9/19/2017

ROTW: Acid Nightmares!


This week, another easy, greasy, brain-frying pick. First off, it's a new release from the excellent Numero label, and it's hard to go wrong with anything put out by them. Second off, it's an entry in their Wayfaring Strangers series. No, actually, better yet, their WARfaring Strangers series.

Which means this new archival compilation of extremely rare cuts from a whole lot of trippin' hippies is a sequel of sorts to one of our all-time favorite anthologies from Numero or anywhere, the wizardly Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles collection of obscure proto-metal treasures they put out three years ago!

This one’s maybe a bit less mystical D&Dish heavy prog, more garagey drug-addled acid rock, but if that’s a distinction it's one without much of a difference when it comes to awesomeness. It also includes a couple of drug fiending krautfits on it, as opposed to the all-American lineup of acts on the earlier comp. We've only heard of a few of the bands on here before, so this represents some deep digging. But that's what they do.

Fans of Darkscorch Canticles as well as RidingEasy's Brown Acid series (which is about to spawn its fifth volume, by the way!), should check this out pronto. And just peep that rad black light cover, something to dazzle the optic nerves while yer ears are getting dosed...

9/12/2017

ROTW: Down In The Bunker!



Hey, folks. Thus far, reviews here have been few and far between, we know. We’ve been working on various projects – including, slowly, ‘The Book’ – but would like to get more posts happening here.

So, gonna try to post, yes, a RECORD OF THE WEEK every week. Not necessarily a review, more like an alert, or announcement. A recommendation. An advisory. Regarding something that, were we still making ROTW choices for aQ, might have been this week’s model.

We’ll try to do this every Tuesday, in honor of the day of the week that the God of the Old Testament decreed was the Day of the New Release, before some fools changed that to Friday.

Our choice today is an easy one, a real doozy, coming from krautrockers German Oak, who are thee originators of (literal) Bunker-Funk, and Andee’s favorite krautrock band ever. Allan loves 'em a lot too, though can’t necessarily rate them higher than, say, Faust, Can or Amon Duul II. But they’re up there. And with this new, expanded, totes deluxe reissue of their mysterious masterpiece from back in 1972, maybe now really up there.

As you may recall, aQ reviewed a prior, bootleggish edition of German Oak’s self-titled album some years ago, making it a Record Of The Week then, naturally enough, and among the things said about it then was the following:

"Dark and frightening, ominous and rumbling. A huge cavernous space, giving everything the appropriate claustrophobic, underground feel, drums stumbling through the darkness, warm swells of guitar and organ billowing out like puffs of smoke. Almost ambient at times, pulsing and pounding at others… Super lo-fi but thick and heavy and lush in its own way. The sound of the bunker is definitely another instrument, a primitive caveman studio, adding a subterranean timbre to the creepy jams and abstract rhythms… So gorgeously spacey and ominous, throbbing and moody."

Amazingly, the Now-Again folks, who previously celebrated the essential Paternoster album with a reissue in this same fancy ‘Reserve’ series of theirs, have managed in some occult manner to get in contact with the original members of German Oak in order to fully excavate the bunker and make this expanded, remastered reissue package an undreamt-of reality. Which means, three LPs, three cds worth of German Oak’s bunker-brewed genius – with alternate, extended, & unreleased tracks! Also, the band’s preferred song titles are now featured, not the WWII-oriented ones found on the original private-press LP release. Which, incredibly enough, includes a track titled “Happy Stripes (On Cats)” – now that’s a bit different in mood from the likes of “Swastika Rising,” ain’t it?

Because of the change in some song names, and the sheer extra expanse of material on offer here, we’re still a little bit unsure of the exact overlap between German Oak recordings we’ve heard before and this release – it would appear the tracks from the Nibelungenlied disc that Witch & Warlock put out in ’92 are not included for some reason. If this was a proper review, we’d find out. Presumably, that information (and lots more) is probably in the band-sanctioned liner notes (with rare photos, etc.) included here, which we have yet to delve into.

