PICK OF THE WEEK: Grayceon keep creating progressive, heartfelt doom, sludge on captivating ‘IV’

Photo by Daryl Darko

Creating challenging music that stands apart from a growing world of like-minded bands can’t be a thing that can take place overnight. That’s why a lot of bands that aren’t run-of-the-mill creators aren’t ripping out records each year, because it takes time and care to put out art that moves them and is worth their while to release into the world.

On that note, San Francisco-based doom until Grayceon is one that has been sporadic in their recordings, but when they do come back with a new record, it’s always a unique journey separate even from even their own work. It’s been seven years since the band’s last full-length “All We Destroy,” and after a five-year hiatus, Grayceon have returned with their fourth record “IV,” an eight-track, 40-minute effort that’s challenging musically and emotionally. The band, consisting of cellist/vocalist Jackie Perez Gratz (she also has worked with Giant Squid, Amber Asylum, and many others), guitarist Max Doyle, and drummer Zack Farwell, continues to examine progressive doom, sludge, and experimental rock, and their music continues to enrapture as it morphs into its current form. This is not music you necessarily can demand from a band on a regular basis, so when it arrives, you immerse yourself and try to bask in the band’s power while it’s still here.

The record starts with “Sliver Moon,” a solid opener with guitars driving, the cello whipping up, and Perez Gratz’s singing pushing the way. It’s a propulsive number that’s a nice reintroduction to the band and gateway into what’s next. “By-the-Wind Sailors” begins with drums rupturing and soft vocals floating over calm waters. Screams erupt, as Perez Gratz calls, “We’ve had our time, time of our lives,” as her cello swells and the band navigates through chaos and choppy seas. “Scorpion” is punchy and ominous, as Perez Gratz warns, “She waits patiently,” as she waits to strike her victim, unassumingly. The track clubs away, opening wounds, as the track bleeds and surges before washing away. “Let It Go” is one of the centerpieces of the record, and not because it’s in the middle. It’s a slower, heartfelt track where Perez Gratz pleads, “If you find the one you love, don’t let go.” The track eventually gets more volcanic, with harsh screams and the tempo pushing, and later when the song fires up again, as the chorus is delivered more forcefully but with no less sincerity than its initial, more tender version. Great song.

“Slow Burn” feels deliberately named as it starts, with the guitars churning away and then joining alongside the cello in battle. “Respect should be in your vocabulary,” Perez Gratz spits, as she questions attitude and motives. “What if you knew then what you know now? How would I have changed your mind?” she continues, on a song that has words we all should consider a little more closely these days. “The Point of Me” has a fiery open, with string stinging, and Perez Gratz calling, “I want to live life in the sun,” trying to eschew woes and try to grasp another ray of happiness. The track gets tricky from there, with all elements tangling and bringing prog thunder. “Pink Rose” goes back to delicate, with minimal instrumentation and Perez Gratz softly singing, “Mama, take me home.” Closer “Dreamers” is a final supercharge, and at 7:37, it’s the longest song. Guitars awaken, while the cello aches, and Perez Gratz’s singing soars, especially on the chorus when she declares, “We are dreamers!” Smudgy pounding leads to a false finish driven through a wormhole, and on the other side, the march renews. From there, we’re on an instrumental journey that sparks and revels in progressive power before slowing fading out.

Grayceon have been one of the most interesting, captivating bands in heavy music, and all of that remains in place on “IV.” No other band sounds quite like them, and the three members sound rejuvenated and firing on all cylinders after their time away. This is a record that’ll take you many places musically and emotionally, and it’s a great gift to have Grayceon in our presence again, continuing to build on their already impressive resume.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/grayceon

To buy the album, go here: http://translationlossrecords.bigcartel.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.translationloss.com/

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The Body keep mauling sound, smearing soul-killing despair with ‘I Have Fought Against It…’

Photo by Sam Gehrke

I don’t know what the end of the world is going to look and/or sound like? I honestly hope I never find out. But if there was a way to soundtrack that event, I’m pretty sure it would be unnerving and like no horror we’ve ever experienced before.

I say this because my own vision of the end would be created by crazed doom duo The Body, one of the most bizarre and challenging bands on the entire planet. They have a sound, but they don’t. They are entrenched into a certain mindset, but they have no problem veering away from that. The past few years, they’ve worked to completely undo what most people think of the band, and that continues on their new record “I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer,” a line taken from Virginia Woolf’s suicide letter. That should indicate what you’re up against, which is sadness, despair, loneliness, and an emotional black hole that’s impossible to fill. The duo of guitarist/vocalist Chip King and drummer Lee Buford bring along contributors such as longtime collaborator Chrissy Wolpert (Assembly of Light Choir), Ben Eberle (Sandworm), Kristin Hayter (Lingua Ignota), and Michael Berdan (Uniform), and they build these songs with their collection of samples, rather than go the traditional route of composition. It makes for the most jagged, haze inducing effort of their entire run, and it’s one that might take a few visits to fully absorb.

