Heavy Metal Grandeur: Holy Grove, Belzebong, Curse the Son (Promenade métallique #47)

HolyGrove  Greenferno  Isolator

There is a specific moment when I start listening to a heavy metal album for the first time in which I, as a metalhead, say to myself: well, I’m home. Of course it involves the sound, the genre premises, very often the riff, but it is not just this. Usually it happens a few moments after the first notes of introduction, and I would describe it as a big, welcoming gesture, as if the sound itself opens up to embrace the surrounding world. This has nothing to do with a particular genre, or an operatic attitude, no, it’s just the heavy metal grandeur, because a huge riff is not a feeble light in a back alley, it’s a tentative sun, although sometimes a black one.

Here are three examples from my recent listenings, taken from three very good records, full of good things and surprises after that exciting moment.

Death of Magic, first track of the first self-titled full-lenght by Holy Grove, has no intro, but with a rumble gets you right into it, the rolling riff grabs you like a dancer picking you up to the floor, and you start banging silently your head.

Diabolical Dopenosis, first track of the new album by Belzebong, Greenferno, opens with few strokes, the customary movie sample, and drown you right away in the big sea of heavy fuzz: and you’ll be carried away on the huge waves of doom for half an hour and more.

Isolator, the title track of the new album by Curse the Son, starts like a jazz-trio meditation, dangles on a nice riff, and then lands on the back of a marching cyclop («The sound of dinosaurs walking the Earth», they say of their music).

Holy Grove, Holy Grove, Heavy Psych Sounds 2016; Belzebong, Greenferno, Emetic Records 2015; Curse the Son, Isolator, self-released 2016.


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The handling of the heavy: Tombstones, «Vargariis»

VargariisIn their (relatively) new album, Vargariis, Tombstones show a distinctive quality, which had already hit me since the previous record (Red Skies and Dead Eyes, 2013): you keep on coming back to their sludgy doom, and give it another listen, and then another one, just for the pleasure of it, and so on. I’d love to find the exact musical reason for this coming back, for these repetitive listenings, but the only thing that I can point out for sure is their excellent «handling of the heavy» – which may sound obvious for a heavy metal band, but it’s not. The Norwegian trio knows exactly how to deal with heaviness, how to conjure it and carry it along, how to crush without choking, how to shake you down without burying you.

It’s all clear from from the beginning, since that single note that opens Barren Fields, a relaxed, self-assured, heavy note, which stands like a foundation, a clear statement, and then evolves throughout the entire track until the pacey ending (Tombstones are very good also at ending songs). Heaviness is the North of their compass, they always come back to it from their detours (the bluesy ones are quite good), and every little cue could be the starting of another rumbling feast, despite the structure of the song – little phrases, a storm of chords, the ghost of a riff (go to minute 3 of …and when the Heathen strive, Vargariis rise). The tone is always there: a nice, muddy, saturated tone; which is not just a matter of the guitar tone – although it’s a big part of it –, but the result of the three main ingredients (best results can be heard at the end of The Dark High and during Pyre of the Cloth): when they’re done with vocals, they hammer you down with undistracted focus – and that’s what we like the most, don’t we?

Tombstones, Vargariis, Soulseller Records 2015.


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Heavy-rhythm: Zirakzigil, «Worldbuilder»

WorldbuilderThe easy way would be to call it «heavy prog», as they say too, but I think Zirakzigil’s second album, Worldbuilder is much more than that. For starters, there isn’t a single drop of the typical show-off attitude pertinent to prog, on the contrary, the Portland trio seems to be engaged in a serious struggle, let’s say to control and to shape the power of the music they conjure. As their lives depend on it.

Zirakzigil turn down the usual devices of sludge/doom, huge riffs in the first place, and pursue the heaviness using the rhythm. You may say it isn’t such a great novelty, but in doing so they have almost succeded in finding their own voice. «Almost» because, any other musician, they don’t play in a vacuum, and because I wish them a long series of albums to come. Still, they own their sound.

Worldbuilder is mainly built upon two little rhythmic cells that, combined, open the first track, and then continue to emerge and transform in the flow of the four long songs, until the last, gorgeous track, Terra pericolosa (a nice Italian title). Easily recognizable, and very effective, either in their lightest or their heaviest form, they are like railroad tracks upon and around which Zirakzigil unleash their fury. Especially in the long instrumental sections, where the combined focus of the three musicians is impeccable.

