Tagged: psychedelic

You Set The Scene

From OSR Tapes, we have a CD by Marlon Cherry (OSR73) which reissues two of his records – the 12-inch EP Life After Theatre from 1986 and Pete from 1990. This may be something of a rescue job by label boss Zach Phillips, who knows Marlon Cherry personally and is aware of Cherry’s presence in various New York City music scenes – playing at university dance classes, busking in the subway, and as a supporting member of various local bands. Originally from North Carolina, Cherry used to play bass in ANTiSEEN, Jeff Clayton’s punk band which formed in 1983, but he’s also played in Mecca Bodega, Afro-Jersey, Church Of Betty and The Roches. I never heard the music of any of these bands, although many of them are represented on Chris Rael’s label Fang Records in NYC, and their music may include elements of funk, soul, and experimental rock.

The same musical broad-mindedness shows up on all the songs on this CD comp, on which Marlon wrote everything, sings, and plays all the instruments…he’s turned in a hugely enjoyable set of melodic songs, with elements of funky rock, psychedelia and easy listening (he even pays tribute in song to Arthur Lee, an obvious precedent), and with his confident singing Marlon at a stroke reclaims the whole rock’n’soul thing from Hall And Oates, in the service of his highly original songs. Very impressed by Marlon’s facility with playing and singing music, and the unfussy production technique is also a winning plus on both records. Incidentally the 1986 12-incher was produced by Jeff Murdock, who played with Cherry in The Streets Living Theater on their sole record in 1983. The front cover painting to this one, depicting a mysterious urban tragedy, is by Alexander Clark. Delighted to hear this (to me) unknown gem, from 28th October 2016.

Psychedelic Train

Many years ago we received and noted two unusual records from Cream Of Turner Productions, a label based in Philadelphia. Both Heart Land and Sunlore existed in vinyl editions, but in 2011 they sent us CDR versions which had been hand-crafted to a high degree, using art materials, in order to resemble exact miniatures of their vinyl counterparts. The musicians David Marino, Ron Lent, Bill Errig and Ahmed Salvador (joined by Ford Sylvester on one of the LPs) created two dream-like records of intense, dank, psychedelic music, fit for restless sleepwalkers. In my mind I filed these records alongside those by Heart Of Palm, the Chicago unknowns who somehow fail to create much of a stir anywhere, yet create fine krautrock-inspired music on their own terms.

Well, after some six years, Cream Of Turner have finally managed to release their third LP, Union Pacific Vol. 1. (CT./458) credited to Heart Land. David Marino and Ahmed Salvador are still active and play on this one, along with Matthew Pruden, the guitarist Peter Tramo, the bass player Wilbo Wright, and the excellent vocalist Patrice Carper. The entire record is based around the recording of a model train set, which is close-miked or amplified in some way, in order to generate abstract electronic sounds. On top of this shifting mechanical drone, Patrice Carper contributes her free-form moaning vocals, and the work is supplemented by layers of guitar, bass and percussion. No keyboards or synths in sight, which might seem slightly surprising given the very droney and kosmische feel of this record. It seems to tread roughly the same inter-galactic ground as Tangerine Dream or Cluster, achieving the sensations of infinite distance and space-travel largely through use of echo, amplification, and effects. I like the idea that this sense of vastness is conveyed through such modest means, i.e. the sound of a miniature train set; it seems to say something about the possibilities of art, and how we could all be bounded in a nutshell and count ourselves the king of infinite space.

While this music may be languid and spaced-out, delivered in a slightly hippy-drippy fashion (not even the soggiest Steve Hillage records were this laid-back), it’s evidently being played in real time by real human beings playing real instruments, responding to changes in timbre and direction, and not following a programmed path nor needing to be propped up by digital processing or synthesis. What emerges on the record may feel unfinished – Heart Land haven’t yet figured out how to end their lengthy explorations in a satisfactory manner – but in this instance, it creates a convincing environment which surrounds and nurtures the listener. In this, Heart Land and the label fulfil their goal of creating their “own personal hybrid of improvised psychedelic and avant-garde music”. I’m slightly disappointed by the cover. It’s not a great design, and more to the point it weakens the mystique of the music to see these rather ordinary photos of the musicians at work, no matter how evocative the lighting and colour scheme may be. Still, a minor quibble when you have such an unusual and pleasing item in your hands. From 7th September 2016.

