GRIDFAILURE: FURTHER LAYERS OF SOCIETAL COLLAPSE

(THE COMPOUND RECORDS; 2016)

gridfailure

I like noise! Noise is good. Particularly the conflagration of noise manifested by David Brenner, recording as the dark ambient project, Gridfailure. Five months after the release of the bone-jarring debut, ENSURING THE BLOODLINE ENDS HERE, Brenner is back with FURTHER LAYERS OF SOCIETAL COLLAPSE, an EP that is full of the best kinds of noise, utilizing field recordings, as well as heavily processed rock and pop instrumentation, lending the entire proceeding the air of a landscape decimated by industrial collapse. In less than thirty minutes, David (who is co-founder of the influential extreme music public relations firm, Earsplit) takes the listener on a trip that is – alternately – serene and pastoral, frightening and apocalyptic. In short, this is a sound pastiche for the thinking man. The seven-tracks, released on October 31 as a free download (name your own price) at Gridfailure’s Bandcamp page, is scheduled for a limited edition cassette release in the near future. In the meantime, feel free to listen below.

Gridfailure (David Brenner) (uncredited manipulated photo)

Gridfailure (David Brenner) (uncredited manipulated photo)

If you’re familiar with paranormal investigative shows like GHOST HUNTERS or GHOST ADVENTURES or the “found footage” of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, you will recognize the underlying vibe of “A Severing of Ties.” The entire thing plays like an EVP (electronic voice phenomena) session conducted deep in a haunted forest, with weird, disembodied voices buried in a sea of white noise. Toward the end of the track, some tribal percussion (courtesy of Full Scale Riot’s BJ Allen) peeks out of the miasma. “Digital Crush” maintains the thematic thread of the first piece, as the drums resurface briefly at the beginning, before more found sounds and other-worldly voices are introduced into the mix; what appears to be a ghostly single-note piano coda intrudes on the whole affair, while crickets, cicadas and other woodland noises filter in and out to great affect. On “Android Infusion,” the EVP detector has been replaced by a transistor radio tuned to a weak-signal free-form Jazz station transmitting from somewhere within a war zone. “Get Fucked Dance” sounds like a residual (looped) haunting at the site of a horrible train wreck, relaying images of doom, destruction, pain and… a Native American wind instrument?

With “Broken Systems,” the skittering and buzzing of insects reacting to the wildly fluctuating radio waves and apocryphal voices seem to announce the opening of the Gates of Hell. The sounds of forest creatures is slowly replaced by a fever dream of industrial cacophony on “Indian Point Direct Proximity Warning Tester.” This calm before the atomic fallout is, quite naturally, played out over the incessant drone of a warning siren. “Woodlands of Self-Impalement,” though the final track, is the pivotal centerpiece of this dystopian soundscape, encompassing nearly one third of the total time. Thunder in the distance heralds the heavy winds and the storm is upon us; the creatures – natural, spiritual, demonic – cease their chirping and moaning and laughing… the dream, the inner turmoil gains momentum as the white noise of despair overtakes all thought, leading to silence and the sweet release of…


MALFUNCTION: FEAR OF FAILURE

(BRIDGE NINE RECORDS; 2015)

Album

Buffalo, New York’s Malfunction are back with their much anticipated debut full length. Following up the vicious “Summer Tape ’13” release, FEAR OF FAILURE is precisely what one might expect from these Flour City juggernauts… fierce, no frills hardcore in the vein of Merauder, Killing Time and Cold As Life. Metallic and crushing, the record kicks off with “Drained”, a dissonant jam laced with throaty growls courtesy of their vocalist, simply known as Zak. Other stand out tracks include the title track, “Fear Of Failure”, “Final Thoughts” and “Sonic”, the latter of which is a strikingly haunting tune with a stirring atmosphere not commonly found in this brand of hardcore.

For all it’s achievements, FEAR OF FAILURE isn’t a perfect record, and the majority of it’s flaws come from it’s production. The guitars are at times a bit over-saturated and the bass is virtually non existent. The vocals are thick and heavy, but at times lack any sort of a punch and tend to be buried in the mix through out the duration of the record. In whole, FEAR OF FAILURE is a solid debut from a very promising young act. Fans of the aforementioned seminal bands, along with newer heavyweights such as Expire and Dead End Path will no doubt be pleased with this.

