Queens of the Stone Age – Tension Head

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Nowadays, mention Queens of the Stone Age, and Josh Homme will probably be the first things that springs to mind. It is his band, after all, formed post-Kyuss, progressing them from the deserts to cult status to mainstream acclaim/disdain(?) and starring roles at festivals the world over. For my money though, its been a while since their glory days, and by glory days, I’m talking about the Nick Oliveri-era. The era that spawned two fantastic albums, ‘R’ and ‘Songs for the Deaf’. The former the springboard to greater acclaim from the band, the latter the all-conquering, Grohlery, Lanegany, body-grooving, name-taking drive down the devil’s highway that gobbled up awards left right and centre. Then Homme fired Oliveri and all of a sudden…I wasn’t as enthused by what QOTSA were putting out.

Don’t get me wrong. I love songs like ‘3’s and 7’s’, and ‘In My Head’. And ‘Make It Wit Chu’. But they lack an element so common on ‘R’ and ‘Songs for the Deaf’, an element that makes those albums so good.

DANGER

That six-letter word is what makes every rock ‘n’ roll band who’s ever been a) worth a damn and/or b) successful,?actually something. The Rolling Stones have it. The Stooges have it. Alice Cooper has it. Motley Crue have it. Nirvana had it. Motorhead have it. The Wildhearts have it. Queens of the Stone Age had it, til Oliveri got the boot. And now they don’t seem so dangerous.

Of course, ‘Tension Head’ was ‘13 th Floor’ by Mondo Generator in a previous life, but its on ‘R’ where it really feels unhinged. ‘13th Floor’ wasn’t bad, but it feels like its missing the spark which ignites this rerecording. The riff that signals the song’s beginning and its subsequent unsteady descent into chaos is the invite into Oliveri’s world of trouble. ‘Every day I wake up feeling this way’. Get in the car. ‘I take it downtown, with all the action goin’ down’. The screw is loose. Before you know it, its rolling around somewhere in the footwell. Then you understand what this is all about: ‘(high life) I feel so sick/(low life) I feel so fucking sick…on the bathroom floor’. The central theme has now been established, with the tension head in question burning the candle at both ends, living life to both extremes – the euphoric high of letting hell loose across the town, high on drugs, with reckless disregard for health and dignity, the lack of which brings said character down to earth as he wretches in the restroom, barely able to raise his head up to view himself in the mirror in the ultimate downer.

Queens of the Stone Age – Tension Head (Rock Am Ring 2003)

It’s violent intensity is for me what sets this apart from ‘13th Floor’. Its all around heavier, more off-the-rails, with one hell of a vocal performance from Oliveri, who really sounds like he’s losing his rag in the second verse with his roars of ‘no more/no mooooooorrrrrre!/no mooooooooooooooooooooooooooooorrrrre! (I’m done having fun!)’ Not on any other Queens song does Oliveri sound more intense – the only time he sounds arguably more maniacal is ‘Six Shooter’ from ‘Songs from the Deaf’, but its not foot to the floor, edge of the seat stuff like ‘Tension Head’ is.

It’s obvious what this songs about. Having an addiction and trying to kick it. Oliveri’s character in this song is deranged and somewhat paranoid, an effect of whatever concotion he’s on. Given some of his misdemeandours (both real and alleged), one or two might call it semi-autobiographical, in light of the recent plea bargain he struck after being arrested over domestic violence in July 2011.

Now you may be wondering why I chose to feature a song from ‘R’, one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of the previous decade, in an Underrated feature. Simples. The same reason ‘Ain’t No Fun (Waiting ‘Round to be a Millionaire)’ by AC/DC was featured. Everybody loves AC/DC, and a hell of a lot of people love ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’. But look throughout their live releases, and when exactly was the last time they played that song live? Rarely is it ever talked about either. It’s all about ‘Back in Black’, or ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, or ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. In years to come, no one is going to be talking about ‘Tension Head’. They’ll remember ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’, ‘The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret’, ‘No One Knows’, ‘Go With The Flow’, ‘Little Sister’, ‘Burn the Witch’, and so on, and so forth. But ‘Tension Head’, and most of the Oliveri lead tracks? I feel they’ll mostly get short shrift.

For all my lament about the way QOTSA have gone, the news of Oliveri’s appearance on their forthcoming album, along with Dave Grohl’s return has drummer, has renewed hope that this might just be the best QOTSA album we’ve seen for years. And even if my hopes are dashed in that regard, would it kill them just to let loose the hounds of hell one more time, dragging us down to the fiery subterranea in Lucifer’s sidecart, laughing maniacally without a care in the world as we do? For danger is the key element of any rock ‘n’ roll band that wants to truly kick and take names. The feeling you’re about to plunge over that cliff. That feeling of excess. That unstoppable feeling. From the screech of the tyres to the final collision with the lamppost. Waking up on the cold bathroom floor, fresh from the previous night’s excursions. It wakes up the demon in all of us. Without that demon, rock is absolutely nothing. And Oliveri is that demon personified.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘R’ here

View all previous Underrated features here, including articles on AC/DC, The Wildhearts, The Cult and more.