Order from Forced Exposure while they’ve got copies! Stranded we’d imagine might have them too, vinyl anyway.

6/19/2017

Bad hobbits die hard

REVIEW: BARROW WIGHT KINGS IN SAURONS SERVICE CD/CS (HEAVY CHAINS RECORDS & TAPES, 2016)


Depending on your perspective, this release is either AOTYmaterial or totally dubious. Or both! Whatever it is, I like it. Here's the deal: Canadian underground metal combo Barrow Wight started life as a Venom cover band. You'll be able to tell right away – vocal-wise, the singer is a dead ringer for Cronos, for one thing. Along with his gravelly gargle, the raw bass-heavy riffage on offer here likewise owes a lot to Venom. But, as maybe you can glean from their name, this band is also obsessively into the Lord Of The Rings, that's their entire theme.

Now, Tolkien is a common enough lyrical influence in metal. Heck, it sometimes seems as if almost every black metal band is named after some place or personage in Middle Earth – and Venom was the original black metal band, after all – but still, the idea of the primitive, rippin' Motorhead-ed metal of Venom mixing with the more mystical high fantasy stuff that full-on Frodo fandom can conjure is just a bit wonderfully absurd.** 

In practice it is too, in a totally enjoyable way. Barrow Wight let us know that they are aware of the absurdity – you can't title a track "No Sleep Til Gondor" without a sense of humor – but they pull it off, sounding something like a cross between Venom (or contemporary metalpunks Midnight) and their fellow Heavy Chains recording artists Tarot! I mention the latter 'cause Barrow Wight's Tolkien side isn't just in the titles and lyrics, but is also made musically manifest a time or two via elements of hoary 'hobbit rock' from the sixties and seventies not commonly associated with Venom. Just listen to "Osgiliath" with its "Astronomy Domine" sounding parts:



The strains of Pink Floyd heard here help to make Barrow Wight stand out as being not just a mere Venom clone. Elsewhere, also, occasional echoes of the acid rock of Uriah Heep, The Doors, and/or Iron Butterfly crop up by surprise. One of the most overt examples of Barrow Wight's 'psychedelic prog chocolate in my metal punk peanut butter' songwriting schtick occurs at the two-and-a-half minute mark of "In League With Sauron" when the heavy, dirty riffing suddenly gives way to some groovy organ-based jam-a-lama, unexpected and exuberant.



The result of this stylistic collision is that Barrow Wight are one of the few bands around who, probably without even intending it, could hang with the similarly screwy likes of Meads Of Asphodel and Zemial (the musty majesty of the sinister, percussive "Dwimmerlaik" really reminds me of those genius Greeks).



Can I really justify my love for this album? At the end of the day, Barrow Wight of course aren't Venom – and they're a lot further from being Bo Hansson – but they do a good job of paying tribute to their idols, delivering on their dorky (but cool) cult concept without being too silly or too serious. Bottom line, this puts a grin on my face. So, yeah. Hail Sauron and rock on! (–Allan)

*That'd be 'Album Of The Year' for last year, but that's ok, 'cause we haven't finalized our 2016 lists yet.

**Though not as odd as the Tolkien-themed dub of Prince Far Isengard!

1/30/2017

Mellows un-harshed at any speed

REVIEW: KANDODO/MCBAIN LOST CHANTS/LAST CHANCE 2CD/2LP (ROOSTER ROCK, 2016)

Man, I really, really love this! Perhaps that's no surprise, considering that in its two principals it boasts the talents of one of The Heads and one of the Monster Magnets.

That's right, joining forces for this mellow, mantric psych rock guitar opus you've got Simon Price from British psych-garage-fuzz icons The Heads who records solo as Kandodo, and you've got John McBain, former lead guitarist for doped up American spacelords Monster Magnet, circa 1989-1993 (and more recently a Carlton Melton collaborator).