“The Last Form of Loving” starts the record with weirdness and synth floating, as Wolpert’s ethereal voice mixes into the dreamscape and puts your mind into an altered state. “Can Carry No Weight” is eerie, with strange beats pounding, and King’s unmistakable shriek ripping away at you. Hayter’s singing snakes through that chaos, making the whole thing feel like a nightmare fever dream before fading out. “Party Alive” has a rush of sound that meets up with drums encircling and King’s shrieks mauling. Everything swirls like a tornado, weird doom horns cut through, guitars choke the air, and voices twist and strangle on their way out. The track goes into psyche panic, as sounds rush and pulsate. “The West Has Failed” works in samples of Eek-a-Mouse while King’s howls rub your face in gravel, and weird singing cuts through that and brings back harsh reality. “Nothing Stirs” has static-driven beats, guitars pushing into the murk, as Hayter calls, “When your love is gone, what is left?” Her voice soars before it devolves into corroded hell, with her wailing, “March on,” as if her capacity for hope is dissolving right in front of you.

“Off Script” has beats bouncing, echoes reverberating, and wild growls and cries mixing together. A weird, demonic stretch haunts your core, while the dramatic vision bleeds away. “An Urn” has heavy noise interference, trudging playing, and a hip-hop feel to the drum work. Hayter’s growls of, “You have left, never to return,” register a death blow to the heart, while the intensity builds, and the pain becomes too much to behold. “Blessed Alone” has a thick wall of sound, Wolpert’s haunting singing spreading, and piano dripping blood. The dreamy singing and King’s vicious shrieks mix, adding beauty to ugliness, while the track burns away. “Sickly Heart of Sand” shimmers, with strange guitars and Hayter’s wrenching shrieks plastering. Berdan delivers hardcore-style, blunt shouts, as the noise stings, and the tidal wave of electricity bubbles away. Closer “Ten Times a Day, Every Day, a Stranger” is a heart-stopper, a track that initially floats in noise before all fades, and mere piano accompanies a reading of Bohumil Hrabal’s work from “Total Fears: Selected Letters to Dubenka,” a passage that reeks of love lost and emotional scars that turns a person in a living ghost. “I’ve reached the peak of emptiness, and everything hurts,” the narrator warbles, as he sees people pass him with purpose, where he has none. It’s a gutting, devastating end to a record that already did ample damage before this piece.

The heartbreak and emotional gutting The Body put you through on “I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer” is overwhelming and savage, and this is one of the most emotional things the duo ever has created, which is saying something. This isn’t straight-up doom the way most listeners expect, but it’s black, dark, and desperate as anything that sub-genre can offer. Everything here feels like the end of everything, and the result is an impenetrable black hole.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/thebodyband/

To buy the album, go here: http://thrilljockey.com/products

For more on the label, go here: http://thrilljockey.com/index

Thought Eater drive through weird terrain, push into cosmic oddities with ‘Bones in the Fire’

Immersing oneself in weirdness can be a captivating, worthy experience, as long as your mind is flexible enough to take the ride. Conventional is fine, and sometimes the comfort that brings can be warm, but taking chances and unearthing new sounds tend to, for me, be a better journey when hearing music.

That said, we’ve arrived at “Bones in the Fire,” the debut full-length effort from Baltimore-based instrumental trio Thought Eater, and holy shit, is this a strange one. It’s not like you won’t understand what’s going on or wonder what the musical content is supposed to mean, but you will have your head tilted from time to time as these guys take you around some strange bends and twists. The six tracks here are mostly lengthy and have immersive stories to tell (even if no words are included), and each trip back to this album will reveal new mysteries you didn’t notice the first time. The band—12-string bassist Darin Tambascio (who also played in other mind-altering bands such as National Sunday Law and Graviton), guitarist Douglas Griffith, and drummer Bobby Murray—formed a couple years ago and delivered their first music on a split effort with Iron Jawed Guru. In that time since, they’ve continued to cultivate their sound and style, which is all over this killer effort.

