Dope Body – Natural History

Dope Body

Natural History
Drag City
The term ‘punk’ is more loosely defined than ever. Once a defiant statement of rebellion, its label has been applied to some many undeserving things that the lines of what is punk and isn’t punk are more blurred than ever before. Evolution is a welcome thing but the watering down of punk’s description certainly hasn’t been. These days, unless you really sound and look the part and chime in with an acidic bark and a sheer defiance of authority, the next best attributable thing is probably to acts which exudes a hint of apathy and a smattering of could-care-less what you think attitude blended with a penchant for excess. That’s perhaps how I could at least best sum up Baltimore‘s Dope Body, a quartet whose ‘Natural History‘ is perhaps one of the finest dangerous, reckless and indeed careless statements of arguable punk today.

What is noticeable straight away is Dope Body likes to mix things up. ‘Shook’ opens this album and is effectively their arising from slumber, really coming across with a Melvins and assorted slow punk vibe. The following track ‘Road Dog’ is a more straightforward rocker, with a fantastic pre-chorus chant of ‘do what you wanna do/see what you wanna se/go where you wanna go‘ before launching into a more passionate refrain. It’s hard to pick out what I like most about the album, with the fantastic tinkling riff of ‘Twice the Life’, the slow, brooding intent of ‘Out of my Mind’, the easy riding wit of ‘High Way‘ with the line of ‘I’m not hopelessly looking/I’m not hopeless but I’m not looking!‘ all proving to be addictive highlights. If its any justice as well, ‘Weird Mirror’ will be one of the feelgood hits of the summer, even if it were only for its ‘woah-oh’s and careening pace.


I’ve been listening to this record a lot over the last week or so and that I’m still enjoying it and still not tired of it speaks a lot for its quality. This was my first exposure to Dope Body and the results could not have been more stunning. I’m aware their songs were much more punchy and brief in their early days but they’ve evolved into a howling vortex of jarring noise and punk rock energy. It might all be effects and technical wizardry, but guitarist Zachary Utz seems to be able to contort and conjour all manner of noises from his guitar – I could’ve sworn ‘Twice the Life’s twinkling riff was a steel drum at first. The heady brew of sonic sounds is complimented by vocalist Andrew Laumann’s assorted yelps, howls and reverberations and makes for perhaps one of the most exciting bands of our time. Its punk rock thrown in the blender with the Jesus Lizard, Lightning Bolt and other assorted supplements, as if to celebrate your stupor. At the same time, it’s perfectly accessible, losing none of its quality for it either.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say its wholly original, but this experimental approach has certainly paid dividends and I don’t expect it will be too long (or so I hope) before Dope Body break out of the USA and over to Europe and beyond. ‘Natural History‘ is going to be an absolutely compulsory purchase when it drops, as high a compliment as I really give around here. Do it.
Peter Clegg

Ufomammut – Oro: Opus Primum

Ufomammut

Oro: Opus Primum
Neurot
Ufomammut’s sound defies any natural explanation of doom. Intrinsically the core elements are there, the body hammer riffs, the booming drums, the thick sludgy grooves. The ethereal vocals, the spacey effects and the mystery with the band serve to convolute matters. Not that’s it’s a bad thing – everyone loves a bit of mystery. And then there’s their lofty ambition to stand out from the rest of the pack. Be this their collaboration with Malleus to provide their stunning visuals or the concepts they employ, and you can see why Steve Von Till was keen to make them an addition to the Neurot family. Following on from the success of ‘Eve’, Ufomammut’s next step is to unleash a two-part opus entitled ‘Oro‘. The first of those parts ‘Opus Primum‘, has dropped like a proverbial atom bomb, and even the highest of expectations for the new relationship between Neurot and Ufomammut have been blown away thus far.
Oro: Opus Primum‘ consists of five epic, sonically-charged tracks that elevate Ufomammut to even newer heights. The opener ‘Empireum’ slowly builds with an almost alien-synth noise that slowly echoes across the initial hum, the melody of which returns in different forms across the album. Eventually it kicks in with some fine sludge jamming, but things really go up a gear on ‘Aureum’, with a fabulous sludge groove that shifts around the 4:15 mark leads to a cracking groove and encounters many more twists and turns before it’s finally done. From there its reaches a sense of triumphalism, with the soaring ‘Infearnatural’, the thick low end slurry counterpointed by bassist Urlo’s majestic, entrancing voice as it starts. If you ain’t drawn in by that rare vocal moment, then I honestly don’t know what will. The lack of vocals don’t hinder Ufomammut whatsoever, but when they do use them, as they do on this song, they deliver. That spooky melody does indeed return at the beginning of ‘Magickon’, providing a nice set-up, and a fitting one at that, for closer ‘Mindomine’, which the melody plays out in full riff form, bringing about the experience full circle. 
Ufomammut – Aureum
The progression is such that it could be presented as one individual track – as previously indicated, riffs, sequences and lines are echoed at various points in the record, not unlike Meshuggah’s ‘Catch Thirty-Three‘ or, more recently and more closely, Mike Patton’s soundtrack for ‘The Solitude of Prime Numbers‘. It gives ‘Opus Primum‘ a cinematic feel almost, something in keeping with their audio/visual collaborative, and it makes it all the more interesting for it. Indeed, the vinyl versions of the record come with a DVD with the visuals for the album, an experience at this stage I can only anticipate to be mindblowing. The tracks certainly stand up alone, but it’s in its entirety that ‘Oro: Opus Primum‘ truly excels.
I kept my expectations well in check for this release, even given Ufomammut’s previous successes, but this is seriously a bar raiser for doom metal in 2012, and I really can’t help but wonder and anticipate what ‘Oro: Opus Alter‘ might bring when it is released in September.
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

Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II

Earth
Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II

Southern Lord

At this stage in their career, there’s been so many words used to describe Earth’s ever changing sound that there’s pretty much no more superlatives available to describe them. So we’ll keep it simple and describe new album ‘Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II‘ for what it is. Recorded at the same time as part I, ‘Angels II‘ sees Earth supplying yet more lush riff-orientated sonic soundscapes, continuing down the drone desert blues path forged since their reinvention by mainman Dylan Carlson seven years ago now.

Setting the scene with ‘Sigil of Brass’, ‘Angels II‘ is another slice of Morricone-tinged compositions, led as ever by the timeless Carlson. Lori Goldston turns in another impressive performance, and her work on the cello is particularly notable, especially on ‘Multiplicity of Doors’, a thirteen-minute doozy where she takes centre stage. Goldston is always noticeable but never overpowering, remaining the ideal foil to Carlson’s guitar and perfect for the setting Earth seek to project. Where drummer Adrienne Davies is in the picture, she too sets the tone with elegant percussion scattered across this track and selectively across the album.Ultimately one of the highlights has to be ‘The Rakehell’, an incredible slow jam with a cracking groove throughout that would make for a fantastic bluesy number if the pace was quickened.

That said, as with any Earth album, you really need to listen to it as a whole to fully realise its majesty. Doing so will allow you, the listener, to immerse yourself in its riches time and again. It doesn’t quite top its predecessor but its a recommended record nonetheless, and I suspect you still won’t find many better this year.

Peter Clegg

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Revocation – Chaos of Forms

Revocation

Chaos of Forms
Relapse

Despite accumulating a cavalcade of plaudits for their previous albums, swallowing up top positions in year-end lists like Sebastien Vettel snatching pole positions, Revocation can consider themselves unlucky not to have risen to the cream of the crop unlike recent metal success stories such as Mastodon, Kylesa, The Black Dahlia Murder, The Dillinger Escape Plan, etc. Their music is certainly on a par with those bands at least, possessing a care-free swagger fuelled by main man and guitarist David Davidson’s style and sheer confidence that most rock ‘n’ roll bands would give their right arm for, never mind heavy metal bands.

Revocation can best be described as a technical death/thrash metal band, but to describe this trio in these terms is scraping the barrel slightly. ‘Chaos of Forms‘ is certainly their most complete record yet, surpassing their previous albums for ambition and even quality by some distance. ‘Chaos of Forms‘ could not be a more appropriate title, as Revocation churn, skronk, twist and waltz and more whilst effortlessly blasting away the competition in virtuostic fashion.

It’s death metal, with thrash elements, technicality, classical flourishes and a hard rock swagger. The majority of what they do is aggressive, tight as Ken Bates’ chequebook, with catchy nuances and hooky riffs all over the place. ‘Cradle Robber’ offers the first chance for an anthemic chorus , but not before a savage blasting and a devastating riff. This track and the songs either side of it are Revocation at their most primal, delivering pure technical riffs and shreds, mixing up thrash and death metal beats and all with killer precision. Even when they’re not going full speed ahead, things are glorious, the closing melodic monotone to ‘Conjuring The Cataclysm’ being a particular highlight as it backs Davidson’s screams.

Revocation then start to show a more experimental side from then onwards, ever subtle at first, before going full throttle for the outrageous. The title track itself showcases most of ‘Chaos’…‘ characteristics, absolutely on the front foot at first…before suddenly stepping back around the 2:30 mark with a spacey solo, and a virtuostic melodic section follows that to immense effect. The following song, ‘The Watchers’, going all Dillinger Escape Plan one minute a la the ‘Ire Works‘ album, and stunning with a Hammond organ solo straight after that. The charm beyond that is that nearly every song is a potential anthem – Revocation certainly know what makes a killer song, and do possessing a melodic edge without sacrificing heaviness, and not for the sake of airplay either.