Malfunction (publicity photo)

Malfunction (publicity photo)


JOE DENINZON AND STRATOSPHEERIUS: GUILTY OF INNOCENCE

(SELF RELEASED DIGITAL SINGLE; 2015)

Cover image

Mad genius Joe Deninzon fiddles while Stratospheerius burns.” That could be the ad copy tagline for this new single from one of the most eclectic groups around today. Stratospheerius plays a wicked Zappa-like fusion of rock and funk, peppered with a jazzy metallic seasoning. If you think that’s as beautifully chaotic as it sounds, you would be correct. “Guilty of Innocence” is the second of four single releases coming this year, leading up to full-length album in 2016.

Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius (Lucianna Padmore, Aurelien Budynek, Joe Deninzon, Jamie Bishop) (publicity photo)

Joe Deninzon and Stratospheerius (Lucianna Padmore, Aurelien Budynek, Joe Deninzon, Jamie Bishop) (publicity photo)

According to Joe, the track was “inspired by my 2012 stint in jury duty and deals with crime and punishment. I was presiding on a rape trial and the guy who I thought was guilty got off practically scot-free.” The rhythm section of bassist Jamie Bishop and drummer Lucianna Padmore lays down a powerful, funky groove as Deninzon’s spastic violin leads and Aurelien Budynek’s muscular metal riffs drive the tune. If you’re a fan of the previously mentioned Frank Zappa or Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, but are unfamiliar with Stratospheerius, “Guilty of Innocence” is a great jumping on place; it’s available at CD Baby, Amazon and all of the other “usual places” and, of course, at the group’s Bandcamp page (along with the previous single, “Behind the Curtain.”)


100 GREATEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME (ACCORDING TO ME), NUMBER 99

If you’re here looking for a Jann Wenner/ROLLING STONE/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame style affirmation of how great Bruce Springsteen is, move on… there’s nothing here for you; Springsteen’s indecipherable vocal grunts have never appealed to me and – like Kurt Cobain’s – his lyrics are a tick (well, okay… several ticks) below that “Friday” girl (Rebecca Black). So, with that out of the way, I can pretty much guarantee that this list will not look like any other such list. Why? Okay, while there are albums that are obviously classics, landmark releases or “must hears,” most of those don’t manage to meet my stringent requirements for this list. Do I like Miles’ BITCHES BREW, Dylan’s HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED or the Floyd’s DARK SIDE OF THE MOON? Absolutely! And, just for the record, I do actually like a lot of Nirvana’s stuff, IN UTERO being my favorite. But, and here’s the major prerequisite for this list, how often do I listen to them? Not as often as I listen to the records that made the cut and, to these ears, that’s what counts. So, there you go… that is my stringent requirement: How often do I listen to the album and, to a lesser extent, how vehement am I about forcing said album on everyone else with whom I come into contact. A few minor things to consider (or not): There are no live albums (that’s a completely different list); these are all full-length releases (no EPs or singles); every album on this list is an official release (no bootlegs or “promotional only” items); “Greatest Hits,” “Best of… ” and singles collections are strictly verboten.

Ask me again next week and this list will probably look quite different; in fact, it’s already changed significantly since I decided to do a list. I started at 20 (in line with my list of favorite live albums). The list quickly ballooned to almost a hundred before I started whittling it back down to 50. I then found myself adding, deleting and substituting the other nearly 50 albums, so… what’s a music lover to do? The answer was obvious: Make the list a firm Top 100, regardless of the massive undertaking. If you wanna call this a “guilty pleasures” list, if that’ll help you sleep better at night… that’s okay with me. What I hope to accomplish with this list is to get you to take a closer look at some albums you may have crossed off after a spin or two or to get you to check out something that you may have never even been familiar with. It ain’t rocket surgery, kids; it’s just me telling you what I like and why – maybe – you should like the stuff (or at least give a listen), too. With that said, and heading from the bottom of my humble list to the top of the heap, here’s…

(99) LUCIFER: BLACK MASS

(UNI RECORDS; 1971)

Lucier cover

One look at the name and cover of this record generally sent parents to their clergy, asking if an exorcism may be required to save little Billy or Sally from the hellish claws of Old Man Scratch. Despite the name and the tons of negative karma (it seems that the name alone was enough to cause it to sink from public consciousness almost before it was even released) that accompanied the release of BLACK MASS, the album is no more evil or Satanic in its scope or intent than the soundtrack to one of those great Hammer horror movies from the ’60s and ’70s. So, then, why should you care and why should the record rate as one of my 100 greatest of all time? Well… because, despite the name, the album is no more evil or Satanic in its scope or intent than the soundtrack to one of those great Hammer horror movies from the ’60s and ’70s. Oh… and it sounds really good and there are parts of it that still manage to scare the crap out of some people when I play it for them. Oh, and… it was one of the first ever electronic albums, by a true pioneer of the genre, Mort Garson (the guy who wrote “Our Day Will Come” for Ruby and the Romantics, as well as theme songs and incidental music for a bunch of game shows).

