Tagged: rock music

Grenadine Blood

The CD Stars Vomit Coffee Shop (OSR TAPES OSR72) by Frank Kogan is a 2016 reissue of a compilation that originally came out in 1986, self-released by Kogan with annotations and now here in CD form with a rejigged cover by Christine Schneider. It’s a fab set of post-punk songs recorded by Kogan solo or with his bands The Pillowmakers and Red Dark Sweet, and covers a period from 1981 to 1984. Kogan is an unabashed fan of 1960s rock and pop music, as he admits upfront in his sleeve note, as he listened to this stuff growing up in the 1960s and gives us a long list that covers everyone from The Kinks to The Electric Prunes and The Monkees, but he also adored The Velvet Underground. You know you can trust a man who says “I couldn’t listen to ‘96 Tears’ because it upset me too much’; he tries to account for the delicious sense of alienation that was hard-wired into the music of The Rolling Stones, and their many imitators, and was drawn to singers whose voice was used as an instrument – Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Bob Dylan.

The CD more or less charts his progress in New York as he worked his way through musical ideas that would give expression to his inner torment. He went from post-Velvets hard-lipped sneering to a wayward cross-breed of disco and punk, in the form of the trio The Pillowmakers, then found his way back to his roots with Red Dark Sweet. Kogan is a mite hard on himself and thinks his experiments don’t really come off, but I would beg to differ. In 1983 The Pillowmakers recorded ‘Linda Lu Pissed On Hitler’s Kneecap’ – Stefano Arata on bass, Carol Meinke on drums – which is a two-minute gem. It sounds like Lou Reed rapping a lost chapter from ‘Sister Ray’ to a disco beat. This song might contain trace elements of Kogan’s bid to bring “swinging blues and funk” elements to his music, after his friend Rich Campo had suggested he listen to James Brown records in the late 1970s. Kogan’s plan was to enlarge the “emotional range” of punk by crossing it with disco, and he thinks he didn’t succeed, but I’m not sure if we have any recordings from this period on the CD. These Pillowmakers tracks might not represent this period, but they are endearing and straightforward blasts of garage-enriched guitar swipes combined with elliptical syncopated bass rhythms, sure to appeal to fans of Magazine or Fire Engines. 1

By 1981 Kogan had met Andrew Klimek and Charlotte Pressler, and formed Red Dark Sweet – they were the core members, though drummers Donna Ratajczak, Rick Brown and John Spuzzillo also appear on some recordings. The 1982 tracks offered here were recorded on a cassette player “lying on the floor”. The songs here are closest in spirit and sound to The Velvet Underground, but it seems Andrew and Charlotte were musical omnivores with wide-ranging record collections, and showed Kogan new possibilities for freedom in the music of VU, for instance with improvisation and noise experimentation. These elements are most in evidence on the 15-minute workout ‘Mrs. Hanson / What’s That Sound I Hear?’, without a doubt their attempt to remake ‘European Son’ on their own lo-fi terms.

I like these free-wheeling and discursive Red Dark Sweet tracks, but there’s also a lot to be said for Kogan’s pop-influenced song style. The four opening cuts on the CD were recorded in 1984 and to me they’re near-flawless examples of songcraft, often delivered with just one guitar and a voice. Strong melody, simple riffs, and very concise; everything a song should be. Frank Kogan surely deserves to be located near J Mascis in the canon of American post-punk songwriters.

Hugely enjoyable CD; it’s been a delight to discover this hitherto hidden chapter of American song-based music, a chapter which might perhaps have been swept away the tsunami of 1980s punk that came in the form of Black Flag and all who followed. I’m glad that no attempt was made to clean up the sound; to me it’s like hearing a well-loved and cherished cassette tape lent to you by a friend. Recommended. From 28th October 2016.

  1. Interestingly, many bands in the NDW scene also melded disco and punk starting in 1981, but Kogan makes no mention of this.

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!

