Hello, heaviest of all bloggers! I have emerged from my den of blankets and sweatshirts in the frozen mountains to deliver riffs unto you all. It was with great effort and personal sacrifice that I did this. Everyone knows once you disturb the environment of a good blanket cocoon, all is lost. Heights of such comfort can never be truly achieved again. Well, until the next blanket cocoon anyway. But give me a break. It’s damn cold Colorado, and I’ve seen more snow in the last 2 weeks to satisfy my thoughts about the question, “Is there a limit on the number of snow days you get when everyone knows it will snow?” The answer is yes, there is a limit. Sigh.
But friends, I won’t let that get in the way of sharing some damn heady riffs with the likes of you. February brought us a pretty unique blend of the accessible and the mind-bending. From the familiar heavy psych blues to experimental drone doom, there is quite a bit to dig about February 2020. It’s always nice to be surprised by a release, and there were a few this month. Hopefully I’m sharing a few releases you hadn’t heard of, either. I’m hoping we can continue this tradition throughout the year so I can give my end of the year playlist a more positive name like, “2020: Huh! Well, that could’ve been a lot worse.” Or “2020: Pleasantly Surprised”. A man can dream.
Before we get to the riffs, I need to hop on a soapbox real quick. In my real life, I work in politics. I’ve done all manner of campaign and policy work though now I’m in the relatively apolitical position of working with data. I do this work for a few reasons. First, I believe in the folks I work for. They support ideas I’m in favor of, and I want to do what I can to help these folks get into positions where they can start making positive change in this country and the world at large. The second reason I do this is because I believe in the idea of service and personal sacrifice. I believe everyone has an obligation to speak up in their community, whether that means working directly for a campaign or candidate or simply showing up to vote on election day. We’ve all heard about the real beginnings of the presidential campaign season, but now is the time for everyone to get involved. If you’re in a state with caucuses, show up to your precinct center and let your voice be heard. If you have primary elections in your state, now is your chance to have the earliest impact on what happens in this country. But don’t just think about the presidency. There are lots of causes to get involved in locally no matter where you live. There are city council candidates, mayoral candidates, state legislative races, all the way up to Congress and the Senate. These campaigns have a much more direct impact on your day to day life, so don’t forget those folks because they need your help, too. I just hope everyone pitches in a bit. If you learned nothing else from 2016, I hope you all learned that when you stay quiet, bad things can happen. The more folks who make their voices heard, the better our country is and the harder we all work to compromise and get along.
Thanks for putting up with my lecture/rant. I won’t keep y’all waiting any longer. TO THE RIFFS!
Ritual King – Ritual King
Over the course of my year plus of writing this column, I find that I’m often gravitating toward the blues-influenced bands. I think these bands are far more willing to bring in the psychedelia you need to really trip out, and blues grooves are basically undeniable if you’re a music nerd. So of course I’m going to include Ritual King and the self-titled first full-length record. If you wanted a throwback sound to groove along to, this band is definitely it for you.
I think what makes it for me is guitarist Jordan Leppitt’s tone. It just has that old school blues feel to it. You might as well be in London in 1966. It’s a fabulous sound that launched a thousand budding guitar heroes’ careers. There’s a throatiness to it that gives it a lot of soul, making it feel like it’s much bigger than it really is. Not only that, but it can really cut through whatever’s happening around it. Dan Godwin’s big fuzzy bass riffs give it a good base to stand on while also combining with it for lush melodies and licks. That tone makes this record both brand new and also nostalgic.
And can we just talk for a moment about how Ripple Music is killing it? The label certainly has a type, but they’ve discovered a lot of bands lately with a whole mess of talent, several of which have been featured on this very column! I wouldn’t have discovered bands like Lowcaster, Stew, Horseburner, or Cities of Mars without Ripple Music. They have a real ear for talent and know who’s got the goods to keep it going. Bravo, Ripple Music! Bravo, Ritual King! ALL HAIL DOOM!
Mount Hush – Mount Hush
From lighter more heavy blues to darker psychedelic blues we go with Mount Hush and their self-titled first full-length release! There’s a distinctly darker sound to Mount Hush than Ritual King, lending itself more to the early days of doom metal than blues rock. Mount Hush is a prime example of how blues-infused doom can sound modern and continue on with a new generation of musicians.
Just like Ritual King, this record’s bread and butter is the guitar tone. It’s not quite the same old blues sounding stuff though it is similar. You’d probably call it new blues I suppose. It doesn’t have that same throatiness and blues twang to it. Instead, it’s loaded with heavy modulation and sounds far more spacey like a good psych record should sound. The chorus and delay swirl around your head and fill your mind with visualizer-style light and color patterns. It feels like flying through a tie-dye pattern.
As the record progresses, Mount Hush evolves into more post-metal territory, expanding their musical palette and songwriting as Mount Hush steams ahead to the finish line. It’s still very blues-influenced, but it’s just interesting to hear that mash up. Specifically the song “Fuenf” with its saxophone in the mix. It’s a great journey for you to take when it’s time for you to become a space cadet and trip out among the stars. So warm up those engines for takeoff.