Mort Garson (publicity photo)

Mort Garson (publicity photo)

Garson became a disciple of the Moog synthesizer early on and a guru of electronic music upon the release of the 1967 album, THE ZODIAC: COSMIC SOUNDS (a couple of years later, he would expand this idea with twelve full-length records, each featuring music inspired by the individual signs of the zodiac). By the time BLACK MASS was released in 1971, Garson was well ensconced in the world of experimental electronic music, utilizing the synthesizer and other cutting edge sound inducers. “Solomon’s Ring” opens the album with some now-standard Emerson, Lake and Palmer/BRAIN SALAD SURGERY synth blasts (a couple of years before that record was released); somehow, though, those sounds are more beastial, more seductive here. The track reminds me of one of those movies where a virgin is sacrificed to the Dark Lord or Daniel Emilfork (look that one up) or some such totally evil atrocity. There’s chanting, singing, various “jungle noises” and tribal percussion laced throughout the slinky, oscillating groove of “The Ride of Aida (Voodoo).” “Incubus” is a trippy kind of BARBARELLA romp, complete with synthesizer-produced moans and groans. Despite some deliciously dark moments evoking the title demon, this song is pretty light sounding and fun. The titular number features tolling bells, chanting, wind blowing, a cathedral organ and a whole slew of creepy electronic noises. Even with all of the amazing technological advances in instruments, equipment and electronic music over the past forty plus years, I’ll still stack “Black Mass” up against just about anything since. The record’s first side closes with “The Evil Eye,” which is sort of a continuation of “Incubus” that quickly turns into the science fiction equivalent of a Voodoo curse.

Side two opens with “Exorcism.” The track has a kind of urgency and chaos (in a very organized sort of way) that lends a certain credence to its title, even if the odd, pastoral middle section does seem rather out of place. There’s a wicked sense of playfulness on “The Philosopher’s Stone” that belies the evil intent of the music. “Voices of the Dead (The Medium)” is kind of a lullaby for the criminally insane. If this cut makes you uneasy, you probably don’t qualify as a member of that very select group. Except for the creepy electro-percussion middle section, “Witch Trial” could have come from the soundtrack to one of those cheesy early ’70s made-for-TV movies about witch habitations or haunted lawn gnomes… heck, maybe it did come from one of those infernal things. The basic theme is a classical piece that I’ve always been too lazy to look up. The very short (less than 30 minutes) BLACK MASS ends with “ESP.” The track sounds kind like a swarm of wasps in flight or, maybe, the inside of an active hive; at just over a minute in length, though, it’s hard to make more than a general assumption.

Mort Garson, manipulated (photo credit: GUY WEBSTER)

Mort Garson, manipulated (photo credit: GUY WEBSTER)

Of all of Mort Garson’s releases, this one remains the holy grail (the unholy grail?). It has only been reissued three times since its original release – in 1973, when Uni’s parent company MCA moved all catalog releases under the umbrella of the mothership; 1977, when MCA launched a short-lived budget label called MCA Coral; and, finally, in 1980, when they moved everything back under the MCA tent. I’ve had several copies of the MCA versions of this record, so I have never actually seen a Uni version, but I understand it came with a custom inner sleeve with liner notes giving descriptions (and the reason behind the titles) of each piece. I have no idea who currently holds the rights to this masterpiece of electronic music (Garson ceased to exist in 2008, at the age of 83), but it definitely deserves a proper reissue on CD. Call your elected officials and demand they pass a law forcing the release of a definitive version of the 99th greatest album of all time!


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. 


HARVEST BELL: WHEEL OF FORETASTE

(BLOOD ROCK RECORDS/BLACK WIDOW RECORDS EP; Finnish/Italian import, 2013)

Harvest Bell cover

Harvest Bell is a Finnish metal and hard rock band who deserve to be huge! With moody vocals, atmospheric guitars and keyboard flourishes, a heavy rhythm section and… oh, yeah… great songs! Unfortunately, they only seem interested in releasing those great songs in bite size increments. The group’s latest, WHEEL OF FORETASTE, is a short 16:30 encompassing three tracks.

