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

16 – Deep Cuts from Dark Clouds

16

Deep Cuts from Dark Clouds
Relapse
Having put themselves back in the sludge picture with their Relapse debut ‘Bridges to Burn‘, 16 are back with ten more tracks of sonic bleakness, where once again positivity is properly shut out and only heavy misery remains, and vocalist Cris Jerue spitting out lyrical woes over various chug sludge riffs. They haven’t evolved much over time, even up to now, and simply don’t feel the need to. They convey their message very effectively indeed.
Initially I struggled to find anything particularly memorable about ‘Deep Cuts‘, even though there’s nothing wrong with the material. Its very much as you were and perhaps one of the things I can note is how Jerue’s vocals, wrapped in distortion, rarely ascend from (though no less passionate for it) a consigned-to-the-gutter scowl – as opposed to his fierce yell on ‘Throw in the Towel’ (from ‘Bridges to Burn‘) for example. I don’t raise that particularly as a negative point, just one that to me stood out on an album full of solid riffs and jams, but few on standout moments. That said, now I’ve heard the album a few times, there are a fair few shining moments, and when they do occur, they really do stand out – personally I’m digging the bludgeoning breakdown on ‘The Sad Clown’, and the brutally raw ‘Bowels of a Baby Killer’, with the line ‘blame/it’s not your fault/shame/but you deserve it‘. And ‘Only Photographs Remain’ is one of the (lyrically) most miserable tracks you’ll certainly here all year and one of the best too. A real sludge downer to finish on, it deals with the subject of grief appropriately, and you can actually sense the gloom in Jerue’s voice, and in the band’s instruments, as he growls ‘feel my pain/only photographs remain‘.
It’s a strange sensation to say there’s not a lot of stand out moments, though, when you’ve actually enjoyed said album. Perhaps it says a lot about how little 16 have changed over the years, focusing instead on their sludge/noise racket to create an abrasive, wallowing experience, no less intense than previous records, just one mired in heavy, sludge addiction abuse. Those perhaps craving a little more from this band might be slightly disappointed, but most will celebrate the return of a band that have had more than a few troubles of their own in the past. I’ll choose to sit in the latter camp. It’s not 16’s best work by any means, but not many can make such depression sound better.
Peter Clegg
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Corrosion of Conformity – Corrosion of Conformity

Corrosion of Conformity

Corrosion of Conformity
Candlelight
In a storied career spanning 28 years, it’s a testament to Corrosion of Conformity to see themselves standing where they are today. From the original hardcore punk styling, through to crossover thrash, Southern metal and beyond, they’ve managed to survive a number of sound changes and line-up alterations that would kill many a band in the modern era. Indeed, most bands seem to get stick for daring to evolve their sound, unjustified as that sounds. But perhaps the biggest threat to Corrosion of Conformity, if it could be called that, was the unstoppable rise of NOLA-supergroup Down, featuring their lead vocalist and guitarist Pepper Keenan. After the demise of Pantera, thanks to inner turmoil and ‘Dimebag’ Darrell’s tragic death, Down appeared to become the number one priority for its members and despite releasing ‘In the Arms of God‘ in 2005, it does feel like Corrosion of Conformity became the side-project, rather than the frontline band it deserves to be.

Yet despite Pepper’s increased involvement with Down, the remaining members of C.O.C. – bassist/vocalist Mike Dean, guitarist/vocalist Woody Weatherman and returning drummer Reed Mullin – picked up the mantle and went ahead without Keenan. Although it should be stressed Pepper is by no means out of the band and will probably work with the band in the future, it’s of great relief to see a re-energised C.O.C., and with Dean taking on the lead vocal role for the first time since 1985’s ‘Animosity‘, its fair to say that C.O.C’s eponymous eighth studio album was one of their most anticipated in years.
 Corrosion of Conformity – The Moneychangers
While the band never actually look like going back to crossover stylings at any point, they do pay homage to their vast musical journey on the opening track ‘Psychic Vampire’, which briefly flirts with their old hardcore stylings before finishing with a cracking riff in the second half of the song. ‘In the Arms of God‘ sounded huge, and while ‘Corrosion of Conformity‘ is a different beast, it still sounds absolutely massive, especially with wrecking ball riffs as evidenced on ‘River of Stone‘.
The pinnacle of the album lies around the two tracks initially released from the record, those being ‘Your Tomorrow’ and ‘The Doom’. Both of these tracks really hit home, ‘Your Tomorrow’ possessing a catchy refrain, while ‘The Doom’ sways between a slow doom-esque lurch and a punk gallop. You almost miss where ‘Your Tomorrow’ ends and ‘The Doom’ begins, so seamless is their transition to one another.
It’s not their best record, although it isn’t far off. The fusion of their vast experience flows throughout the record, with punked barbs like ‘Rat City‘ prevailing all the way to the end. All in all, ‘Corrosion of Conformity‘ is a welcome return from the North Carolinians, who, thirty years into their career, are still producing vital records through sheer grit and passion for the music. The soulless rock types who dominate mainstream radio rock stations can’t hold a candle to music like this, when it comes from deep within its members’ boots. And while it would be nice to see Keenan return to the band in future, we should be grateful that messrs Dean, Weatherman and Mullin didn’t just rest on their laurels and other assorted achievements.
Peter Clegg

Fat Janitor – Lurk

Fat Janitor
Lurk 

With a name like Fat Janitor, you’d be forgiven for conjuring up all kinds of images. Perhaps a portly, off-ignored, creepy kinda guy seems the most likely one. And if he was indeed lurking, around a corner, a school locker, in the janitor’s cupboard, that image would only be multiplied.

