Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Two Eclipses


Through the beauty of celestial mechanics, the western United States was perfectly positioned to catch not one, but two, spectacular wonders. A total lunar eclipse graced our skies early in the morning of October 8th, only to be followed two weeks later by a partial solar eclipse, granting Los Angeles about 45% coverage. Coincidentally, one of the largest sunspot groupings ever observed was on the face of the Sun, directly facing the Earth at the time.

I “digiscoped” each eclipse by photographing directly through the eyepieces of my Dobsonian telescopes. The lunar eclipse pictures were taken by digiscoping through my 8-inch with a 40mm eyepiece; the partial solar eclipse pictures were taken through a 6-inch Dobsonian with a 32mm eyepiece.





The planet Uranus is visible to the right in this picture...











Clearing the decks of a backlog of reviews. Most of these have appeared at Heavy Metal at About.com.














"Shorties"....












Over at Metal Bandcamp, I had a chance to review the excellent new album from Temple Of Void...




Last, but not least, I've been horribly negligent in contributing to Last Rites lately (apologies to the great staff at LR), but I did manage to eke out a review...

Witch Mountain Mobile Of Angels




Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Return of Chris Davison

My good friend Chris Davison from on the other side of the pond has been kind enough to contribute a couple of reviews. In this installment, he looks at Death Penalty, one of the bands to form from the remains of the mighty Cathedral, and Wolf, a long running retro-trad band with a new album. Take it away, Chris!


Death Penalty

(Rise Above Records)

By: Chris Davison

Fashion is a tide. It comes and it goes, washing fresh scum-lines onto the shores. Heavy metal is no exception. Oh, so you listen to the metal, and therefore you're immune to fashion? Think again. Remember the melodic death metal plague of the early 2000's? The death-thrash explosion of the mid 2000's? The retro-thrashers, the metalcore shouters, the folk-metal hey-nonny-nonners, and the black metal pandas? Just about the only sub-genre that has managed to stay away from fashion and stand on its own two feet is the pure, meat and potatoes pure strain of heavy metal. Death Penalty aren't so much anti-fashion as they are oblivious to fashion, in the way if all the best bands. Intrigued? Read on...

Much has already been written about this being the first post-Cathedral band of riffmeister general, Gary “Gaz” Jennings, and as such, it is unsurprising that his well-documented love of Witchfinder General should find itself cemented into the name of the outfit. Joining the king of the infectious riff are Cosy and Michelle from short-lived Belgian doom outfit Serpentcult, (themselves the bastard offshoot of sadly missed Thee Plague Of Gentlemen), and bassist Rak Meukens.

To be honest, I've been a massive Cathedral fan pretty much since their first album, Forest Of Equilibrium, but my favourite albums of theirs tended to be the ones with the most mid-tempo, un-doom riffs – so essentially from The Ethereal Mirror, through to Caravan Beyond Redemption. Happily, Death Penalty is essentially a huge musical sandbox for Gaz Jennings to let all of his non-doom NWOBHM riffs come raining through. Of course, you'd expect some of those infectious, warm-toned Witchfinder General sounds to seep through into the music, and surely you can hear some Cathedral-isms on the likes of “Golden Tides,” but it's on album highlight “Eyes Of The Heretic” where you can really hear the other influences shine through brightly; the mighty Iron Maiden-esque gallop, the rough abrasion of the Angelwitch bridge, and the huge, Saxon-esque, anthemic quality of the chorus.

It'd be a rum do if there was no doom on the album of course, and “She Is A Witch” provides the space for the fine doom credentials of the musicians to shine through with some truly torturous crawling passages, before the guitar solo goes – well – a bit 1983 on your ass, with soaring, bona-fide guitar hero panache, while the rhythm section goes through a proper aerobic workout. That a metal band has a female singer, and that this is newsworthy might be worthy of raising an eyebrow in 2014, but Michelle Nocon is really a key element of this album. Of course, her vocals were interesting in Serpentcult, but here they are lower, more self assured, and perfectly in tune with the off-kilter take on true metal. At times, and in particular during the slower sections, she reminds me greatly of Catherine Wilson from the Mourn album, but far, far better.