Part 1 of the title track opens the record with ominous riffs rolling and then soaring, travelling similar terrain as Pelican before them. The track starts to sludge a little slower, grinding your face in the mud, before it lights up anew. Burly clobbering claims your flesh from there, with the song bleeding out at the end. “Pantomimic Dances” has a smudging, mauling pace before the leads light up and charge hard. Serenity emerges out of that before a quick power burst until acoustics take over. That rustic feel lasts until the heaviness comes back to life, hulking along and punishing before the power bleeds away. “Speak Through Dreams” is serene and intoxicating, leading to the riffs hypnotizing, and a dangerous fire being set. Charges register, and jagged riffs comes to life, and then the band clogs your veins with mud and stomps with a prog-fueled fury. Emotional melodies loop through, feeling like you’re soaring into the heart of the sun.

“Covenant” is the longest song, clocking in at 9:34, and it has a dark, foreboding start. The guitars pick up, jangle, and bleed, while the pace smothers, and cleaner lines swim through the chaos, adding color to the murk. Things hit the dirt again, with a blood-caked fury that grinds away at your bones. Melodies then soar and launch different hues, while the song slowly tucks itself into the earth and cools away. Part 2 of the title track follows and instantly puts you into a trance. Spindly guitar work powers through, while the riffs create smoke, and then we head into the cosmos unexpectedly. Cataclysm follows, before the final punches leave ringing in your ears. Closer “Unwelt” mixes acoustics and psychedelic organs that twist your imagination, and then you’re headfirst into a drug dream. Proggy fog spreads, putting you into a haze similar to Yes/ELP decades before them, and finally the track breaks into stardust, flying away forever.

Thought Eater might be right up your alley if you like to be challenged and kept guessing during your music-listening experiences. “Bones in the Fire” is a propulsive, bruising record that hints that these guys could be the next flag bearer for standard-destroying instrumental metal bands. This is an album that demands undivided attention and repeated listens, and the reward for your energy is connecting with a record that feels like a living, breathing being.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/thoughteaterband/

To buy the album, go here: https://grimoirerecords.bandcamp.com/album/bones-in-the-fire

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/GrimoireRecords/

At the Gates issue fire-scarred second comeback effort with ‘As We Drink of the Night Itself’

Comebacks are a weird thing. Expectations are elevated to an impossibly high level, and when every little bit of one’s hopes are not met, it can feel like a real letdown. Sometimes it’s better to let the past be the past, though for every handful of failures, there’s a reunion that makes sense and works.

Legendary Swedish melodic death metal crew At the Gates fall in the category of restarts that were worth it for sure. Their second half started with live shows to give their fans, some of whom were very young or not even born during the band’s heyday, a chance to hear the classic again. Then came 2014’s “At War With Reality,” an album that came a mere 19 years after their genre-defining classic “Slaughter of the Soul,” and to be honest, I didn’t really feel it. It wasn’t a bad record at all, but there are so many bands that have imitated their formula, that it didn’t feel urgent enough to rise above their millions of followers. Now, four years later, the band hits back with “To Drink From the Night Itself,” a record that feels like the proper follow-up to the classic days, a rager that will turn your eyes black. The band had a major shift with guitarist/primary songwriter Anders Björler leaving the fold, dropping his duties into his bassist brother Jonas’ hands. He and vocalist Tomas Lindberg were the main directors of this killer record, and along with new guitarist Jonas Stålhammar (Bombs of Hades, Crippled Black Phoenix, The Lurking Fear), guitarist Martin Larsson, and drummer Adrian Erlandsson, the group created a classic-sounding AtG record focusing on art as a primary motivator behind change and expression of emotions, especially within out currently fractured societies. This record is a fucking battle cry.

“Der Widerstand” is an instrumental opening directly drawn from Peter Weiss’ novel “The Aesthetics of Resistance,” the text that inspired the entire album, and it’s built with stirring strings and a female voice calling out, leading its way to the thunderous title track, a song that could do down as a live classic for years to come. It’s bludgeoning and devastating, with a simple chorus of Lindberg rapid fire howling the song’s title, and this one will sound great on a summer night, live, with strong brew in hand. “A Stare Bound in Stone” has a cool riff with punishing verses that reek of classic death. A quick cooldown is followed by the track lightning up again, throwing jabs, and going out on the chime of a doom bell. “Palace of Lepers” again brings the heavy riffs, with Lindberg howling about “inescapable death,” and from there the guitars march, and a gazey solo leaves you hypnotized. “Daggers of Black Haze” has keys dripping ice pellets and riffs spiraling before the band dishes out a beating. Later on, acoustics bring a rustic feel, but out of that the soloing ignites, and Lindberg’s scarred screams penetrate the soul. “The Chasm” has stunning guitar work and a gnarly pace that pulls no punches. The soloing has a classic metal flavor, as the song barrels toward its grave.