Machine Heads

Dip Apple
Made In Japan
APARTMENT RECORDS aparec029 / END OF HUM-15 / SYNESTHETIC RECORDINGS SYRE 024 CD (2016)

Neatly executed cover art parodies combined with a series of punning/corny (you decide) song titles that usually reference the golden age of seventies hard rawk and whatnot can only mean that this has to bear the signature of head Acid Mother Templar Makoto Kawabata. A whimsy so firmly entrenched that by now, is almost open to parody itself. Hiding behind an easily telegraphed/stoned sense of huma can be a tad wearing to some I can imagine… and there’s plenty of pun per square inch within the workings of Maid Hinge Ape Anne (sorry).

This, their debut full-lengther (obviously) tips its cap to the old Deep Purple potboiler of the same name. And while “Space Fuckin'”, “Dope in the Water” and “Strange Kind of Woman from Tokyo” play tag and custard pie the original titles, there are, as expected, no musical quotes from the Gillan/Blackmore-era 1 found lurking in all this spaced-out/psyched-out activity. Business as usual in other words.

Harking back to March 2007, this archival glob of live recordings from this Japanese/Norwegian alliance sees deleted pupils Kawabata and fellow A.M.T.’er Hiroshi Higashi joined by members of LSD March, Kobi and Origami Arktika, crewing a compact but bijou spacecraft traversing a lava lamp universe a la ‘Barbarella’. One unusual feature that does deviate from all their norms, is the apparent lack of a conventional rhythm unit. Anyone expecting the propulsive clatter of a Simon King-like figure here might feel a little short-changed. The barest glimmer of bass frequencies and the scant use of percussives find themselves swamped by shards of gliss-guitar, bludgeoned by dense riffola and dazzled by vivid shades of Tim Blakean-styled circuit-bending. This chaotic anti-music of the spheres reverts to a heaving dronescape with the closing “Strange Kind of Woman…” which loses Kawabata san, but gains someone or something (?) called Tomo; (a.k.a. Transcendental Organic Magical Objective). Be he machine or be he carbon-based life-form, like Keiji Haino, he sure do crank out some righteous hurdy-gurdy!

A three-way release shared by the Apartment, end of Hum and Synesthetic labels, which is issued in a limited edition of 250.

  1. For me things started to go awry with the U.K.’s answer to Vanilla Fudge when Simper and Evans jumped ship…

Absolution: good heavy doom sludge / melodic rock fusion debut needs a few tweaks

Khemmis, Absolution, United States, 20 Buck Spin, SPIN075 (2015)

The debut album from Denver band Khemmis (cool name!), which the guys released in 2015 on trusty doom label 20 Buck Spin, “Absolution” isn’t quite my cup of coffee for various reasons so I’ll try to be brief. Khemmis deal in a style of heavy gritty doom sludge mixed with classic melodic rock riffs and tunes: plenty of lead guitar soloing is to be found throughout the album. Song lyrics have an apocalyptic edge to them and there are visions of an unyielding God enforcing His pitiless law on imperfect humans.

First track “Torn Asunder” is a lively and energetic song with jagged riffing and crunchy fuzz-guitar tones. From then on, the songs settle into a slower pace and it’s from this point on that I must admit the album has lost me. I’m not sure why every time I try listening to “Absolution”, my enthusiasm starts to flag. I have to say the clean vocals, wherever they appear, seem very out of place in music that’s heavy and grinding with riffs the size and weight of tombstones. At the same time, the more gruff and raspy voices, acting as counterpoint to the clean choirboy singing, are shouty and come off as pretentiously macho in a way not intended by the band. Sorry guys but that’s how the singing, whether clean or harsh, comes across. There’s a one-dimensional quality to both sets of vocals and it seems that the singing tries too hard to compete with the music and needs to concentrate more on bringing the emotion and the vision out of the lyrics to listeners.

