KOWLOON WALLED CITY: GRIEVANCES

(NEUROT RECORDINGS/GILEAD MEDIA; 2015)

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As with most releases from Neurot Recordings, the words bleak, oppressive and challenging come to mind when describing GRIEVANCES, Kowloon Walled City’s third full-length and first for the label (the vinyl version is released through Gilead Media). The band’s mastermind, vocalist and guitarist Scott Evans has created as suffocatingly heavy a sound as any I’ve heard in a good little bit, with a biting narrative relating the hard-scrabble life of a working stiff just trying to get by (forget about getting ahead). On “Your Best Years,” a molasses slow groove underpins Evans’ strained voice as he laments “They’ll cut you down to count the rings/Measure out your worst years.” As the song nearly grinds to a stop in the middle section, we are presented with a great, droning solo. Somehow, through all of the gloom and despair, there’s an underlying sense that this guy is gonna beat the odds. “Grievances” is more kicking against the pricks (the intentionally vague lyrics, ostensibly railing against an employer, could also be talking about a government or an organized religion) and features more slow-core, intensely heavy riffage; this time, the solo comes as the music begins to pick up some steam before reverting back to the grinding cacophony. A violent crush of noise, “Backlit” may be the heaviest thing I’ve ever heard… a tune that’s kinda like the musical equivalent of watching two trains crashing into each other, seeing the carnage unfold in slow motion.

Kowloon Walled City (Scott Evans; Ian Miller; Jon Howell; Jeff Fagundes) (publicity photo)

Kowloon Walled City (Scott Evans; Ian Miller; Jon Howell; Jeff Fagundes) (publicity photo)

The second half of the album kicks off with “The Grift,” a song which is faster than the first three, but still doesn’t even come close to mid-tempo. The quickened pace seems to make the guitars sound more melodic through most of the tune. “White Walls” is vaguely reminiscent of a Body Count song played at half speed. For the first time, Ian Miller’s bass parts separate from the drone while the discordant, de-tuned guitars of Evans and Jon Howell and Jeff Fagundes’ stiflingly heavy drums threaten to smother the listener. Much more oppressive drums and bass pound home yet another tale of disillusion and deceit on “True Believer,” as Evans intones “He wonders which one’s to blame/And will they get away/Because you know/Someone always gets away.” The cut features a noisy, feedback-drenched solo. The final number highlights the reason we do what we do… it’s all for our “Daughters and Sons.” The narrative asks the questions we all ask: “Did we get enough?/Are we satisfied yet?” just before the hopelessness and ultimate defeat of the human spirit is felt in the final third of the song. GRIEVANCES is my first exposure to Kowloon Walled City and, hopefully, it won’t be my last. If nothing else, I would certainly love to see these guys play this stuff live.


ACID KING/LICH/MELURSUS

(October 30, 2015; FIREBIRD, Saint Louis MO)

An Osbourne Family Reunion (Joey's Mom is in red) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

An Osbourne Family Reunion (Joey’s Mom is in red) (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

So, I had a couple of things that I needed to take care of in the city before heading to the Firebird for a night of metal mayhem. Problem was, those things had to be taken care of before five PM; that meant that I was at the club a little after five, which is usually a good thing… it gives me time to check in with the headliners to ensure that their publicist or manager or whoever got all of my information to them and I was good to go to review the show. However, on this day, the headliners (Acid King) were still two hours away, a flat tire having slowed them down. All of this meant that I had time to kill, so I asked someone from the club if there was a decent place to eat in the area, preferably within walking distance; he pointed down the street and told me there was a barbecue place about four blocks away called Pappy’s. All I can say is, “Bless you, my child, for sending me to the best barbecue joint that I’ve been to in a couple of years.” Returning to the Firebird, there was still no sign of Acid King. I was eventually joined by a few other folks who were there to see their son/brother/nephew/cousin, who played drums in one of the bands; when they asked who I was there to see, I told them I really didn’t know anything about the opening acts and I was really looking forward to the mighty Acid King. “Oh, that’s who my son plays with. We’re going to find somewhere to have a belt or two… if Joey gets here before we get back, tell him that it was his aunt’s idea to go get blasted.” Osbourne’s mother would later tell me that this is the first time she’s seen him onstage since he joined the band.