The opening strains of “Salutation” lets you know that you’re in for a doomy, gloomy hard rockin’ good time. The tune features some Maiden-esque harmony guitar parts (supplied by Petri Hama and Tuomas Heinonen), suitably subdued vocals from Jussi Helle and a cool swirling, psychedelic vibe. The sound puts one in mind of the very first Black Sabbath album (but with a far better singer), with more than a touch of SAD WINGS OF DESTINY era Priest and a dollop of the Smithereens dropped into the batter for a little alternative sweetening. “Afterglow” is all about the heavy atmosphere and even heavier riffs. The track starts of with some hauntingly simple guitar picking accompanied by a spooky organ (by guest artist, Aki Laaksonen) and a deep-in-the-pocket drum groove (the latter thanks to Juho Alhola). Things grow heavier and a little spookier as the song progresses, particularly Helle’s Dave Vanian-like disaffected vocals and the creepy backing vocals; in fact, the whole song has kind of a Damned feel to it… just one more thing to like about Harvest Bell. The final number, “Too Hard a Habit,” is a solid, heavy blues rocker. It’s highlighted by that Sabbathy crunch, some stun guitar, powerhouse drumming and a nice bass groove from Jarno Makinen.

Harvest Bell (publicity photo)

Harvest Bell (publicity photo)

There isn’t a lot of information about this band anywhere on the internet, but I did read in a review or some such that they have over twenty additional songs in the can. If that’s the case, all I gotta say is: “Please… for the love all that’s holy… release a full-length album soon!” WHEEL OF FORETASTE is available as a three-song CD or a two-track seven inch vinyl single (with “Salutation” and “Afterglow”) from bloodrockrecords.bigcartel.com.


THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE: REVELATION

(A RECORDINGS; 2014)

brian-jonestown-massacre-revelation2014pochette

The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s founder (and pretty much the only official member of the group today), Anton Newcombe, has flirted with success, dabbled with drugs (actually, he embraced them wholeheartedly), had mental meltdowns on stage, fought with band-mates and, amidst a litany of self-destructive demons, produced some of the best music of the past 20 years. Most of these demons (including the ones listed above) are chronicled in the 2004 documentary DIG!; what we’re here to talk about is the new BJM album, REVELATION. The release is record number 14 or 15 (or 23 depending on how you count these things) from the band and, to these ears, Newcombe hasn’t lost a step. Even though the overall vibe of REVELATION isn’t as frenetic as earlier albums, it is a more cohesive collection as Newcombe is solely responsible for songwriting and production as well as playing most of the instruments.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe (photo credit: SHOKO ISHIKAWA)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe (photo credit: SHOKO ISHIKAWA)

Vad Hande Med Dem?” starts off as an upbeat jangle-pop tune before turning into a kind of Arabic sounding psychedelia with buried-in-the-mix vocals and a Stax-style horn chart. With an odd rhythm and blues vibe, “What You Isn’t” is sort of a slow-cooking groove with laidback, almost spoken word vocals. “Unknown” is a modest little groover that would not sound out of place on THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES REQUEST. The track is short – less than two minutes – and wholly acoustic, save for a mid-’60s style guitar solo. The …SATANIC… Stones are back, hooking up with Donovan at a psychedelic day camp on “Memory Camp.” It’s laconically slow folk music with somehow lazy sounding vocals. The Beatles – John Lennon in particular – get the BJM treatment on “Days, Weeks and Moths.” The song features an echo-laden guitar, with distinct single note picking and eerily haunting backing vocals. The instrumental, “Duck and Cover,” picks up the tempo with a repetitive, slightly hypnotic vibe.