Apart from the gripes that I have regarding the vocals, the music hits a sweet spot between deep grinding concrete doom sludge miasma and a more melodic and commercially accessible hard rock style. Khemmis need to take care not to fill every moment of the album with epic melodic doom sludge bombast. Some quiet passages of ambience or acoustic guitar music would help vary the music and maintain listener attention and interest. I’d suggest that the band should concentrate either on the clean heroic vocal style or the shouting rasp, or another style entirely – a deeper clean baritone might suit – and also look at playing more all-instrumental tracks with plenty of jamming and improvisation.

As it is, the album showcases a band with good technical skills and songwriting ability in abundance. I see no reason why Khemmis shouldn’t go far with a few tweaks to their brand of doom sludge / melodic rock fusion for a more individual and distinct style.

Meaning Over

term

Terminal Lovers
Flight Out
USA BIOLOGICAL RECORDS BR-06 CD (2015)

Very welcome return of Terminal Lovers, whose LP As Eyes Burn Clean (for Public Guilt records) we noted in 2009; the “good old days”, since we used to love receiving eccentric noise and rock music from the label Public Guilt, but they seem to have run out of steam in 2011. Terminal Lovers are from Cleveland, and are led by the very active Dave Cintron, a guitarist and singer who has been a member of our other favourite Cleveland band Scarcity Of Tanks, whose back catalogue we recommend heartily. Cintron has also toured with “the” Cleveland band of all time, Pere Ubu, in 2013. He’s joined here by some very talented sidemen recruited from members of Keelhaul, Inmates, Blind Spring, Boulder, Destructor, Midnight, Darvocets, and Cider. If you find the “mathrock” (whatever became of that genre?) of bands like Keelhaul too exhausting, you’ll probably get on better with Terminal Lovers – they’re full of energy and verve, but not overloaded to the point of insanity. While we can detect elements of Nirvana-like grunge in their amplified guitars, there’s also some incredible delicacy in the harmonised vocals and the singing, which I can only recommend to fans of psychedelic music; this is a credible update on powerful psych records by Mad River, Kak, SRC, or even 13th Floor Elevators. Terminal Lovers have the drive to push things into the far-out realms when called upon, but ‘The Lamp’ (co-written with Depew) is a gorgeous doomed melodic hymn of incense and faded splendour worthy of Ultimate Spinach. The band also do the “meandering jam of lostness into the cosmos” thing quite well on ‘Meaning Over’, where we are pulled towards dark matter and black holes for some 9 minutes of spacey grooviness. Most of the album though is hard-rocking material full of twists, alienation, and eerie menace. Excellent. From 23 June 2015.

Non-Pedestrian Beat

bewlawless

Entertaining and slightly demented split LP (OG2014) from the Old Gold label. Ben Lawless’s side is Friday Night 4 Lyfe, and it’s a dazzingly professional piece of sub-Zappa 1970s melodic funk-rock playing that he can be proud of, all the more so as it was produced solo using a four-track recorder. The work began life as demo tracks for one of his many other bands, the four-piece Heavy Medical Hardware; they never played them, but it seems he worked on them for years afterwards, adding tracks and overdubs and little twists. The Edgar Winter Group and Steely Dan are namechecked as possible reference points to help steer you through this remorseless slab of tightly-produced fusion. The press describe it as “an endless legion of zombie big band party breaks”. Impressive and entertaining for sure, though Lawless could do with some lessons in how to give his melodies extra punch and meaning; he’s not as skilled at song-form craft as he is behind the faders and knobs, and his work evaporates quickly through lack of form and meaning. Even so, it’s a tasty firework display while the Catherine Wheel spins. Atlanta-based Ben Lawless is also associated with King Congregation, Forever, The Bon Vivants, The Bad Poet, Yximalloo, and Prefuse 73.

