Djinn and Miskatonic – Forever in the Realm

Achintya Venkatesh reviews the new album released by Djinn & Miskatonic titled Forever in the Realm, released via Transcending Obscurity India.

Djinn and MiskatonicArtwork by Nicolas Huck

Tracklisting
1. 7 Year Witch (11:37)
2. Book of the Fallen (08:37)
3. Vulcan’s Forge (04:54)
4. Voice from the Tomb (00:58)
5. Weird Tales (16:56)

Doom metal is a style that is still relatively foreign in the embryonic metal ‘scene’ and its enthusiasts in the subcontinent, and the past few years have seen the rise of a few bands playing around with the genre, which has at the very least brought to fore the existence and awareness of this slower side of extreme metal. This has always been overshadowed by the more dominant, velocity-fuelled side of things regardless of geographic location. Doom metal has trodden a variety of paths since its inception during the zenith of Black Sabbath and the then incipient Pentagram and similar bands, and has thereon gone onto spawn forth a variety of stylistic derivatives. While not all of these are congruent with the proto-type of the genre, perhaps the most obvious commonality all these aural offspring have is their lumbering pace and crushing minimalism. If Bevar Sea presented the more jammy, convivial side of Bangalore’s nascent doom/stoner movement (if one could call it that), and Dying Embrace the monstrous local overlords of the death/doom mould, then Djinn and Miskatonic present a more reticent, sedated and punctilious position that is more thematically focused and staid. The band name’s etymology is an open exaltation to their thematic inspirations, ranging from classic horror to weird fiction, à la H.P Lovecraft. The name is a play on the gin and tonic cocktail – djinn being the Qur’anic equivalent of genies and Miskatonic being a fictional university, featured in a series of stories in the Lovecraftian mythos.

Forever in the Realm’, the band’s debut album after being active for around two years as a live band, merges a variety of these styles into its creative mould – primarily traditional doom in the vein of Trouble and Saint Vitus with very healthy doses of more jammy, stoner influences – think Electric Wizard and Sleep, and even hints of death/doom and sludge metal. The introduction of a guitarist in the band in turn omitted the more drone-driven, spacey quality that the band previously exhibited, and this is certainly evident in the album. ‘7 Year Witch’ is the tone setter of this record and opens with a direfully commanding spoken word about the depravity that is witchcraft, and soon descends into an infectious riff that is rather standard by doom norms but enjoyable nevertheless. The vocal approach is something one immediately takes note of, and showcases a wide range of styles that cover everything from impassioned warbles to harsher growls. The leads are laden with striving lead work that is reminiscent of Dave Chandler or even Tony Iommi. The band drops a bombshell with a bombastic, groove-laden, thrashing segment that I’ve often observed is an additive to the dynamics of the band’s sound in a live setting, and it is no different on record. ‘Book of the Fallen’ brings to fore a more robust facet of the band – the pace is almost marching in a sense and the entire mode of action is far more menacing than foreboding. It certainly isn’t devoid of coercive doom segments, which have some excellent melodies that are complimented by befittingly clean vocals working in congruence with the aforementioned leads.

The track that follows, ‘Vulcan’s Force’ enters the realm of dark humour and surrounds alcoholic excesses and consequential contemplation on the futility of existence. The guitars take a step back and make way for more fuzz-driven, baritonal bass work. The ritualistic electronic/ambient track ‘Voice from the Tomb’ serves as an interlude of sorts that features undecipherable waves of spoken word from the deepest crypts. ‘Weird Tales’ is the goliathan track of the album and is in a sense a summation of the various elements that forms the Djinn and Miskatonic creative canvas, channeling the bizarre, abstruse and esoteric. Dismal, cheerless and creeping bass-lines bleed into guitar riff-led dawdling, with tempo changes and vocal modulation aplenty.