GIÖBIA – Plasmatic Idol
I can truly say that I did not know what to make of GIÖBIA and Plasmatic Idol when I first hit play. I’ll let y’all in on a little secret: I make a lot of discoveries just because of album art. If something looks interesting, I play a little bit of it just because. It doesn’t usually blow my mind. About 50% of the time, I don’t even like it all that much. But I live for those moments when some art grabs my attention, I hit play, and I am immediately blown away. Plastmatic Idol did that to me.
There is only one word that describes this band, and I genuinely do hate to say it. GIÖBIA is trippy. It can be pretty dark sounding music, but the synthesizers don’t really scare you on their own. The riffs can send you on a hell of a groove, but there’s still a bit of tension in even their grooviest of tracks. It can seem menacing in a way because you never quite resolve the melodies or conflicts in the music. But the songs are still fun to listen to. It’s simply maddening how Plasmatic Idol can make you feel these opposite ways at once.
I think I can only get away with writing about GIÖBIA here because it’s so dark and trippy, but it does have that doom quality. It just expresses it in a different way while using a ton of non-doom metal ideas. There’s surf and late 60s garage rock in Plasmatic Idol. There’s also a lot of what I describe as synthwave melodies played on Moog keyboards. I have no idea how these ideas get combined in a way that actually makes sense. Who are these musicians? How did they come together? I don’t know that I’ll ever get a real answer to that question, but the mystery is part of why this is legitimately amazing. I think you’d regret not hearing this.
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Go ahead and click the Bandcamp link at the end of the section. Yes, I know it technically came out in January. I’m probably the only one who really cares about that as I’m just an overt rule-follower when it comes to these things (just ask my girlfriend about board game nights). But I always worry something awesome is going to come out RIGHT after Doomsday posts. Last month, that awesome something was Deathwhite with Grave Image, a gloomy record of awesome modern gothic doom.
This is the kind of record that really embraces the melancholic aspects of doom. Grave Image exudes sadness. It paints everything they do. I’m sure there’s some deep music theory to it that explains why it has the sound it does, but the production really brings out the sorrow. Everything has the echoing sound to it, like it’s ringing out through the stone halls of a castle or something.
That’s another thing about this record. I use the castle metaphor because the record does feel huge. That reverb drenching every single tone on each and every track gives it an epic quality. It feels like Grave Image is best heard in gloomy halls and secret passages. Perhaps the soundtrack of the sorrowful final meeting of Romantic lovers. That’s the kind of image I get from Grave Image. Much in the same vein as Swallow the Sun, Deathwhite is able to harness a lot of heavy drama and deliver it in a very pleasing package. Hopefully you’ll be as pleasantly surprised by this record as I was.
Insect Ark – The Vanishing
I really like writing Doomsday for a lot of reasons. Mainly to force my obviously great taste upon the world (duh). But also because it allows me to rave about bands I found that blew my mind. I first heard of Insect Ark back in 2018 when I first started writing for Heavy Blog. Their previous record, Marrow Hymns, was a uniquely special experience for me. It helped me realize that music isn’t always based on tradition. You don’t have to follow the pack and do a slight variation on what everyone else is doing. With The Vanishing, they’ve just further proved the same thing and even gone further.
The Vanishing lives up to its name in an interesting way. The entire record just has a feel to it. I wish I could use a better word that’s more descriptive of the kind of aura it creates, but there just isn’t one. Traveling the 42 minutes from “Tectonic” to “The Vanishing” conjures a lot of images in my mind and creates an intriguing sense of unease. The more I listen to it, the more my metaphor from my original review is just hammered into my head. The whole record really feels like the soundtrack to a David Lynch dream sequence. Those scenes always create a subdued menacing environment that both repels you and piques your interest. When you travel too deeply into the dream, you become ensnared. The Vanishing is much the same.
Multi-instrumentalist and original mastermind Dana Schechter said The Vanishing was based upon a daydream she had about disappearing completely. To me, that seems like a very lonely thought. After all, two people can’t completely disappear if they’re together. Someone knows where the other is. The Vanishing is like a master’s course in being alone. A lot of the tones on the record feel like the blasting from the distance. You know where it’s coming from generally, but you have no idea what the thing is and it makes you uncomfortable. Almost like you’re drifting alone in space and you feel a bump. The kind of music that can relate such visceral feelings is a very rare experience. Insect Ark is amongst the most uncommon of artists. Disappear into the songs completely.
A final note this month: I’m heading out for just a bit. Unfortunately, I have a few real-life stressors I need to focus on for a little while. As I’ve gotten older and grew from a boy into…well, let’s say an adult-like person, I’ve discovered that you do indeed have a breaking point. No matter your lifestyle, profession, religion, race, whatever. Everyone experiences a moment when you realize you just need a damn break. You think you can just keep on going through it all, that you don’t have to make sacrifices. But you just can’t. Sometimes you just have to look out for number 1. And that’s okay. Always remember that you’re not somehow more important than anyone else nor they you. We’re all people after all.
Don’t worry, I’m coming back! I’m not dying or anything, it’s just crunch time at work for me. If I’m going to keep writing about music on the internet, I want to feel like I can put in my full effort all the time. Because I’m so tired these days, I don’t feel like I’m doing that. So that means I need just a little extra rest and well-deserved down time. Once I get through this stuff in 2 months and get a little recovery time in, you’ll wish I stayed away longer. A few others will be taking over for me to keep feeding your need for the slow and low. Until then, do as the prophet Warren Zevon said: “Enjoy every sandwich.” See y’all in May.