Melursus (Chris Barr; Kyle Deckert; Lauren Gornik) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Melursus (Chris Barr; Kyle Deckert; Lauren Gornik) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

I relayed the message, which Joey Osbourne thought was hilarious… “Yep. That sounds like Mom. They’re all lushes.” I did have time to get a couple of shots of the family reunion before the first band, a local five piece called Melursus (which, apparently, is named after a Sri Lankan sloth bear). Their set was short, as they only had the four songs available here in their repertoire. Those four songs were highlighted by some fairly inventive guitar work from both Dalton Moore and Lauren Gornik and the exceptional bass playing of Chris Barr, who – like most bassists who call Saint Louis home – managed to be funky and melodic while maintaining the inherent heaviness dictated by the band’s doom-laden metal. Drummer Kyle Deckert seemed to do more with less, driving the ship with a steady, forceful hand (and foot) that occasionally steered the music into more of a thrash arena. Even though Chuck Scones’ vocals tended to be buried in the mix (at least, at the front of the stage), what managed to get through sounded a whole lot better than what ended up on the URSA MINOR EP. If super-heavy melodicism is your thing, Melursus is definitely a band worth checking out.

Lich (Ben, the Bass God; Colin Apache; Sid Liberty) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Lich (Ben, the Bass God; Colin Apache; Sid Liberty) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Throughout Melursus’ set, I was aware of an intense, burly mountain man wandering around the venue; to my surprise (and eventual delight), this bull of an individual turned out to be a gentleman named Sid Liberty, a guitar player turned drummer from Columbia, Missouri who is now doing time in a trio called Lich. Sid turned out to be even more of a madman once the music started, pounding his head as hard as he attacked his kit; more than once, we locked eyes, as he tried to bore a hole into my soul with his Charles Manson, wild-eyed glare. Liberty set his kit up facing the other two members of the group because, as he explained, he hadn’t been playing drums too long and it was easier for him to follow if he could see what Ben and Colin were doing. Ben (or, more accurately, Ben, the Bass God) is the type of player that could give Terry (Geezer) Butler a run for his money, with a deep, almost gutteral style that virtually screams “doom.” Colin Apache is the mastermind behind Lich, his concept including a complex, layered back story that he hopes to one day turn into a comic book to offer at future shows; he is also a master of Iommi-like riffage, occasionally mirroring what Ben plays for an even heavier sound. Colin and Ben added their voices to the metal melee. Like Melursus before them, Lich played a very short set, running about a half hour and, though their tunes are fully realized, even at this early stage, they are merely titled with Roman numerals (I-IV, with another loose jam tacked on to extend their set). As much as I liked Melursus, given what I heard and saw from Lich, these guys are the real deal and I certainly look forward to following their metamorphosis into an elite metal outfit, akin to riff-monsters like Sabbath and, of course, Acid King.

Acid King (Lori S) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Acid King (Lori S) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

More than a few people have asked me to describe the music of Acid King. This is what I tell ’em: Acid King is like a heavier version of early, doom-laden Black Sabbath, except the guitar player and the singer are the same person and she isn’t a guy. This is the first time the three-piece has toured for nearly a decade, in support of their first album in ten years, MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, CENTER OF EVERYWHERE, and the Firebird show was my first live taste of the riff-mongering trio. The group has made a career out of playing long, plodding, occasionally droning pieces of improbably heavy, feedback-drenched music, punctuated with minimal vocals from guitarist/songwriter Lori S; their set on this Friday night was no different, with seven songs in about an hour, five of them from the new record. Mark Lamb’s sludgy, fuzzed-out bass work and Osbourne’s powerful, rapid-fire drumming offered a solid underpinning for Lori’s masterful riffing and fluid soloing.

Acid King (Mark Lamb) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Acid King (Mark Lamb) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

I quickly realized that Acid King was the epitome of the indie, “DIY” outfit, as Lori plugged her phone into the sound system to deliver the intro music from MIDDLE OF NOWHERE… , before adding atmospheric drones from her guitar. Mark and Joey came crashing in as Lori’s sludge-fueled droning turned into the opening of “Red River,” a song that, like most Acid King tunes, was slow in developing into any noticeable groove or melody; while there was plenty to be amazed by, including a cool solo (or two), the tune flowed like molasses or – to be more accurate – blood from an opened vein coagulating as the life oozes down an arm. Like Sabbath’s highly underrated Bill Ward, Osbourne’s playing is deceptively complex, a fact that is driven home with his work on the evening’s third song, “Infinite Skies,” a number that, with its murky, muddy mix, would not have been out of place on the first Black Sabbath record. Kicking things up to what, I suppose, would be considered “mid-tempo,” the band launched into “Laser Headlights,” which added a bit of a Hawkwind vibe to the proceedings with another wicked solo from Lori.