The brilliance of this band is there to behold – although they’re not unique in that they do share similarities with similar bands of the moment, they’re smart enough and ambitious enough to stand out. Not too flashy to become pretentious, essentially heavy and brutal without sounding the same as the other 99%. That I’ve listened to this album numerous times and have yet to find a discernable flaw is a testament to the level of performance on this record. A must-have.

Peter Clegg

Hammers of Misfortune – 17th Street

Hammers of Misfortune

17th Street
Metal Blade

If John Cobbett had been around about the time when heavy metal ruled the airwaves, he could well have been a metal god by now. Steadfastly remaining dedicated to true heavy metal through his time served in The Lord Weird Slough Feg, and more recently, he was one of the driving forces in now defunct, but critically acclaimed US black metallers Ludicra. Inbetween, he’s also the main visionary for progressive heavy metallers Hammers of Misfortune, who’ve made a name for themselves in the States among critics in particular for their third three albums, all of which received high praise.

17th Street‘ is the fifth album from Hammers, their first for new label Metal Blade, and while not as sprawling as past releases, there’s still a smorgasbørd of styles and slants going on here within one CD’s worth of material. The opening few tracks are in the vein of straight up traditional heavy metal, yet all sounding distinct from one another all the same. The opener ‘317’ sets the scene in much the way an overture would for a musical or cinematic score. This makes way for the galloping title track, stuffed with alternative male/dual female vocals and plenty of guitar noodlery without being too over the top, owing to the twin attack of Cobbett and new addition Leila Abdul-Rauf. They follow this up with  the immense seven-minute track ‘The Grain’, which simply has a chorus to die for thanks to a soaring vocal from new vocalist Jon Hutton, and the trad-doom stomp of ‘Staring (the 31st Floor)’, absolutely crushing in its delivery.

Where it truly gets interesting is around the middle. ‘The Day The City Died’, is awash with pianos, keys, melodies and solos that would befit any Broadway musical, and very much in thrall to the likes of Rush and Queen rather than the NWOBHM qualities of the previous tracks. Lyrically it appears to be about the decline of San Francisco and the migration of its people (‘Skinny dips on crystal ships sail through the Golden Gate/I left my heart in a shopping cart at the bottom of the Bay‘), and the chorus (‘this one’s called I’m getting evicted‘, etc.) will leech onto your brain for days. As far as heavy metal goes, that’s one of the most ambitious and quite simply splendid tracks I’ve heard for quite a while.

It returns briefly to straight up heavy metal on ‘Romance Valley’, possessing a dazzling speed metal riff and some clever transitions that keep the song hacking away with a headbang friendly mid-section. More Queen/Bowie influence rears its head for a second before returning to the main riff. The next track is a ballad – ‘Summer Tears’ gets its mourn over six and a half minutes, with piano taking center stage and more alternating male/female vocals, and though its a little out of place with the other tracks (even ‘The Day the City Died’), its a competant effort and shouldn’t simply be skipped. It still fits the concept of the album and if there’s going to be cheese, at least they’ve done it fairly well here.

The album finishes a little more straight ahead, with the speedier ‘Grey Wednesday’, suitable Maiden and Priest-worship abound, and the closing monolith, ‘Going Somewhere’. Following a piano introduction, the riffs chop and change over the course of the 10 minutes, from a fleeting pub metal swagger to a series of NWOBHM-style licks and some impressive fretboard workouts. It runs the gamut of Hammers’ many guises and by the end, just plain rocks out with a simple crunchy riff.

It’s a damn shame that for all their dedication to the cause, that Hammers of Misfortune, like Cobbett’s previous connections, are often met with many a positive journalistic eye but not a wider public one. That probably owes to heavy metal not being the mainstream force it once was, as this sort of stuff could well fill arenas. Hammers of Misfortune should be celebrated for holding up the old-school values of heavy metal without sounding retro, and for sounding modern without watering down or sounding 80’s for the sake of it.

I’m still trying to get my head around the lyrics of ‘17th Street‘, and its more than likely to be a paean to the decline of city life and the way the subjects of the lyrics are dealing with it. In today’s world, where recession is in the headlines everyday, there aren’t many albums more befitting that this one to be the soundtrack (although the recently reviewed Pyrrhon record did pretty well from describing it from another angle). With that considered, ‘17th Street‘ is one of the most complete records you’ll hear all year round. A masterclass in classic heavy metal revelry.

Peter Clegg