Along for the ride with those two guitar guys is the rhythm section from The Heads as well, Messrs. Morgan and Maskell. So make that three Heads and one Monster Magnets! Why, then, it's not billed as The Heads/McBain I dunno, but the music does come closer to the sort of spaced-out, synth-laden kraut channelling that Price's Kandodo project specializes in than it does the more manic fuzzfestering grungery typical of The Heads, delivering all-instrumental, lengthy, super stoned hypno-jams summoning the spirits of early Ash Ra Tempel, Agitation Free, and Guru Guru for sure. More current-day comparisons could be to Carlton Melton (natch), Hills, or a really, really relaxed Earthless, perhaps. Urthona, too.

These guys know what they're doing (drugs, one might assume) and it never gets boring or aimless, as this sort of thing might from lesser lights. There's a fluency and fluidity to this that's magical. Devotees of lulling, lolling reefer-riffery should not require much further encouragement – strap on the headphones and get ready to float away on these softly flowing waves.

So what more do you really need to know? Just one thing: making me love this even more, the album is explicitly intended to be played at either 45 or 33rpm, listener's choice. That is, at 45rpm, you'll hear what's presumably the original, 'normal' speed version of the recording, titled Lost Chants – but it's also meant to be played at 33rpm, becoming the slower, lower Last Chance opusSince there are no vocals, they can do this, it works pretty well. And as probably anybody would predict, the lugubriously lovely 33rpm version is perhaps the better of the two, but it's nice to have both. These spacey grooves are already pretty monumental at any speed. Slowing 'em down just makes 'em even more enjoyably endless seeming, more somnolently enveloping, and of course 'more heavier.' A real nod scene. But then, sometimes I'm in the mood for the sharper, relatively jaunty (but still lumberous and slumberous) Lost Chants original.

Each track even has a different title assigned to it depending upon the chosen playback speed, a nice touch. For example, opening track "Blowed Out" on Lost Chance at 45 becomes "Really Blown Out" on Last Chance at 33; likewise track four "Chant Of The Ever Circling (Last Vulture)" stretches out into the "Chant Of The Every So Slowly Circling (Last Vulture)" in its slower, downpitched incarnation, and so forth. At least, that's what the internet (Discogs) tells me, though the compact disc edition I'm reviewing doesn't include the 33rpm track titles anywhere I can find. However, as a further nice touch, it has been issued as a double, with Lost Chants one one disc and Last Chance on the other, so those of us like myself who prefer cds over vinyl can hear both versions without having to invest in a variable speed CDJ player (still wish I had one of those, though...).

I also kind of wish they'd have gone and made it a triple cd, with a 16rpm disc as well. Though actually then it would have to be a quadruple cd, 'cause the 33rpm disc is already near capacity at over 74 minutes so you'd need two discs for the 16rpm version. Still, c'mon! Of course, I guess if you get the vinyl and have a turntable that spins at 16 rpm (or you own one of those aforementioned CDJs) you can still listen to that unauthorized, even slooooower version for which no alternate song titles have been provided.

Again though, whatever speed you play it at, this album is... just such a pleasant place to be. Like I said, I really love it. Heck, I've been wanting to do a write up on this literally since it came out in September, but every time I put it on, well, I get a little lost in it. Where did the time go? (–Allan)

12/31/2016

Over eight hours of (aQ) hits!

Happy New Year, folks! And good riddance to 2016, ugh. As we all know, 2016 was not the best of years and aQuarius closing was the least of it. As we look forward (with hope and/or trepidation) to 2017, maybe it's more fun to look back... before 2016 that is...

I (Allan) was browsing in Amoeba the other day, and was surprised to find a copy of this incredibly rare, limited edition cd-r in the 'various artists' section of their experimental cd bin. At the bargain price of just $2.99, I had to pick it up, especially since I realized I didn't actually already have a copy myself. In fact, it took me a few seconds after I spied the cover to even recall what the heck it was...