The charm of this release essentially lies in its sensibly primal minimalism. Axe-man Sriram K.R’s presence in the band has turned its sound into something less befogged and more monolithic, while Jayaprakash Satyamurthy’s bass work is likely to seem drowned out to the casual listener courtesy of the dominating guitars. However, a seasoned listener of the heavier side of music will quite easily be able to construe the bass-lines, which serve to illuminate and accentuate the riff in focus. A casual enthusiast need not fret apropos this nebulosity; as fuzzed out, solo bass guitar segments are ample which successfully throw light on this highly imperative instrumental facet of these droning-doomoid rockers. The bass work could perhaps be compared to the likes of Tim Bagshaw, who is known to alternate between bone-crushing dirges and spaced out, yet jammy elegies. The guitar tone is satisfactory, and is sufficient to please the seasoned doomster, while not scaring away the casual listener either. Siddharth Manoharan’s percussive dexterity is solid and handles tempo changes with ease, and certainly brings in some enjoyable grooves and fills into the compositions. Gautham Khandige’s vocal style is rather unique, at least going by the little knowledge I possess of the genre, and invokes sonorous theatrics, aural timidity and harshness at desirable and appropriately opportune times. If a comparison is a must, I would liken his vocal approach to the likes of, say, Scott Reagers, who had excellent operatic/clean vocal abilities and yet had an enjoyable dissonance to his voice that made Saint Vitus all the more unusual and noteworthy. Yet at times, the more harsh vocals are eerily similar to Lee Dorrian of Cathedral (circa Forest of Equilibrium era).

The cover artwork, conceptualized and furnished by Nicolas Huck is impressive, and envisages a sense of otherworldly allure and fantasy. In summation, ‘Forever in the Realm’ is an effort that certainly impressions upon one, and is unique in a variety of ways, although it doesn’t impart anything very groundbreaking stylistically sans the welding of the various sub-genres of the greater doom sphere. But it would be unfair to view it purely from a genre-specific angle, and one should take into account the demographics of the band’s local scene, and in that light the band is certainly a unique force, and is hopefully one of many such releases from the area.

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats – Mind Control

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new album from Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats titled Mind Control, released via Metalblade Records.

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Tracklist:

1. Mt. Abraxas
2. Mind Crawler
3. Poison Apple
4. Desert Ceremony
5. Evil Love
6. Death Valley Blues
7. Follow the Leader
8. Valley of the Dolls
9. Devil’s Work

Uncle Acid and the Dead Beats’ 2011 album, Blood Lust, was a coup, one among the handful of instant classics of the doom genre I’ve heard in this decade. With a mysterious, shrouded and infectiously tuneful sound, like some bizarre 60s pop-influenced version of Electric Wizard, and a lyrical approach that was the equivalent of a learing, homicidal seduction by a 70s B-grade British horror villain, and most of all, with intensely hummable and memorable tunes like ‘I’ll Cut You Down’ and ’13 Candles’, it was a near-perfect breakthrough album.

The news isn’t quite so good on the follow-up, ‘Mind Control’. First, the good: Uncle Acid and his Dead Beats haven’t really altered their basic sound. Although the mesmeric opening track, ‘Mount Abraxas’ and ‘Follow The Leader’ are more sprawling, and in the case of the former more openly Sabbathoid than anything on the previous album, we’re obviously in the same soundworld of sinuous, insinuating, dreamy vocals, louche, swaggering riffs and uncanny sex magick. What’s changed is the consistency of song writing. Some of this material is forgettable, and at least one song, ‘Valley of the Dolls’ is simply a badly written song: dull, overextended and repetitive.

That’s not to say that tracks like the two previously mentioned aren’t worth listening to, or that ‘Desert Ceremony’ and ‘Evil Love’ don’t strut about in platform shoes and bell bottoms and make darkly veiled threats of rapine and murder with as much verve as anything on the preceding album, but they aren’t the norm, this time around. The somnolent ‘Death Valley Blues’ marks a descent into a set of slower, less memorable tracks that trade the tension between glorious melody and insalubrious ritual that was such a great part of ‘Blood Lust’s appeal for a tired, over-extended doom rock formula that isn’t half as unique or arresting as I’d come to expect from this band.

So this is only about 1/3 of a really good album, and that’s a shame. I hope Uncle Acid can power through whatever songwriting slump he’s caught in and deliver the goods again with his next album. In the meantime, we’ll always have Blood Lust…

Stream the entire album at Spin.com.

 

Anciients – Heart of Oak

We apologize for the dip in our review rate… Gosh! You ought to know that we’ve got lives as well!!

That said, Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new album from Anciients titled Heart of Oak, released via Season of Mist.

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Tracklisting:

1.  Raise the Sun
2.  Overthrone
3.  Falling in Line
4.  One Foot in the Light
5.  The Longest River
6.  Giants
7.  Faith and Oath
8.  Flood and Fire
9.  For Lisa

Somewhat disingenuously described as ‘progressive metal with extreme metal elements’ or ‘progressive stoner metal’, Anciients’ music is modern sludge in the Baroness/Mastodon vein. Remember how quickly those two bands went from crossover powerhouses to meandering, dentured versions of their old selves? Anciients manage to capture the spirit of their forerunners right on the cusp of that shift, not quite putting out the intensity of Remission-era Mastodon, but rarely achieving the bloat of Baroness’ Blue Album.

