I’ve been meaning to check out New Zealand’s Beastwars for quite some time, but I’m ashamed to admit that the band somehow got lost in the disheveled and disorganized avalanche that is my “bands to check out” list when their self-titled debut was released back in 2011. In spite of this grievous error, it would appear the metal gods chose to smile upon me anyway, as my colleague Craig Hayes recently hooked me up with a promo of the band’s second album Blood Becomes Fire on the band’s behalf. Just one spin of the quartet’s sophomore opus had me cursing myself for a goddamn fool for not getting ’round to them sooner, because not only is this bad mama-jama right up my alley, it’s one of the all-around best metal albums I’ve heard so far in 2013.
If I remember correctly, The Sword were among the first bands to get the dreaded “hipster metal” tag lobbed at them when they came seemingly out of nowhere back in 2006 with Age of Winters. I personally didn’t understand it; since when has ’70′s Sabbath flavored riff rock ever been considered “hip?” Do hipsters really listen to/like this stuff? The town I live in has a pretty sizeable hipster contingent, which is quite surprising for being centered smack dab in the asshole of the Midwest, but I have never once seen any of them at a metal or rock show, they’re too busy drinking coffee and listening to Bon Iver or some shit. Perhaps it had something to do with the way the band looked; Satan forbid someone make this music without sporting a navel-grazing billy goat beard and a denim vest that smells like a thirty-year-old beer fart. In reality, it was probably a combination of the hype surrounding the band and a pervasive media presence. Age of Winters was a competent if flawed album, but The Sword would continue to uh, sharpen their approach with 2008′s excellent Gods of the Earth, an album that (at least to these ears) was both heavier and catchier than what had come before. I somehow missed the quartet’s third album, the science-fiction concept album Warp Riders, but when Apocryphon was released earlier this year, I was ready to check back in with the band so many metalheads seemingly love to hate.
2012 has been more stressful than a motherfucker; probably one of the most all-around stressful years of my life. Buying a house + assorted family and work-related issues that I wouldn’t even dream of getting into here managed to turn the year into a goddamn pressure-cooker. I’m pretty sure the only things that kept me alive were my wife’s unwavering love (and limitless patience) and an avalanche of incredible music. In 2011 I was feeling pretty jaded and dissatisfied with the state of heavy metal, this year I found myself feeling better about things than I have in years. That isn’t to say there weren’t great albums released in 2011, there were, but in 2012 I felt like there was so much greatness that I couldn’t possibly keep up with it all.
I’ve talked a lot of smack about new bands trying to sound like old bands. It isn’t so much that I have a problem with young musicians exploring the sounds of yesteryear; it has more to do with a lack of sincerity and originality. The world of heavy music is rife with bandwagon-jumpers and glory-seekers, but it’s typically pretty easy to figure out who’s the “real deal” and who’s full of shit; it’s all in the music. It only takes one listen to Germany’s Kadavar to know that these guys are throwing down some seriously heartfelt proto-metal on their self-titled debut for Tee Pee.
Heavy metal and alcohol go together like… well, like heavy metal and alcohol. Once a metalhead starts to imbibe, if he’s anything like me, there are at least a handful of songs he will no doubt demand to hear, songs that add to the invincible feeling that only a little bit of the ol’ liquid courage can provide, complete with copious amounts of goat throwing, air guitaring, invisible orange palming, headbanging and living room moshing. It’s a testament to the emotional and physical response that heavy metal can inspire, amplified a thousand fold by mankind’s age-old friends hops and barley (or perhaps something harder, if you’re so inclined).
So pour yourself a pint of your favorite poison and settle in for THKD’s top ten songs for tying one on. While these songs don’t necessarily have anything to do with drinking, they’re the songs I want to hear when I’m drinking.
I first discovered Corrosion of Conformity during the mid-’90s Pepper Keenan (guitar/vocals) era; by then, they had fully traded in the crossover thrash of 1985′s Animosity album in favor of the swaggering, metallic southern rock of Deliverance and Wiseblood. That’s the COC I had come to know and love over the years, so I was admittedly apprehensive upon hearing that the band had reconvened without Keenan at the helm to record their first new material since 2005′s underrated In the Arms of God. Would they abandon the smoked-out stoner-isms that had made COC so near and dear to my heart in favor of revisiting the crossover days of yore? Would Keenan’s absense leave an unfillable hole in their sound?
