SEWERS OF MARS #9

Music Features
SEWERS OF MARS #9
By
Feb 22, 2008, 08:34

Danava - Unonou
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Nowadays, it's easy to approach bands touted by press kits as ‘stoner metal' with a certain degree of caution. But Unonou (Kemado), the second album by Portland's Danava, is certainly worthy of the title and then some. Black Sabbath is an obvious touchstone, but, let's be honest, do you really wanna hear a metal band that doesn't count Sabbath as a major influence? The virtuosic guitar lines, odd time signatures, and dizzying synthesizer squeals—augmented by occasional strings and brass—conjure lower case 'p' prog, and singer Dusty Sparkles (no shit) has a distinctive whine equal parts Ozzy and Pentagram's Bobby Leibling, with just enough Perry Farrell to keep it weird. Pretty hip. AMAZON

Sic Alps continue to impress on their new Strawberry Guillotine 7” (Woodsist). Their dedication to burying garage-y melodies beneath layers of distortion and hiss continues unabated, but the San Francisco duo will have you thinking they invented the idea. Title track “Strawberry Guillotine” sounds like Bassholes and The Dead C playing at the same time at two corners of the room, while “The Drake” is an almost coherent pop song that sounds as if it was mastered from a warbled, third generation cassette. The whole thing adds up to a delightfully druggy mess, the peaks of which have not been scaled since Twin Infinitives hit the streets.

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The Landmine Marathon / Scarecrow split CD on Level Plane features two very different metal bands on one brief EP. Phoenix's Landmine Marathon (what is it about hot weather climates and brutal metal bands?) are heavy in the early Earache tradition, refreshingly reminiscent of Kreator (especially Grace Perry's brutal, just-short-of-shrill vocals). Insane drumming, inscrutable lyrics, and occasionally melodic ‘mosh breakdown' parts keep things rooted firmly in tradition, but there is enough here to easily distinguish Landmine Marathon from their influences. Scarecrow, featuring ex members of the underrated Exhumed, is an entirely different beast, coming from a more traditionally melodic but no less intense place. Second tier Bay Area thrash is the most prominent influence here—think Exodus, Testament, Vio-Lence—but there are plenty of clever noisy solos of the King / Hanneman variety, and the clean vocals bring to mind Joey Belladonna, Phil Anselmo and a host of 80s hardcore bands. The only problem with the Scarecrow half of the split is the production, undertaken by the band themselves. The drums, in particular, sound like milk crates, and are mixed far too loud, giving the three songs a demo quality that keeps it from being truly transcendent. A good producer could go a long way. Landmine Marathon's (also self-produced) half sounds great, though—maybe they can offer their buddies some tips behind the board?

Indian's misanthropic, headhunting heavy metal is in full force on Slights and Abuse / The Sycophant (Seventh Rule), which collects two limited edition LPs. Indian's strength is versatility—this is a band that doesn't discriminate. Equally at home grinding out punishing thrash assaults (“Second Death) as they are coaxing feedback from their gear beyond the threshold of reason, Indian's ability to work within several different idioms of ‘extreme' is admirable. Other high points are the primal crust assault of “Fatal Lack,” nearly a quarter of an hour's worth of maelstrom, and the ritualistic “Gloat,” which features unnerving, chanted vocals. Good stuff.

Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band are back with 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons (Constellation), an album that retains the band's trademarks—several ‘movements' within each song, somber, depressive vocals, and a knack for emotionally wrenching (if heavy-handed) lyrics. It's worth noting that the first batch of these ‘blues' is comprised of a continuous, individually indexed squall of feedback that begins the record. Pompous, but attention grabbing. The actual album begins at track 13, and “1,000,000 Died to Make This Sound” is virtually a rewrite of their last album's “God Bless Our Dead Marines,” but the bombast that occurs midway through is worth the wait. The guitars are dynamic, the desperation very real, and as a lead-off track, it packs quite a punch. Similarly, the cacophonous climax that ends the title track, with singer Efrim's Robert-Smith-in-the-throes-of-a-seizure vocals overlapping wildly, is an emotional high point. The album does let up a bit in its second act, which can be a bit of a slog, as the mood grows even dourer. Also, lyrics like “The hangman's got a hard-on / the pretty minstrels sway / the pundit reeks of coffin / the banker rapes a maid” abound, and begin to grate by the halfway point. Still, the mood the band creates over the course of the album is beautiful, and their dirges have never sounded more assured. Don't let the violins, cellos and contrabass fool you, this is pure punk rock protest music, and what it lacks in actual message, it makes up for in passion. On closing track “BlindBlindBlind,” Efrim sings “we want punks in the palace / 'cause punks got the loveliest dreams.” 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons is one of them. It'll sell far fewer records than Against Me!'s latest, but it may profoundly change more impressionable minds in the process. Whether that's a good thing or a bad one, well, I'll leave that up to you. AMAZON

Record of the month is D Charles Speer and The Helix's handsomely packaged After Hours LP on the newly minted Black Dirt label. Speer and his Helix offer up the kind of psychedelic Bakersfield stew you always hope you'll be lucky enough to procure from one of our nation's truck stops, though ol' Red Sovine never sang lyrics like “Don't ever say ‘man I'll never' / Lest I mark your back with my braided leather.” The Helix, for their part, is a backing band worthy of envy, their dustbowl gallop is the perfect accompaniment to Speer's surrealist trucker boogie. The band is consistently tasteful, even with lap steel, piano, and organ all vying for attention in the mix. They never do too much or too little, but color each song with a superb stoniness, creating the listening equivalent of those fuzzy Grand Funk album covers that made you feel high even if you hadn't smoked. Constant local gigging in New York City has rendered the band tighter than a bull's ass during fly season, and on After Hours, they exhibit all the spunk and confidence of a Muscle Shoals family reunion. Not bad for a bunch of city boys. Still, Speers is clearly the star here. In his strong but easy voice, he sounds like a young Jerry Jeff Walker, singing about heads decaying in deer bellies and feasts of puna butter (whatever the hell that is). Speer's baritone belies a stoic sort of ‘seen it all' weariness not found on many records produced north of the bible belt or more recently than the Nixon administration. “Guns in the Hills” conjures Nashville Skyline-era Dylan, while “Sit Right There” is perhaps the loveliest serenade ever played on a bouzouki. The lyrics are fantastic throughout, populated by colorfully named characters like Uncle Ernie, Cheese Frog and Warden San Martino. A macrophage of madness, indeed.

Next month, I'll tell you why Portal is the only metal band that matters in 2008, big-up an amazing new one sided LP by Gazheart, and tell you why your Check Engine light is on. Hint: it's probably your intake manifold.

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