David Bowie (self-titled, 1967): 50 years ago today, a star man came out to play

David Bowie, self-titled, Deram Records (1967)

June 1st, 1967, was a significant day in the history of British rock and pop: an album by a highly influential act was released on that day. Naaah, I didn’t have The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in mind, important though that work might be in some people’s eyes. Besides, contrary to what is often believed, that particular recording’s release date was brought forward a week by its label EMI in Britain so the release date was actually May 26, 1967, instead of June 1st, 1967.

No, on that day, that hallowed day, the world was blessed with the release of David Bowie’s self-titled debut album. WHA-A-AT? you say, David Bowie’s first album, the one consigned to mental attics around the world as some unwanted and unloved mad relative of classics like “Low”, “Heroes” and “Station to Station”? Well yes, I want to rescue that album from its current inglorious status as one of the black moments in Bowie’s long history as an artist, equivalent to those seedy little pornographic flicks that famous actors always regret making while they were down on their last dollar as drama graduates way back when in the mists of time. As black moments go, “David Bowie” turns out to be much, much lighter in colour than people, even diehard Bowie fans, might make it out to be – c’mon, folks, can the same be said of other black moments in Bowie’s recording history like “Never Let Me Down”?

Well, I’ll grant that most of the music on “David Bowie” isn’t what you’d expect of an ambitious up-and-coming teenage pop singer: it often sounds twee and the minimal “play safe” approach doesn’t always suit the lyrics on several songs which cover themes and topics such as alienation or lack of connection with others, longing, futuristic dystopias in which irrational crowds follow self-proclaimed messiahs, fluid gender identity, population control, serial killing, necrophilia and paedophilia among others. (Some of these themes were to arise on future Bowie albums again and again.) Certainly the music on songs like “There Is A Happy Land”, which depending on one’s interpretation can carry a chilling message about the alien nature of youth, seems at odds with the track’s theme; on the other hand, its relaxed and stripped-back nature highlights the lyrics and Bowie’s crisp style of singing which varies from one song to the next. Quite a lot of vocal gymnastics is involved and if Bowie had had some training at this point in his career, the album could have been a very remarkable one for his vocal range and adventurous singing. There’s also the possibility that Bowie found juxtaposing dark and disturbing lyrics with seemingly happy or comic music intriguing and amusing, and he would not have been the first (certainly not the last) artist to discover that the happy pop song format is an ideal medium for conveying otherwise sinister messages.

Why Bowie chose to write and record his debut the way he did, with the music, the visually colourful lyrics and the sometimes disturbing messages they carry, we may never fully know. Legend has it his manager at the time, Ken Pitt, may have pressured the young singer into becoming an all-round entertainer with old music hall and vaudeville influences, and recording the album with that goal in mind. The irony of course is that Bowie eventually did become an all-round entertainer by following a different if perhaps more zig-zagging path.

Even so, with all the faults of this approach which ill-suited Bowie, several songs on the album have their own sweet and whimsical charm, and if you let them they can grow on you. Bowie’s singing which sounds surprisingly mature, even a little “old man”-ish for someone of his age, has a very distinct flavour at once intimate yet suggesting its owner might have access to some deep well of gnostic knowledge. The lyrics are often funny, self-deprecating and wry at the same time, and strong visual imagination and inventive, cunning wit are at work here. Bowie’s wacky and bizarre sense of humour – which never ch-ch-ch-changed over the years – is in full flight across several songs with a number of them containing very subtle twists in the tales they tell.