Acid King (Joey Osbourne) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Acid King (Joey Osbourne) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

It wasn’t until the fifth song of their set that we were offered a dose of older material with the beautiful bikers’ sludge of “2 Wheel Nation,” a favorite track from the band’s last album, 2005’s III. This was quickly followed by another paean to riders and their machines, “Electric Machine,” from the BUSSE WOODS album, before returning to MIDDLE OF NOWHERE… for one final dose of hyper-drive Hawkwindian science-fiction with “Coming Down From Outer Space.” As mentioned above, regarding Joey Osbourne, the sometimes ponderous pace of Acid King’s music can belie the true extent of Mark Lamb’s bass playing talents; the fact that he manages to shine through, even when his bass and Lori’s guitar seem to be one instrument, on the slower songs, is a testament to the man’s rhythmic acumen. As the final number ended with droning feedback, technology once more took over, with the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE… outro track played from Lori’s phone. After a short respite, the group returned for an encore of another song from III, “War of the Mind,” which is heavier than a sack of bricks. What a great way to end the night! I just hope it isn’t another nine years before they come back around.


DEAD TO A DYING WORLD: DEAD TO A DYING WORLD

(TOFU CARNAGE; 2011) A REVIEW FROM THE VAULT (UPDATE BELOW)

Dead To a Dying World cover

Oh, these crazy kids today with their harbinger of doom and such. This atmospheric album totally transcends everything you thought you knew about the doom metal genre. It is at once suffocatingly harsh and hauntingly beautiful. This record gets me a little teary-eyed because if I had a son, I know that he would look just like Dead To a Dying World. The self-titled slab features two longish tunes with one short little ditty sandwiched between (14:30, 7:00 and 22:20, respectively). Most such epic productions of this ilk would get very boring, very quickly. Not so with DEAD TO A DYING WORLD. The music is nuanced and full of little moments that set it apart; it never lags or drags. I was engaged from the very first droning wails of that cello. Yep… you heard right… cello.

Dead To a Dying World on stage, 2011 (photo credit: RACHEL PRICE)

Dead To a Dying World on stage, 2011 (photo credit: RACHEL PRICE)

I’m not exactly sure how a song (especially one that’s over fourteen-and-a-half-minutes long) can be so breathlessly atmospheric and relentlessly claustrophobic at the same time, but “Concrete and Steel” is those things and more. This band’s technical acumen is akin to the precision cuts of a surgeon; the guitars and drums are crisp and progressive, subversively drawing you into the maelstrom. The lyrics offer nothing but doom and abject misery, as mankind’s seeming need to self-destruct and take everything else along for the ride is the focal point: “Searing effigies of our hope/Stand mocking our pain/And I see you screaming/I see you, but I can’t hear a thing.” Those lyrics are even more evocative and – dare I say – creepy as offered up by Mike Yeager and cellist Sam Pruitt. “Stagnation” is more oppressive and ominous than the first number, and in less then half the time. The unrelentingly dismal strains of the cello bores into your soul as the lyrics rip away at the edges of the hole it opens. Some may hope for redemption with the final offering; there is none. “We Enter the Circle At Night… and Are Consumed By Fire” is, indeed, about the after effects of countless millennia of selfish waste and man’s inhumanity to man, but there is only retribution. The ebb and surge of acoustic instrumentation counterbalanced by progressive, doom-laden metal rushing to an apocalyptic end sees hope lifted up in one instance, only to be crushed on the twisted and broken remnants of a world destroyed. DEAD TO A DYING WORLD is one of those records that gets into your brain, threatening the cerebral cortex with a sensory overload that will leave you drooling and babbling like a lunatic. And, yet… you must listen; you can’t turn away or turn it down or tune it out. Such a production, my friends, is all anyone can ask from a group of musicians like Dead To a Dying World.

A download of the album is available here: tofucarnagerecords.bandcamp.com; the two record vinyl version is available here: tofucarnage.com.

UPDATE: The band recently completed work on their second album. The vinyl release of LITANY is imminent. 


IDES OF GEMINI: OLD WORLD NEW WAVE

(NEUROT RECORDINGS; 2014)

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Listening to Ides of Gemini’s second full-length is like turning out the lights and watching one of those great Universal Gothic Horror classics like DRACULA or FRANKENSTEIN. You know that nothing’s going to hurt you, but you still find yourself looking over your shoulder or jumping at any little sound. The sound of OLD WORLD NEW WAVE is, at once, like nothing you’ve ever heard before yet reminiscent of everything that you’ve loved about music from… well, forever. “Black Door” is a throwback to the final couple of Plasmatics records with bludgeoning metal riffs and tough, anthemic vocals as Sera Timms seemingly channels the spirit of Wendy O Williams. The dirge-like and Sabbath-heavy rhythm section (Timms on bass; Kelly Johnston-Gibson on drums) of “The Chalice and the Blade” turns into a black-hymn grinder with appropriately atmospheric guitar from Jason Bennett. With a liberal dose of floor tom propelling the tune along, the vocals, lyrics and guitar stop just short of turning “Seer of Circassia” into a mammoth Gothic tune. “White Hart” features mystical, medieval Sherwood Forest lyrics with just enough echo on the vocals for a nice, creepy vibe. The primal beat underscores a classic metal guitar sound which eventually morphs into a fuzzy, feedback-drenched Neil Young-like riff.

