A monolithic greeting unto thee, Heaviest of All Bloggers! It is unbelievably good to be writing to you all again. I know I do this every month, but this month feels very different for me. My wife and I are fully vaccinated (antibodies and all) as of the moment I’m writing this and it feels damn good. I’ve made plans to go out with other vaccinated friends, and I’m really looking forward to feeling safe being social outside my home and without a computer screen. While that is most certainly a great thing, let’s all keep in mind that not everyone in the world is as fortunate as we are in the States. India is getting absolutely ravaged by the pandemic still, and just this morning I heard a news clip about the awful state of affairs in Argentina. Now is the time to be even more vigilant and mindful of the people around us. I am very grateful for having the early opportunity to achieve the new normal status, but I’m also not getting rid of my mask collection any time soon.
But on the brighter side of things, I cannot tell you how good it feels to make plans for the future with your friends again. Just last week, fellow writer Jonathan Adams and I hung out with a great friend of ours and were discussing being out and about again. Jonathan and our friend are big fans of cigars and were talking about a smoke shop near one of our favorite music venues in Denver. I haven’t had a cigar in a decade, but I found myself launching in to make plans to get to that shop with them before a show and just be together. Then I found myself just babbling on and on about absolutely nothing just because of how excited I was to be social. I mean, I felt genuinely embarrassed later about my rambling, but I was just so damn excited to be with my friends. So I would also encourage everyone to be patient as we move into the New Normal. You’re gonna run into some rambling weirdos, but remember that you’re probably going to be that weirdo yourself from time to time. Be patient with others, and be patient with yourself.
Enough of that. I swear, I’ll stop seeming so preachy one of these days (hopefully next month). As I clearly and deftly maneuver into RIFFS, I noticed how many good records there are to talk about this month. I was talking with the contributors when it dawned on me that this might be our longest column so far this year, and it’s not even close. Summertime is the time of the riff. It’s time to engage the groove and enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it. Some of the music is still pretty heavy stuff, but there’s still room to turn off your mind and let it take you for a ride. It’s that time of year again so enough of the yapping. BRING THE FUZZ.
Jack Harlon & The Dead Crows – The Magnetic Ridge (heavy psych, doom)
If you’ve been keeping score since I started contributing to Doomsday, you may be aware of how I am all the fuck about uncommonly heavy heavy psych groups. This month, Jack Harlon & the Dead Crows are carrying this torch for me. There’s just something about the contrasts and flirtations between heavy psych and huge doom that suck me in, and this Melbourne group keep finding interesting ways to straddle these realms on The Magnetic Ridge.
Lead-off track “The Tale Of” is a somber and transporting greeting, and of course there’s some trippy segues tucked in for an appropriately immersive psychedelic experience, but for the most part, JH&TDC aren’t stuck with their heads in the clouds. The melty, drippy desert rock (very much cut from the King Buffalo and All Them Witches sonic fabric, dig the title track and “The Painter in the Woods”) is enough to tickle your frontal lobe as much as it rattles your eardrums, a complementary combo that works in tandem with the grungy tinges found in tracks like “Langolier” and “Stray.”
On the other hand, tracks like “Rat Poisoning” underscore the extreme reaches of each end of the doom-psych spectrum with equal measures of physical, megaton riffitude and spacey “Planet Caravan” inspired vision quests. There’s a really nice narrative kind of flow to this record; it’s organic in how it unfolds, the ‘ludes steep listeners in its atmosphere rather than distract or bore, and no matter how you slice it, these dudes just know how to keep it fresh. I haven’t had much time to dive into their previous releases, but if this one is any indication, there could be some gems to dust off.
Book of Wyrms – Occult New Age (heavy blues, psych doom)
Summer is the season of the riff to me. Certain forms of doom bands are in their element this time of year to me. Probably because I think about what kind of music would be fun to jam to outside. Book of Wyrms checks that box for me, and Occult New Age is the perfect example of what summertime metal bands should sound like. It’s spacey and spooky and makes you wanna move that booty while getting lost in a good groove. I’ve been looking forward to their follow-up to 2019’s Remythologizer, and got-DAMN me if this isn’t just the perfect follow-up to that incredible record.
Summer is a time of nostalgia for a lot of people, and Book of Wyrms is a great trip through some personal nostalgia for me while also bringing heavy blues and psychedelic sounds into the 21st century. As I listen to Occult New Age, I hear a lot of awesome roots metal kind of sounds. I hear Blue Oyster Cult. I hear a little Motorhead. I sense a Pink Floyd influence during the headier moments on Occult New Age. Hell, I even hear some Yes on the acoustic instrumental “Albironlilly”. It’s these moments that make me think that this is a band who’s got a really good idea what they want to do and the image they want everyone to have of their music. You have to respect that drive and consistency from a band even if this isn’t your personal brand of great music.