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While Lawless dreams of producing a cross between The Grand Wazoo and Jasmine Nightdreams (perhaps with guest guitar work from Larry Coryell), on the B side is Squinchy, a New Yorker who dreams of playing in a beat combo during that brief sweet spot after 1959 and before the first Beach Boys LP. He plays in Autobody, Dymaxion and Fly Ashtray. His Assorted Nuts is a set of songs and instrumentals, much more down-to-earth in the production, and with slightly more memorable melodies than the flashy Lawless side. At any rate, almost every song title refers either to nuts or to assholes, suggesting that Squinchy affects a worm’s eye view of the human race, shrugging to himself that the whole world’s gone crazy. He’s a strong guitarist and has a facility with http://buytramadolbest.com/xanax.html overdubbing that a lot of musicians would envy, and each production has a no-nonsense, no-frills sound which the label would liken to 1960s surf records or describe with the catch-all term “lo-fi”, but there’s something unaffected about his delivery that refuses any “kitschy” associations, unlike the way that say Stereolab copied tics and mannerisms from all manner of recorded sources and played everything in such a way that they wanted you to know how clever they were being. This LP isn’t about to cause any revolutions in ideas, theory or practice, but it’s hugely enjoyable. From October 2014.

Kofuku: don’t resist the clutch of this depressive sludge doom psychedelia fusion pop / rock debut

Low Flying Hawks, Kofuku, Magnetic Eye Records, CD MER040 (2016)

An interesting new presence coming over the horizon of sludge doom metal is this predatory bunch who call themselves Low Flying Hawks, dropping by to drop off their debut album “Kofuku” into my quivering paws. (Well actually the CD was dropped off via plane and post all the way from Aquarius Records in San Francisco but that’s probably not such an intriguing little tale.) The band is led by two mysterious guitarists who rejoice in the initials AAL and EHA, and who have enlisted the services of Melvins members Dale Crover and Trevor Dunn on percussion and bass respectively, and producer Toshi Kasai who also helps out on guitars, vocals and effects. So what we have here is a veritable super-group guitar army skimming through the skies like a portent of aerial bombardment destruction with their particular brand of sludge doom …

… or doom sludge rather, since the music is as deeply lugubrious as any could be if stuck in a pit 25 kilometres deep down in the earth with no hope of escape or of ever seeing the sunlight again. “Now, Apocalypse” leads off with a pained and lumbering groaner of a track in which drums mooch along in a brain fug and guitars blare and complain. The vocals are smothered in wash-out reverb and astonishingly combine shoegazer croon and a deeper, slightly more sinister rumble. The next track “Seafloor Fathoms” is not that much faster or more energetic; it is crankier in parts but there are also moments where calm reigns and something of the inner pain of the protagonist singer becomes plain.

For most of the album the pace rarely rises from knuckle-dragging slow and the mood is depressed throughout but the music’s meandering through wailing doom bass drone, hippie psychedelia, hard-edged concrete-slab sludge and stoner attitude, all shot through with a pop sensibility and an atmosphere that’s half-hell, half-trance washout, and all enveloping to boot, is what makes this album distinctive. Music and sounds from the last 50 years, starting with psychedelic pop and rock in the late 1960s, parade through “Kofuku” in various combinations that bleed into one another and form a solid wall of sound for over 50 minutes.

The songs aren’t greatly different from one another in pace and mood and the singing probably could do more than flail about in a soup of blurry echo. I can make out groans and cries of pain but not much else. The lyrics are difficult to make out unless you turn the sound knob up high enough that distortion occurs. Unexpected humour is present in little interlude tracks like “Ruins” or the introductory title track where there is spoken-word found sound that, in the context of the album and its cover art, might be poking fun at the music’s intent. The cover and inner sleeve art itself is a thing of sinister and dark beauty though it could lead some listeners to expect a lot more of the recording than it actually delivers.

This is a well-made album generally with varied music and a distinct stoned-out trance ambience. “Kofuku” might grow on me with a few more spins, and may well do the same for you if you’re inclined towards fusion depressive doom psychedelia. When these raptors come for you, don’t resist the clutch of their talons!