Not an easy heavy to handbang to (particularly at my age), nontheless the energy of Worldbuilder is relentless, and sticks with you long after its last note: you want to feel again that feeling of being on top of a huge train speeding up in the night.

Zirakzigil, Worldbuilder, self-released 2015.


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Delightfully heavy: Slabdragger, «Rise of the Dawncrusher»

RiseOfTheDawncrusherEverything is delightfully heavy in Rise of the Dawncrusher, the new album by sludge/doom trio Slabdragger (from Croydon, London). It took five years to see the light, and finally we don’t have to dwell any longer in the memory of 2011 debut, Regress, and especially of Bab el-Mandeb, its spectacular first track.

Now we have four new long, splendid & massive tracks of heavy doom, plus one short aggression, and they are stuffed with riffs, beautiful first class riffs. And with appropriate screams too.

The tracks are long – eleven to seventeen minutes – because those riffs need space, not just for the right amount of repetitions, but above all for the fitting accommodation of their power.

You can start with the first one, from Mercenary Blues, which keeps on coming back through the sections of the track – slower, faster, slower. The sound of the guitar is thick, sometimes smoother, sometimes rougher, always perfect, always beefed up by a hardy bass.

It’s quite interesting to notice bits of different recipes scattered here and there: the best doom is never built just on previous doom. Dawncrusher Rising is a perfect example of this: it has a solid, recognizable doom base (a deep, colossal riff with high screams on top), but it also shows something unexpected in the middle section, something between twenty to twentyfive years old.

And if you listen closer to every track, after you’re done with the inevitable session of wild headbanging, you’ll find a lot more than the standard statement of the riff. You’ll get echoes, double voices, strange effects, huge drums, a powerful bass solo, curious fragments of other sounds.

I’ll get a flawless record that gives me all the heaviness I need, without filling my lungs with lead and darkness. The end of Implosion Rites, the beautiful last track, shows exactly what I mean.

Slabdragger, Rise of the Dawncrusher, Holy Roar Records 2016.


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Allegra serietà metallara: Augustine Azul; Izo (Promenade métallique #46)

Augustine Azul cover  IZO cover

1. A ripensarci la cosa che in questi mesi mi ha spinto a riascoltare più e più volte l’ep d’esordio degli Augustine Azul è la «gioia metallara» che sprigiona. Il power trio stoner brasiliano (di João Pessoa) sembra letteralmente danzare sulle sue note, trascinato soprattutto da una sezione ritmica formidabile. Dentro gli schemi collaudati, ma ancora capienti, del genere (che loro chiamano «instrumental progressivo») i tre infondono una vitalità entusiasmante che rende un po’ tutto nuovo. Basta l’attacco di 3>1 per ritrovarsi all’istante sull’ottovolante (e per ritrovare nella parte centrale del brano la perfetta dimostrazione dell’efficacia dell’unisono a tre – e gli antenati che vengono in mente qui sono nobilissimi…) e divertirsi un sacco. Da ascoltatore egoista spero che sia soltanto l’inizio…

2. A ripensarci la cosa che mi è piaciuta di più dell’omonimo album di debutto degli Izo è la «serietà metallara». Serietà con la quale il quartetto di Lecce dispone le proprie idee, prevalentemente sludge, e le esegue; serietà nel mettere sul tavolo le proprie influenze dichiarate e da lì partire verso altre direzioni (usando soprattutto la doppia chitarra); serietà nella scelta solo strumentale; serietà nella evidente preparazione che sta dietro il risultato finale. Izo è un disco potente ed eseguito con intenzione in ogni singolo passaggio, costruito attorno a quattro brani medio-lunghi che definiscono soprattutto un suono, steso come una corda tra un estremità più rarefatta (dove si possono apprezzare le distinte personalità dei quattro protagonisti) e una decisamente heavy (dove i quattro diventano uno – la mia preferita). Hikikomori è un esempio perfetto di questa doppia anima, serenamente diluita e improvvisamente concentrata a distanza di pochi secondi. Da ascoltatore egoista spero che sia soltanto l’inizio…

Augustine Azul, Ep 2015 self-rel.; Izo, Izo, Acid Cosmonaut Records 2016.