Ides of Gemini (Sera Timms, Jason Bennett, Kelly Johnston-Gibson) (photo credit: DAVID LEE DAILEY)

Ides of Gemini (Sera Timms, Jason Bennett, Kelly Johnston-Gibson) (photo credit: DAVID LEE DAILEY)

May 22, 1453” is a pulsing, throbbing slab of Gothic perfection, with evil sounding guitar and a more prominent vocal than the rest of the album. This is by far my favorite song on the record. With more musical references to Plasmatics, “The Adversary” also tosses in a touch of Glenn Danzig for good (evil may be more apt) measure. Bennett’s guitar tone and style moves into a George Lynch/Dokken direction, giving the track a near anthem-like quality. “Fememorde” starts off with a snaky, kinda Alice Cooper groove that turns into a Siouxsie-goes-Goth riff monster. A primeval modality and an almost atonal vocal delivery seems to be direct dichotomies to the title and subject matter of “Valediction.” Those dichotomies add to the eerie charm of the song. The final tune, “Scimitar,” has very much of a rock and roll “sway” and tonality. Timms’ vocals come off as rather droney and disconnected… as they should. You don’t have to be a big fan of doom (or any other form of metal, really) or Goth or any of the artists that were evoked throughout this review to enjoy Ides of Gemini; you just have to like music… really good music! You get that in spades with this release. (OLD WORLD NEW WAVE is also available on vinyl from SIGE RECORDS.)


GREY SKIES FALLEN: THE MANY SIDES OF TRUTH

(Xanthros Music; 2014)

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THE MANY SIDES OF TRUTH is the sixth release by New York’s Grey Skies Fallen (the previous five are offered as free downloads at the band’s website, www.greyskiesfallen.com). The album, clocking in at less than 40 minutes, is as varied as the region from which the band hails. The overall feel is epic metal, but there are also brilliant swatches of doom, progressive and folk – elements that push to the fore in totally unexpected ways and at unexpected times throughout the course of the seven tunes. Whether this adventurous envelope-pushing is due to the maturity that comes from nearly 20 years as a band or from the two new members (Joe Sanci and Tom Anderer, guitar/vocals and bass, respectively) is a subject that I’ll leave to be debated by others; the salient point here is this: Is the record any good? Well…

The opening track, “Ritual of the Exiter,” is close to ten minutes of virtually perfect progressive folk metal. It starts in a slow, hypnotic fashion, with kinda creepy, mantric-like vocals buried low in the mix. Nearly half way through, the song proper is introduced, featuring two voices: One clean, the other harsh with a weird, robotic quality. Stun-gun guitars – the type popularized by Zak Wylde and other like-minded players – are on open display before breaking off into a quiet interlude. The respite, sweet though it is, is short, as a powerful Maidenesque instrumental section – complete with keyboards and full-throated chants – charges to its terminus. The drums and guitars are top-notch throughout, making for a fine opening salvo.

Grey Skies Fallen (publicity photo)

Grey Skies Fallen (publicity photo)

The next track encompasses the next three tunes. Acting as a prelude, “Unroot Transparent Being” reminds me of the opening guitar passages of Metallica’s ”One.” The instrumental features some very nice keyboard work, as well, but nothing more – no bass, no drums. Staying in a Classic Rock frame of mind, the guitar and the groove of “The Flame” brings to mind “Right Now” from Van Halen’s FOR UNLAWFUL CARNAL KNOWLEDGE album, while the vocals are more reminscent of Conrad Lant (Cronos of the English metal horde, Venom). In an odd (but very much appreciated) move for a band like Grey Skies Fallen, this portion of the triumvirate of mayhem is very keyboard heavy. Naturally, that leads into an atmospheric piano intro – rather like the score of an old Gothic movie – to “Of the Ancients,” a majestically evil sounding power metal piece with a well placed clean vocal performance.

A gentle, pastoral guitar piece, “Isolation Point” is full of echo and sustain and awash in feedback that somehow shimmers as it morphs into the main body of track three, a song called “End of My Rope.” This part of the suite careens forward in a bestial manner, with great, gutteral vocals before retreating slightly with a more epic sounding second half featuring clean vocals. “Winter Hand” is a more frenzied and disjointed refrain of the intro piece. This record works on so many levels that checking the “metalhead” box on your resume is not a prerequisite to total enjoyment. The technical efficiency of the players alone is worth the investment; the incredible music is simply a bonus.