The second half of the album (record two, for the vinyl junkies among us) kicks off with the UK Northern Soul of “Food For Clouds.” The track borders on Ska, but is more akin to latter day Jam (or Paul Weller’s post-Jam group, the Style Council), with the orchestral flourishes offering a nice counter-balance to the funky horns and barely audible vocals, sounding a lot like Dusty Springfield, too. “Second Sighting” is a gentle acoustic tune with an Eastern European, almost Gypsy vibe, with various wind and string instruments floating to the surface before sinking back into the mix. “Memorymix” sounds like a remix (even the name implies it), but I’m fairly certain that it’s just another in a string of typically loopy BJM songs. With the top-heavy synthesized bass, Morris Code-like beeps and blips and nonsensical dance-track lyrics (as best as I can decipher them, anyway), it’s weird but fun. The slightly Gothic feel of the lugubrious “Fist Full of Bees” comes off like a somewhat happier Bauhaus. “Nightbird” is another primarily acoustic tune with vocals that are way more up-front than any other song on the album. It has a nice Beatley vibe (something by George Harrison or John Lennon… maybe even something from one of their solo records). The jangle-pop sound is back on “Xibalba,” the happiest sounding track on the whole record. Horns, keyboards and strings blend together for a perfectly trippy feel. “Goodbye (Butterfly)” has the same kind of vibe as the previous track, but with a much slower tempo.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe (uncredited photo)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe (uncredited photo)

The surfeit of slower tempo songs can get to you after a bit and, honestly, REVELATION could just as easily have been a ten or (at most) eleven track affair; we could have done without “Goodbye (Butterfly),” for sure. Still, what I said about cohesiveness in the intro stands and, overall, this another enjoyable outing from Anton Newcombe and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind seeing the current BJM touring unit take a stab at the next record.


AXXA/ABRAXAS: AXXA/ABRAXAS

(CAPTURED TRACKS; 2014)

Axxa Abraxas

Athens, Georgia (home of the University of Georgia) has long been a hotbed of musical creativity, fostering such acts as REM, the Olivia Tremor Control, the B-52’s, Brantley Gilbert, Drive-By Truckers amid a roll call far to long to mention. Add Axxa/Abraxas, the music and art project of Ben Asbury, to that list. A demo of Asbury’s multi-media presentation found it’s way to the offices of Captured Tracks (home to Beach Fossils, Widowspeak and the reformed Medicine), leading to the release of AXXA/ABRAXAS. Asbury handles vocals, synthesizer/keyboards/noises and guitar, while the rhythm section consists of Aaron Neveu on drums and bassist Jarvis Taveniere (who also produced), both from the indie band, Woods. Asbury has a raft of influences, all of which, thankfully, he wears on his sleeve. The ten track album blends and morphs influences and styles into unique tunes that can only be described as “Axxa/Abraxas.” Late ’60s psychedelia collides with Americana and Goth is filtered through sunshine pop and everything is drenched in an electronic squall that sometimes challenges the listener’s patience. I advise you to hang in there, though, as the end result is quite listenable and utterly amazing.

Axxa/Abraxas (publicity photo)

Axxa/Abraxas (publicity photo)

In an album filled with highlights, here are the ones that stand out to me: “Ryan Michalak (Is Coming To Town)” is the album opener. It features an atmospheric, movie soundtrack intro before turning into a pounding psychedelic number, with echo-laden vocals and reverb-heavy guitar. A buoyant bass anchors “Beyond the Wind,” a kind of shimmery Goth thing. “So Far Away” is my favorite track at the moment. Imagine if the Partridge Family or Bobby Sherman dropped acid and asked John Cipollina to play guitar on one of their poppy sunshine confections. The results are loud and awesome. There is a sort of pseudo-psycho country vibe happening with “On the Run,” which features some oddly processed vocals to heighten the weird factor. One of the most straight forward tracks here is the single, “I Almost Fell… ,” a jangle pop offering that sounds a lot like:


DESERT WIZARDS: RAVENS

(BLACK WIDOW RECORDS; Italian import; 2013)

DESERT-WIZARDS-Ravens-CD

I am not enamored with this band’s name. I find it rather odd, kinda like Justin Bieber. Fortunately, unlike the Bieb, the music of Desert Wizards is highly listenable and, ultimately, RAVENS is one of the more enjoyable genre records of the recent past. The Italian quartet (Marco Mambelli, Anna Fabbri, Marco Goti and Silvio Dalla Valle) excel at a style of early 1970s hard rock that is best exemplified by Alice Cooper (when they were a band). Primary singer Mambelli’s vocals are heavily accented, something that may put some off but, may I remind you of a guy named Klaus Meine? For a short period of time in the early ’90s, his band, Scorpions, was one of – if not THE – biggest hard rock bands on the planet. Don’t miss out on some really good music for something that is a minor barrier to overcome.