There are songs here (“When I Live My Dream”, “Sell Me A Coat” and “Silly Boy Blue”) that could have been reworked with different music arrangements and re-released, and no-one would guess that they’d been on this album. “Silly Boy Blue”, referencing Bowie’s life-long interest in Tibetan Buddhism, in particular imitates Tibetan-style droning music and rhythms and a later treatment could have incorporated actual drones and invited experimentation. “Join The Gang” enjoys a brief burst of avant jazz improv at its end which could have been extended to cover the whole song.

If one chooses to listen to the whole album just for Bowie’s voice, lyrics and subject matter, one will find very little filler even in songs with the most godawful crap music. With regard to experimentation, several tracks are quite good, given Bowie’s inexperience and the guidance he had, though they could have done with more and one track – it’s my favourite of the whole album – that will surprise listeners is the last song, “Please Mr Gravedigger”, sung entirely a cappella with just ambient effects as accompaniment. Now that’s what I call experimental!

Fifty years ago today, a star man came out to play … it’s time for this particular mad relative to come out of the attic and show us all how really mad it is!

A Spineless Descent: deeply hypnotic ambient black metal psychedelia debut

Grok, A Spineless Descent, United States, E.E.E. Recordings, CD (2016)

For those of us who miss the sprawling and darkly hypnotic music of Light Shall Prevail and Njiqahdda from years ago, the fellow behind those bands and E.E.E. Recordings, E Henderson, has resurfaced with a new project Grok that also features a second member, known as CJH, on vocals. Grok sounds superficially similar to those past projects though the duo’s style is less noisy and is more spacious with a much greater emphasis on keyboard-generated atmospheric tones and effects. Dare I hope that Grok heralds a return to the glory days of Njiqahdda of a decade ago?

You need to play this album a few times to appreciate its atmospheres fully: yes, they are dark and very spacious, and filled with deep and complex emotions that seem to range from anger to despair and grief. Who knows from what cause such feelings have arisen? I have the impression that they arise from the disappointments that life metes out to us, from dashed expectations and loss of faith in the things and ideologies that we thought would guide us to spiritual fulfillment. In the place of these dashed hopes are disillusionment and a sober realisation that life and the universe are far more complicated, less benevolent and much more remote than we realise. We have only this planet as our home and ourselves and our fellow animal, plant and mineral travellers as our companions and sources of comfort and connection. The music ranges far and wide in the cold frigid darkness generated by the synthesiser wash and tone effects, the distant phantom growling vocals following where the melodies and percussion go.

The eight tracks are not all that distinctive in themselves and form a long soundtrack to an imaginary film of mesmeric dark psychedelic landscapes wherein dwell ghosts and spirits who might have inhabited our physical universe aeons ago, and have ascended (or descended) to other planes of existence. Drums and shifting keyboard ambience dominate, achieving a somewhat paradoxical effect in which melodies and riffs definitely exist yet if you try to concentrate on any one particular passage, the music ends up sounding formless. It goes where it will and the apparent lack of direction might frustrate listeners. Guitars have a very sparing presence though they do give the music a tough and forbidding aspect.

Perhaps the music could have done with some editing for length as parts do get repetitive and I admit there isn’t much Grok brings in here that wasn’t done previously with Njiqahdda. The vocals don’t stray far from their ghostly rasping tumbleweed style. While the album is great for icy atmospheres, listeners expecting more will be disappointed – within those deep spaces, there are more ghostly apparitions, deeper caverns of negative sound, like a never-ending chain of doors along a corridor opening onto more doors ad infinitum. But if you are happy to be immersed in deep hypnotic trance ambient black metal psychedelia, and are not asking for more, this album will satisfy you.

Long-Winded Small Talk

The Dwarfs Of East Agouza
Bes
UK / USA NAWA RECORDINGS NAWA005CD CD (2015)

A recent chapter in ex-Sun City Girl Alan Bishop’s saga of map-hopping exploits catches him in Cairo-based cahoots with like-minded lunatics Sam Shalabi and Maurice Louca for a turbulent turn in team-building. At the risk of selling it as Bishop’s thing, The Dwarfs of East Agouza sound like they might have been distant cousins of the Sun City Girls, had they grown up in post Arab-Spring Cairo instead of Phoenix. But it’s very much an egalitarian effort; blending distinctively non-western percussion, rambling microtonality and the awkward/irascible brand of echo-peddling psych-rock the Girls would lapse into now and again. And as per efforts such as Valentines From Matahari, there’s an assurance that the music’s charms will not be immediately evident.

