The Adventures of Jesus Bros : Chapter 420

So I had this incredibly weird dream last night. I dreamt that when Jesus was born he had a twin brother. The twin brother died so that Jesus could live, and then the twin brother became a time traveler at the moment of his death. He could only travel forward through time until he locates a scroll from an ancient Chinese alchemist who created a serum from the black lotus. This allows him to travel back in time. He can see the past through his ancestor’s eyes, but his enemies can kill him if they kill the ancestors he’s currently inhabiting. It’s basically a sci-fi biblical version of Quantum Leap.

I woke from the fever dream thinking that I might have been touched by some cosmic hand from the ether and shown an existential truth that no one else knew about. But then I realized that the dream was just an after buzz from listening to High On Fire’s excellent 2012 album De Vermis Mysteriis(translated from Latin it means “The Mysteries Of The Worm”.) I’m guessing that worm can be found at the bottom of a tequila bottle, as the album is completely bat shit crazy and also near genius.

Matt Pike comes across as this philosopher hesher that crawled from a dirty sleeping bag lying in a watery ditch you pass nearly every day to work. Inside that sleeping bag is a portal to some THC-powered alternate reality where there’s not much difference between an IQ of 40 and 180. Pike is this heavy metal warrior that is constantly sweating and wheezy, espousing stoned philosophy and warning of conspiracy theories pertaining to alien abductions, government experiments, and hash laced with galactic dust which allows ones mind to expand and see the true meaning of it all. Though if you’re not open-minded enough you’re liable to go completely insane. Pike and High On Fire take Pike’s other band Sleep’s slow churn doom and crank it up to 14. HoF rumble through stacks of Orange and Marshall amplifiers at breakneck speed that would make fans of Slayer and Black Sabbath equally happy. Pike writes songs that are part Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft tales, while musically its as if Reign In Blood was equally influenced by Loose Nut and Master Of Reality.

I got into High On Fire after a few late night beer fests with an old friend. He left several of their albums on my hard drive for me to peruse. It took a couple years but I finally got around to listening to Blessed Black Wings and Death Is The Communion. I can say without a doubt that High On Fire single handedly got me back into metal. I’d moved away from the darker, heavier fare years before thinking I’d “outgrown” that stuff. Of course the real reason was that I’d simply lost my way in the ways of the dark metal arts. High On Fire scorched a path for me back to classic speed and thrash metal I used to love in my younger days. They also led me to Pike’s other epic band Sleep. But this isn’t about Sleep, or any other band. This is about Matt Pike and High On Fire and, in my opinion, their masterpiece De Vermis Mysteriis.

How do you think the meeting went between Matt Pike and the record executives when he came to them with the concept for De Vermis Mysteriis? “Well, it’s a concept record about Jesus’ twin brother who dies at birth so Jesus can live out his destiny, and in turn this dead twin becomes a time traveler. What do you think?” I’m sure there never was a meeting like that because by 2012 Matt Pike had made his musical intentions very much known. Scream about demons, wizards, warriors, battles, and make the music as hard and heavy as possible. Who gives a shit what Pike is screaming about, just as long as the skin on my skull begins to rip from the bone by the time we reach the first chorus. Actually, I do care about what he’s singing about because that’s an important part of the High On Fire trip. He may be a dirty hesher, but Matt Pike is a hell of a story spinner(as well as a shredding fiend.)

When you have a song like “Madness Of An Architect” you’re pretty much set for sensory annihilation. This song is like a sludgy trip through 40 years of doom, death, and blues all in the course of 7 minutes. This is a slow ride as far as High On Fire go. Usually things are at a breakneck pace, goosing the tempo just short of South Of Heaven territory. But on this track this metal three-piece take their time. Things even get downright melodic on the excellent “Interlude”, a song that has the bass sound of Cliff Burton and even the vibe of something like Metallica’s “Orion”. It leads right into “Spiritual Rights”, which is like dropping acid at an amusement park and you peak just at the top of a 200′ high rollercoaster. Pike gargles blood and Jameson as this truly power trio pummels minds like Thor tenderizing his steak with Mjölnir. I can’t help but think of the late great Lemmy Kilmister when I hear Matt Pike on this track. I feel there’s a thru line from Lemmy to Matt Pike. Both made extreme music and lived extreme lives, yet you talk to anyone close to either and they’d tell you they were the nicest guys. Down to earth guys that took everything in their lives to extremes(R.I.P. Lemmy.)