I’ve always been fascinated by power trios. It surely has something to do with my love of all things raw and stripped down, since it doesn’t get any more stripped down than tres hombres against the world, brandishing only electric instruments and bad attitudes. The power trio is the bare minimum of musicians needed to produce a full and complete sound within a rock or metal format (although I’m sure there are plenty of duos who would beg to differ… eh, fuck ‘em); it’s all about maximizing the minimal, and I’ve often found that power trios are inherently heavier and more powerful-sounding than these bands that feel the need to have three guitarists, two vocalists, four drummers, a percussionist, a keyboardist, a DJ, an acrobat, a lion tamer, etc… just listen to Motorhead, Venom, High on Fire or Hellhammer and you’ll catch my drift.
The world needs real rock ‘n’ roll more than ever. Have you listened to the radio lately? Go on then, have a listen to some of the limp-wristed, candy-assed, sub-Nickelback horseshit that passes for mainstream rock music lately and you’ll hear what I’m talking about, a bunch of preening jackasses who look like they stepped out of the pages of the Abercrombie & Fuckface catalogue, playing songs about having sex with sluts, drinking, doing drugs and having sex with more sluts. And I don’t mean that in a filthy/sleazy/awesome Venom or Motorhead way either. I mean it in a soulless, sac-less, nauseating, pristinely produced and utterly contrived faux-grunge frat-rock way, replete with vocals that sound like a cross between Eddie Vedder and a goat with a cob up its ass. Yes folks, we need real rock ‘n’ roll more than ever.
Okay, so Kvelertak’s debut was released in Europe by Indie Recordings last year, but the album didn’t make it stateside until recently (unless you were willing to pay an arm and a leg for the import) thanks to the fine folks at The End. I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive about this band due to the shitstorm of hype and my own admittedly absurd genre purity concerns regarding black metal (more on this later). What I’ve come to realize after repeated listens, is that Kvelertak flat out fucking rocks.
But is it enough for something to “rock”? For me, the answer is absolutely. On occasion, I’m completely okay with music that serves the sole purpose of making me want to drink excessively, headbang and break shit. That’s Kvelertak. The album is a catchier-than-herpes adrenalin rush that’s all too easy to get swept up in, once you let your bullshit guard down and ignore the hype machine. Even though I’m not fluent in Norwegian, these songs are getting stuck in my head and I find myself singing along phonetically. Saying that it is enough for a band to rock isn’t giving them a free pass or letting them off the hook. If rocking was easy, every band would do it. In 2011, there are fewer bands that know how to rock than ever before, making Kvelertak’s presence a much needed one in the metal scene.
Kvelertak take elements of black metal and mix ‘em up w/ rock, punk/hardcore and just a dash stoned southern swagger. As I stated earlier, I often take issue with bands cross-pollinating black metal w/ other genres (except death metal, thrash and whatever Darkthrone feels like mixing it with, of course), mainly because roughly 99.9% of the them do it in a way that isn’t even remotely listenable (the bulk of that black metal/shoegaze bullshit or the all the indie rock hipsters trying desperately and failing to rip off Weakling, for instance). Kvelertak only borrow the bare minimum from the black metal canon, mainly the raspy screams and the occasional tremolo riff. Since the band is Norwegian and the genre is inextricably ingrained in the country’s cultural identity at this point, I don’t have much of a problem with them picking the bones of black metal. Especially when it’s in service of the aforementioned rock. Kvelertak is most certainly a metal band, but their roots are clearly in hard rock; there are riffs on this album that sound like they could belong to Turbonegro (before they befriended Bam Margera and started sucking) or Monster Magnet. Like those bands, Kvelertak know how to bring the fucking thunder. Just check out “Mjod” and “Fossegrim” above and you’ll see/hear exactly what I’m talking about.
The domestic release of Kvelertak includes six bonus tracks in the form of demos and BBC sessions. While these additional tracks don’t add anything particularly revelatory to the listening experience, they are appropriately rough and raw, betraying Kvelertak’s punk/hardcore influences. The BBC tracks in particular crackle with an electricity that makes me wish I had been able to catch the band on one of their recent stateside dates (they played in San Francisco the day before I got there… story of my life, ugh).
In that last paragraph I mentioned electricity. That’s what Kvelertak are all about. A release of pent up energy through balls to the wall, metallic super-rock ’til you drop, not to mention a healthy dose of reckless abandon. If you’re still on the fence, I highly recommend picking up the album and giving them a chance. They made me a believer.
