Feist/Mastodon – Black Tongue/A Commotion 7"

Feist/Mastodon
‘Feistodon’: Black Tongue/A Commotion

Warner Bros.
I just thought I’d add my two pennies on this given that despite not attending Record Store Day (due to personal responsibilities, not lack of support for the cause), I have managed to listen to this limited release 7″ that caused quite a commotion (pun very much intended) building up to its release, not least because of the unlikely connection between Canadian songstress Feist and Atlanta, Georgia metal titans Mastodon, which developed following their respective appearances at the same recording of the Jools Holland Show last year.
Having pledged to work on a release together, the respective parties managed to squeeze in a split 7″ release into their extremely busy schedules, each artist cover one track from one another’s back catalogue – Feist choosing to cover ‘Black Tongue’ from Mastodon’s ‘The Hunter‘, and Mastodon selecting ‘A Commotion’ from Feist’s ‘Metals‘.
I wasn’t a great fan of Feist before ‘Feistodon’ came along and that won’t change with this release. That ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ song irked the hell out of me, no thanks to Apple, but she is undoubtedly a talented singer/songwriter who is worthy of the acclaim that comes her way. Some positive comments have come her way regarding her cover of ‘Black Tongue’, which I unfortunately must disagree with. Vocally she does a good job, creating something of a dark, haunting effect in the process. I fully expected her version of the song to not come crashing over the hills in the fashion that Mastodon do, but the arrangement of the song in this instance does nothing for me. It seems too disjointed if anything, a valiant attempt to turn the song into an electro-rock lurker, only to judder too much over its course.
By contrast, Mastodon, no stranger to covers and indeed to Record Store Day, do an incredible job of making ‘A Commotion’ their own. I can see why they chose it – out of the Feist material I’ve heard to date this one fits them the best – and the result is something that honestly wouldn’t sound amiss on one of their later records. It quietly builds up with just the chug of the guitar and quietly spoken vocals. When Brann Dailor pounds a thunderous roll, it begins to feel like a proper Mastodon song, bearing Mastodon’s signature power chords. The only grumble is that the chorus suddenly concludes the song – that works for Feist’s version but on this particular cover, it feels like there’s something missing, like it ends too soon.
Nonetheless, this was an interesting experiment and a welcome one at that from these two unlikely collaborators. My personal take is that it’s not the wholly amazing 7″ I perhaps expected. At the end of the day, it’s not something to judge the artist’s by’ more a show of fan appreciation, support for the record industry, and a display of risk taking. In a day and age where risk is rarely rewarded and uniformity is depressingly the norm, it’s a refreshing signal to see artists from two different walks step a little out of their comfort zone.

Peter Clegg
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Woods of Ypres – Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light

Woods of Ypres

Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light
Earache
Whatever talk of this album there may be in future, the only certainty is that it will be forever overshadowed by the death of Woods of Ypres’ primary creative force, David Gold, who died prior to the album’s release when he was hit by a car whilst walking down Highway 400 in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, near the end of 2011. Their deal with Earache should have been the beginning of a new chapter in the Woods of Ypres’ story. Now, it’s almost certainly the epilogue, brought to a tragic, abrupt and premature end. Woods of Ypres were certainly lauded in the underground for their effective blackened doom metal, but that reputation and recent events alone shouldn’t have any bearing on whether the fifth Woods of Ypres album, ‘Grey Skies & Electric Light‘, produces the results that Digby Pearson foresaw upon signing the band to Earache.



There is no doubt that some purists will be disappointed with the band’s decision to largely ditch the blackened stuff for sorrowful doom, although ‘Adora Vivos’ provides a blinding mix of the two, an undeniably amazing moment occurring as Gold gnarls ‘under grey skies and electric light!‘. Whether you’ll enjoy much of the rest of the record is down to how much of the dark stuff you’ll be able to stomach. As it is, while lyrically it is one of the bleakest records I’ve ever heard, Gold conveys it very well in my opinion, and by and large gets its right. The largely concise tracklisting – compared to most doom releases, at least – gives each song a certain punctuality. They don’t get lost in bleak meandering – even the longest song on the record ‘Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)’ remains fully interesting throughout thanks to its progressive nature, merged into one song from the two parts that took up the promo version of this record.

Whether it was intended or not, ‘Grey Skies‘ reads an awful lot like a death note. Lyrically it’s one of the most striking albums I’ve ever come across, regardless of the events prior to its release. Through many of the tracks, there’s a real sense of closure, indeed finality – certainly not something that was intended to be so real. Yet you can’t deny how eerie some of the lyrics are, particularly ‘Back on the highway, under the moon, my final moments, still wondering about you…‘ (from ‘Alternate Ending’). There’s much more within that I won’t go into now by my word, its powerful stuff.