There’s a lot of melodic moments on this album, which I think was a precursor to 2015s Luminiferous. But there’s also plenty of blood-boiling and gnashing of teeth here as well. Album opener “Serums Of Liao” charges through the speakers with the dexterity of a baby xenomorph bursting through John Hurt’s chest. Not graceful; forceful, violent, and with deadly precision. As metal as these guys are there’s still plenty of progressive rock oomph here, too. High On Fire are the epitome of “power trio”. Pike is one of the premier metal guitarists working today, but the rhythm section of bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel are a force to be reckoned with. Kensel gives Dave Lombardo a run for his money while Matz lays down some thick, barb-wired bass lines that fill whatever spots Pike might not with his massive guitar tone. “Bloody Knuckles” sounds like Slayer on steroids, man. Seriously, if Pepper Keenan-led Corrosion somehow devoured the violence of Slayer it might sound like this song. Then there’s “Fertile Green”. It’s like the battle hymn of the stoned republic. This is how 21st century metal is supposed to sound. Those kids in River’s Edge would’ve totally gotten drunk and stoned to this track. I could see my brother at 18 driving in his Cutlass with this bashing through his Pioneer Super Tuner whilst wearing my dad’s army trench coat covered in rock patches and the faint odor of prime “Tijuana Magic” stinging the nostrils. Hell, I bet my brother would’ve hung with Matt Pike if time and happenstance would’ve allowed.

Elsewhere, “King Of Days” hints at more introspective work that would be put out on Luminiferous, while “De Vermis Mysteriis” sounds like a thousand demons howling from a near empty bottle of absinthe. “Romulus and Remus” is slow-churning dread that’s part desert biker knife fight and part end-of-days blood orgy. “Warhorn” sounds like Black Sabbath on mescaline. Pike brings things down for the album closer, his vocals gurgle tales of battlefields and muskets blowing fire.

It’s a hell of a period at the end of one blood-soaked, sweat-drenched sentence.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Matt Pike and High On Fire for bringing me back to the true ways of metal. I think High On Fire are keeping metal dark, mysterious, and something your parents might be wary of. That was always a good thing for me. But also, High On Fire place musicianship very high on their albums. They can bash with the best of ’em, but they bash like the best jazz musicians bash. There’s conviction in those brutal riffs and speed demon drumming. De Vermis Mysteriis is a batshit record, but it’s also a near perfect metal album.

In the immortal words of David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and…clever.” Indeed.

Black Mountain : IV

I’m on my third listen of Black Mountain’s newest opus, the labyrinthine IV. It should be no surprise that I will need a few more listens before I’ve covered all the nooksblack mountain and crannies of this stately beast of an album, but I can say very confidently that everything they’ve done beforehand has been building to this record. All the bloodshot jams, the proggy galloping towards Valhalla, and the mind-blowing epic musical journeys have led us to IV. Nearly an hour of synth and organ-caked folksy doom metal and 70s-mountainous prog rock that covers all of Black Mountain’s bases are present, yet this new record still comes across as something tighter and more focused; refreshed and next level. Maybe all the side projects between band members(Pink Mountaintops, Sinoia Caves, Lightning Dust, Kodiak Deathbeds) allow Stephen McBean, Jeremy Schmidt, Amber Webber, Brad Truax, and Joshua Wells to come back to Black Mountain free of mental clutter and ready to write as a band. Whatever it is, it’s working. IV is the first big epic album of 2016. It could also end up being one of the best of the year.