 

 

They’re good musicians – there’s no denying it. They have complex, involving guitar melodies, mile-wide riffs and a powerhouse rhythm section. It’s hard not to be drawn in by the energy and musicianship of this material. Still, ‘Overthrone’ sounds too much like an attempt to channel the chug and vocal delivery of ‘Leviathan’. Building from a clean, melodic opening, ‘Falling In Line’ has a compelling ferocity and a nicely eastern-tinged solo as well. The puling bassline provides a great underpinning to the questing, flowing dual-guitar lines. ‘The Longest River’ mixes in classic metal melody and touches of both Baroness and Opeth in music and vocal delivery.  ‘Faith and Oath’ showcases some of those extreme metal influences with an opening that could almost have been battle-ready old school death metal with a slightly different sound. However, we’re soon back in the loping, noodly modern sludge space. The vocals are too cheesy for my taste, both the melodic, soaring voice and the cartoonish cookie monster growl, but your mileage may vary. The rest of the songs are basically cut from the same cloth, apart from the flowing, melodic jam ‘For Lisa’.

Anciients have a lot of talent. Nearly every song contains great riffs, intricate and effective arrangements and balls-out brilliant playing by everyone in the band. I’m less convinced about their song craft, and about the derivative nature of their music. This style of melodic, epic sludge metal hasn’t proven to have much staying power, with the pioneers of the genre rapidly diluting their own formula. Perhaps the prog aspirations will prove to be Anciients’ saving grace, compelling them to move away from the fortuitous but somewhat shallow pool of zeitgeist influences they’re currently channeling. They certainly have the chops for it, and perhaps it’s time there was an alternative to the Dream Theater paradigm of prog metal.

Stream the entire album below:

Hight Priest of Saturn (self-titled)

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new self-titled from High Priest of Saturn released via Svart Records.

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Tracklist:

1. The Protean Towers
2. Kraken Mare
3. Crawling King Snake
4. On Mayda Insula

How much is enough? There are musical genres that thrive on dynamism and variety. Then there are genres where you accept, even expect a certain stasis – drone for example, or ambient music. A lot of doom metal (not all!) falls under this category – think of the mesmeric iterations of an Electric Wizard or Reverend Bizarre song. Certainly, the occult-tinged newcomers High Priest Of Saturn fall into this camp. Their songs are long, falling between 9 and 12 minutes, and there isn’t a lot of variation in tune or tempo on display. So what one looks for is a combination of mood, layering and perhaps some instrumental lead breaks. The songs do invoke a definite atmosphere with their ponderous riffs, something dark, serene and earthy, not unlike the state of mind conjured up by Alunah, another female-fronted band with pagan and occult leanings. The instrumental mix also helps keeps the texture interesting, with a prominent organ either following the riffs or providing its own twist to the proceedings. There’s a nicely overdriven bass that breaks out of the mix now and then and the guitarist has great tone and a nice line in meandering solo lines. The singer is a little generic, and there really isn’t the greatest variation in her vocal patterns from one song to the next. Then again, the songs themselves are all cut from the same cloth (a sort of homespun cotton, practical and dark but with some elegant touches of embroidery, to capitalize on the metaphor), so what we have here is an album with a great unity of tone and device.

 

 

But is it enough? I’m not quite sure, and yet I’m not sure that greater variety was ever in the band’s masterplan. There are doom bands who seize on Iommi’s keep-them-guessing songcraft and thoughtfully (or sometimes willfully) vary their songs with interludes and tempo shifts  – later Cathedral comes to mind, or trad doomsters Lord Vicar. Even Electric Wizard, the masters (and mistress) of the riff that stretches from here to the horizon actually have a fair amount of dynamics and shifts in their songs once you settle in and get into the groove. These songs are a lot more static, and there isn’t a single deviation from the midtempo groove anywhere in sight. Instead, the band takes its time, giving the riffs time to ebb and flow with occasional wave-crests of solo improvisation breaking out. The vocals come and go, more like a ritual chant than anything else, and there are subtle climaxes and plateaus like the extended keyboard and guitar solos in the middle of ‘On Mayda Insula’.

