ROTW: Stereo Master!

“What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
   By any other word would smell as sweet”

But what if that rose was a band, and what if that band was called Bilbong Baggins? Would it sound as sweet? If you’re a longtime reader of the old aQ list and/or this WDYLI? blog, then the answer is probably 100% yes. So many of our favorite bands came to our attention solely based on having a ridiculous moniker, and we are rarely disappointed. I guess the idea is that a mind demented and warped enough to come up with a baffling band name, is probably also gonna come up with the music to match.

Which brings us back to Bilbong Baggins. A mysterious group that the label who put out this cassette (Atrocious Gnosis, also an amazing name for a label) describes as “Cryptic Doom about wizards, bugs and drugs”, and as if that didn’t already potentially promise too much, their description finishes by simply saying: “Better than Sabbath.” Which is true, assuming you wish Black Sabbath sounded more like Rusted Shut, and that Ozzy sounded more like some hybrid of Keiji Haino and a dying wildebeest, and that the guitar riffs sounded more like maybe some of the strings were missing and probably all of the tuning pegs were sheared off in a fit of noise-doom freakout, but the band decided ‘fuck it’ and continued on sans strings, tuning pegs and any real tuning at all.

That’s not to say there aren’t some solid riffs, there most definitely are, but they’re rendered in various shades of ‘fucked up’, the vibe being WAY more basement drug jam that epic doomage. “Weednado” sounds like weirdo country fuck-ups Jon Wayne crossed with Captain Beefheart, peppered with some crappy, almost Brainbombs-ish trumpet bleats. “The Wizard Approaches” gets heavy, but seemingly the heavier the guitars get, the more unhinged and over the top croony the vocals become, but it does definitely veer into some serious stumble-doom territory. Meanwhile album closer “The Horn Of The Ancient Alpine Elders” sounds like disembodied bits of black metal mixed with weird floorcore noisejams, a little Faxed Head handicap-core and a lot of lo-fi clatter and crumble.

Throughout the rest of the record, in between the above highlights, the band explores minimal, 4-track plod rock, fractured outsider psych, hushed bedroom folk damage and – on “Birds Of Death”, maybe our favorite jam here – some awesomely ham-fisted organ/synth noise-prog. That's rendered with the keyboard component cranked, and constantly jittering and jerking from note to note. That track eventually gets all tangled up with more horns and turns into a pretty mesmerizing weirdo psych jam.

And the oozing, rotten cherry on the top of the whole thing is the amazingly amateur high school binder, ballpoint pen cover art. Ta da, Record Of The Week.

So if you like your doom decidedly UN-doomy, and if you like your fucked up, basement-brawl, bruised and bloodied noise rock just a little bit doomy, or if you just dig stuff like Rusted Shut, Drunks With Guns, Puffy Areloas, Twin Stumps, Brainbombs, Drunkdriver, Homostupids or No Balls, but ONLY if that stuff is recorded on a busted up Walkman in a pile of broken bottles at the bottom of a smelly old trash can and fronted by a drunk and disgraced Vegas crooner, then Bilbong Baggins just might be your sweet smelling rose.

It’s probably also worth mentioning that the Atrocious Gnosis label is run by a longtime aQ pal, who is also the genius behind Book Of Sand, who has a new record out called Postmodern Witchcraft on Auris Apothecary, which recasts BoS’ previously more black metal sound in the form of creepy reverb drenched garage rock. Sounds weird maybe but it’s so beautiful and pretty much perfect. Obviously HIGHLY recommended as well…


ROTW: Liquid Crystal Despair!

Our Record Of The this Week comes from Portland, Oregon's JonnyX And The Groadies. It makes sense that we flipped for these guys big time back in the day (they started off as a punk band in the late '90s and put out their first proper full-length in 2005). Originally described to us circa that album's release as being 'party black metal,' they actually kind of lived up to what could have potentially been a fairly unappealing sonic combo concept. Plus, they were called JonnyX And The Groadies! And as much as we may have (maybe surprisingly) had an aversion to what we call 'costume rock,' something about the Groadies' look – a glam metaller, a scientist, a bearded rocker and a skeleton (!) – when combined with their epic, over the top synth-soaked black metal influenced cybergrind, was kind of irresistible and pretty goddamn genius.

It’s been a while since we heard from JXTG (eight years!) and they’ve now rebranded themselves as purveyors of 'Lazer blackened trans-dimensional cosmic-thrash,' which is surprisingly pretty accurate, especially as it concerns their latest release, Liquid Crystal Despair, a head-spinning sci-fi concept record about, well… shit, we have no idea what it's about actually… crystals probably, and despair… um… and liquids? But sonically, it's a dizzying mix of furious blasting beats, space-y electronics, raspy blackened vocals, epic melodies, all wreathed in a killer production and laced with the sort of oddball detail that made them so original and unique in the first place.

It’s pretty ambitious too, with moments of moody ambience, haunting piano passages, stretches of gloomy dungeon synth, some almost Viking metal sounding majesty, swirling, squelchy electronics, and wild programmed rhythms. But all of that is in service to a sound that solidly places them in some solid black-thrash company. The songwriting is top notch, with the sound easily shifting from furious buzzing, to crushing bombast, to moody, metallic mesmer… A reviewer online compared it to some kind of mix between Celtic Frost and Hawkwind, and besides being something we would (and should) have said about them, it’s pretty spot on! Hear for yourself via their Bandcamp page, where, aside from digital, you can buy the physical album on either 12" vinyl, chrome cassette tape, or CD-R:


NWOFHM 101, part two

While we didn't post a ROTW last week due to the patriotic holiday, at least I managed to finish this – at long last, what folks have been quietly clamoring for (I can only assume, having no evidence either way): the follow-up post to part one of my New Wave Of Finnish Heavy Metal primer.