This was surely only to be the beginning of a successful relationship between Woods of Ypres and Earache which had the potential to bear many fruits. David Gold and Woods of Ypres were already revered before they signed with Earache and released ‘Grey Skies‘. This was to be the record that spread their name a little, to propel them to new heights/depths. Alas, what conspired that January evening was to cut any new promise short. Nonetheless, ‘Grey Skies‘ is a phenomenal album, a fitting epitaph to a band and a frontman who will surely take their place in cult metal folklore.
Peter Clegg

Wadge – Tiki Gods, No Masters

Wadge

Tiki Gods, No Masters EP
Grindcore Karaoke
Anyone who either has a keen ear for diving into the weirder excesses of grindcore, or indeed anyone who was an early visitor to this site may well be aware of Canadian drum-machine surf-grinders Wadge. That description is very real. Although it turns out they’ve been around since 1991, it was only when they released an album on J Randall’s Grindcore Karaoke label last year entitled ‘Grindcore Lu’au‘ that they came to slightly wider attention. ‘Grindcore Lu’au‘ indulged in all manner of Tiki, surf and general island themes with a grind ethic, as well as some pretty tinny production which grated due to the record’s excessive (in grind circles, at least) length. That said, it had some memorable highlights and the ridiculousity does not let up on new release, ‘Tiki Gods, No Masters‘. It should have seen light a couple of years ago as part of a split, but almost got washed away with the tide when Brazilian split partners Dispepsiaa called it a day.
Where its predecessor contained thirty-three tracks, the new release is a simple five-track blast that feels just about right. Everything about this release is concerned with Tiki – if you’ve read into Maori mythology you’ll probably find a lot to do with procreation, and not a frenzied tribe out for blood and grindcore, but Wadge clearly don’t take things seriously, as this EP suggests. The middle track, the instrumental ‘Voyage of the Tiki’ is the only one that allows their surf leanings to fully flourish, but it doesn’t half evoke an image of a grind B-52s. That comes sandwiched between four other tracks of desert island grind, with the title track seeing Wadge state where they’re all about: “Tiki Gods, No Masters/the only life I lead/Surf and grind till I die/For tiki I will bleed”.
The quality of the production, while still not the greatest, is an improvement on ‘Grindcore Lu’au‘, and undoubtedly having far fewer songs on this release makes the gimmick more enjoyable and free of any threat of becoming weary. Wadge remain shrouded in mystery and perhaps that’s why it’s taken a good twenty years or so for their bizarre mix to come to the surface. But ‘Tiki Gods, No Masters‘ is a definitive step in the right direction, regardless of how silly you might find it. And who cares if they find even minor acceptance? This sort of thing was designed to delight the underground and the quirk in you.
Peter Clegg

Beneath the Massacre – Incongruous

Beneath the Massacre 
Incongruous
Prosthetic

The metal scene is absolutely flooded with bands of a technical variety, and it goes without saying there’s a fight to get to the very top. Based on their previous record, ‘Dystopia‘, I wouldn’t count Montreal, Canada’s Beneath the Massacre in that upper echelon, as my expectations for that record were somewhat dampened by a lack of creativity that stifled the promise shown on their debut effort ‘Mechanics of Dysfunction‘.

Still, that hasn’t stopped this brutal crew from ploughing forth. New album ‘Incongruous‘ is another 11 tracks of brutal technical death metal from the French-Canadians, and long time fans and indeed those who simply have BTM on their radar shouldn’t expect anything different to before. The guitars weedle, squeal and dizzy more than ever before, as the quartet blast their way through eleven punishing tracks. Songs such as ‘Hunted’ and ‘It’ breathe menace and punishing complexity. It’s still the same old same old, a problem in that everything risks bleeding into one another, but Beneath The Massacre have wisened up a little, showing improved intelligence and less reliant on breakdowns, which were too numerous on ‘Dystopia‘ and too one-dimensional. Even when they do go for the chug there’s a little more invention, giving them a sharper edge.

All said and done, ‘Incongruous‘ is a step up from ‘Dystopia‘, despite being largely more of the same. There’s still a few kinks here and there but for the large part, there’s improvement. It won’t set the world alight, but its a positive sign of a band maturing into an effective killing machine. They’re not such a known name over here, especially with so many tech heads about and after two full lengths as well. ‘Incongruous‘ ought to at least ensure that doesn’t stretch to three.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘Incongruous‘ here 

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Review: KEN Mode – Venerable