“In Nameless Sleep” grinds away while the leads catch fire, and the speedy verses cause heads to spin. A quick clean sequence leads to the band returning with a chugging intensity, giving the song a death-defying end. “The Colours of the Beast” is even darker, with an ominous riff entering your bloodstream and the chorus surging. The track is sinister yet melodic, and later some strange effects on Lindberg’s voices adds alien weirdness to a track that drips blackness. “A Labyrinth of Tombs” punches open with guitars shredding, savage vocals, and an essence that feels like heyday AtG. The track stays on this volcanic pace, crushing you to the very end. “Seas of Starvation” smudges, with filthy growls leading the way and the guitars gushing emotion amid sparks flying. “In Death They Shall Burn” quivers and delivers fury, also falling in line with tried-and-true At the Gates sound. The riffs bleed melody, while the vocals send echoes, and the higher gear at the end of the song leaves a pile of cinders behind. Closer “The Mirror Black” is an interesting change of pace, as colder guitars bring rain, and the pulled-back chorus pays off the darkness afoot. Strings sweep in later, as eerie noises, classical-style composition, and strange whispering bring this record to a somber end.

At the Gates’ story would have felt complete to most people had they never recorded another note after “Slaughter” and just done tours here and there, but no way that would have been satisfying to this band. Instead, we get fireball hurlers such as “To Drink From the Night Itself” to keep the band alive, vital, and killing. It’s amazing to have these legends among us producing killer content at a high level, and they don’t sound anywhere near running out of motivation.

For more on the band, go here: http://atthegates.se/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.centurymedia.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: CHRCH’s smoky doom touches life, loss, healing with ‘Light Will Consume Us All’

Photo by Joshua Coleman

Everyone’s journey through life is completely different from that of others, and I always find it irritating when people can’t comprehend how someone could be in a situation of struggle. Just because your life is going well or you have not faced hardships doesn’t mean the person next to you hasn’t. And it’s that other person’s right to deal with hardships and darkness or celebrate whatever triumphs that come their way.

That whole idea of people’s lives being different and being oblivious of, and even callous toward, another’s struggles sunk in while listening to “Light Will Consume Us All,” the gargantuan new record from Sacramento-based doom band CHRCH that’s about to drop like an anvil. The record’s thematic elements examine one’s journey through life, the losses and hardships we face, and the hopeful emergence into light and positivity once the hurdles are cleared. But not everyone finds that bright light. Some people’s suffering becomes too much that a positive outcome just isn’t possible. Hope can be hard to find, and staying attuned to other people who might not be on the same path as we perhaps can help another in darkness find their way out. Anyway, that’s a little heady, so let’s turn to the music (which is a follow-up to their amazing 2015 debut “Unanswered Hymns). The band—vocalist Eva Rose, guitarist/backing vocalists Chris Lemos and Karl Cordtz, bassist Ben Carthcart, and drummer Adam Jennings—craft long, enduring epics that largely are slower, more calculated in approach, but make no mistake, there are explosions here as well. Rose’s vocals are powerful and mesmerizing, an ideal mouthpiece for this band that takes you out of the darkness into the light and sometimes back again.

Opener “Infinite” is the longest song of the three, a 20:41 bruiser that takes its time setting up the ambiance. Guitars drip in, as Rose whispers over the impending doom, and things stay that way until around the 5:30 mark when the bottom drops out. Riffs rush, the drums quake, and Rose’s singing stretches over the din, eventually turning into a corroded growl. Darker melodies arrive, while Rose’s shrieks shatter any sense of calm, and the guitars begin to buzz and overwhelm. Out of that, the pace pulls back and lets the lights dim, with softer singing floating, and that solemnity taking over a nice chunk of the last half of the song. But with four minutes remaining, the hammer drops again, as Rose’s haunting singing rips over the fires, gazey guitars flood and swell, and the track comes to a burning, punishing conclusion.

“Portal” runs 14:49, and it begins in pure devastation, with understated, breathy singing, and then the heaviness delivered in heaping servings. Rose’s shrieks mix with guttural growls, as the tempo of the song goes from volcanic to gently storming, all the while, the singing complements the moods ideally. Rose unleashes some of her strongest vocals, as emotional, melodic guitars create a foaming wave, the soloing belts out fire balls, and a calm emerges, where drums roll through the dusk, bringing the song to its nighttime finish. Closer “Aether” is the shortest song but still runs a generous 9:29, and it begins mournfully, with a pall over everything. Slow-moving melodies and soulful singing push through before feral growls emerge to turn things to ash. The band slips into an extended period of pulled-back playing, making you think they’re ready to submerge, but then an assault strikes you won’t see coming. The pace speeds up in a way foreign to most doom, going for the jugular, while Rose pours even more of herself into the terrifying growls and cries. The band storms like never before, saturating and damaging the shore, creating an impenetrable cloud, and bringing the ritual to an end in a foreboding fog.