Freedom Ride” kicks things off in fine style, with riff-heavy psychedelic guitars and a beefy organ sound. The bridge builds from Mambelli’s bass before Fabbri’s churchy organ and Valle’s charging drums lead into the two wildly careening guitarists (Goti and Mambelli) who are seemingly soloing against each other. As the drums slow to a martial beat, the organ and guitars seem to swirl as Mambelli’s spoken word, Jim Morrison trance-like vocal trails to the end of the nearly eight minute track. The next tune, “Babylonia,” starts with a nice guitar part, with single notes. The pace picks up at about the 2:10 mark before exploding into a great solo a half minute later. The male/female vocals seem to break into dark angel/Holy angel parts. It’s kinda hard to tell for sure, though, as some of the lyrics don’t really translate well to English: “Between rivers, there’s a Holy river/Beyond grey and purple sky/Babylonia is so much dizzy/For your heart and for your mind.” Thankfully, the lyrical oddities don’t really detract from the song. There is what sounds like humming voices throughout “Back To Blue,” which seem to be very much at odds with the music. This creates a jarringly discordant dichotomy that is, no doubt, purposeful, as it is not entirely displeasing. The track is a slow burn until almost three minutes in, when everything comes into synch with a muscular guitar solo. A little over two minutes later, the whole thing tries to fall in upon itself. As for the vocals, they a quite dreamy and buried deep in the mix; in this instance, the tune probably would have worked better as an instrumental. “Blackbird” sounds like a continuation of the previous number, though maybe more fully realized. The piano at the beginning reminds me of Alice Cooper’s “Ballad of Dwight Fry” and this is certainly a better attempt at a ballad than “Back To Blue,” though the lyrics are very dark. In fact, the “Ballad of Dwight Fry” comparison continues in the lyrics: “I hear someone screaming/Confusion in my mind.” Fabbri takes the lead on organ during the instrumental before another cool guitar solo. This is probably the most progressive sounding tune on the album.

Desert Wizards (photo credit: PINO PINTABONA)

Desert Wizards (photo credit: PINO PINTABONA)

Dick Allen Blues” is the track where everything gels into a perfect miasma of rock ‘n’ roll bliss. The psychedelia-laced hard rock’s heavy organ is very much in the vein of early (Mach I, in fact) Deep Purple. There’s a strong Native American vibe on “Electric Sunshine,” both melodically and lyrically (minimal though they are): “Feed your head/Look at the sunrise/Feed your eyes.” The song also has a hint of Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley with the slightly hypnotic organ, chord progressions and vocals. “Burn Into the Sky” features more forceful vocals, though they’re still muddied in the mix, which has me wondering if this is a compensation for the accent. The chunky riffing turns into a Sabbath-like bass heavy dirge somewhere around 2:50 – a very cool, atmospheric sound. There are also some very impressive wah-wah drenched solos before the song kicks back in at about 5:10. With a Gothic/Damned feel, “Vampire’s Queen” displays what may be the best lyrics on the record during the chorus: “Oh wake up, Lady Vampira/I need your poison as you need my blood/Take me down to the river of madness/Drag me to Hell, give me your bite.” The break comes along at about the three-and-a-half minute mark and, with a grand touch of menace, is head and shoulders above anything else on the album. Quite possibly the most fully realized song here. The Gothic theme continues with “Bad Dreams.” The piece starts with a fever-dream guitar signature, a lot like Alice’s “Halo of Flies.” A buzzing guitar, soloing throughout, adds to the swirling dementia. A cacophony of noise houses Vincent Price’s recitation of Poe’s “The Raven” before a more pastoral bridge that breaks down into a driving, frenzied terminus.

The CD version of the album features a bonus track, a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Childhood’s End” from the ONE OF MY TURNS tribute record. It’s a fairly faithful version that, while enjoyable, seems rather out of place here. Desert Wizards is a good band that could elevate their game – as Scorpions did – by hiring someone to help with English lyrics. You can pick up the CD version of RAVENS (as well as the band’s self-titled debut) from Amazon or from the Italian record company at www.blackwidow.it, but.. it ain’t gonna be cheap!


TEAM ME: F IS FOR FAKER

Norwegian band TEAM ME and Propeller Recordings have released a new single in advance of their follow-up to 2011’s album, TO THE TREETOPS. The track is called “F Is For Faker.” The band will be playing a couple of shows in Austin for the annual South By Southwest festival. If you’re planning to attend, check out this sextet. Until then, here’s “F Is For Faker” for you to enjoy.