When you open an album with a song like “Mothers of the Sun” you’re not messing around. It’s eight and a half minutes of brooding, churning menace. Jeremy Schmidt’s tasteful and elegant keyboards fill the song with organ, synth, and mellotron warmth as Webber and McBean sing tales of woe before chunky guitar comes rolling in to add a touch of heady metal to the proceedings. This is what Black Mountain excel at; epic songs that carry the listener through phases of dark and light with emphasis on one hell of a riff. “Florian Saucer Attack”(a nod to Popul Vuh’s Florian Fricke perhaps?) is a driving rock and roll barn burner that’s just as much punk attitude as it is fist-pumping late-70s British metal, with a touch of Rush thanks to those synth flourishes. Amber Webber hasn’t sounded better, either. Her vocals are something to curl up into and get lost in. “Defector” has a swagger thanks to Stephen McBean’s voice and some serious strut in the rhythm. Jeremy Schmidt adds an air of mystery with some great synth affectations.

Elsewhere “Cemetery Breeding” brings an almost 80s feel, like The Church and Gary Numan combined forces in 1983 and came up with this spacey and dreamy number. “(Over And Over) The Chain” sounds a lot like Schmidt’s solo project Sinoia Caves. A brooding and epic synth-driven track that is equal parts Tangerine Dream, Uriah Heep, and Black Sabbath. At nearly nine minutes the track feels like an extended interlude before the droning and beautiful “Crucify Me”. This song reminds me at times Wilco’s exquisite “Poor Places”. Both are songs that excel at space and filling that space with just the right amount of beauty and dysfunction. Could this be one of the most earnest and gloriously “pop” songs Black Mountain have ever put to tape? Maybe. The album ends on the galactically melancholy “Space To Bakersfield”. A cross of Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, and Popol Vuh. Not a bad note to end on really. Like most things Black Mountain, it’s cavernous, perpetually trippy, and a satisfying buzz to go out on.

Black Mountain have never made an album that you fall into, jam on, and then put away. Each record they put out are masterpieces in space and mood. If you’re in a hurry and want a quick fix then go find something in the “kids” section. Black Mountain make albums for the inquisitive and hungry mind and ear. You find your in and you step inside their records; you live with the songs and sleep with the melodies. You wear their songs in. They may not fit right away, but give it time. Pretty soon you’ll wonder how you ever did without their songs and albums. IV is their best yet. After the third listen I’m inside this record now. I’ve found a good spot to sit and chill. This is where I belong for the time being. Drop that needle for me on your way out, will you? Thanks.

9. 2 out of 10

Editor’s Note: I have to mention how much I love the album cover for IV. Brings to mind so many great album covers from the 70s. UFO, Scorpions, Rush, and Blind Faith all come mind. Very reminiscent of others, but still very much its own thing. Anyways, just had to point out that amazing album art. 

 

Drawing Blood : A Talk With Table Scraps

Every once in a while you come across a band that legitimately rocks. There’s no posing or jumping on the bandwagon. There’s something honest andtable scraps photo visceral about the music. Something genuinely scary, too. Scott Vincent Abbot and Poppy Twist of Birmingham’s Table Scraps can be very scary. And they rock.

Table Scraps take that boy/girl rock duo thing and turn it into something deliriously heavy. It’s like King Diamond, Celtic Frost, and Black Sabbath all discovered 13th Floor Elevators, The Stooges, and Blue Cheer at the same time and performed some sort of backwoods incantation and from the flames erupted Table Scraps. Their new long player More Time For Strangers is a mix of Ty Segall garage grit, sheer punk vitriol, and something sinister just under the surface. The influences seem to run the gamut on their excellent debut. I asked Scott and Poppy about their music recently, as well as how Table Scraps came to be. Lucky for you and I they were happy to answer those questions.

J. Hubner: So tell me about Table Scraps. How did you two get together? Were you in bands together previously? 

Scott: We were next door neighbours and both our previous bands had come to an end, so it just seemed like the right thing to do! We had so much in common and once we started playing loud it came together.

J. Hubner: Why did you go with a duo approach in Table Scraps as opposed to having a trio? Was there ever a time you considered adding a bass player to the mix? I don’t think it’s necessary, just curious.