In summary then – this is a ripsnorter of an album. There's the grit and fire in the eye that typified the Neat Records roster from the early 1980s, with hints of the heady, worldly-wise experience that the musicians have earned from their times in doom titans. This is simply put an almost uncategorisable and certainly unforgettable tome, and pure, unadulterated listening pleasure. File under: must get.



  
Wolf  Devil Seed

(Century Media Records)

By: Chris Davison

You know, I shouldn't like Wolf. They pretty sound pretty much like the perfect intersection of a Venn diagram of things I hate in metal: high, piercing vocals, riffs that sound like Judas Priest b-cuts, lyrics that read like a crawl through the “Big Beginner's Book of Metal Clich├ęs;” not to mention an aesthetic that owes a sizeable debt to the less sensible photographs taken from heavy metal nightclubs in London circa 1982. Yet, even with all of these factors against them, damn it; I really, really enjoy Wolf.

Why? Well, who knows? I suspect that there was a spectacular moment of epiphany when – admittedly reeling from imbibing truly industrial portions of supermarket-brand spirits – I caught them live at a festival in the UK some years ago. Suddenly, it all made brilliant, glorious sense. Fist-in-the-air, anthemic heavy metal that truly doesn't care if you like it or not. It just is.

...And so, we come to the first album by Wolf in three years, Devil Seed. You won't find anything here that really wanders too far from the established Wolf blueprint – the infectious melodies, the vintage heavy-metal on steroids production and the clean, incisive vocal delivery. I am a fan of 2011's The Black Flame, and so, to be honest, the chance to have more of the same isn't a bad thing at all. To these ears, however, we have incremental improvement to the quality. The songs are ever-so-slightly more polished, perhaps taking advantage of the time taken to craft them. While there was some filler on the former album, Devil Seed doesn't find any tracks that have that magnetic pull of the finger towards the “skip” button.

In terms of the production, everything is just slightly clearer and has more punch too, but really doesn't fall victim to the bombastic, over-the-top aural effect that can infect modern heavy metal albums. Those that argue that Wolf are nothing but cheesy retro-metallers are really rather missing the point. With Devil Seed, they are convincingly at the apex of the pure-heavy metal tree, and although there is little here that's new, as ever, I'd take excellence over innovation any time.


Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats




Just a short clip from their appearance at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, CA. October 12th, 2014.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Exumer, Sadistic Intent, Merciless Death, and Morbid Saint at the Avalon


Bands: Exumer, Sadistic Intent, Merciless Death, and Morbid Saint

Venue: The Avalon, Hollywood, California

Date: September 28th, 2014

If there ever was a show that could be described as a "one off", this show headlined by Exumer is definitely it. Just look at this lineup! It's about as close to a bill of one hit wonders that metal is ever gonna get! Naturally, I had to check it all out, even if only to cross a few bands off the bucket list, if nothing else.

Due to a snafu at the door of the fabled Avalon right at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine (the L. Ron Hubbard Museum is right around the corner), I was unable to obtain a pass for this show. So, I paid my way in without a camera and resorted to snapping a few pictures on my iPhone. Originally scheduled to cover the show for Heavy Metal at About.com, I was forced to downshift and do a brief write up here, instead. Oh, well.

After skipping the two local openers to pre-game with my posse at a kick ass burger and craft beer joint a few blocks away, we jumped into the fray (minus the snafu at the door) just as Morbid Saint took the stage. I only have a passing familiarity with Morbid Saint from their only album, Spectrum Of Death from 1990, but Morbid Saint were very tight and focused. Only vocalist Pat Lind and guitarist Jay Visser remain of the original lineup, but their enthusiasm was infectious as Morbid Saint raced through a number of cuts from Spectrum Of Death, plus a few new songs. Morbid Saint were so good, in fact, that they pretty much stole the show and demonstrated that they may become serious as a band again with new material in the offering.