What’s quickly clear however is that all sense of restraint has been canned: jams ring out in all directions for up to thirty minutes and ain’t about to stop for your peace of mind, nor mine. Or else they ramble on in muttered tones like Bishop’s Uncle Jim in caustic toad mode. In few other conditions could ‘Baka of the Future’ fake it as a sampler track, where itching beneath a bouncy bassline and narcotic organ riff we hear the signature scrapings of Alvarius B’s Jackson Pollock guitar. Skip through the 10-minute excursion and witness the trio almost suffocating in its own smog; the boys getting their groove on where most of us experience mental problems. Yet despite this airborne aggravation, their initial aimlessness achieves lucidity in all cases, and after repeat playbacks their sounds soak deeper into the nervous system.

For all the music’s purported lack of polish, there’s also a sense that the Dwarfs are trying hard not to sound like they’re trying hard. They want not for impish mischief nor discipline, and were it not for poly-musician Louca’s rhythmic chops and unseated tonal stylings, Shalabi and Bishop’s jagged and disgruntled string manipulations would be on much shakier ground. His horse-powered hand-drumming brings calm cohesion to the same chaos his shape-shifting keyboard modulations help to create; encompassing the whole nine yards between Arthur Russell-style organ stabs on ‘Hungry Bears Don’t Dance’ and opiate-drowned dream imagery in ‘Resinance’, both of which aim to resituate us in less defined modes of being. I will take this opportunity to remind you to buy his excellent solo album, Salute The Parrot.

The 30-minute ‘Museum of Stranglers (I-III)’ is everything you’d expect from a cosmic, side-long closer: A climatic creatio ex nihilo in dead air of echo pedal guitars; flutters of Alan Bishop’s recent post-skronk saxophony; the wooziest, most Lovecraftian electronics to manifest thus far; psych-rock tropes unleashed in full force; long stretches of little evident interest; time folding between threadbare lows and celestial highs where oblique and charged power lines soar, bestial purrs and gurgles taper to zero and an inverted, no-wave reprise (of sorts) of the opening theme marking our return to the point of origin. Even for a group with such avowedly irrational proclivities this lurching epic is a perversely gratifying patience-tester; the longer one listens, the stronger the sense of dissociation. A worthy debut to be sure!

Life, Sex and Death: a homage to a Tantric Hindu goddess and what she represents

Kids, don’t try this kind of DIY cosmetic surgery at home …

Cult of Fire, Life, Sex & Death, Czech Republic, Beyond Eyes, CD BE04 (2016)

Judging from the very ornate cover, I presume this mini-album is a celebration of the Tantra Hindu goddess Chhinnamasta – there’s even a track “Chhinnamasta Mantra” which as it says includes the mantra that Tantric devotees chant to attract women – and all that she represents: death, self-destruction / transformation, renewal, sexual energy. In short, the album celebrates the duality of existence: life / death, and the energy that binds it all together. Chhinnamasta the goddess is usually represented as a nude, self-decapitating goddess holding her head in one hand and a sword in the other, with blood spurting out from her neck to be captured by her attendants, and that’s the spectacular sight that greets potential listeners and separates the brave (and maybe the foolish) from the fearful and wary.

As it turns out though, the music is very epic in scope and exhilarating in mood. Its sound is probably a bit too thin and the drums too tinny to do it and its subject matter full justice. The band relies heavily on orchestral synthesiser backing to fill out the music’s sound when a guitars-n-drums set-up, with the appropriate production, could have been enough. The slavering vocals suit the music but reverb robs them of their full horror potential. The music runs the gamut from symphonic to classic minimal BM, melodic post-BM and even shoegazer BM in parts.