Scott: I’d played in a few previous bands before where I carried the bass parts with my guitar, in the early days through necessity but then it kind of grew to be my ‘thing’, we instantly jumped at the opportunity to do a duo to avoid the lengthy arranging and logistics involved and keep it simple.

J. Hubner: You can hear some influences in your songs, but I think there’s something quite unique about the sound you two create. There’s an anger and desperation that you don’t hear in a lot of modern psych and garage bands. There seems to be some serious metal influence, as well as even some Occult vibes. Who or what informs the sound Table Scraps make? How would you two describe your music?

Scott: There’s a lot of angst, frustration, and in places, just plain hatred in there, which I can’t deny. There are horror themes, LaVeyan Satanism, revenge, it’s more Altamont than Woodstock I guess. But there’s humour too I’d hope!

Poppy: We are from the home of metal after all!

J. Hubner: Let’s talk about your debut record, ‘More Time For Strangers’. It was said that you two pretty much did everything yourselves, from the recording process to artwork and video creation. What made you two decide to go it alone as opposed to hitting a proper studio? 

Scott: It feels great to have total creative control and not be on a time limit. I’ve rarely been happy with a recording in a professional studio, particularly on a budget. Also it feels great to be totally accountable and not have anyone to blame shortcomings on!

J. Hubner:  Was the record recorded to tape or was it recorded digitally? It has that grainy tape quality to it like some of Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees records. There’s some great saturation going on with these tracks.

Scott: It was done on a £200 digital portastudio, with cheap microphones borrowed from the  £8per hour, 14ft x 10ft rehearsal room it was recorded in. A few parts were recorded on cassette 4-track and transferred. The fact that we had the time make everything that went down on the tracks exactly as we wanted that keeps it from being overtly lo-fi.

J. Hubner: Scott, tell me about your guitar set up. How do you get the massive sound that you do?

Scott: A constantly evolving combination of guitar amps, pedals and signal splitters along with a great deal of volume and footwork!

J. Hubner: And Poppy, have you always played the drums standing up? What’s the reasoning for that? More of an aesthetic thing, so you’re both front and center when playing live? Or is it just more comfortable to play standing?

Poppy: The points you made are correct – as a drummer and vocalist I didn’t want to lose some of the visibility of having a second singer on stage. I always appreciate the almost-symmetrical aesthetic of pared down stand-up kits, and I feel I am able to drive songs with more vigour than if I were sitting down. To be honest, just imagining myself sitting down behind Scott seems pretty ridiculous!

J. Hubner:  You’ve put the record out on coloured vinyl through your own label, Hell’s Teeth. Is this just part of the DIY approach you two have gone at this whole music thing with? Or was it just easier to do it this way? Are there other artists you plan on adding to the roster?

Poppy:  The label operates simply as a channel for us to self-release as often and as quickly as we are able to manage. We write quickly and our excitement to put out new releases has overtaken the desire to wait for any other possibilities.

Scott:  Never say never, it would be great to release other artists, but between carpentry and art school our time is already pretty full!

J. Hubner:  I imagine a Table Scraps show is pretty damn loud. It is, isn’t it? How would you two describe a Table Scraps gig? Chaos? Annihilation? Ears bleeding?

Scott: It is pretty damn loud, and stuff usually gets knocked over. Both of us are so busy throughout the set, there’s rarely a let up, we’re completely spent by the end, it’s totally cathartic.

J. Hubner: Do you have any upcoming gigs? Any chance of you two crossing the pond and playing some shows in the US?

Poppy:  Album sales would suggest we have a growing fanbase in the US, as well as stuff like Instagram allowing us to make some very cool friends. As soon as it becomes viable, we’re there.

J. Hubner: So what was the last record you bought that you absolutely loved?

Poppy:  I am currently obsessed with the debut album from Western Plaza (Burger Records band from Amarillo, Texas). I bought it on cassette as soon as it was released.

Scott: Argh! Difficult. Probably the mint copy of Pussy Galore’s ‘Groovy Hate Fuck’ EP.