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KEN Mode 
Venerable 
Profound Lore 
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada’s KEN Mode have steadily been plying away their trade over the last few years, showing great potential particularly on their latest two albums, ‘Reprisal’ and ‘Mennonite’. On those records, KEN Mode showed they had the chops to smash their way into listeners’ consciousness. And right here, they have done more than that.
Because ‘Venerable’ is quite the pulverizing record. It makes a statement of intent with ‘Book of Muscle’ that says KEN Mode really mean business here. Second track ‘Obeying The Iron Will’ features quite a technical riff, but still one that maintains a high amount of beef. If that isn’t quite hard enough for you, then ‘Batholith’ will hit you upside the head like a sledgehammer. Everything about that track is huge, absolutely monstrous.
And for the numerous faster skullsmashers, there’s offings into post-rock territory (particularly on instrumental ‘Flight of the Echo Hawk’), and there’s a couple of slower, lengthier dirges thrown in for good measure that more than double the pain, particularly the outstanding ‘Never Was’, which is coursing with intensity, particularly as vocalist Jesse Matthewson bellows the words ‘No god, never was’. Indeed, it’s lyrical moments like that resound throughout the album.
Obviously this was intended as the album to take KEN Mode closer to being a bigger name in a few households. It’s their first release under Profound Lore, produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou, who once again has done an impressive job in boosting the band’s sound. Riffs like those on the earlier stated ‘Obeying The Iron Will’ possess that extra beef that wasn’t quite up to that level on previous records. It’s clear as a bell and that’s what gives ‘Venerable’ that extra firepower.
Make no mistake, despite the perhaps questionable moniker, KEN Mode are worth your time, and this is the step up in class that was required. ‘Venerable’ is absolutely essential listening.
Peter Clegg
Alternatively, you can stream it here

Review Roundup: Primate/Wadge/Combat Astronomy

Primate
Draw Back A Stump EP
Primative Recordings

Primate is the new ‘supergroup’ (a dreaded term if there ever was one) featuring Brutal Truth’s Kevin Sharp and Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher, among others. They seem to be pitching themselves here as a grind band, but I sense they’re having too much of a good time here to be balls-out grind. There’s a real punk ‘n’ roll vibe going on here too, and the result is a cracking EP that will leave you thirsting for more.

Draw Back A Stump’ comprises seven tracks in total, including a cover of Black Flag’s ‘Drinking and Driving’. The standouts for me though are undoubtedly ‘Hellbound’, with its gang-vocal chorus and Kelliher’s soloing all over it, and closer ‘Reform?’, which provides the EP with a solid blast of surging raw power. Not as vicious as their main projects (or in Kelliher’s case, certainly not as epic), Primate avoid the pitfalls of most supergroups and succeed just by playing to their strengths. Here’s hoping for more of the same.

Wadge
Grindcore Lu’au
Grindcore Karaoke

This is the first release from Agoraphobic Nosebleed mainman J. Randall’s label, Grindcore Karaoke, and it’s something right out of the box. Canada’s Wadge mix drum-machine grind with surf rock (as if you didn’t guess from the title). That doesn’t mean they’re breaking out into Beach Boys covers, but indeed the Hawaiian flavour is prevalent in this record. Just perusing through some of the titles confirms this – ‘That Little Grass Shack’, ‘Pineapple Sickness’, ‘Demon Dogs of Waikiki’ being just a few of the gems on offer.

Indeed, this surf rock/grind combination first becomes truly apparent on ‘Extremity Jet-Planed/Eyes of Crust/Obstinate Erection’ – a three part track which culminates with the first sound of a surf rock riff. It’s a joy to behold and you might want to break out a pina colada as you jive to it. However, the lo-fi production and lack of overall quality starts to weigh it down and at fourty minutes, it is a little bit of a stretch. Still, Randall is giving it away for free, and it is worth checking out.

Combat Astronomy
Flak Planet
Zond

Finally in this round-up, something really out of left-field. This is Combat Astronomy’s sixth release, and it really defies classification. It’s not really metal – though it does have that sort of appeal, given its heaviness.  There’s a heaping helping of jazz spicing things up here and it’s a real mish-mash of elements. I don’t listen to much jazz, if any at all, so I’ll sum up as best I can.

For the most part, it is pretty damn good. It’s not unlike Meshuggah in places, given the somewhat technical aspect of their music. Opener ‘The Stone Tape’ is the best example. It’s a little more restrained that some of the later tracks and the instruments all synchronise well with one another. After that, they let loose with the saxophone and the album unfortunately suffers as a result, in particular on ‘Zona’, which has piano plinky-plonking all over it as well and doesn’t seem cohesive. ‘Flak Planet’ does regain its balance later on with the four-part ‘Inverted Universe’ tracks that close the album, which bring together all these elements to provide a satisfying conclusion.

This is a solid album that is certainly challenging – if you don’t like jazz, you may well hate this. But do give it a listen if you’re of an experimental disposition – you may well be surprised.

Peter Clegg



Combat Astronomy on Bandcamp
Zond Records – home of Combat Astronomy