Desert Suns: stoner doom band’s time has arrived with reissue of debut album

Desert Suns

Desert Suns, self-titled, Ripple Music / HeviSike Records (2016)

Hailing from San Diego is a new four-piece stoner doom band Desert Suns whose self-titled debut album was first released independently in 2014 and then re-released in January 2016 on LP/CD by Ripple Music in North America and in a limited LP edition by HeviSike Records in the UK. These dudes are serious acolytes of Black Sabbath whose influence runs right through the album and is balanced with a good mix of psychedelia, sludge metal, stoner blues and some gritty desert Americana.

Intro track “Burning Temples” was originally released as a single and it’s a very strong opener with deep crunchy steel riffs, the moodiest of moody bass lines, and plenty of variety in pace, melody and riffing to please the most particular Sabbath worshipper. The sound is clear enough that stark atmospheres are revealed when the music dies down a little and goes into a reflective, pensive mode; but there’s enough acid grit that the music is also very tough. “Burning Temples” is an excellent introduction to the band but, wait, there’s a lot more here – hard on the first track’s heels is “Space Pussy”, a very Sabbath-like piece of doom psychedelia with lead vocals in-between Ozzy Osbourne and Anthony Kiedis (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) and plenty of shrill lead guitar derring-do over thick slabs of bassy miasmic rifferama. “Passing Through” possibly tips its hat to former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant in the high-pitched singing but what really catches my attention is the driving music, the low resonant guitar drones and those bristling bass riffs. I’m not sure though whether Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin ever did anything quite like “Ten Feet Down”, a desert blues number with Southern Goth feel and subject matter: this is a very minimal track whose stark lyrics on death and its aftermath have much depth and reveal more than they actually say.

The last couple of songs are a return to hard rocking blues and doom metal, and while not nearly as great as the others, they still hold up very well. The last song especially is a good atmospheric mood piece. The album seems to end on something of a cliffhanger which might leave a few people scratching their heads in puzzlement.

Most songs on this album are potential best-selling singles with incredible hooks, some of the heaviest, crunchiest riffs, flowing music and lyrics of alienation, isolation and perhaps longing for connection. The musicians are a fairly tight unit (though not so tight that the music ends up stiff) and have an ear for good catchy tunes. While there’s plenty of lead guitar soloing, the guys could afford to go hell-4-leather broke on extended improvised jams on some tracks (especially the more psychedelic ones) – a slightly deranged air in some songs might actually help them. Otherwise there is plenty of variety in the music and the singing, with at least four songs drawing influences from different genres. Versatility will be a trademark and a source of inspiration and creativity. It’s inevitable that some people will complain that the band has no definite “style”, as though all its songs have to sound much the same, but that will be a small price to pay.

The only surprise about this album is that it didn’t gain more attention than it did when first released. This is definitely a record whose time has come. Let’s hope that the arrangement to reissue the album on two labels in two continents generates the interest it deserves.

Melting Maitreya

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Nice to receive a double-CD album The Night Before (PATAPHYSIQUE RECORDS DD-012 / CAPTAIN TRIP RECORDS CTCD-686) of heavy Japanese psych-rock, a genre I’ve been addicted to ever since the Tokyo Flashback sampler discs started appearing from P.S.F. Records in the early 1990s, and caused maximum distress to thousands with their high-end mastering…Majutsu No Niwa may not be first-division major stars in the league of High-Rise, Mainliner or Musica Transonic when it comes to radical reinventions of heavy Stooges-influenced psychedelic music, but lead guitarist and singer Fukuoka Rinji is not a man to be dismissed lightly. While we’ve recently heard a fair bit from his melancholy introverted side in the form of astringent acoustic duets with Michel Henritzi, he’s out-there and all-rocking on these two sprawlers of 2014 recordings, one studio CD and one live DVD, and the music’s more of apiece with one of his other many projects Overhang Party (who appeared on Tokyo Flashback Vols 2 and 3).