J. Hubner: What can we expect from Table Scraps for the rest of 2015? Where do you two want to be in a year from now?

Poppy: We are currently in the midst of planning an awesome video for Motorcycle (Straight to Hell), which means cracking out the eBay green screen and going to town with some fucked up, odd footage to flash behind our performance. I make few plans further afield than a couple of months and prefer to get carried away on the here-and-now. I think it’s healthier.

Scott: Album number two is written already and some songs are already getting into the live set. I’m psyched to get recording it!

And I’m psyched to hear it! Many thanks to Scott and Poppy for stopping by and talking it up. Now immediately head over to here and snag a copy of Table Scraps’ More Time For Strangers. You like vinyl? Good, because they have a killer blue/red splatter vinyl available, as well as a limited edition vinyl deluxe package that includes the vinyl, t-shirt, tote bag, cd, and a vial of blood! Okay, no blood. But still, get the record. It’s a truly killer album. And if you can, get out and see them live. Keep up with Table Scraps at their Facebook page.

 

 

Continuous Momentum :: Thematic and their Endless Light

ThematicBlocks

 

by E.A. Poorman

Yeah, I guess I’m a survivor of the 80s. I grew up and out of the decade of neon lights, pegged pants, and Punky Brewster. I was in awe of a talking Trans Am, Vietnam-era mercenaries that couldn’t hit an elephant with an AK-47 if it was five feet in front of them, and cubes made by a Hungarian named Rubik.

But despite all that pop culture trash I devoured, when it came to music I veered towards heavier realms. By the time I was in high school I was listening to bands like Fates Warning, Helloween, Death Angel, and Voivod. Then came Shrapnel Records and Cacophony, Racer X, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, and Greg Howe. Dudes that could shred a guitar and man a double kick drum like a boss. They made music that was aggressive and intricate. Precision metal, with the finesse of trained musicians.

Thematic, a band comprised of “musician’s musicians” that hail from both Fort Wayne and Chicago, are keeping that precision metal alive and well. Their music is heavy, intricate, and progressive without feeling overly stuffed with ideas. They have just released their debut album called The Endless Light and are celebrating its release with a show at Four D’s Bar and Grill on December 6th in Fort Wayne. I sat down with lead shredder Kevin Samuel and talked to him about the band, the album, and what makes Thematic tick.

EA Poorman: So tell me a little about Thematic. How’d you guys get started?

Kevin Samuel: Thematic began in early 2011. Nate Buesching and I were former members of the local rock band Pheen which had reached it’s end that year. We were ready to move into a direction musically that was more fulfilling to us rather than chase the dreams of becoming a radio rock band and signed to a major label. There were a lot of lessons learned from the experiences of playing in that band for 6 years. We met John Walther our drummer before Thematic was ever conceived. I was auditioning drummers for another band years ago while he was in high school still. I found a video of him playing a drum solo and was blown away with his raw talent. Obviously, with him being in high school it would have been difficult to tour. We met up again in 2011 when he was 20 and looking for a new group to play drums for. Haven’t looked back since. The three of us began working on music together and collaborating on our ideas. We went through various singers along the way but nothing ever matched up. We were looking for a vocalist who was unique and also understood the vision of Thematic. It was our decision in the Summer of 2013 to begin recording our music without having a vocalist. We wanted to have material that a vocalist could hear and understand what we were without any preconceived notions of what our music should be. That’s the mindset we used to approach searching for our singer. We made an audition video for one of the songs in progress and uploaded it to Youtube. We put the word out there all over the internet that we were searching for a vocalist. We had many submit from all over the U.S. but it was Max Monzon, a vocalist from Chicago, who completely blew us away. His former group was Veritae, which was an industrial rock band that played all around Chicago several years earlier. Distance was no issue for us with the understanding that we were all working toward our goals collectively. We have also made a recent addition to the group adding Jeff Smith as permanent bassist for Thematic. Jeff is also from Chicago and is a very close friend of Max which is what brought us all together.

EAP: I hear a lot of different influences in Thematic’s music. From speed metal to progressive to even some art rock. Who are some bands you guys call influences?