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The good drum and bass: Beehoover

PrimitivePowersSono molto contento che i Beehoover continuino per la loro strada, perché sono un duo basso e batteria («Not that drum’n’bass. The good drum and bass»), perché sono molto simpatici e perché tirano delle gran mazzate. Li seguo dal 2008, dall’ottimo Heavy Zoo, e trovo che questo loro ultimo album, Primitive Powers, rappresenti un gran ritorno alla loro vena migliore. E tale «vena migliore» di Ingmar Petersen (basso e voce) e Claus-Peter Hamisch (batteria e voce) la si potrebbe definire ferroviaria, essendo i loro brani più entusiasmanti paragonabili a treni in corsa a tutta potenza e senza freni. Ogni tanto, per così dire, aprono il diaframma, e suoni e strutture si allargano ai confini possibili dell’organico ridotto, ma poi si concentrano di nuovo sulle botte, rese poderose dalla impenetrabile compattezza che si può ottenere saldando insieme basso e batteria. Negli anni il tono generale si è appesantito e scaldato, il basso è ancora più pieno e le canzoni hanno gli angoli stondati – c’è meno rabbia e meno urgenza, ma non minore potenza.

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I am very happy that Beehoover keep on their way, because they are a duo (a drum & bass duo: «Not that drum’n’bass. The good drum and bass»), because they are very nice and because they are capable of real heaviness. I follow them since 2008, since the excellent Heavy Zoo, and I find their latest album, Primitive Powers, a great come back of their best inspiration. And I would call it a railway muse, because Ingmar Petersen (vocals and bass) and Claus-Peter Hamisch (drums and vocals) most exciting tracks are like trains running at full power and without brakes. Every now and then, they open the angle, and sounds and structures widen to the maximum capability of the two instruments, but then they focus again on the hammer, a really powerful hammer, resulting from the impenetrable consistency that can be obtained by tieing together bass and drums. Over the years, the overall tone has weighed and warmed, the sound of the bass is even fuller and the songs’ corners have been rounded – there is less anger and less urgency, but no less power.

Beehoover, Primitive Powers, Unundeux 2016.


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Battalions, «Nothing to Lose»

NothingToLosePer quanto mi riguarda tutto gira alla perfezione in Nothing to Lose, primo album dei Battalions, quintetto inglese di Kingston upon Hull attivo dal 2009. Lo si potrebbe definire uno sludge ‘n’ roll potente e urlato, ma loro preferiscono «alla vecchia maniera»: «Down tuned heavy rock with extreme vocals. We would call it sludge but we like the older stuff». Anzitutto ci sono i riff, ce ne sono tanti, belli e grossi: facce tutto sommato conosciute, ma che fa sempre molto piacere rivedere. Poi il suono delle chitarre, delle corde in generale: saturo, gonfio e pesante (cosa che non sorprende se si considera il contributo in sede di registrazione di Chris Fielding e Jon Davis dei Conan presso gli Skyhammer Studios). Su questa massa sonora «calda» si installa, a contrasto, una voce sorda e strozzata, che contribuisce ad alzare complessivamente la tensione.

Nothing to Lose è un album nel quale mi sono subito accomodato e dal quale sono uscito rinvigorito: per quanto mi riguarda non è una cosa trascurabile. Se proprio devo trovargli un difetto: è un po’ corto, ma sono certo che i Battalions provvederanno a ciò molti altri album a venire.

* * *

As far as I’m concerned, everything is perfectly right with Battalions’ debut album, Nothing to Lose. Banging since 2009, the five piece from Kingston upon Hull (UK) delivers a massive block of sludge ‘n’ roll, or, as they say, «down tuned heavy rock with extreme vocals. We would call it sludge but we like the older stuff». First of all, the riffs: there’s a plenty of ‘em: big, old, fat riffs; not entirely new, but like old friends you always meet with joy; that kind of riffs that are planted in your metal head, and you instantly recognize when you hear them, and start to virtually bang your head. Second of all, the strings’ tone: thick, stuffed, warm and heavy (not surprising if you consider the recording credit to Chris Fielding and Jon Davis of Conan at Skyhammer Studios). The fast and exciting ride is topped by choked and belligerent vocals, that come as a good match, by contrast, of the sonic mass, and give to the tracks a distinctive edge.

I feel comfortably at home in this album, I feel, if I may say so, encouraged. Maybe it’s a little short, but I’m sure Battalions will fix this with another album, and then another…

Battalions, Nothing to Lose, Hull Noise Collective 2016.