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Voivod – Target Earth

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Voivod
Target Earth
Century Media

Its not so long ago that everyone, including the surviving members of Voivod themselves, was saying that ‘Infini’ would be the final album from the Canadian prog-thrash legends, recorded using the final riffs recorded by Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour before he passed from the onset of colon cancer in 2005. And indeed, it seemed unfeasible to continue on without the man who was so influential in creating one of the most distinctive sounds in all of metal. Yet watching them at Download Festival 2009, I didn’t exactly feel as though we were witnessing the death of Voivod as a band. In fact, it seemed very much a band relishing their later years, as if there was a fire in their bellies again, a renewed sense of purpose. That it would seem unfair and premature to end Voivod once they ran out of Piggy’s riffs. Once the band recorded new music with Martyr guitarist Dan Mongrain (now ‘Chewy’), it seemed inevitable, despite Michel ‘Away’ Langevin throwing caution to any prospective future recordings. Make no mistake, Voivod are back.

Target Earth’ is the first Voivod album to feature Mongrain on guitar, and the first to feature Jean-Yves ‘Blacky’ Thériault since 1991’s ‘Angel Rat’. Any lingering doubts that Voivod in 2013 might be a shadow of the Piggy-led days are soon dispelled, as the band tear into a great mix of their late 80’s style metal and their latter day, heavy rock influnced sound. The old thrash elements are still there and the classic Voivod sound has not diminished either. Mongrain is more than capable as a guitarist, with some dynamic riffs that between he and Blacky’s distinct mangling bass tones truly rejuvenate the band – the last two albums were simply an effort to get Piggy’s final works out there to the fans – this feels more like a genuine attempt to inject new impetus, to recapture the classic vibe. Add to that Denis ‘Snake’ Bélanger’s unmistakable snarl and the severely underrated drumming skills of Away, and once you have a band firing on all cylinders, with tracks like ‘Mechanical Mind’, ‘Warchaic’ and ‘Artefact’ coming complete with progression, technicality and intrigue, in fact everything that originally made Voivod such an interesting proposition when they first twisted thrash on its head.

The album finishes with a 90-second track called ‘Defiance’ which doesn’t feel in keeping with the album, bar a lyrical theme. All the other songs on ‘Target Earth’ are at least four minutes long and have great staying power – ‘Defiance’ simply feels like a fleeting ‘bye’, and a slightly underwhelming one at that. Just a minor complaint about an album which, by and large, is one of Voivod’s best in recent years; hell, even up there with the classic era of ‘Dimension Hätröss’, ‘Killing Technology’ and ‘Nothingface’. Not topping those albums, but seriously close. And I don’t get all those moans about the artwork – it still screams Voivod and I personally don’t mind it. Proof though you can never judge a book – or an album – by its cover.

Peter Clegg

Voivod – Target Earth EPK

Buy ‘Target Earth’ here

Official site – voivod.com
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Live Review: The Great Old Ones @ The Kraak Gallery, Manchester, 06/01/2013

Supported by Terzij de Horde, Burial + Wode

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In the dark intertwining back alleys of the Northern Quarter its safe to say I’ve lost faith in locating my destination. “I’ve fucking been to the place twice before”, it doesn’t help, the area is completely non descript. Luckily, before too long a man apparently sat in the middle of an alley sees our predicament and points at the venue about 5 feet away. How the hell would you know it’s here? No sign or acknowledgment of existence beyond a black door in a black alley of a side street. The Kraak Gallery is already fairly busy with a mix of people, ranging from trendy looking folk with hair from the 40’s and shirts that would make better curtains to a man who appears to have lost his way whilst hunting large game. The roof is draped with cargo netting and a ram’s skull sits on top of the drum kit, looking off the currently vacant stage as people stand idly or sit on the strategically placed couches waiting for the first band WODE.