However, Book of Wyrms isn’t just engaging in these moments of homage for the sake of doing so. If they wanted to show off their taste, they’d just show you their record collection instead of taking the time to learning a bunch of instruments and painstakingly craft tracks for an album. I’ve listened to both Occult New Age and Remythologizer multiple times and I’m stunned at how the band is able to make these kinds of established tropes sound new and refreshing. The band can take the varied influences and mash them together into something that sounds wholly original. It’s the kind of record that makes me kick myself for moving away from Richmond, VA. Dig in on this ASAP because I’ve got a feeling a lot of us are going to have the opportunity to see it live (fingers crossed, please come to Denver).
Khirki – Κτηνωδία (stoner rock)
Back when we premiered this album in full a few weeks ago, I chose to highlight the Mediterrenean folk elements which Greek Khirki bring to their stoner metal core. While I definitely don’t regret that choice, since those folk elements are definitely one of the main draws of the band’s first album, I do feel like I did some injustice to the heavier elements on the album. To wit, the only reason that the folk elements play so well is because they can “bounce off” the heavier sounds on Κτηνωδία. The fuzzy tones, the prominent bass, and the punchy drums are the heartsblood of the band, the foundational strata upon which Khirki can embellish their style but also, and importantly, damn good in their own right.
Check out “Black and Chrome” for example; the track’s main riff rules even if we don’t take into account whatever unfolds later in the album. It has a satisfying crunch to it, fueled by a successful and evocative galloping main riff. The guitar tone is perfect, just fuzzy enough without losing definition and drive. The bass is also an MVP worth mentioning, slick and agile while still robust. Add in the solid drumming and the excellent vocals which are the hallmark of this entire album and you get something that’s pleasing in its own right, before we add in the unique acoustic guitars that play at key moments of the track.
Of course, all of this is made better by the interesting additions that Khirki make to their core sound. As I’ve said before and elsewhere, “Medea” is the best track on the album because it keeps the roots of the Khirki sound going strong while it also reaches further for more ideas and tones, outside of the stoner metal style. It’s Khirki’s ability to hold both ends of the stick that makes them so damn good; imagine if, whenever a folk idea was introduced, the raw, kick-ass metal part of the band’s would suddenly slip for lack of attention. Or if an especially heavy riff after a calm passage would obliterate that passage’s vibe? That would make for a much less enjoyable album. Luckily for us, we live in the timeline where Khirki are able to do both, providing enough love for either side of their music to flourish. The end result is an album I have scarcely been able to put down since I first heard it, its addictiveness driven by both halves of its glorious whole.
Vokonis – Odyssey (progressive sludge)
When I write reviews or these blurbs for the column, I do everything I can to not reference other artists when talking about a band or a record. Every band and album should stand on its own merit, I think, and if it were my record or band someone was writing about, I would want them to write about me and not some unrelated entity. In the case of Sweden’s Vokonis, I kind of have to reference both Mastodon and Elder. Do you like your sludge metal on the heady progressive side? By Satan, have you come to the right place because Odyssey has everything you need.
I’m so glad that a buddy shared Vokonis with me because it is a perfect blend of up-tempo sludge metal with the mind-bending ideas of progressive metal. I can’t tell whether Vokonis is a more prog version of Mastodon or a sludgier version of Elder, but it doesn’t really matter in the end. I think knowing that someone wants to make this kind of comparison should tell you enough. It doesn’t necessarily encapsulate everything the band is capable of as they have a whole toolbox of their own to paint their audio pictures, but it gives you a great idea of how they go about doing the awesome stuff they do.
I’d say to get the full image of what Vokonis can do, compare the tracks “Blackened Wings” and “Through the Depths”. “Blackened Wings” is a sludgy romp. It feels familiar to those who like their sludge with some energy. It plows forward a full steam with plenty of riffing madness until it needs to slow down for some dark melodies at the chorus. It’s a fairly straightforward track that feels like a nice hoodie. “Through the Depths” widens the scope significantly with a progressive song structure that allows the band to play with different ideas. It really helps their tracks develop and get full for a more expansive experience. WHy are you still reading? Go get Odyssey already and let the journey begin!
Red Antlers – Deadwood (sludge, post-black metal)
It’s been a while since I’ve come across something that’s as gross and fun as Deadwood. I don’t think “fun” is the intent here, but there’s something about Gothenburg’s Red Antlers that puts a smile on my face, inspiring bout after bout of invigoration, stank face, and neck massaging. Considering how rock’n’rollin’ these Swedes bend their sludge, you can find hints of High on Fire and Nachtmystium lurking within this sound, and the vocal variety is a gift that just keeps giving.