Ultimately, this isn’t the kind of album that makes an instant impact. I don’t think it’s likely to evoke strong passions in a listener, but it is a very pleasant, gorgeously gloomy ride. The slow, majestic riffs, the laidback jams and the overall consistency of atmosphere are all quite effective. It’s like riding through hills that likely contain great natural beauty, but are currently veiled with thick mist. A few more stand-out melodies and some vocal hooks would have gone a long way towards creating a more memorable debut, but if you’re in the mood for mystery, melancholy and things seen from afar in half-light, you could do worse than spin this album.

 

Tombstone Highway – Ruralizer

Today we have reviewer Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviewing the album ‘Ruralizer‘ from the band Tombstone Highway. Label: Agonia Records

Tombstone-Highway-Ruralizer

Track List

1. Old Blood 04:49
2. Acid Overlord 04:52
3. Graveyard Blues 07:18
4. Hellfire Rodeo 02:32
5. Ruralizer 05:14
6. Bite the Dust (and Bleed) 05:08
7. At the Bitter End 09:03
8. Mississippi Queen (Mountain cover) 02:28
9. Hangman’s Friend 05:25

Review in Haiku – ‘The sonic equivalent of a Spaghetti Western’

This is the sonic equivalent of a Spaghetti Western – a production that is steeped in American idioms, but actually emerges from Italy. The old Italian cowboy movies usually drafted an American star to helm the cast, but Tombstone Highway rely entirely on their own homegrown skills, and those of a few special guests from the Italian scene.

This doesn’t mean that their hard-rocking mix of bluesy hard rock, stoner metal and shades of Americana is in any way inauthentic or sub-par. The songs here are tight, furious and delivered with conviction. The banjo obligato on the opening track, ‘Old Blood’ is a nice touch, although it doesn’t really go anywhere – I would have loved to hear an electric guitar/banjo duel. Such deliverance not being on the cards, the next track, ‘Acid Overlord’ kicks in with familiar stoner grooves, laced with pinch harmonics that remind me of Black Label Society. ‘Graveyard Blues’ hits the ground with a riff that is pretty reminiscent of ‘War Machine’ by KISS and it strikes me that this is the problem with a lot of bands that try to occupy this hard rocking, stoner-friendly, groovy/heavy space: the sheer number of entrants in the subgenre mean that it takes a lot to forge a unique style out of these widespread influences. Tombstone Highway doesn’t try to establish a unique identity – instead they are happy to churn out songs that sound like any number of other bands.

The good news is that these songs are well written and well played. The album may have been recorded by a duo, but it sounds and feels like the product of a well-oiled machine firing on all cylinders. Stomping riffs and catchy hooks erupt from every seam and some well-placed guitar breaks help. What I question is the ‘doom’ tag the label gives this band, in addition to the completely understandable ‘hard rock’ bit. A song like ‘Hellfire Rodeo’ certainly rocks hard, but is it, or any of the material here really doom? I think not. Rather, the band’s musical vocabulary is not unlike that of an 80s hard rock band, driven by the same root influences – some southern rock, some Blue Cheer, some blues – only filtered though a post-Corrosion of Conformity/Orange Goblin/Spiritual Beggars sensibility rather than the glam and pop aspirations of a lot of those 80s bands.

The title track is as strong as a title track should be and brings back the banjo layering. ‘Bite the Dust (and bleed)’ mixes heavy power chords with slide melodies in a manner that reminds me of Physical Graffitti – era Led Zeppelin. At around 9 minutes in length, you’d assume that ‘At The Bitter End’ might be the song that justifies Tombstone Highway’s doom aspirations, but as far as I am concerned it’s bluesy hard rock. There’s a scorching guitar solo and even some tasty Hammond organ work to add to the fun. It’s the Mountain cover, ‘Mississippi Queen’ that makes me see why I’ve mainly been damning this album with faint praise. It’s a good cover, but it doesn’t have the sense of space and groove the original has. The sound on this album is thick, the guitar tone is great, but it is overwhelming, filling every available space in the music until it feels like there simply isn’t enough space for the rhythms or the melodies to breathe. It’s very slick, very professional production, but a little lacking in character and nuance.

This is a good album, but it’s generic. Your appreciation of its merits will depend on how committed you are to that genre and how willing you are to listen to a band that brings nothing new to the table, but knows its craft. Perhaps with time, Tombstone Highway will move towards a more expansive, unique sound – they certainly have the talent for it. In the meantime, I think I’ll settle for a bit of mountain climbing – the sort that’s propelled by Leslie West’s endless soloing.