Portland’s Holy Grove is a modern doom metal band that perfectly balances forward looking song writing while leaning heavily on past musical influences. In fact, those past influences mean so much to the band that they posted a playlist of tunes that gave them the inspiration to craft the epic “II” (thanks for the Beck, Bogert, Appice tip by the way). II is the anticipated follow up release to the band’s 2016 self-titled debut album which garnered well-deserved praise for strong doom riffage and Zeppelinesque vocals. Using that album as a launching pad, Holy Grove blast off for the stratosphere with II.
The drum kick to start off the album swiftly demonstrates the band’s intent to up the heavy on this new release. Crazy drum-fills provided by Eben Travis throughout opener Blade Born adds an extra layer early on that signifies a heavier direction for the band. II clocks in at over 43 minutes spread across five tracks which allows the band to explore each song thoroughly. Epic closer Cosmos is a showcase for the entire band, especially vocalist Andrea Vidal. Her wail fades perfectly into a Trent Jacobs guitar solo just past the half-way point of the track that sets the course for the closing of the album. Many bands will never be able to write a song as epic as Cosmos and Holy Grove has found it within themselves on only their second release. This bodes well for the future of the band, but in the meantime set the controls for the heart of II and get lost in the riffs.
Chicago band Rezn’s second full-length album Calm Black Water is certain to end up on many best-of lists this year due to a unique blend of heavy psych and doom metal that requires repeated spins in order to sort it all out. The riffs emerge from the murky depths early on album opener Iceberg and continue throughout six heady tracks. Rezn creates additional atmosphere by layering heavy effects on the vocals that help to fold them into the textures of the music. The vocals maintain an ‘under water’ type vibe that contributes to the overall nautical feel of the album.
Vocal effects aside, this album floats (literally) between spacey interludes and mile-high climbing riffs that explode but then drop out in an instance as demonstrated in the track High Tide. The track ebbs and flows along a calm beat and vocal delivery building up to a crushing riff that finishes out the track. Rezn has crafted a beautifully heavy album that tweaks the doom metal formula with their own unique spin. Set sail on the black waters!
Bourbon Train is a bit deceiving at first, a band that zags instead of zigs but ends up in a good place nonetheless. Coming into to this release, I expected more of a sweaty mix of heavy blooze riffs and vocals that would veer more toward a plodding stoner blues sound. I am happy to report that my assumptions were quickly dashed by the aptly titled First Stop. It takes about a minute for the band to kick into a high energy opening riff carried swiftly by bassist Andy Shaw and drummer Justin Kaplan’s steady gallop. Travis Anderson’s vocal delivery comes in somewhere between James Gang era Joe Walsh and an amped up Bob Hite from Canned Heat although a bit more unhinged (in a good way).
First Stop is the first proper release by the Columbus Ohio band and brings with it a tight sound that can only be built through late nights on a barroom stage or rehearsal space. Whiskey Litch is built around a serpentine blues riff that rises and falls between huge solos by Casey Haubach and Tyler Lust. End of the Line is the heaviest track on the album with double bass and heavy riffage to spare. Bourbon Train defies expectations on this first release with a muscular sound and velocity that creates a unique blues-based heavy rock release.
Drug Cult’s self-titled first release comes fully formed
like a seasoned veteran band hitting it’s creative peak. Guitars grind and wail on opening track
Serpent Therapy as if they are awakening from a long slumber before finally
hitting a groove above two and half minutes into the song. The Wall is the absolute highlight of the
album that breaks open with lumbering riff that seems to gain steam like a
charging elephant. The song contains a
sweet hook that nearly turns the song into a hummable tune.
The tone and feel of the album is very much set through the production,
especially with the sound of Aasha Tozer’s voice weaving with the guitars and
frequently rising above the fuzz. It has
the vintage feel of an Electric Wizard album with a cleaner sound and without
the movie clips. Bloodstone late in the
album seems to capture that drugged out feel that I think the album is
attempting to convey. Hearing Tozer hypnotically
repeat “Blood is the drug I have been searching for… I want more” creates a
chilly soundscape unique to the album.
My guess is that this album will show up on many “best of” lists coming
our way in a couple months.
If fuzzy riffs and stretched out solos are your thing, then you will not go wrong picking up the first full-length album from the Brooklyn band River Cult. The album kicks down the door with Likelihood of Confusion that swings with a Sabbathian riff to open the song before Sean Forlenza’s vocals slide in to flesh out the tune. Following Confusion is the album’s most ambitious track, The Sophist which is a huge piece of music that drops early in the listening experience but is definitely the high-water mark of the album. Tempos shift and expand into one another as the band takes you on a 12-minute ride that feels like a late ’69 Hendrix jam.
Much of Halcyon Daze is an instrumental workout with nearly
every track stretching into a lengthy jam or two before finishing. The song Halcyon Daze is a muscular tune that
begins slow picking up steam as it chugs through seven minutes of riffage and
soaring solos. Seething is a great
example of the band’s ability to get lost in a psych-tinged groove before fading
out in a wall of feedback. Ending the
album is Point of Failure which has a southern rock vibe to it with a laid-back
build up to the chorus that really highlights Tav Palumbo’s powerful percussion
Hot takes on new and recent releases as well as some that we
Jesus Piece – Only Self
Philly hardcore band’s much anticipated first full-length does not disappoint. Dense production and multiple influences elevate this album above the standard hardcore fare. Only Self firmly establishes Jesus Piece as the standard-bearer of the new generation of hardcore bands.