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Descent & Lament: Yautja

  songsofdescent songsoflament

Ho già avuto modo di parlare della coda come «oggetto metallico» potenzialmente devastante ed emblematico. Ne ho trovata di recente un’altra di grande qualità e bellezza. Si trova alla fine di crumbling, l’ultimo brano di songs of lament degli yautja, e parte a 5’35”. È la degna conclusione di un ep impeccabile, ed è l’occasione per spendere un po’ di lodi per il trio di Nashville e per la sua micidiale ricetta di sludge/grind.

Oltre a essere apparentemente molto simpatici, e ad avere una già solida fama di live band, gli yautja hanno piazzato due colpi memorabili e originali: songs of descent (2014) e songs of lament (2015), dove ci sono sia le unghiate da 0’59”, sia gli accanimenti da 9’21”, dove c’è l’aggressione e lo scardinamento senza pietà, le sfuriate, il caos, gli scarti improvvisi, le botte, ma c’è anche un suono massiccio e grave e un istinto singolare per l’assemblaggio di brani complessi, che si contorcono su se stessi in maniera sempre interessante. Sono dischi di incredibile varietà, tenuto conto del perimetro dei generi entro il quale si muovono, ed è varietà di linguaggio, di fraseggio, di idee, scaraventate a ritmo continuo nelle orecchie dell’ascoltatore – sballottato e inebriato.

La coda l’avevano già provata, con buoni risultati, in faith resigned, sul primo disco, ma con gli ultimi quattro minuti di crumbling ne scolpiscono una davvero colossale che suggella in maniera perfetta la prima ora di musica degli yautja – prima di spero molte altre ore a venire.

* * *

I have already said something about the coda as a potentially devastating and highly symbolic «metal object». I recently found another example of great quality and beauty. It can be found at the end of crumbling, the last track of songs of lament by yautja, beginning at 5’35”. It’s a fitting end to a faultless ep, and it is an opportunity to praise the Nashville trio and its lethal sludge/grind recipe.

Besides being apparently very nice, and having already a solid reputation as a live band, yautja have put out two memorable and quite original albums: songs of descent (2014) and songs of lament (2015), where you can find both the 0’59” scratches and the 9’21” rages; the aggression and the merciless disruption, the outbursts, pure chaos, the sudden swerves, and the punches, but where you can also enjoy a thick and massive sound, and a characteristic instinct for putting together complex tracks, always interesting. These are two records of incredible variety, considering the rules of the genres to which they could be assigned, and it’s a variety of language, of phrasing, of ideas continously thrown at the listener.

They had already tried the coda, with good results, in faith resigned, on the first album, but with the last four minutes of crumbling they have carved a truly colossal one, that perfectly seals the first hour of yautja’s music – hopefully the first of many other hours to come.

Yautja, songs of descent (2014), songs of lament (2015), Forcefield Records.


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Raw Material: Drö)))me, «Live at Capella»

LiveAtCapellaUn disco dal vivo, registrato se non ho capito male un anno fa (il 31 gennaio 2015), durante un concerto al Capella, un club di San Pietroburgo. Il nome del gruppo (Efim Gordeev alla chitarra e Sergey Jahgel ai sintetizzatori) è Drö)))me, che rappresenta già di per sé un programma evidente. Un’unica suite di un’ora, divisa in tre parti. Questi sono i fatti di Live at Capella. Ciò che si ascolta, con crescente e sorprendente interesse, è un lieve sfondo drone di sintetizzatori sul quale si distende una ininterrotta, ed entusiasmante, meditazione chitarristica, senza forma né apparente struttura: echi, feedback, saturazioni, riverberi, vibrati, tremoli, note tenute e qualche vago accenno di assolo – suono. Potrebbe sembrare un esercizio solipsistico fine a se stesso, come di sicuro ne vengono fatti a migliaia ogni giorno nel mondo, e invece non è così, perché c’è una qualità speciale in questa «meditazione» che mi spinge a dire: ecco, questa è una delle materie prime del metal; qui ci troviamo in mezzo all’elemento metallico che può essere poi usato per frasi, riff, brani, ecc.; qui, in un certo senso, siamo al principio. Un principio che desta meraviglia.