Kevin Samuel: We all bring many influences to the musical pot. Nothing is set in stone when it comes to our sound and the music we write. It’s ever changing and will always progress. We have a lot of classic prog influences from Genesis, Yes, Rush, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Pink Floyd, etc. There are obvious metal and rock vibes in our music too. Bands like Pantera, Tool, Faith no More, Deftones, Opeth, Soundgarden, and Dream Theater all come to mind when it comes to sculpting our heavy end. Along with that there’s influence from every end of the musical spectrum, classical, jazz fusion, electronic, acoustic, blues, etc.

EAP: You guys have just released your debut opus called The Endless Light. Tell me about the writing process and how the album came together.

Kevin Samuel: We began writing the album in the Summer of 2013 with no vocalist. It wasn’t intended to be instrumental by any means but we knew eventually that we would need to search for the missing element that would make these song come to life. We decided that it would be in our favor to build our own studio for this purpose. This was extremely helpful having our own setup to record our ideas and sculpt our musical vision. By the time we found our singer, Max, we had already recorded the vast majority of the songs for the album. There was concept when we started this. Everything was a culmination of musical ideas I came up with that needed to be put into songs. Max was crucial in conceptualizing the themes for most of the songs on this album. We collaborated via Skype to construct lyrics for the songs and work out melodies. When we had a clear vision for the songs we would have Max come down on the weekend and spend all day laying down vocal tracks in the studio. This process spanned across months. After a full year since we began recording this album we had finally finished at the end of August this year.

The concept for this album at it’s basic level is the battle between light and dark. There are many themes at play from the start of this album and until the end. Overall, it’s an album that should be listened to from beginning to end for the listener to gain true perspective.

EAP: I hear a lot of the 80s metal in the guitar sound with this album. The whole Mike Varney/Shrapnel Records roster was what I came up on and would spend my hard-earned lunch money on every weekend. Do any of those guitar shred albums from the Reagan-era seep into the guitar playing on The Endless Light? 

Kevin Samuel: Coming from me, yes, absolutely. I grew up on the electric guitar being my sole source of musical inspiration. I didn’t care about lyrics or singing melodies when I was young. I wanted to hear something that wasn’t inherently human. I remember when I heard EVH for the first time and that pretty much made up my mind on where I wanted to be as a guitarist. Not that I wanted to sound like him, but I wanted to advance to where I could play effortlessly like him. He was a gateway in the many discoveries that came later in the guitar virtuoso world for me. Guys like Steve Vai, Satriani, Greg Howe, Paul Gilbert, Petrucci, Jason Becker and Marty Friedman were a huge part in my early guitar playing days. Fast forward to now. I like to say I’ve expanded my horizons as a guitarist over the years and players from all walks have helped shape me into the player I am today. Guitarists like Shawn Lane, Allan Holdsworth, Guthrie Govan, John Mclaughlin, and far too many to name have all been major influences for me.

EAP: You’re all very prolific musicians, and you all work really well together. How do practice sessions play out for you guys? Is it extended jams and improvisations that turn into structured songs? Or are practices more structured than that?

Kevin Samuel: Thank you for the compliment. We are all players and enjoy music to it’s fullest. As far as rehearsing is considered it has to be structured to some extent. That being because half of the band is here in Fort Wayne while the other half is in Chicago. We are easily able to practice our music on our own and come together prepared to rehearse. The main focus is preparing for our upcoming shows and that we have everything dialed in the way we want it since we don’t have the luxury of being able to practice every night of the week together.

EAP: Do you guys have any shows lined up to support the new album? 

Kevin Samuel: Yes. We are currently booking shows for 2015 and looking to hop on some major festival slots and possibly on some major shows in the Midwest region. Our first show out since the album dropped will be December 6th here in Fort Wayne at Four D’s Bar and Grill with a notable shred titan, Michael Angelo Batio. There will also be other great locals on this bill like Zephaniah, Demonwolf, and Scott Burkhart.

 

EAP: Speaking of live shows, what can people expect at a Thematic show?