The one track that really stands out is the jangly “Chhinnamasta Mantra” for its female vocal chanting the mantra against an accompaniment of shrill jewel-toned guitar, background ambient effects and hand drumming. This has a very beautiful psychedelic sound and the mood is trancey and dream-like. Too bad it’s not long enough and seems to peter out just when you think it should dissolve in a shower of guitar and ambient sparkle effects. While the rest of the album charges with loads of spitfire fury to spare, the songs don’t differ from one another – though I suppose the concept of the album suggests they should all relate to one another and not be too individual – and if it weren’t for non-BM melodic touches like acoustic guitar or sitar in parts, the music would be very monotonous.

Shortcomings aside, this EP is very enjoyable if heard as one continuous work rather than as a set of four songs. Some time in the future it could be reworked with longer trance-like psychedelic music and with a better sound and production so that it celebrates all that Chhinnamasta represents in all her contradictory dualistic glory.

Brunt (self-titled): a good debut of instrumental psych doom fusion work-outs

Brunt, self-titled, Hevisike Records, vinyl edition HVSK-1201 (2014)

Since I heard this Channel Islands doom stoner trio’s “Blackbeard” EP, I’ve been looking for other stuff of theirs and found this self-titled album. Most tracks on the album are sprawling instrumental pieces of riff-dominated mood psychedelic doom sludge fusion and the fun starts right away with an extended sonorous drone tone riff, around which percussion weaves a constantly changing beat and rhythm structure, on the first half of “St Felix of Nola” – the second half being a more brooding wander in dark murky space out of which emerge a drum beat loop and then a whining steel-edged rhythm guitar churn topped with an oily high-pitched wobble lead guitar solo. We’re in for a very interesting ride through fields and valleys of atmospheric psych doom stoner melange if this first track is any guide.

With its distinctively playful rhythm loops, “The Tale of the Hideous Tricorn” sounds almost tongue-in-cheek though the lyrics about the origin of Satan and humanity might possibly be more serious than they read. Whatever you think of the lyrics, the music certainly is an enjoyable ride with long lead guitar improvisations and bouncy percussion. “Rabbit of Cannabong” – for a moment I thought this might be a homage to the killer bunny in that old Monty Python flick about King Arthur and his knights in search of the Holy Grail – is just as good to listen to, mixing a smart-n-sassy rhythm section run with a slower, more concrete-slab passage of booming bass and hard-slapping drumwork. The bass work-outs here might just be the best parts of the song, which is really saying something as the whole track smoulders with crunch and crumble guitar textures.

The album gets better and better with “A Concise Cosmic History Of The Swob Monster Pt1 (The Birth Of Fuzz)” which elbows everything that’s gone before with spiky angular riffs that continue to elaborate throughout the track. There’s more of that molten-lava lead guitar attack before the whole piece morphs into a huge doom sluggernaut monster making its sedate way down the Milky Way.

All tracks are well composed and tend to consist of two sometimes very different parts with the second part a bit slower and heavier than the first. There’s an emphasis on a few distinct riffs repeating over and over on tracks and I suppose as long as they’re fairly short they won’t be too monotonous for most listeners. The songs probably could be a bit longer and feature more variation and development of melodies and riffs than they do. Most tracks suffer a little from not having a vocalist (even if that vocalist does nothing more than howl or chant nonsense gibberish) and a couple of lines of poetry. While the clean production gives the music a very contemporary sound and all instruments can be heard (and enjoyed) clearly, at the same time the music gives the impression of being a bit flat and almost one-dimensional, and needing an extra layer of sound to give it depth.

Even so, with all its faults this self-titled album is a great way to become acquainted with psych doom fusion music and Brunt in particular.

Keef Mountain (self-titled): a powerful start to a retro-70s doom stoner band’s career

Keef Mountain, self-titled, United States, The Company, THECO-001 CD digipak (2016)

Hard to believe that this is Keef Mountain’s debut album and all the music is the work of just two musicians: this is really massive and powerful, a very confident and self-assured recording with a definite message that celebrates transcendence and the various modes of achieving it. The band manages to be retro-1970s stoner doom in style and sheer heaviness yet the music sounds fresh and up-to-date due to a good balance between a distorted fuzzy guitar sound and a clean production that gives the songs a minimal and spacious quality. The songs are short and straight to the point in their delivery, with strong tough riffing that defines the tracks’ identities. While the singing is shouty, it’s very clear and isn’t overwhelmed by the music.