* * *

A live album recorded a year ago (31 January 2015), if I got it correctly, during a concert at the Capella, a St. Petersburg club. The name of the band (two gentlemen: Efim Gordeev on guitar, and Sergey Jahgel on synths) is Drö)))me, which is a clear clue of what you’re going to hear. A single, one hour long suite, divided into three parts. These are the facts about Live at Capella. What you hear, with growing, and surprising involvment, is an uninterrupted and electrifying guitar meditation stretched out on a light synthesizers’ drone background, without form or apparent structure: echoes, feedback, saturations, reverbs, vibratos, tremolos, sustained notes and some ghosts of a solo – sound. It might seem a solipsistic exercise, as in thousand other cases every day in the world, but that’s not the case, because there is a special quality in this «meditation»: this is one of the raw materials of metal; here we are in the middle of the «metal element» which can then be used for phrases, riffs, songs, etc.; here, in a sense, we are at the beginning. A wonderful beginning.

Drö)))me, Live at Capella, self-released 2016.


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Epic waves: Nadja, «Radiance of Shadows»

RadianceOfShadowsCome se non bastassero le novità, Radiance of Shadows è un disco del 2007 che probabilmente ho notato in una sessione di quel ridicolo e al tempo stesso magnifico gioco collettivo di segnalare al mondo la musica (o qualsiasi altra cosa) che ci piace. Mi avrà colpito anche il titolo, non solo quello dell’album, ma anche quello del primo brano, cioè la famigerata citazione Now I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds. Così ho fatto la conoscenza dei Nadja, duo canadese formato da Aidan Baker (chitarre, tastiere, voce e programming) e Leah Buckareff (basso, voce e violino) e che lavora alternativamente a Toronto e a Berlino. La loro discografia è un piccolo mondo da scoprire e, per quanto incompleta, terribilmente incompleta sia la mia esplorazione, provo una grande «simpatia» per i Nadja, la cui musica è stata variamente descritta come «drone metal, ambient doom, and shoegazer, combining soundscapes, electronics, & atmospheric vocals & tempering the cacophony with an ethereal melodicism such that the listener is enveloped in a sublimating wall of amorphous sound».

«Circondato da un muro sublimante di suono informe»: vero fino a un certo punto, soprattutto nel caso del brano che ho citato sopra, il cui suono mi pare tutt’altro che informe, bensì ampio, capace, capientissimo, ma strutturato e in grado di reggere l’urto delle cose – di tutte le cose che in quel preciso istante schiacciano l’ascoltatore.

Tutto l’album è bello, ricco di improvvisi sprofondamenti e sollievi inattesi, di ispessimenti e rarefazioni, di riverberi e di fossili di antichi riff, di colossali sovrapposizioni (gli ultimi dieci minuti del disco), ma io sono per così dire ancora fermo ai primi nove minuti di I am become Death, le cui onde mi sembrano capaci di sommergere tutto.

* * *

As if the new releases were not enough… Radiance of Shadows is an album of 2007, and I’ve probably noticed it during a session of that ridiculous and at the same time exciting collective game that is sharing to the world the music that we like (or anything else). The title must have caught me, not just the album’s, but also the first track’s, with the famous quote Now I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds. So I was introduced to Nadja, a Canadian duo formed by Aidan Baker (guitars, keyboards, vocals and programming) and Leah Buckareff (bass, vocals and violin) and working between Toronto and Berlin. Their discography is a small world to discover and, though my exploration is incomplete, terribly incomplete, I find myself curiously very fond of Nadja, whose music has been variously described as «drone metal, ambient doom, and shoegazer, combining soundscapes, electronics, & atmospheric vocals & tempering the cacophony with an ethereal melodicism such that the listener is enveloped in a sublimating amorphous wall of sound».

Enveloped in a sublimating amorphous wall of sound: true to a certain extent, especially in the case of the track I’ve mentioned above, the sound of which seems to me not at all amorphous, but large, vast, most capacious, yet structured and able to bear the strike of things – all the things that at that precise moment are overwhelming the listener.

The whole album is powerful and beautiful, full of sudden collapses and unexpected reliefs, of thickening moments and rarefactions, reverbs and fossils of ancient riffs, and colossal layers od sounds (the last ten minutes of the record)… but I’m still standing, so to speak, at the first nine minutes of I am become Death, meeting the epic waves that can submerge it all.

Nadja, Radiance of Shadows, Broken Spine Productions 2007.


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