CHRCH are building one hell of a resume that continues with “Light Will Consume Us All,” one of the more immersive and captivating doom records so far this year That title is a reminder that, no matter how great or low once may be, we all end up the same way, as souls drifting off into the unknown. CHRCH have a startling grasp on what they do, and their music can devastate, infect, and intoxicate you all at the same time.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/chrchdoomca

To buy the album, go here: https://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.neurotrecordings.com/

Thou start onslaught of chaos with noise-corroded, acid bath-filled EP ‘The House Primordial’

Apparently, there is a deluge of chaos coming our way, a storm we didn’t previously predict to be happening but that is now too dangerously close to fight back against. Weirdly, this will be a collection of eruptions that will be a godsend to anyone who dines at the sludgier end of doom metal’s comprehensive serving table.

All that verbiage is a messy way of saying Thou are back, and we’re going to be getting a lot of content from the Baton Rogue-based band this year. First up is “The House Primordial,” released as a surprise earlier this week on Robotic Empire and that is a 10-track, 37-miniute piece that is one of the most corrosive and least digestible in the band’s catalog. Yes, some of the band’s muddy, driving doom is here within these cuts, but if you’re expecting anything conventional, even from Thou, you’re going to be shocked. This release, which the band describes as more of an EP in spirit, is absolutely coated in noise, so much so you can practically imagine these songs breaking into rusty shards are hitting the ground. Much of this collection is woven together, and the composition style is far different from what we’ve come to expect from Thou. That’s why this band—vocalist Bryan Funck, guitarists Andy Gibb and Matthew Thudium, bassist Mitch Wells, and drummer Josh Nee—always has been a menacing treasure to anyone who likes challenging heavy music. Each time out, they throw some different curves at you, but never as much as they do on “The House Primordial.” By the way, while this is a digital release right now, expect physical versions of this and their other 2018 material later this year.

“Wisdom” starts this grimy display with molten noise wafting, drone hanging over like a swarm of wasps, and guitars scraping and drawing sparks, pushing into “Premonition,” where Funck’s growls sound basement black metal filthy and terrifying, though the music simmers with fury. Sharp edges poke under the surface, creating a corrosive ball of hell that leads into “The Sword Without a Hilt” that lets cold guitars drizzle and cool off the surface. Noise picks up intensely like an agitated furnace, and that starts to melt the guitar work that flows dangerously into “Diaphanous Shift” and its nasty vocals and riffs quivering in doom. The track is cavernous and just about as close to “classic Thou” as you’re going to get on this EP, as growls devastate, and the guitars twist into panicked static. “Corruption and Moral” is an eerie, space fuzz-filled, electronic fit of madness over 1:23 that’ll split your mind in two.

“Psychic Dominance” emerges out of that, with burly, slow-driving riffs doing ample damage, and terrifying growls reminding of Fortress Crookedjaw at his most unhinged. The path hits the mud, as chaos smothers and burns out everything. “Prideful Dementia and Impulsive Mayhem” is a fucking noise bath, with paint practically being peeled from your walls, drone liquifying, and the instrumental cut boiling in hell. “Occulting Light” has drums striking forcefully, as noise boils, and the pace takes its lumbering time. The vocals scorch while the guitars chug and brutalize, and the massive wall of feedback finally succumbs to a haze of angelic keys. “Birthright” is bled into, as alien interference sends jolts, the drums crack veins, and a fog of chaos spreads over the scene. Toward the end, the guitars wake, and signals blast into closer “Malignant Horror” that blisters and maims. Funck’s growls spit fire as a mournful tone overwhelms, and pure anguish causes bloody scarring. The band drubs slowly, yet relentlessly, making its final charge a blunt one, and it ends in a sizzling puddle of noise.

Who knows how much Thou have in store for us this year (the “Magus” full-length is in the pipeline, as well as other EP releases), but starting that assault off with “The House Primordial” has to keep their listeners off balance. It’s not an easy listen, it does demand you expand your expectations, and it soaks you in battery acid. This definitely isn’t for everyone, but those who embrace it are bound to lather themselves in the metallic lava.

For more on the band, go here: http://noladiy.org/thou/

To buy the album, go here: https://roboticempire.bandcamp.com/album/thou-the-house-primordial

For more on the label, go here: http://www.roboticempire.com/