West Virginia’s Karma to Burn may have been lurking in the hazy underground of stoner rock in several different forms since the 90s, but they’ve never seemed to make the same impact on listeners than some of the other projects they’ve been associated with (most notably Kyuss). Though their tenacious aggression and uncompromising instrumental sound may serve as a decent background to a beer-soaked evening with some good friends, the band’s latest EP Mountain Czar simply doesn’t take enough risks to really stand out from the now overcrowded world of sludgy hard rock
Joining it is Ghost Horizon. This isn’t a type of music that’s easily contained in such bite-sized pieces; it becomes all too easy to lose the emotional weight and feeling of a journey that’s crucial to this genre’s sound. Groups like Wolves In The Throne Room and Agalloch do not typically write songs which lie under the 5-minute mark (as all three of the songs here do). Although it’s certainly not impossible or unthinkable that such a short EP could contain all of the qualities necessary to make this genre work, Astral Possession just… doesn’t. Put bluntly, these songs just are not fully fleshed out enough to have any sort of decent effect on the listener.
Since its inception, metal has been deeply entwined in the world of both fantasy and horror. The almost-unanimous pick for the genre’s first album, Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut, instantly separated themselves from other bands at the time with their lyrics about unintelligible and dark figures in the night, wizardry, and possibly rock’s first true tip of the hat to the genius author H.P. Lovecraft. With the title of the album’s third track, “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” Black Sabbath not only revolutionized heavy music from a sonic standpoint, but lyrically as well. Bassist/lyricist Geezer Butler’s fascination with black magic and campy horror flicks in the early years of the band could certainly be looked upon as the genesis from which the Lovecraft obsession in metal truly began.
Recently, I had a conversation with Lauren Vieira of the excellent band Dreadnought about using visual words to describe music, and the connotations different colors and words contained. Over the course of the discussion, she mentioned that she had a condition called synesthesia, a condition whereby the senses “mingle” due to irregular neural connections in the brain, leading people with this condition to be able to see sounds, hear colors, taste shapes, and experience all sorts of different combinations of the senses, which differ from synesthete to synesthete. I asked her how it affected her writing process for the band, and she wrote this fantastic guest article on how the way she sees sound has totally changed her creative process.
Lead singles can help and hurt, but I ultimately believe they help. When you use a great single release strategy, you can help your fans by easing their fears of how your new material is going to sound. Obscura and The 1975 deserve praise for their strategies because they gave just enough away to let you know what was going on sonically while still leaving a few surprises for the first full-listen throughs of their albums. Sometimes you’ll worry and have that nagging anxiety no matter what you do, good single release strategy in place or not, as anxiety isn’t always based in rationality. However, in a world where you’re given a single and then told to wait, bands should at least have the courtesy to make the waiting a little bit easier on the fans by making sure there’s enough quality and quantity to keep them interested as well as keep them away from biting their nails in worry