The four piece from Manchester have an unrefined and elemental sound that fits well with the different aspects of their sound. Bastardized punk noise breaks up bleak and hypnotic interludes, for a minute or so at a time lulling, droning riffs with cold melodies and almost lethargic rhythms in the vein of Drudkh or Walknut absorb your consciousness, before being snapped back to the living with a more obnoxious kick of old school black metal punk fueled aggression, vocals drowned in filth and reverb. The crowd look transfixed for the entire set ands it’s apparent why. Despite not being around all that long or being very vocal about their goings on, (online at least) the band seem to have people interested. My only previous experience of the band was a gig at the Ducey Bridge, where it was so loud I thought I could feel the end of my spinal column wobbling my brain, and the only thing to be heard was a dull feedback that seemed to be coming from my chest. I’m glad to say with the band playing at sonic levels compatible with humans, they played a high quality set with a freshness that will hopefully continue vitalizing the UK black metal scene.

Veterans of the underground Burial are next to shake things up, injecting a significant amount of brutality to the night. Shredded minor chords, vaguely human twisted vocals and a relentless percussive assault paint a picture of morbid terror before being wrenched into heavy, ominous stabbing groove, that could pulp flesh into snotty little pieces of quivering meat, dragging you through the audio equivalent of murder on acid. That doesn’t sound very nice you might think, well, it isn’t, and that’s what’s nice about it.

A guilty pleasure of watching the ‘orrible trio was some trendy looking fellow that shouldn’t have bothered pretending to be interested in music for the night getting up on stage, unaware that his obnoxious and foolish behavior would see him ejected from it, quite violently. He hit the floor in front of the crowd with all the dignity of our scaly sea dwelling brothers, he got himself up, feigned aggression and skulked away quietly, realizing his existence was that of a fashionably dressed, well groomed exterior.

Although not attracting quite as much attention as some of the other bands, Burial’s loyal base of ferocity loving blackened death nuts were ever present, as is going to be the case with a gig like this in Manchester. The band’s material from their new album stood out as exceptionally grim and viscous in the overall destruction of their set. Purchase it and be smite into hell fire.

Terzij De Horde are a discordant bunch from Holland, with a style that would struggle to be any more oppressive. The negativity in their noise, projected through tangible distortion, is a mix of doom paced misery that plods, portentous, into frantic deranged riffing. When the band changes the pace there’s a strong punk influence but this doesn’t lose the apocalyptic vibe that the slower section’s builds. The vocals are all out continuous savagery for the entirety. The structures of the songs are similar in the way they mix between looming misery and then back into chaos, projecting the image of a joyless utopia that has an increasing number of people absorbed.

The band close with a song in tribute to H.P Lovecraft and as a introduction to The Great Old Ones, the band whom they’ve toured with. The bands compliment each other’s styles without treading on each other, Terzij being on the rougher, nastier side of things.

The Great Old Ones collect themselves on stage and play a simple introduction involving one guitar and effect that would be fitting for a decent, downwards, through endless pitch black narrow stairwells, into the weird and horrifying world of H.P Lovecraft. Despite there being three guitars in total when they kick in, the sound is clear and precise in timing. The layers are well utilized, frequently playing three different things at once. This doesn’t complicate the sound though, there’s no competing or over complicating needlessly with melodies and leads, the only crowding being in a physical sense on stage, maybe dodging the odd headstock. The band play music that building up, transcends to a powerful level using the layers of guitar and crashing drums; the crescendo comes and then fades away to minimalist foreboding notes and chords rung out into nothing. The style, although relevant of black metal, probably owes more to “post” styles, which is still too much of a generalization for the dynamics of the band. The dual attack of vocals are tortured rasps that fit well and emphasize the music; unfortunately lyrically I’m lost, but The Great Old Ones capture an atmosphere that could easily represent one of Lovecraft’s desolate and ancient cities, harboring all sorts of mind-fucking weirdness and malignancy.

The shouts for one more at the end of the night spoke for the quality of the band and the night in general at a great little venue that should be better used. People left happy and drunk, spilling across the various surrounding bars while I was forced to consider a far more evil prospect, waking at 7.30 to go to work after two weeks off, a terrible end to an awesome night.

Michael Collins

Originally published for ‘CLDH’.Check them out here

Click here to view photos from the night (Facebook)

Iron Witch – Hangover Suicide

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Iron Witch
Hangover Suicide
Endtyme

Hangover Suicide’ is Iron Witch’s second release inside the year, and while the full-length still awaits, this latest 7” is yet another tantaliser of just how well this band is developing, and again showcases why they’re one of the most talked about bands of the UK sludge scene.

Recent attendees of the band’s live shows will already know these songs, and even those that haven’t will quickly realise that NOLA sound is still highly prevalent with Iron Witch’s makeup, but ‘Hangover Suicide’ again shows another slight progression in their development thanks to two fantastic tracks each weighing a megaton in their booming bourbon-drenched riffs. Recorded and mastered by Bri Doom at the 1 in 12 Studio in Bradford, from the word go this is a corker. ‘Death Was The Colour’ is everything good we’ve come to expect now from the ‘Witch, never letting any of its riffs outstay their welcome, each riff change signalling a slight change in tempo with no let up with Chris Fane’s gnarled vocal delivery. The title track is a pure doom stomper, clocking just over five and a half minutes, one of the most hypnotic tracks they’ve done yet. Its one of those tracks that gives rise to the phrase ‘doom out’. Not the slowest doom tracks ever, but one of those that will have you nodding your head to its quaggy groove.