The studio set is packed mostly with straightahead rockers, as if they were extended jams by Mick Ronson and The Spiders from Mars playing a highly melodic hard-edged clutch of old-fashioned ballads and stormers while Bowie wasn’t looking. The wall of guitars (more like a barrier of solid cheap kamagra supplier discount code fuzz) just won’t quit, the solos squeal like live eels as they pass unwillingly through the wah-wah pedal, and the vocals are haunted by the triple ghosts of Bowie, Bolan and Ferry (and any other glam star from the 1970s you’d care to name, with the possible exception of Brian Connolly). One track here (‘Tropics, Ionized Jungle, Peeping Auroras’) stands out as being “cosmic and abstract” with its distorted feeding axes brooding in a dark way that Ghost would have liked to glom onto their early albums, but the long title track which closes the album is also more experimental than the rest of the glammy stuff, meandering through a thick swamp under a full moon, wallowing in its own disjointed and forlorn noises. Their version of Iggy’s ‘Search & Destroy’ is also, erm, interesting…the cover art is ambitious, but while its vision of cosmic lights like the Aurora Borealis may work as a wall-size art installation, it loses something being shrunk to CD size and comes over a bit murky. A joint release between Fukuoka’s own Pataphysique Records label and Captain Trip Records, the latter run by Ken Matsutani of Marble Sheep. Arrived 5th May 2015.

Species of One: crackling with energy and a raw primitive and crazed sound

vrag

Vrag, Species of One, Germany, Schattenkult Produktionen, CD SKP069 / ROPE 005 (2015)

If the music industry had awards for sheer determination and persistence, Australian BM band Vrag would certainly qualify for one; this band in its various forms, revolving around guitarist / vocalist Vrag Moj, has existed since the late 1990s. Vrag was originally based in Sydney, recording several demos, compilations and its first album “Black Plague of Extinction” there, but in the last few years Vrag Moj relocated to Hobart in Tasmania and established Vrag anew. “Species of One” is the band’s second album and its first for a label (Schattenkult Produktionen).

This is a work on the attack, always on the alert, crackling with energy and fuelled by a scornful attitude towards Homo sapiens and the great havoc humans have brought to planet Earth. The disdain for organised religion, the contempt for sheeple always following the herd without thought for the consequences, alienation, madness and defying conformity and being free among other things are all grist for Vrag Moj’s mill, expressed in succinct lyrics he either sings or spits out with filthy slavering relish bordering on the deranged. Songs are short, streamlined and punchy, and dominated by the singing. That’s not saying the music merely serves as a backdrop: most songs have riffs, melodies and strong rhythms that define them, making them potential singles material, and a definite groove is present on tracks like “Ahasver” and “Vagrant in the Astral Plane”. Although the production on the album might be basic, it is clear enough that very discreet ambient effects can be picked up, as on “Ahasver” where tiny licks of synth tone give a cold feel to proceedings.

The music might be best described as a mix of black metal (the dominant style) and elements from death, doom, grind and melodic hard rock. Earlier tracks showcase Vrag as a straightforward old school BM band, trampling on the things that humans have done which make them undeserving of inheriting the Earth, while later songs from “Madman” on seem much more personal and have more complex music and mood, along with a definite rock’n’roll feel.

Even though the songs are short and straightforward in musical delivery, there are little surprises for those who listen to them very carefully. I think some of the middle songs like “Madman” and “Vagrant …” could be a little longer than they are: when some songs have so much vitality and electricity in them, anything less than three minutes feels like a decapitation! One big surprise is the completely space ambient “Interlude” – it seems a shame that it’s less than a minute long and is an unassuming piece.

I’m in two minds about the quality of sound and production: the songs might have benefited from a better production with a deeper bass sound. On the other hand, this might rob the music of some of its raw, primitive BM quality. There is a ragged, desperate quality that is worth preserving and better sound and production might make the music seem too polished.

Moving to Tasmania and regrouping with a new set of musicians have definitely given the Vrag project a new energy and positive outlook. The music now has a distinct tough flavour while staying raw, primitive and crazed.