Thankfully, we’re only talking about a Glaswegian band called Fat Janitor, and their mini-album ‘Lurk‘is quite simply brilliant. For starters, its hard to pigeonhole, containing plenty of noise rock elements without sounding like the Am Rep revival which seems to be gathering pace, whisked with hardcore riffs & rock grooves that they occasionally flit between. It’s not totally original and no doubt you’ll find your own comparisons, but ‘Lurk‘ is a lean machine that doesn’t so much as deserves attention as it does demand it.

At first glance the song titles imply a lack of seriousness – ‘French Winger’ could well be about Florent Malouda if you take its title as read (in reality its an instrumental). But its all business from the get go, and it happens to be one of those records that seemingly gets better as it progresses. The riffs vary between angular, groovy and chunky style, often fighting through a wall of noise. The screams from their vocalist are raw and piercing, like he’s drunk half of bottle of neat, cheap vodka full of rusty nails. Even when it threatens to slumber, Fat Janitor simply step up another gear with a wake-up riff, displayed most excellently on ‘Human Sandbags’, which halfway through hits a brilliant stop start groove like a slap to the face. The closer, ‘Two Nights in Hell’ sums up Fat Janitor’s style in one song, utilizing rock, noise, hardcore, punk and other alternative elements like a proverbial battering ram. The constant feedback from noise effects is occasionally overpowering but mostly serves the band well.

Once again, I’m left in awe by a Scottish band. How the hell do yous north of the border continue to do it? Seriously though, Fat Janitor have, in ‘Lurk’ a mini-album marking serious potential and reaffirming Scotland as one of the finest underground hardcore/metal scenes in the world right now.

Peter Clegg

Download ‘Lurk‘ for free here

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We’ll Go Machete – Strong Drunk Hands

We’ll Go Machete
Strong Drunk Hands 

Earlier in the year this album dropped in our inbox – however, I never got round to listening to it as I had my ear to whatever seemed to be coming out next. Eventually I gently reminded myself to get through the submissions whilst it was still manageable. Hence, here we are at Texan rockers We’ll Go Machete and their second album, ‘Strong Drunk Hands‘.

The first thing to notice of ‘Strong Drunk Hands‘ is the strong afterscent of bands like Fugazi, The Jesus Lizard, Drive Like Jehu, and their ilk, and to a lesser extent, Helmet and At The Drive-In. The discordant riffage and let-me-out vocals wouldn’t go amiss in the mid-90’s. This is a good thing, helped by crunching, angular melodies and intriguing lyrics besides. ‘Strong Drunk Hands‘ is something of a grower. I didn’t take to it straight away and felt it just became a little samey towards the end. Perseverance is a virtue, however, and the quality of the music stands out. Repeated listening exposes this album for what it truly is, and that’s a quality record, by a band ready to display their influences but not simply be in awe of them, in the process reviving a classic sound and sounding fresh and menacingly dangerous.

This is definitely an album, and indeed a band, worth seeking out. I didn’t exactly see this record coming but I’d definitely rank it as a lot better than most records I’ve heard this year, and it seems to get better and better with each listen. It feels as those this noise-rock renaissance hinted at by bands such as KEN Mode, for example, really has some legs to it, and We’ll Go Machete are a welcome addition to that movement.

Peter Clegg

Buy/Download ‘Strong Drunk Hands‘ here

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Today is the Day – Pain is a Warning

Today Is The Day

Pain Is A Warning

Black Market Activities

What is certain about Today is the Day supremo Steve Austin is that he can’t be accused of ever resting on his laurels. Over the last 20 years he has provided some of underground metal’s most influential, uncompromising and in-your face releases, either through their abrasive nature or through the band’s ability to morph with every release, through noise rock/metal, grindcore and more in the process.

It’s probably a fair comment then that most people probably weren’t expecting ‘Pain is a Warning‘ to be so…accessible. While its still heavier than a sack of steel potatoes and while Austin still sounds menacing as ever, its not the sort of record that harries you into a corner, leaving you fearful of what it might do to you next. That’s because once again, Austin and his new crew (Curran Reynolds and Ryan Jones of Wetnurse) have crafted yet another fine slab of molten noise, just one with swagger and groove, perhaps not strong suits of past TitD releases, although not ones most fans would have cared for.