I absolutely love Subrosa’s latest album, No Help for the Mighty Ones. So should you. I could go on for days about the band’s earth-shaking mix of doom, sludge and vintage alt-rock, but I’d much rather let one of the architects behind this phenomenal recording do the talking. I got in touch with guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon with a little help from the fine folks at Profound Lore, and the following in-depth interrogation transpired.
THKD: For THKD readers who might not be familiar with Subrosa, how did the band get started? What was your initial inspiration?
Rebecca Vernon: I had the idea to start a band like Subrosa, minus the violins, for about three years before Subrosa began. The initial inspiration for me wanting to write heavy sludge music at all was a band from Provo, Utah called the Red Bennies … still the angriest band I’ve ever seen live. They were playing strange, heavy, downtuned sludge with a confrontational punk edge in 1994. They are my biggest influence.
THKD: How would you describe Subrosa’s sound to someone who hasn’t heard your music?
RV: I guess I would call us experimental, melodic stoner/sludge metal with electric violins. I’m not afraid to categorize us. ☺
THKD: What can you tell us about Subrosa’s songwriting process? Is there a “main composer” or do you write as a group?
RV: I started the band with a vision in mind, and wrote most of the parts for the songs for the first few years (except violin—Sarah’s always written her own violin part). But over the last two years, members joined the band who could write their own parts and preferred to … which I welcomed with open arms, because there’s nothing worse than coming up with a great guitar riff, then remembering you also have to write the vocal melody, lyrics, bass, and drum parts. Ugh.
THKD: The song “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes” was inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. What is it about that novel that prompted you to write a song about it?
RV: For one, Cormac McCarthy is a word-smithing genius. The beauty and pain of his writing is unbelievable, unearthly. His characters’ dialogue, too, is spare and perfect.
In particular though, what I focused on in The Road through the lyrics of “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes” (which is a phrase from the book), is that the silly, banal folk wisdom that we build our lives around, those clichés that appear on refrigerator magnets that everyone clings to desperately amidst the shipwrecks of their lives, are pretty much all transparent lies. Our society has no true moorings, and if and when it falls apart one day, everyone will turn into animals, and I will watch it all, laughing.
THKD: “House Carpenter” is a traditional Celtic folk song. Why did you choose this song to cover? How does folk music tie into what you’re doing in Subrosa?
RV: Well, I used to think I hated folk music. I always thought the people who wrote and performed it were pretentious. But now I know better. There’s something so sorrowful about old folk music written in a minor key … it’s as if the songs, after passing through so many decades, absorbed the pain of all the people it touched, and absorbed the spirit of their times. I’m drawn to any music that smacks of “source” material, not copies of a copy. Sarah and I saw “House Carpenter” performed on The Harry Smith Project Live DVD, and fell in love with it. (The DVD has performances from Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Beck, Sonic Youth and more, covering songs from Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.)
THKD: What are some of the other lyrical themes you’re exploring on the album? I definitely get a similar folk/rustic vibe from songs such as “Whippoorwill” and “Attack on Golden Mountain” as well.
RV: “Whippoorwill” definitely was intended to carry that old-school folk feel, and “Attack on Golden Mountain,” has lyrics that follow a folk-like narrative. I think there’s something powerful about telling a story with a few well-chosen, deceptively simple words. Stories are what our lives are based on, and our love of stories is what makes us human. I guess this is why I’m drawn to folk music and that style of lyric-writing.
THKD: Tell us about the song “Beneath the Crown”. I know it has to do with a book on eugenics, but can you go into specifics?
RV: The book, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race talks about a mass sterilization program that occurred in the early part of the last century in America, backed by corporate funding and promoted in academia. It was a social “clean up” of what eugenics enthusiasts perceived as the lower echelons of society—the poor, the diseased, the mentally ill. They felt if they could keep these “undesirables” from reproducing, they could eradicate poverty and disease—and eventually create a master race.
Their philosophies had a direct influence on the Nazis.
It’s a profoundly disturbing book that everyone should read.
THKD: No Help for the Mighty Ones features two violinists. What prompted this approach? What do the violins add to Subrosa’s sound?
RV: My friend, Sarah, was learning violin the summer Subrosa started and so that’s how violins were added to the mix. At first I just visualized a really, really heavy band, and at first I didn’t know how violins would fit into that. But now I’m gladdened by the happy accident … the violins add a depth of haunting emotion to the music that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Kim Pack joined Subrosa in 2009, so now there are two violins—a dual harmonic attack.