Kevin Samuel: We enjoy performing and playing live in any capacity. We always like to add to the live aspect of our shows by engaging the crowd rather than just playing our songs and expecting them give us their full attention. We are the type of band that might, at any time, pull out an improvisation on a whim.

EAP: So does Thematic already have any new material in the works?

Kevin Samuel: Actually, yes! It never really ends honestly. The next project is in the works already but it’s not album #2. We are doing an EP of cover songs from select artists that each of us feel has impacted us in someway or another. Instead of covering popular songs we are reworking lesser known songs in our musical style.

EAP: So what’s next for Thematic? What does 2015 hold for Thematic?

Kevin Samuel: We plan to continue the momentum going into 2015 by booking shows in support of our album The Endless Light. We plan to have a music video released sometime soon from one of the songs off the album. Expect to see another side of us when we release the cover EP in early 2015. We will also begin working on new music for album #2!

Make sure you check out Thematic at Four D’s Bar and Grill on December 6th and snag a copy of their excellent new album The Endless Light. You can also grab a copy at http://thematicmusic.com/, as well as keeping up with the band and all things Thematic.

http://thematicofficial.bandcamp.com/releases

 

Thematic :: The Endless Light

endless lightThere’s a lot to be said for progressive metal. It’s not like you can record a progressive metal album over the weekend in the garage with nothing more than a 4-track and some secondhand guitars. There’s precision, ebb and flow, highs and lows, and a narrative involved in a proper progressive rock album that needs to be taken into account. Without it, it’s just another metal album. Fort Wayne’s Thematic have unleashed their relenting album debut with The Endless Light, a mix of Dream Theater precision, Tool heaviness, and a good amount of classic speed metal to get all the hardcore metal heads excited.

I can’t say for sure if The Endless Light is a concept album, but it has the flow and timing of one. “Precipice” opens the album quietly with some Tangerine Dream-like ambient vibes before “Epoch” comes roaring in to tear your face off. It has the vibe of those classic Metal Blade Records albums from the 80s. Fates Warning comes to mind on this track especially. It’s heavy in the verses and soars in the chorus. “Tempest” has the sound of a beefier Incubus with some King Crimson thrown in for good measure, “Evoke” brings back many a 80s metal memories. If you’re at all familiar with those classic Shrapnel Records releases in the 80s you’ll love the guitar in this track. Vinnie Moore would be proud.

The album continues on a path of both relentless heaviness and quiet interludes, all of which was expertly composed, arranged, engineered and produced by the band themselves. Intricate, metronome-like drum precision that blasts double kick madness, standing up to drum titans with names like Dave Lombardo and Charlie Benante; not to mention Neal Peart and Mike Portnoy. Guitars shoot effortless speed runs out of the speakers with ease, and vocals that both growl and soar. “RE:M” is a break in the metal and gives us a quiet moment of piano balladry, something Savatage did very well back in the day. “Obsidian” sports some monster riffage and tons of angst, while “The Beating Heart” is an acoustic-led track with some great drumming backing it up. “Deep Field” ends the album on a quiet note, with some ambient guitar tones.

Thematic do their progressive forefathers right by making a great debut album. Metal and progressive fans alike can find something to love on The Endless Light.

7.5 out of 10

F*cking Panthers :: Two Ways of Life

f'ing panthersDo you remember when you were young and filled with vitriol and fire? You know, those days where you grabbed the world by its lapels on a daily basis and shook it till it gave a damn? Back when you shouted at the top of your lungs into the black void that was existence until your spittle was blood red? If you don’t remember those days(like me), then the F*cking Panthers have you covered. They’re hear to shout in your face and make your ears bleed with a mix of metal, hardcore, and anything that is ragged, jagged, and mad as hell. Two Ways of Life is their newest long player and in under 50 minutes they deliver their sermon straight from the book of Black Flag.