And for those who aren’t physical these days, there’s also the meat in this meatiest sandwich, with digital-only track ‘The Last of Nothing’, which kicks off with real doom stomp swagger. We only heard this after we published, but let me tell you, its so heavy you’ll sink under the pressure. Damn!

Pre-orders on this release are now available through Endtyme Records at the link supplied below. Available as a 7″ vinyl (limited to 350) with a download code, stickers and an A3 poster, or just if you prefer. Do not miss out on this latest installment in the progression of the latest fine Liverpudlian aggressors.

Peter Clegg

Hangover Suicide‘ is officially released 18th February, 2013. Pre-orders for ‘Hangover Suicide’ go live at Endtyme Records’ store at 9pm tonight – get yours here!
Digitial version also comes with bonus track ‘The Last of Nothing’. Available here.

Stream it below:

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Sloth Herder – Abandon Pop Sensibility EP

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Sloth Herder
Abandon Pop Sensibility EP

Following on from their initial effort ‘Sluggard’, Maryland grinders Sloth Herder are back with a more blackened approach on their second EP ‘Abandon Pop Sensibility’. Their debut certainly showed signs of promise and this second release certainly backs that up, showing a nice progression in their sound throughout. Whereas ‘Sluggard’ was just as fast and brutal, this release shows some added nous, with an instrumental title-track adding some mysterious tones in the shape of an echoey, bass-heavy riff. That’s the primer for a furious assault over the next five songs, which echo a little more of black metal fury than the darkened grind of their previous. ‘Relapse/Reward’ is a particular stand out track for me, with a slower build-up before hitting the warp speed button. This is definitely the band’s best output yet – its faster, its tighter, and infinitely more evil sounding.

Peter Clegg

Download ‘Abandon Pop Sensibility’ here (name-your-price)

Stream it below:

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Rotten Sound – Species at War EP

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Rotten Sound
Species at War EP
Season of Mist

Finland’s premier grind crew Rotten Sound have been fairly productive over the last few years, and are back with another short release, this time the six-track ‘Species at War‘ EP. What little it offers in surprises, it makes up for in urgency and the band’s ability to devastate, as they have done now for twenty years. Operating with the same efficiency as their homeland’s ability to operate efficiently in wintry weather, it’s a short trip of around nine minutes, and nothing less than a slaughtering exercise in blasting, hammering and growling away, chucking in the odd groove for good measure too – particularly that one on ‘Salvation’, which is a beast. The best bands don’t tinker too much when they’re onto a good thing, and Rotten Sound show that capability time and time again when asked, as they have for twenty years now. Its a grind business, and business is excellent right here.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘Species at War‘ here (MCD + other formats)
Download it here (MP3 + various file formats)
Stream it below:

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A Story of Rats – Vastness and the Inverse

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A Story of Rats
Vastness and the Inverse
Translinguistic Other

A Story of Rats are a ambient/noise/drone trio based out of Seattle, as the press release goes, masterminded by Garek Druss. Their latest release ‘Vastness and the Inverse‘, the band’s twelfth release (and the first to incorporate a live drummer in Andrew Crawshaw), is a crushing display of how heavy music can be without strictly being metal. Only two tracks long measuring nearly forty minutes in total, it brings forth a mesmerizing blend of ambience, trepidation and transcendance.  ‘Her Teeth are Nil’ journeys the listeners through various phases of minimalism, be it dark chamber percussion, post-rock, drone and doom. ‘Huldrefolk’ isn’t quite as intense, though it does come with an impressive explosion of sound around the four-minute mark, leading with synth all the way with significant cathartic repetition.

Vastness and the Inverse‘ is not for the discerning metal fan – this is an album that requires full concentration and elimination of outside interference to fully appreciate. Not all will be able to claw through its swathes of sound at first digestion, nor be able to reach its deepest depths without the need to rise for air. But its a fully rewarding work, something that fans of bands like Earth and Neurosis should be able to reach for without much difficulty. The band will be touring at a select number of European venues in the near future, and no doubt will this be an experience worth embracing to feel the full force of ASOR’s beauty and power.

Peter Clegg

Vastness and the Inverse‘ is scheduled for release on 28th February, 2013. Please check here for pre-order information

Listen to ‘Her Teeth are Nil’ (excerpt) below:

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