Merciless Death were up next, newly reunited after a hiatus. Merciless Death originally rode the re-thrash wave from a couple of years back, and both of their albums, released on Heavy Artillery Records, are quite good. A trio, Merciless Death were good, but weren't quite as tight as Morbid Saint. However, if Merciless Death are ready to jump back into the game with new material, they just might reinvigorate the re-thrash movement; at least, in L.A.

Long running blackened thrash stalwarts Sadistic Intent were up next. A legendary band, Sadistic Intent have been around since the late '80s, but have only released a handful of demos, EPs, and compilations over the years. A loud, ornery band that is at its best when just rolling along, Sadistic Intent are well known to the L.A. metal brethren, and the packed house at the Avalon roared its approval. Also worth mentioning is the recent re-opening of Dark Realm Records in Downey, California, a store owned by the Cortez brothers of Sadistic Intent. Dark Realm remains L.A.'s only metal themed record store, and is one of only a handful of independent record stores in the entire metropolitan area.

At long last, Exumer took the stage. Cementing their status as a bucket list band, Exumer have gained wide appreciation in recent years, and their '80s output is looked back upon with fond remembrance and nostalgia. The band's biggest claim to fame is the 1986 cult classic Possessed By Fire, but their most recent album, 2012's Fire And Damnation, is no slouch, either, being a good album of straightforward thrash metal loaded with catchy riffs and a galloping pace.

Although down to only two original members, vocalist Mem Von Stein and guitarist Ray Mensh, Exumer played as exuberantly as any young band of twentysomethings with a fun and infectious delivery. Well appreciated by the Avalon crowd, Exumer triumphantly ended their set with smiles plastered across their collective faces.

A great, fun show of metal, the Avalon crowd clearly had a rollicking good time.

Here are a few iPhone pictures (from a few rows deep)....

Morbid Saint



Merciless Death



Sadistic Intent



Exumer





Dark Realm Records (I visited soon after they re-opened)..... take a look at what I bought....




My original VHS copy of The Ultimate Revenge has a special place in my own "metal history". You can read the story here.



Saturday, September 20, 2014

Heavy Cream 'Zine #2

 
My good friend Adam L. Murray, photographer extraordinaire and man about town with loose connections to CVLT NATION, is the publisher of Heavy Cream, a local 'zine that covers the Los Angeles metal scene and its related culture. Issue #2 was recently released and can be found at Amoeba Records, Vacation Vinyl, and other independent record and book stores in the L.A. area.

I finally had a chance to contribute to the 'zine, contributing a metal related astronomy piece entitled "Galactic Renewal".


Recent reviews....

First, at Heavy Metal at About.com...

Cannibal Corpse A Skeletal Domain


"Shorties"....


Hod Book Of The Worm


Albez Duz The Coming Of Mictlan


Iron Reagan The Tyranny Of Will


Unaussprechlichen Kulten Baphomet Pan-Shub Niggurath


Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sleep at the Troubadour II

Ever since I caught Sleep for the first time at MDF 2013, I had wanted to see the band in a more intimate setting. Well, I finally got my chance last weekend as Sleep descended upon the Troubadour in West Hollywood. I wasn't scheduled to formally review this show, but, suffice to say, Sleep's gigantic sound thoroughly demolished the sold out crowd.

A few pictures from my iPhone...






 The t-shirt haul...


Clearing the decks of recent reviews. First, a few full-length reviews at Heavy Metal at About.com. By the way, About.com has just undergone a major, well overdue, upgrade in appearance.

Accept Blind Rage


YOB Clearing The Path To Ascend


Earth Primitive And Deadly 


A few "shorties"...


Empire Auriga Ascending The Solar Throne


Principality Of Hell Fire And Brimstone


Provacator Antikristus


Black Twilight Circle (Various Artists) Tliltic Tlapoyauak


 Bloodsoaked Religious Apocalypse


Over at Last Rites...

Krieg Transient