Opener “Green Wizard” might clock under five minutes but it has three quite distinct parts: a slow instrumental introduction followed by a speedy middle section where the best riffs and singing are bunched together, and a silly finale featuring a spoken-word recording about the worth of taking drugs over organised religion. Fortunately the found sound recording is the only hokey part of the album so if listeners can hang on, they’ll be well rewarded. “Psilocybin Queen” is a better indicator of what listeners can expect: focused songs stressing good solid doom riffing, plenty of jamming and no unnecessary meandering or filler material. If anything, the songs could afford to be a bit longer so listeners can savour the more doomy and abrasive rhythm guitar crunching – some of those riffs are sledgehammer- heavy – or the more spaced-out trippy ambient parts where they exist.

Surprisingly the album’s best moments come after the halfway point when we think the band can’t possibly keep up the standard anymore and we start expecting the inevitable slide into filler-zone territory: “Resin Lung” introduces a light psychedelic or sci-fi influence with treated vocal leading into a frenzy of bass grind riffing. “Hendog” is much slower and sludgier with eerily treated vocals that sound as if their owner was stuck in a space capsule high above Earth; the song later collapses into a series of powerful crashing riffs. “Higher Realms” is a gritty and sometimes darkly brooding resolution of the album’s themes and ideas in just over six compact minutes.

All the songs are good as they are, though they probably could do with more atmosphere than they have, and different atmospheres at that so they are more distinctive from one another. Keef Mountain have a powerful and bass-heavy style that could be even more so if they let fly on longer songs with more instrumental and improvised music. I’d be keen on the duo following up with a longer  album with themes and ideas going beyond dope-smoking and rituals of transcendence – these guys seem more than capable of taking their listeners on long extended journeys through vistas of inner time and space.

Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki: a good but not great fusion of old school black metal and space psychedelia

abyssion-luonnon-harmonia-ja-vihrea-liekki-lp

Abyssion, Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki, Finland, Svart Records, SVR343 CD digipak / vinyl (2015)

Apparently the album’s title translates into English as “The Harmony of Nature and the Green Flame” and the music bears a very superficial resemblance to Filosofem-period Burzum but there’s little about the album that’s either calming or pop-friendly for listeners. There’s a strong industrial / punk / garage feel to the music which through continuous tremolo micro-repetition and harsh abrasive guitar textures achieves an effect of ever-flowing levitating music which can have an unsettling impact on listeners. This feeling of being adrift is magnified by the use of synthesiser-generated cold space ambience and a severely raspy machine vocal reminiscent of Daleks gone psycho (for those of you who watch Doctor Who). It soon becomes obvious that, in the hands of Abyssion members Jose Rossi and Antti Varis, raw punky 1990s-period black metal becomes the launch-pad for sonic experimentation that takes the band and its followers into dark and deranged realms far beyond BM while still retaining a connection, however stretched out it becomes, to that genre.

Intro track “Luonnon Harmonia” sets the pace with a rock-n-roll rhythm, swirling psychedelic effects and a screeching vocal in what’s otherwise a no-nonsense throwback to old school BM. The drumming is close to overwhelming thunder on the second track but apart from that and the screaming, the music doesn’t raise its head much above a sedate pace until its last couple of moments. It’s not until we come to “Vihreä Liekki” that Abyssion comes close to the promise of the album’s opening track: demented demonic singing, a mix of fast and slow rhythms, psychedelic space-ambient effects that reach sky-high and dip down far below, a scrabbly lead guitar solo near the end, all of which are buoyed by solid tremolo guitar textures, combine to make the song a major highlight of the album.

