And thus it begins again, O Heaviest of All Bloggers. The death of the old. The birth of the new. A tale as old as time because it is the story of time. It all seems so very cold, inhuman, bitter, and cruel. But at least we get new music out of it. An unequal trade but a trade nonetheless.
Before we begin, I’d like to address something. I think we’re all tired of the fighting in society. No matter what side you fall on, we’re all exhausted. I’ve thought about it quite a bit, and I’ve come to something of a conclusion. I don’t think we’re all tired of each other per se. Sure, there might be a few examples of individuals we could do without, but I think on the whole we’re not looking to just halve human existence. I think we’re all just tired of the fighting and the negativity. The constant bickering and naysaying of the other gets extremely tiresome after a while. I don’t mean to just whitewash some things I think we can all agree on are universally, objectively horrible.
I mean only to say that, in 2020, I will choose to take the high road. I want to be seen as a positive influence in my world and my relationships. Instead of instigating a fight for the sheer troll attention, I only want to meet hate with love. I want to start a conversation with people who choose small-minded bigotry and hope to help them learn something about people they don’t know. I won’t be successful all the time. I might stumble along the way, like saying things to anger someone or trying to shout someone else down. But I want to try anyway, despite knowing I’ll inevitably fail. However, if I learn something about myself when I fail, I didn’t really lose out. I hope that motivates you all to try to see a new year with some light in the world.
Enough of my yammerin’, let’s get to the riffs. 2020 is starting out with a humongous bang. On January 1st, I was panicking a bit. “Dammit, it’s January. I just don’t think I’m gonna find enough records to make the cut. Crapcrapcrapcrap….” This is an attitude I’ve developed every month on the first, but it seems actually relevant in January. I was dead-ass wrong. January 2020 is giving us some really interesting records to set up the year. If every month we get music that is as intriguing as this selection, we’re in for a great ride. TO THE RIFFS!
Tortuga – Deities
Big European stoner doom. Not typically the kind of doom you would think to talk about coming out of Europe, but I’ll take it if it comes from a band like Poland’s Tortuga. These dark riffs come blasting at you with psychedelic spacey slow you need to just sort of trip out while you’re listening to your tunes. There are times on this record where I felt like this was a lost Queens of the Stone Age demo, so big props to Deitiesfor fooling me like that.
What’s really cool about Deities is how much it leans into the desert rock side of doom. It gives a satisfying weirdness to the record. “For Elizard” is the best specific example. The song is centered around a pretty odd and subtle riff, spindling along the song as the drums hold a good slow groove in the background. The darkly spoken lyrics also make me think of a combo of Tom Waits and Primus, two more artists known for dabbling in the eccentric.
It’s really the combination of these sounds and influences together that makes the record for me. It gives it a pretty unique feel that’s rarely replicated at this level. Many bands attempt this kind of sound with purpose and it doesn’t translate. Tortuga, on the other hand, is just making music that comes naturally to them and feels wholly original. Bands just don’t do that quite often enough, so we should definitely celebrate the ones who do it like them.
Die Like Gentlemen – Stories
And now for something completely different: acoustic progressive sludge/doom from Portland, OR! Die Like Gentlemen has a new record out this month of progressive acoustic works that are very engaging and intriguing. It all makes for a record that’s a little outside the norm with a whole lot of songwriting talent and a unique sense of style and perspective. We rarely get to talk about acoustic doom on here, so you have to jump on it when you get the chance.
There’s a very healthy dose of the doom we’re all familiar with in Stories, but I can’t help but think of the prog rock I heard as a younger kid. Bands like Jethro Tull, Traffic, and The Moody Blues come to mind throughout the playtime of Stories. I suppose that is kind of the point of progressive music in 2020 to some extent, but it just astounded me how nostalgic Stories felt in a way.
While it isn’t necessarily doom, the Slayer cover of “Dead Skin Mask” works really well with the rest of the record. Some of the tracks have darker tones to begin with, so playing a reworked Slayer track kind of makes sense. Especially the arrangement the group has where the drums are sparse and the aggression is dialed back. Appropriate for both a good doom track and an acoustic version. Adam Alexander’s vocals deliver Tom Araya’s lines in a new light. Stories is simply an interesting record to kick 2020 off just right.
The Osedax – Meridians
If I had to boil down doom metal to a single idea, I’d have to say environment. It has to be dour and oppressive at times. In reality, it should feel like it’s completely enveloping you. Fortunately, that’s exactly what The Osedax excels at. Their latest record, Meridians, takes doom metal ideas and turns the knobs of atmosphere to 10. It’s a combo of doom, ambient music, and post-metal that feels like it swallows you whole and you’re living in the music.
I have to point out a specific song first. “Beacon/Ox Eye” makes desert rock sound ominous. You can sense the familiarity of the style, but given that it’s the second track on the record, you know what’s coming next. Then comes the onslaught of the darkest blackened doom blast beats. It’s such an amalgamation of sounds and pieces that it almost defies categorization. I’ve said it many times before, but one more time won’t hurt: that’s ultimately what you want from an artist.
While I did single out a track, there is evidence of this kind of songcraft throughout Meridians. This music slams these different musical ideas together that work well. While they work well, the combination also creates a lot of conflict and violence. There is a lot of aggression and belligerence in this music. It can express some deeply held anger and real emotional heaviness that any other form simply can’t. The Osedax is a truly unique beast, and Meridians is a truly unique record. It requires your attention.
Second-Hand Apes – Second Hand Apes
Close readers might be asking a question right now. “Pete, didn’t you write about these guys already?” Sure did. Yesterday, in fact. But Second-Hand Apes is just that worth it. Plus, I write this column so I can do what I want. Every band this month makes an established sound more of their own, but the Second-Hand Apes EP blew me away the most. It’s only three tracks, but it completely blows the doors off the barn.
Similarly to what I said yesterday, I’ve never heard stoner doom be this angry. I didn’t think you could make big riffs sound this angry. Usually when you hear these kinds of riffs and melodies, it’s accompanied by a good groove and lyrics about marijuana or something. You don’t hear “negative” thoughts being expressed with this kind of energy. It’s a delightfully confusing blend that makes you stop and think, “WhaaaAAAaa…?”
By the time the 3 tracks are over in 22 minutes, you’ll need more. You can’t be teased by this kind of songwriting! You need more! Fortunately, Second-Hand Apes have another release. The downside is it’s an EP and it’s shorter. Good problem to have, I say.