Similarly, the guitars are absolutely nasty, an early-Baroness-on-steroids lo-fi kinda grind that will undoubtedly annoy those who aren’t into the noise, but those into it should dig the stompier and more blackened songwriting in which it’s deployed. “The Infernonaut pt. 1 (and 2)” are pretty all-encompassing of what you’ll find on Deadwood, but don’t skip out on the black’n’sludge of “Hadal” or the absolutely menacing, pummeling, and disorienting title track. There’s something kinda primitive about Deadwood, but in a refreshing, not undercooked way. Is it the bounce of these riffs? Is it the bellowing growls? You tell me, all I know is I love to crank this thing up.
The Flight of Sleipnir – Eventide (progressive blackened doom)
Regular readers know two things about me on this column. First, I promote blackened doom whenever a good opportunity arrives. I think it’s a criminally underrepresented subgenre so I need to use my platform to build it up. Second, I promote metal bands from Denver because they rule. That is pure objective truth. The Flight of Sleipnir gives me the unique chance to do both things at once with Eventide (watch me win at life, everybody!). But don’t think I’m bumping this album just because it happens to fit into my personal writing preferences. Eventide represents a huge leap forward for a band that was already producing some fantastic music.
Many of us at Heavy Blog have been patiently awaiting new music from the Flight of Sleipnir, and that nearly four and a half year wait has paid off. 2017’s Skadi was an impressive work in its own right and comparable to Eventide in many ways, but Eventide shows the band has made a lot of subtle improvements to their work in that time. Many of the improvements can be attributed to higher production quality. I’ve said it about a lot of records in the past, but a record’s production can make or break its quality. While Skadi wasn’t horrible or even bad, Eventide makes those subtle improvements that can elevate the overall perception of an artist’s music. Guitars sound a little more audibly clear. The mixing makes it all make more sense together. You can hear everything going on in each track so you can get the entire picture of what the band is trying to do. At the same time, the band isn’t compromising at all on their vision. Everybody wins!
Eventide isn’t just marvelous for its production qualities. If you don’t have the chops, production is only going to take you so far. The Flight of Sleipnir most certainly has the chops. Few other bands, regardless of genre, have the songwriting talent of The Flight of Sleipnir. My personal favorite track “Thaw” is a grand example. The track combines playing techniques and mysterious melodies to draw you in and build an image in your head. It’s a truly impressive feat for any band, much less a blackened doom band with presumably not a ton of money to work with to produce a record. Any track on the record is a testament to what this band is capable of. I’m so excited to get back out into the world and go to a concert, so I’m very fortunate to live in the same area code as the Flight of Sleipnir. Eventide is a brilliant doom record and will easily end up on more than a few best of lists in December.
A Better Tomorrow – Spiritual Crossing (stoner doom, prog, jazz)
I can’t think of two genres that could be more diametrically opposed than doom and jazz. (Well, at least in my head.) On one hand, we have an often repetitive and riff-focused style; on the other, an approach that embraces the wildly free and technically savvy. They couldn’t possibly get put together to upend everything I know about the world, could they? Well, yeah. France’s A Better Tomorrow continue the excellent output from that neck of the European woods (as Eden astutely pointed out in this column last December) with a novel spin on the slow an’ low.
So yeah, these dudes did it, they really fucking did it. The occult/stoner doom vibes are as prominent as you’d expect to hear from a group in this column, but what’s more is how they elevate it with elements of jazz and prog, because it shouldn’t sound this natural or effortless. Be warned, the self-titled opener might have you dropping your inverted cross bong in awe as the sax gets the first say, but it’s not long until the guitars lend a doomy sneer and pierce through with some wails to get this shit on the move.
There’s some real magic to ABT’s style. Spiritual Crossing doesn’t just start with a foundation of X and adjunct it with elements of Y and Z. No, ABT take the classic metal sound, including modernized interpretations like Witch Mountain or Ruby the Hatchet to blur the lines with old school prog branches, hinting at stuff like King Crimson and The Moody Blues while also detouring to more traditional, lounge-y jazz (see “Blow by Blow,” “Ghost of Remembrance”), meshing jazzy sax roars with crushing riffs, soulful croons, and not-yer-grandpa’s doom style soloing.
It’s nothing if not inventive, and each of the album’s five tracks take a distinct approach, touching on classic hallmark sounds, but weaving them together in ways I simply haven’t heard before – at least not with this kind of confidence. The metallic glide of “Spread” eschews standard stoicism for a dynamic structure and attitude. Vocalist Vanessa Ghisolfi shows off range of emotion and power throughout, lending a realness and frankness that’s often lost in occult metal’s kitschiness. The interplay with the bass and keys sneaks ABT into some places you wouldn’t expect, and there’s also ample proggy drum flourishes and guitars that make this so much more than your dime-a-dozen doomsters. A very, very, very impressive debut. Do not pass go until you press play.