Just when you think the band couldn’t be any more inspired after “Vihreä Liekki”, out comes “Ajatus kirkastuu” which experiments with droning guitar feedback and more atmospheric droning space psychedelia to create a cold, remote and sometimes nauseous mood, and which features even more insane shrieking vocals and thundering percussion. No matter how extreme this song (and some of the other songs on the album) becomes, the rhythm guitars still anchor everything in place with solid riff abrasion. The last track continues on, this time with some shrieky lead guitar soloing and furious stickwork, but it quickly runs out of puff and settles into a melodic BM groove.

For the first few times the album is a good listening experience with mostly short screechy songs and an inspired combination of raw punk, solid old school BM and cold space ambient psychedelic effects to spice up the music. After several repeated hearings though, you start to realise that the band is short on very catchy and memorable melodies and extended riffs, and that for all the vocal gymnastics the actual music doesn’t break into too much of a sweat. Perhaps sticking a bit too close to its black metal roots and not severing the connection with them and going into all-out blackened space derangement is Abyssion’s weak point here. Here’s a case where a band would seem to have everything going for it – but on closer inspection doesn’t have those inspired tunes that would take it far beyond the ends of the cosmos.

776: a monumental doom-sludge psychedelic re-imagining of the United States

Phantom Glue, 776, United States, Negative Fun Records, CD NF-025 (2016)

Being a typical dumb Australian, I thought “776” might have been a reference to when the Ancient Greek Olympic Games were first held. Heh-heh, is that ever a weird guess!!! Truth though is stranger than the imagination: “776” is a metonym for US band Phantom Glue’s re-imagining of the United States as having existed for over a thousand years in an alternative though parallel universe, a United States where the Declaration of Independence had not yet been signed. Appropriately the album “776” is a mix of the mythical and mystical, and the uncompromising and hard-hitting, perhaps as much a commentary on the current nation as it is an exploration of a fantasy alternative.

Opening track “Ion Cloud” and follow-up “Hundred Hand” capture both sides of the album’s concept, at once screeching hardcore, sludge, doom and psychedelic, with the music bordering on overwhelming and monstrous in parts. The vocal seems as much disembodied as distant – the Phantom Glue singer doesn’t even try to compete with the full-on bludgeon attack – as if it really is a messenger from the parallel universe of 776 come to warn us of doom. Once PG have our full attention and concentration, the band dives further into its alternate reality with “Somatic”, a slower, more sludge juggernaut track with thundering percussion, steely rhythm guitars and a squalling lead guitar snaking around the edges of the song. So concrete-crunching is this song that it’s easy to forget that it’s only five minutes long. “Somatic” pairs well with “A Worker-less Mill”, an equally monumental song and staggering in its structuring where the thumping drums take centre stage building up a tower of thudding beats. Guitars stutter or howl around the percussion and the vocals almost shrink to raspy screams. The song is crowned with a corrosive acid ambience that burns and etches deeper-than-deep holes in your consciousness.

The pile-driving psychedelia punishment continues all the way to the end; the band seems to lose a bit of momentum with “Suttungr” which starts off slowly and lethargically but recovers energy and speeds up in its second half. “Hocheim’s War” is a definite head-banging grooving rocker with as much noisy hardcore crispness and crunch as creepy acid-bleached lead guitar flurry. Closing track “Gog is Dead” is the most atmospheric song, though not necessarily in a benign way: the doom is dark, sinister and haunted-house menacing. The song builds up in overpowering intensity and immersive blackness that literally leave folks hanging on the edge of a cliff descending into a bottomless abyss.

This music is so huge, monstrous and at times terrifying that listeners might well be glad it doesn’t last long (it’s about 36 minutes in length) and the more sensitive among you might need another 36 minutes to get the band’s music and terrifying dystopian visions out of your heads. I’m almost grateful that the production on this album is less than what the music deserves – the music (especially the drumming) does have a tinny sort of sound and doesn’t feel as three-dimensional solid as it should – or I might have been sent deranged. This is one album to be heard at least once, if only so you can tell your friends you survived the experience – but just barely. Definitely an experience not to be passed up!