Deathbell – With The Beyond
French doom band that absolutely kills it on their first release. Soaring female vocals float over huge riffs. If Windhand is your thing, pick up this release right away.
Potion – Women Of The Wand
Doom three piece out of Sydney, Australia adds some big guitar
solos and psych flair to the fuzzed-out riffs.
Two excellent singles released so far.
Shadowmaster – Shadowmaster
Cinematic doom metal in the vein of Electric Wizard or
Ramesses. Hypnotic riffs awash in
swirling cymbals punctured by tortured, distorted vocals.
Vuil – Hell
Old school thrash out of Scotland takes us back to the early
80’s packing plenty of speed and riffs.
The band channels Motorhead on the ferocious track Hellracer.
A lot of new or current stoner/doom/fuzz metal bands seem to have a sound that can be traced back in some small part to Seattle grunge legends Alice In Chains. Whether it is Jerry Cantrell’s guitar tones, the vocal stylings close to Layne Staley’s, or just the band’s dirge-like sound qualities, AiC’s influence is clearly in the mix. Green Dragon’s debut full length released earlier this year incorporates some of those qualities with the results being one of our favorite 2018 releases. The band hails from the basements of Maplewood, New Jersey and is made up of veterans of the local metal scene.
In addition to the aforementioned AiC touches, this album is loaded with plenty of fuzzed-out Sabbath riffs and distorted vocals that quickly engage you on the first listen. Songs such as Dark Rider show the band’s ability to switch gears between an eerie shuffle to an all out fuzz riff groove and back in a single song. Dead Space kicks down the door showcasing the band’s more up-tempo sound with a riff that could have been right at home on any Kyuss record. Hoping this is just the beginning for Green Dragon as we look forward to more excellent riffs and some touring if we are lucky.
Heaven’s Gate may have hitched a ride on the Hale-Bopp comet
that passed our rock 20 years ago, fortunately we have Indiana’s Void King to
fill us in on the details of the event.
Released in 2016, the band’s first full length album is a heavy slab of
rock that mixes big riffs with a dash of groove and speeds hammer down through
eight big tracks.
Crushing riffs buttressed by thick bass and pounding drums, Void King has crafted the sonic foundation required to support Jason Kindred’s mighty bellow. Many of the riffs and rhythms on There Is Nothing recall early albums by New England knuckle draggers Scissorfight which is a compliment in the highest regard as far as we are concerned. Glenn Danzig’s bluesy howl is typically mentioned whenever I read about Void King, but I really don’t think that is an accurate comparison. Kindred’s verbal dexterity is on par with the mighty Neil Fallon, while his top end exceeds that of many current metal front men.
Tempos change quickly from the rubber burning Brandy Knew to the slow-build of That Was Not An Owl. The band also puts on a ferocious live show that needs to be witnessed whenever they are close to your town. According to recent social media posts and a single released last year, the band appears to be working on some new material. Hopefully we will be able to hear something new before Hale-Bopp comes back.
I am of the opinion that we are living in a great time for heavy music. Heavy metal’s genesis can be traced back to the late 60’s thanks to the almighty Sabbath, as well as bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and many others. That sound was deepened and expanded over the course of the 70’s which witnessed the release of many landmark proto-metal albums. Fast forward to the current generation of metal bands, many of which grew up with parents that listened to these landmark albums from the fledgling days of metal. Many in that current generation took a left turn during adolescence through the punk scene with bands like Black Flag and Bad Brains before finding a permanent home in their parent’s record collection. The music they create now has that 70’s feel and structure with the edge and intensity of 80’s punk.
Rough Spells fit the above description almost too well with
their brand of riff heavy, retro-tinged rock.
Modern Kicks For The Solitary Witch kicks off with a riff that sounds
like you mistakenly played Burracuda by Heart only for it to hit you in the
face with a galloping beat that could have easily been buried on Hell Bent For
Leather. The EP continues with a fun mix
of 70’s metal with all of its points sharpened for modern consumption reaching its
summit with the soaring Confessions Of The Dominant Class. I am excited to see more from this band as I
think they are just getting started.
Akula as a going concern is a relative newcomer to the scene having only existed for less than a year, but this beast is constructed from veterans of the Columbus, Ohio metal community. Chris Thompson and Jeff Martin from Lo-Pan handle guitar and vocals, Sergei Parfenov from Ves/Nightsoil is also on guitar, while Scott Hyatt from Bridesmaid fame brings the bass and Ronnie Miller from Artillery Breath mans the drum kit. Based on the collective metal resume brought to this band, there should be no question that it will slay. Spoiler alert; it slays.
A Pound Of Flesh kicks off the album and sets the tone for the rest of the album by packing a truck load of riffs into the first song. Flesh begins with an ascending tone that allows Martin’s vocals to climb and climb until it hits a brick wall of riffage and drum fills about a minute into the piece. From there the track shifts tempo a couple times before ending with around 90 seconds of instrumental dynamics before finally coming back down to earth. Born Of Fire is another stand out track that showcases the band as a true sum of its parts. A nice mid-tempo base is laid down by the band that sets up Martin’s vocals to shine once again. Hyatt and Miller bring huge sounding bass and drums to drive the song into its final descent.