THKD: How does the band’s unique instrumentation effect your guitar technique?
RV: I’ve never really felt motivated to play many guitar solos, because the violins take their place. They add the higher-pitched, intense intricacy of traditional metal guitar solos.
THKD: In addition to metal, I hear a lot of ’90s alternative rock (for lack of a better term). I’m thinking specifically of bands like the Breeders, the Pixies, Mazzy Star, PJ Harvey, etc. Were any of these bands or that era in general influential for you or am I way off the mark?
RV: We have gotten that before, but if so, it’s largely unconscious. I was very influenced by the grunge movement when it was happening, but I never directly aspired to capture that era of sound.
PJ Harvey, though, is a major influence on my guitar riffs … her raw, stripped-down approach reminds me that effective riffs are all about simplicity, power and soul. She is one of my top three favorite artists.
RV: Thanks, I’ll tell Glyn you said that. ☺
The album artwork is based on a story that I feel fits in perfectly with the title of the album and the main themes I was trying to capture lyrically—exploitation of the powerless. It’s the story of Tere Jo Dupperault, and the fate of the man that murdered her family. If you Google her name, you can read the details of her story.
The visual side of music is very important to Subrosa; I believe the right visuals can enhance and amplify the emotions and mood of music.
THKD: No Help for the Mighty Ones is your first album for Profound Lore. How did you get hooked up with the label?
RV: Chris and I were in touch since Strega came out in 2008 on I Hate Records. When the co-owner responsible for signing Subrosa left the label, we found ourselves with no one to release our next album. I approached Chris in fall of 2010 with our finished, mixed and mastered album and he said he would like to release it.
THKD: Subrosa is two thirds female. What challenges, if any, do women face in the metal scene? Does the “boys club” mentality of heavy music still exist?
RV: I think women who write and perform heavy music are actually generally respected in the metal scene, even though they are in the minority.
I think one of the biggest challenges women face in the metal scene is the lazy trap of using one’s sexuality to sell or promote your music. It’s a false shortcut.
THKD: Subrosa hails from Salt Lake City, Utah. What is the metal scene like there? Do you get much local support?
RV: It was kind of in a slump, but is coming out of it now. Most of the heavy bands know each other and support each other. We get a lot of support from SLUG Magazine, City Weekly, KRCL and other media outlets that give us air time and exposure. The alternative media outlets in Salt Lake City really support the local scene.
THKD: Salt Lake City is the headquarters of the LDS Church and the hub of Mormonism. How does the religious/political/social climate of the city effect your lives as metal musicians and the scene, if at all?
RV: It has influenced us greatly. The conservative dominant culture has resulted in a thriving counterculture here. There is a certain sincerity in the music the bands in SLC create … writing and performing music is a need, not a luxury.
THKD: Are there any other prominent Salt Lake City bands we should be listening to? Do you have any recommendations for our readers?
RV: Yes … Gaza toured Europe with Converge last summer and I think are touring again with them this year. They are on Black Market Activities and are one of the most brutal bands you’ll ever hear or see. Eagle Twin is on Southern Lord and are touring Australia with Unearthly Trance right now. They toured with Sunn O))) last year. Bird Eater is also on Black Market, Iota is a stoner delight on Small Stone, although lead singer Joey Toscano has set Iota aside and started The Dwellers with Subrosa bassist Dave Jones and Subrosa drummer Zach Hatsis. Gravecode Nebula and IX Zealot offer great black metal, and INVDRS take the cake as loudest band in SLC, on Corruption Recordings in Oregon. Top Dead Celebrity and Old Timer (Subrosa’s bassist Dave’s third band) are great to watch live.
THKD: What are you currently listening to? What books are you reading?
RV: I’ve been playing The Cure’s Disintegration, along with Agalloch’s new record, Marrow of the Spirit. I’m reading a book called UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials go on the Record, by Leslie Kean, and trying to finish The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, by Ray Kurzweil.
THKD: Will you be playing any shows or doing any touring in support of No Help for the Mighty Ones?
RV: Yes, there are some tour plans in the works, but nothing has been decided yet. We’d really like to go to Europe. Stay tuned!
THKD: What does the rest of 2011 have in store for Subrosa?
RV: Touring, and I am going to start writing new songs with Sarah starting this week, hopefully. It’s high time we starting writing music for the next album.
THKD: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add?
RV: Thanks for the interview! I think it’s commendable that you run a webzine all by yourself.
photo credit: Peter Anderson