Back in 2010, aQuarius had a big 40th Anniversary party, and we made a massive commemorative 'mix tape' for the event, in the form of a data cd-r of mp3's – 118 tracks, approximately 8 hours and 20 minutes of music! Pretty sure Andee compiled it, with input from the rest of us. We made just sixty numbered copies available to party-goers. (This one is #18/60.)

It featured a whole bunch of crucial faves we'd hailed on the aQ list between 1995 and 2010, everything from Os Mutantes to Philip Jeck to Uz Jsme Doma to Neutral Milk Hotel to Kathy McGinty to Beyond Dawn to Hatebeak to Boards Of Canada to The Bee Gees, and (of course!!) quite a few selections from The Conet Project, as well as choice cuts from The Ghost OrchidSounds Of North American Frogs, and Sounds Of American Doomsday Cults.

We mixed in some one-hit wonders at the shop like The Jones Machine and Jud Jud, as well as highlighting tracks by longtime staples of the aQ catalog like the mighty Circle, the Thai Elephant OrchestraVillage Of Savoonga, and the Ethiopiques series. And you'll find not just one but two f'ed up cover versions of Iron Maiden songs. So many obscure faves and favorite obscurities. While not totally comprehensive (it'd have to be another 8, or 10, or 20, or 100 hours long) it's still a pretty spot-on 'greatest hits' of a lot what we were listening to and raving about at aQ back in the day. Needless to say, our eventually forthcoming 'big book of aQ reviews' will include our write-ups about ALL of these, without a doubt.

Fyi, the text on the back of this disc's Conet-homage packaging reads as follows:

"aQ40: To commemorate the 40th anniversary of aQuarius recOrds, we've gathered up some of our all time favorite tracks from throughout the store's long and storied history, songs and sounds that defined the store, and helped make aQuarius one of the most idiosyncratic sources for far our sounds in the world. Many of these gems were aQ Records Of The Week, most of them are long out of print, and all of them are amazing! A sprawling sonic mix tape for our beloved friends and customers around the world. aQ would be nothing without all of you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your years of love, loyalty and support. And of course for loving music as much as we do!"

So, anyway, after stumbling across this quite awesome (imho) aQ40 mega-mix cd-r at Amoeba, I got the idea to edit it into a continuous, seamless mix (since it was just a playlist of individual mp3s before) and put it up on the internet to share with everyone. I split it into four parts of roughly two hours each to make uploading (and listening to) it a little easier. Here it is, enjoy – you can click through to Mixcloud to see the full track listings for each of the four parts, if you like:








12/16/2016

Jammers of misfortune

REVIEW: ULTRAPHALLUS THE ART OF SPECTRES CD/LP (SUB ROSA, 2016)

When we reviewed this Belgian unit’s previous disc, Sowberry Hagan, on the aQuarius list four or five years ago, for some reason we omitted to discuss their (ironically?) hyper-masculine name. That could have been the only review of them ever not to talk about how they chose to be called Ultraphallus. Well, gonna mention it now, if only to let you know that if you were to assume on account of their moniker that their music was especially aggro, ugly and crude, that would be an ultra-fallacy (sorry). While they are quite heavy and noisy, there’s an artier, and sometimes softer side to the Ultraphallus equation too (arty enough for the Sub Rosa label now, following an association with Riot Season).

Practitioners of a peculiar style of downer experimental sludge rock, Ultraphallus’ music on The Art Of Spectres can be a difficult, doomed-out listening experience, referencing a variety of diverse, deviant musical influences (a few they cite include the Swans, Autechre, "death-metal," and the Residents!) and rarified cinematic obsessions. For instance, one brief 1:23 interlude here is titled “The Death Of Mark Frechette,” memorializing an event which I googled so you don’t have to – Frechette, the star of Antonini’s cult classic Zabriskie Point, died in 1975 at the age of 27 in a prison weightlifting accident. Ouch.

