER – live@Wheatsheaf, March 25 2014

‘We’ve got a new one for you … but mostly it’s the same old shit’.

That’s how Caravan of Whores introduce themselves on tonight’s Buried in Smoke event, but when it’s high grade no-messing-about shit dealt primarily from the Road to Kurti stash, there’s nowt to grumble about. New track Blackout (I think) fits the Caravan MO pretty damned well. Spacey bits are spacier, heavy bits are more chargin’ and apart from drummer Jamie losing a stick halfway through Your God is Dead, it’s a job well done.

Rising locals Undersmile are in no danger of such stick-losing accidents. That would be like driving a milk float up Shotover Hill and getting done for speeding – it just ain’t gonna happen. No, their mournful harmonies and so very very loud-and-slow anti-groove is a nightmare soundtrack pulled from the Khanate school of doom. It is relentless. Brief relief comes when they wind it up – yes, UP – to a mid-tempo hurtle past the finish line after some Godflesh-inspired menace.

Following Undersmile’s punishing slo-mo we get a total contrast: Beehoover. Shoeless, sockless drum-and-bass action from Germany and these guys don’t hold back. At no point does this sound like just two people. No way.

With bass amplified and no guitar to get in the way, you get echoes of that thick warm Kyuss woomph but it’s not fat, woozy or dusty … it’s superlean and shifting fast. No nod-outs or loose jams here. Ingmar Petersen plays bass like rhythm AND lead, with a progger’s itinerary of riffs, patterns and shifts. And the drums? Same full-on deal. Claus-Peter Hamisch seems to switch every time Petersen does, a joint lead attack that’s totally locked in. They play hard and give it everything, and the only band that really comes to mind with this kind of sound and set up is latter-day Melvins rhythm-meisters Coady Willis and Jared Warren, aka Big Business.

How Beehoover come across on CD I’ve yet to find – 2013 album The Devil and His Footmen didn’t arrive in time for the gig – but live, they’re tonnes fuller and more propulsive than on Exile on Mainstream’s Worship the Riff label sampler a few years back.

The one downside to this great line-up tonight is the attendance. Only partially filled at best, even that meagre crowd thins once Undersmile exit, and it’s criminal that bands as strong as this – and especially Beehoover – weren’t seen by a few more rock-loving bods.

 

 

 

 

 

CARAVAN OF WHORES – Road to Kurti

The Caravan rolls into Oxford this week to kick off a night of heaviness at the Wheatsheaf, supporting Undersmile and Beehoover, so it’s about time we snuck in a warm up for the Oxfordshire three-piece. Time to get on the Road … to Kurti.

And where does it lead?

To a four track, 30-minute nugget of doom-ish riffs and space trippin’ expansions, that’s where. I’ve been listening to this 2012 release loads since seeing them support Naam last year and at first, I thought the dooooomy-ness held sway. Sticky blackened riffs on Mr Bendyman and Your God is Dead are airless and sunshine free … Wino comes to mind (sort of), as does the cold-air essence of 80s Celtic Frost (sort of).

Oh, and so do four geezers (sorry Geezer) from the black country who unwittingly spawned this whole thing anyway. You know how Masters of Reality was the first Sabbath record to sound consistently just too slow, like your turntable was spinning a couple of revs under the magic 33? That’s where Road to Kurti’s riffs are pitched: leaden enough to lurch with a wee bit of drag, no doubt intoxicated by Into the Void’s daddy-of-them-all stoner spirit.

But what really elevates this EP is the stuff that isn’t riff-based. The stuff that breaks down and stretches out. Anyone who’s a sucker for those spacious head-nodding jams that cast off their earth shackles and make for some higher orbit – the cosmic side of Kyuss, Dead Meadow, Monster Magnet and the like – will find pure drifting satisfaction here.

Check the thick warm bass way up front in the mix on opener Drug Queen, then spend the next half hour wallowing in ego-less guitar (from the magnificently named John Slaymaker), dirgey riffs and some mightily hyperactive drum action which, after repeat plays, grabs your ears to the point that you’ll soon start having your favourite FILLS, never mind riffs (hello Mr Bendyman). And you don’t normally say that about drummers in so-called doom bands, which just shows how much more is going on here.

So then: Caravan of Whores. You wouldn’t name a taxi company after them, but as far as the psyche/prog end of doom or the dark side of the desert goes, they’re a name to call on. They deliver. Looking forward to the next batch of tunes, fellas.

Arbouretum: live@Port Mahon, Oxford, August 2013

Baltimore rockers Arbouretum follow their Green Man Festival date with a mini tour that takes in a mini venue: Oxford’s Port Mahon. Standing room only, surely.

 

Please, no encore. Don’t make this go on any longer. Make it stop.

And stop, they do. No encore. Arbouretum get it, and we can get out. RELIEF.

Which is not quite what we were expecting ahead of a gig that, let’s be honest, is a bloody exciting prospect. Listed on the posters as ‘the smallest gig of Arbouretum’s UK tour’, this has to be the rock event of the month bar none. Not even Eels and Nick Oliveri, who are both playing Oxford tonight (sadly not together), can top this one. My mate Si drove all the way over from Cardiff having seen Arbouretum 24 hours earlier in Bristol, declaring it one of the best gigs he’d ever been to. Cardiff-Bristol-Cardiff-Oxford-Cardiff in a day and a half is a pretty conclusive testimonial.

But back to tonight: history is written. Why?

HOTTEST GIG EVER.

Stupid-hot, it is. Pouring sweat and light-headed flakiness all round. The bassist does well to keep his eyes open and stay upright, and the only way to get through this high humidity hell-hole is not to move. At all.

More of this later though ‘coz before Arbouretum take the tiny stage, we have two local bands on the bill – Coma Wall and Listing Ships.

Coma Wall are the unplugged alter ego of the doom-laden Undersmile. They lay funereal Alice in Chains-esque harmonies (Sap/Jar of Flies) over sparse, almost-rustic acoustics and drag it all out at an Earth-paced crawl. A melancholic start for sure.

Listing Ships, by contrast, are all over the place. I mean that in a very precise, right-side-of-muso way – their instrumental math/post rock fusion is krautrock propulsive, bringing to mind Explosions in the Sky jamming on Battles or early-Foals. Or summat. Exhilarating stuff.

We wait for Arbouretum and feel the Ships-generated exhilaration slowly turn to perspiration. Equipment problems delay the headliner’s start and there’s a hint of agitation in the thickening air. Arbouretum look distracted, a bit tense. It’s getting hotter. Finally they start. They get it wrong, it’s a balls-up. They stop.

‘Well, we’ve never done that before,’ says frontman Dave Heumann. ‘You are witnessing a first.’

This error and frank admission somehow breaks the onstage tension and frees them, finally, to do what they came here to do – mesmerise us with their amplified Americana, fluid heaviness and out-there escapism. Arbouretum’s music belongs somewhere earthy and mystical, somewhere without boundaries. It rolls and surges. It’s unhurried but it still rocks. For some reason I start to imagine them playing in a bedouin tent.

But they’re not in a tent. They’re in an airless sweatbox which, by the time the set nears its end, is slowly forcing people out the door before the band call time on their set

Arbouretum still win though. They’re a class act, no doubt about it. We saw that, even if we were too beaten to fully reward it. Bristol next time?