The traditional elements are there, certainly judging from the grindcore bludgenory of ‘Death Curse’, but by the time we reaching ‘Wheelin”, you suspect Austin and his gang are really enjoying this, as he screams ‘Woman! What are you doing?‘, and when the next track, ‘The Devil’s Blood’ comes along, the party is definitely in full swing, with a jarring chorus punctuated with a fist-pumping gang vocal. And then in a further surprise, Austin throws in two gentler numbers, ‘Remember To Forget’ and the country-tinged ‘This Is You’, delivering a softer vocal throughout both – something never before heard in Today Is The Day’s music, although this is offset inbetween by the looming monster riffs of ‘Slave to Serenity’ and ‘Samurai’.

There is a certain amount of repetition about some of the riffs on the album, but unlike the recent Loutallica album, they don’t outstay their welcome, or at least there’s enough life in them to keep the listener interested. The title track is a good example, taking a long time to build up, but Austin almost whispers successive lyrics in keeping with the general air of menace that’s about to explode. Patience with this approach is certainly rewarded, upon the explosive screams in the chorus.

Some may bemoan this shift in sound, but Austin has never been one for compromise. The decision to enlist Converge’s Kurt Ballou as producer is a masterstroke in itself, giving Austin and co free reign to unleash hell. And hell it certainly is. ‘Pain is a Warning‘ is a snarling beast of anger from start to finish, even drawing pleasure from its range by some of the damnest fine rock n’ roll riffs this side of Thin Lizzy. A true testament to Steve Austin, always reinventing Today Is The Day but forever against the grain.

Review Roundup: Mogwai/Belzebong/The United Sons of Toil

Mogwai
Earth Division EP

Rock Action

2011 has been a prolific year for Mogwai, releasing their 7th album ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’, and a spate of EPs, including this one. This latest release leans much more towards the atmospheric end of post-rock – rock used loosely in this instance, as this is largely piano and electronic driven. First impressions may get a bit of chin-stroking going, but it opens upon further listening.
It plays out a little like a mini movie-soundtrack, ‘Get To France’ being a simple piano melody to introduce proceedings, leading into ‘Hounds of Winter’, which provides the solitary vocal, and a hushed one at that. From then on its closer to what Mogwai have been producing recently, as ‘Drunk and Crazy’ starts with plenty of noisy electronic effects and later layers in the strings, as though it’s the setting for a climactic finish, while closer ‘Does This Always Happen?’ is more atypical, implementing a lone, sombre guitar with another classical flourish atop it.
While this doesn’t rock like some of the Glaswegians’ other work, the experimental approach still pays dividends and this is still no less impressive. ‘Earth Division’ is at times haunting, and completely exquisite and beautiful as sum of its parts. Mogwai will never die, but you will.
Belzebong
Sonic Scapes & Weedy Grooves
 Self-released
Poland is famous for its raft of punishing extreme metal bands (Vader, Decapitated, Behemoth to name a few), but isn’t very well known at all for reefer worship within musical circles. Belzebong are aiming to change all that with their debut album ‘Sonic Scapes & Weedy Grooves’. This Polish quartet are, as the title suggests, highly influenced by the likes of Electric Wizard, Bongzilla, Sourvein, et al, and ‘Sonic Scapes & Weedy Grooves’ possesses four tracks of leaf-induced stonerdom that won’t disappoint fans of the genre.
The riffs are there from the word go, and the crisp heavy tone blends well with the groove they quickly show. It’s not quite as strong as any of their forefathers, perhaps even a little bit derivative, but it’s no less a compelling listen through a series of instrumental jams, broken up only by B-movie samples, and each filled with solid, chunky, heavy riffs, the strongest track being the closing ‘Acid Funeral’. A self-released effort, this is intoxicating stuff in one form or another, and worth a look at only $5 equivalent on the band’s Bandcamp page.
 
The United Sons of Toil
When The Revolution Comes, Everything Will Be Beautiful
Phratry
The Bush administration may be gone, but there’s still plenty of ire left with scores of Americans at their policies, their legacy and furthermore, the mire the country seems to be in today. And regardless of whether you think politics belong in music, the United Sons of Toil vent their anger in a far more genuine way than the majority of bands who jumped on the Rock Against Bush bandwagon, crafting here an album of dissident math/noise rock reading like a manifesto appealing to the misled and the downtrodden. Indeed, it’s a concept album about ‘an oppressed and hopeless people’ who ‘pushed to the brink…resort to violence’, and the album’s liner notes further detail the album’s concept and the band’s blue-collar, pro-radical idealogy.
When The Revolution Comes…’ slowly comes to life but songs like ‘ILO Convention 169’ and ‘The Concept of the Urban Guerilla’ read the riot act with appropriate discord. It harks back to the nineties when bands like Shellac and The Jesus Lizard were doing the hollering, only here the speeches and angry and despondant, the music chock full of angular riffs and tight turns. It’s three guys at the very top of their game and if you like your heavy rock mixed and stewed with carefully focused and nurtured antipathy, then this might be for you – though be prepared to digest that ideology.

Peter Clegg