Churubusco, IN doesn’t really offer much in the way of an underground music culture. It’s a town that’s half way between ‘nowhere special’ and ‘not much at all’. But despite being born and bred in small town Hoosierville, the guys in F*cking Panthers have somehow found inspiration in the hallowed halls of record labels like SST, Sub Pop, Rough Trade, and Epitaph. Their debut album, 2011s Learning To Die, proved they had the energy to put pure adrenaline to tape. After three years the guys have tightened up their sound and have amped up the Rollins roar in the vocals. “Rise” is classic hardcore, mixing both early 80s California punk with hints of East coast thrash. “Don’t Fall Asleep” even hints at early Slayer when they still sounded like a young, Satan-worshipping hardcore band. “Hit Me I’m Amish” is sure to become standard listening at local barn raisings, while “Frozen In Carbonite” has a Mastodon heft to it. “Bottle Rockets and Lightning Bugs” sounds almost the way you’d imagine a song with that title would, somewhere between a small town roundbarn stomp and a mosh pit lullaby. “Winter” nearly hits some classic rock notes with some harmonized guitar lines and a bit of a melody coming from the barked vocals. And ode to their hometown, “Churubusco” ends the album like a tough love mantra about escaping from your beginnings to make a new start. Some people never cross that county line, but the guys in the F*cking Panthers will never have that problem.

I’d say F*cking Panthers’ outlook has improved. They’ve gone from Learning To Die to Two Ways of Life in just under three years. But don’t think a more positive outlook on life is complacency. Two Ways of Life is anything but complacency.

7.5 out of 10

 

Nothing :: Guilty Of Everything

nothingOne of the most arresting, pounding, and quite beautiful 40 minutes you could spend would be with Nothing’s Guilty Of Everything. Imagine this vast black space and you’re staring down into it. It’s scary as hell, and you see no discernible bottom in this cavernous hole. Yet there’s something quite beautiful emanating from it that draws you nearer. It’s the beautiful drone that envelopes you and beckons you closer and closer to the edge till you realize you’re in the darkness. It surrounds you, blankets you, and holds you within the black. And you don’t mind. That is the magic of Guilty Of Everything. Musically it pummels you and pushes you into the wall till your bruised and battered, yet lead Nothing Dominic Palermo sings in a pushed whisper. It’s as if the music forces the air out of his lungs, allowing him to reveal his deep, dark secrets. Those secrets? A rough start of things, violence, incarceration, and then eventually some serious soul searching which led to Palermo making music as Nothing. Guilty Of Everything is their debut full-length and shows a band in top form and with many more stories to tell.

“Hymn To The Pillory” makes me think of gray clouds, drooping pines, and muddy landscapes with crumbling city streets in the far distance. The negative to a Pennsylvania snapshot. It could be the Pacific Northwest or southern Ohio for that matter but since Nothing hail from Philly then Pennsylvania fits just fine. This song encapsulates years of hopes and dreams dirtied and tattered. The music is heavy shoegaze. It’s like Whirr cranked to 11. Then “Dig” charges in sounding like Deafheaven fronted by Elliot Smith. It’s an absolutely stunning track. Guitars bounce off reverbed walls as Palermo sings, well, I’m not sure what he’s singing. But it’s not really what he’s saying more than how he’s saying it. And how he says it makes me think he really means it. “Endlessly” evokes a feeling vastness as  Palermo’s voice feels as if it surrounds you and engulfs you. That blackness; that void. It’s always there so you learn to live with it. Cope with it.

The album is mixed with moments of propulsion and slow burn. One minute you’re crawling on your hands and knees through broken glass and debris towards some mysterious light; the next minute you’re being pushed towards the light by some unknown force. You can’t help but think that songs like “Somersault”, “Get Well”, and “B&E” are direct connections to Palermo’s past. Aural snapshots of dark times he’s now trying to make sense of and heal from. Last track “Guilty Of Everything” seems to be an open letter to the universe written in blood-red ink. A plea for some kind of peace. Or to at least be able to get through another day.

Listening to Guilty Of Everything, despite the despair in so many of the songs you get the feeling that these are snapshots of a past life. Dominic Palermo seems to have made some kind of peace with his demons and is sharing his journey and what he’s learned through these intense, swirling kaleidoscopes of songs. Nothing’s Guilty Of Everything is intense, heavy, hazy, and filled with dark beauty.

8.6 out of 10

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