Elsewhere, though, the album's morbid, ominous atmospheres are a bit more epic than that, Ultraphallus doing everything in their considerable power to create emotionally weighty, creepily cinematic soundscapes. A fundamental framework of shaking, shuddering drone-distortion and trance-inducing percussive pummel tends to run throughout these seven tracks, over which strange, often distressed singing occasionally intrudes. The vocals never really get deathly like you might expect; instead their stylings range from weirdly whispery to almost warbly melodic. The proceedings are also laced with electronic effects, disembodied trumpet, rhythmic reveries, and surprising moments of ambient bliss - providing more of a moody and unusual context for the slow, lumbering, ultraphallic sludgery of the guitars. RIYL: Oxbow, SwansOld Man GloomToday Is The DayThe BodyHey ColossusGnod... (–Allan)



12/03/2016

Slamz Jail special edition: Bölzer

REVIEW (WELL, SORTA): BÖLZER HERO CD/LP (IRON BONEHEAD, 2016)

On November 25th, the stylish, sludgy Swiss death metal duo Bölzer finally released their debut album following a few well-regarded eps. Compared to those eps, the eagerly awaited, but backlash-beckoning full-length has less in the way of "Wolfshook"-worthy riffs and more in the way of, um, shall we say controversial clean vocals. 

The present inmates of Slamz Jail take a listen and try to figure out what to make of it, first impressions...

Kirk: Have any of you sick metal fucks heard the new Bölzer? Lots of clean crooning.



Allan: I've been so curious, it's gotten pretty much universally bad reviews – makes me think I might like it!



Kirk: Yeah exactly! It's out officially now. You can stream it wherever. I think maybe the songs are a little long and drag a bit but they are really catchy and pretty and sad. Lots of wolf-howl croon.



Andee: The vocals are pretty painful, which makes me think Allan WILL like it.



Kirk: You think so? When I saw them live doing old songs and new the clean vocals made perfect sense. It flowed seamlessly. But the new one has basically no "metal vox.”

Andee: You know I love bad vox, but those seem bad BAD... to be fair, I've only heard one song, will check out the whole thing today.



Harry: Gonna give it a sneaky spin now.



Kirk: Curious to know what Harry thinks. My biggest complaint is just the song length.


Harry: Listening to first song...now. Enjoying the spooky Boy Scout whistling intro. This sounds immediately extremely good to me.



Kirk: That's good to hear. It's kinda got that Mithras spacey feel.



Harry: It does! But a bit more epic in the traditional metal sense of the word.



Kirk: Totes.


Harry: I think the vox are really cool.



Andee: You would.



Kirk: Yeah I don't know why people don't like ‘em.



Andee: You would too.



Harry: I dare say the vocals are putting hair on my chest in a somewhat Hellenic fashion. Lol.

Andee: This might be the most ridiculous 'metal' song i've heard in a while:





That OOOH AHHHH chorus. Woah.


Kirk: It's great!



Allan: Yeah, not bad at all, pretty cool actually... And listening to some more of the tracks on Hero right now, while I'm not ready (yet) to say it's a brilliant work of genius, it seems at least as good or better than a LOT of 'extreme metal' stuff out there that people seem to like – if different. And, honestly, I'd much rather listen to vocals like these on this album than 95% of the samey harsh/guttural/growling 'vokills' on most death and black metal releases.



Andee: Told ya! ...Things I like more than the new Bölzer: the new Witchery, the new Denouncement Pyre, and maybe surprisingly, the new Norma Jean.

Kirk: Dear god Andee.

Andee: Also the new Tomb Mold tape. New Adaestuo, new Crest Of Darkness is great too, and new KYY (rad Finnish BM)...

Allan: What's Tomb Mold? Sounds cool from the name.

Andee:



Allan: I like it... but the Bölzer is better.