Part two covers a bunch more crucial bands in the so-called NWOFHM movement, which is, as previously discussed, a bit of a joke hatched by our friends from Finnish neo-krautrock legends Circle. Yet, a lot more than a joke.

In the more than a year-and-a-half (!) since I posted part one, we've seen the release of a few more efforts in the NWOFHM realm, including a Circle album, Terminal, on mostly metal label Southern Lord, and more recently an excellent new Pharaoh Overlord, Zero. Then there was the Danko Jones/Circle side project Iron Magazine who put out a 12" last year, and also, more recently, the second Split Cranium 'crossover' collaboration featuring members of CircleIsis, Converge, Mammifer and Old Man Gloom. Perhaps most notable, though, was the first release in six years from Steel Mammoth, Atomic Oblivion! None more NWOFHM than them, so as promised, they'll kick off this 2nd part of our NWOFHM 101 primer, here goes...

STEEL MAMMOTH!!! Probably Jussi & Co.’s flagship act when it comes to pure NWOFHM stuff (and “post-grunge” stuff too). The sheer metalness of their name, album titles, song titles, cover graphics, adds up to NWOFHM heroes. Steel Mammoth is a joke wrapped in a riddle inside an iron fist wearing a velvet glove, etc., etc.

The band is fronted by the signature voice of the NWOFHM, Ville Pirinen aka Garfield Steel. He’s a quirky Finnish indie rocker and visual artist with a bunch of different bands on his C.V. that predate his involvement in the NWOFHM scene, such as the blues rock/synth pop of Black Audio, which you can definitely hear a bit of in Steel Mammoth. Also, Pirinen currently is part of one of thee best bands in the current wave of ‘female-fronted occult rock’ bands, Seremonia – a subject for another post someday. Check out Seremonia though if you’re at all into bands like Blood Ceremony and The Devil's Blood - they’re by far the most legitimately psychedelic of the lot! Another guy from Seremonia is in Steel Mammoth too, Ilkka Vekka, who is also behind the psychedelic/noise/industrial project Haare.

As far as Steel Mammoth goes, all their albums and eps are essential NWOFHM listening, here’s but a taste, beginning with "Nuclear Barbarians" off of their 2007 debut:

This next track, "Extinction," from their third album Nuclear Ritual (2009), is a big fave too. When we reviewed that release on the aQuarius list, we compared this album-ending eight-plus minute song's lumbering stoner/doom riffage to Witchcraft and Jex Thoth, and went on to say that it "eventually morphs into an extended lysergic jam worthy of Circle in its krautiness, with a bassline that Rick Rubin woulda loved on Bloodsugarsexmagic, that never seems like it will end and when it does you'll want to start it again... With results like this, Steel Mammoth are doing something right, even if they're playing metal 'wrong'." Check it out:

And finally, here's a video of a track from 2011's Nuclear Rebirth, the second in the trilogy of vinyl-only albums that has seen Steel Mammoth evolving into sounding like an actual metal (or metalpunk) band, a super thrashy and gnarly one at that:

AKTOR!!! A collaboration between Jussi and the almost equally prolific Chris "Professor" Black of Dawnbringer and High Spirits fame. It sounds like an '80s keyboard infused, sci-fi frazzled version of High Spirits in a lot of ways, trading the positive pop metal sound of that band for something equally poppy but more paranoid, definitely heavily influenced by Blue Öyster Cult circa The Revölution By Night and even Club Ninja. Plus a dose of Angel Rat era Voivod and, I dunno, maybe even some Return To Forever. And, 'cause of the BÖC thing, this band may perhaps remind some folks of Sweden's Ghost as well.

So far, Aktor is responsible for one wonderful full-length in 2015 and, before that, a 7" single from 2013. Here’s the A-side of that single:

Good news though – Aktor have a new 2018 album coming out SOON, teaser track here:

ARKHAMIN KIRJASTO!!! Jussi, again, with support from one of the other Steel Mammoth guys, takes the NWOFHM into Nordic black metal territory, sort of a la Darkthrone and Satyricon. But way weird and psychedelic and Lovecraftian (the band's name in English is "Arkham Library"). They've put out two 7" singles and a full-length album, and in the aQuarius review of the latter we noted that "if their tongues are in cheek here, they're well hidden." Serious rockin' death/black metal business happening here. In fact, it's the least metal tracks on there that sound the most typically NWOFHM. Here's a taste, a video for the opening track on their Torches Ablaze (2012) album:

OK, so that wraps up our run down on thee NWOFHM essentials so far! However, stay tuned someday for part three of this primer, where I'll dig into the 'roots of the NWOFHM' (inspirations and influences) and also discuss some other contemporary non-Finnish bands that kind of fit into the NWOFHM sound, like Realmbuilder. Or perhaps I'll save those for an eventual part four... which could include mention of the non-Circle-related, actual New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal from Finland (NWOTHMFF?) including Iron Griffin, Lord Fist, Angel Sword, Rotör and more.

But, before we go today, if you have another 18 minutes to spare, and haven't already wandered down some YouTube hole as a result of the above, gonna leave you with this 'bonus track' – an up close and personal documentary segment about the life and art of Garfield Steel himself, from Sami Sänpäkkilä's 'A Day In The Mouth' series:

All hail the NMOFHM! (–Allan)