Sunday, 29 January 2012

Pajo - Scream With Me

Like about a million other teenage weirdos, I was a huge Misfits fan in my younger years. I say that as if that's still not the case, they're still one of my favourite bands.

They're also hugely influential on a wide range of musicians, and have been covered countless times.
However, not many people strip away the distortion, the speed, and take these brilliant songs down to the bare melody and Glenn Danzig's morbid lyrics. That's what ex-Slint guitarist David Pajo has done on this collection of Misfits classics.

Side One opens with Angelfuck, a slowly plucked variation on the usually fuzzed-up intro. Tape hiss permeates the recording. Pajo's voice softly croons the words, usually yowled out, giving them a whole new dimension. Before hearing this version, I was never 100% sure what the lyrics were, hearing them in this whole new context allows you to actually appreciate that the Misfits were more than just a standard punk band. Though if you're a fan, then you know that already.

My favourite Misfits song, and one of my favourite songs of all time, Hybrid Moments. Usually beginning with a bone-shaking drumbeat, hearing it open with more warped acoustic plucking is a little weird. The driving rhythm of the original is lost, but again, the clearly sung version gives the lyrics a whole new lease of life. This version sounds almost like young lustful yearning, Danzig's words sounding downright pleading as Pajo whisper-sings "Give me a moment...".

Where Eagles Dare is up next, and the guitar is pretty basic on this one, and the verse delivery is kinda boring. It's worth hearinng just for the sweetly sung classic line "I ain't no goddamn son of a bitch!".

Assassination anthem Bullet is another song that tames the original's indecipherable yelling into a clear, plaintive croon, the second half's sexually deviant lyrics all the more unsettling for being sung so calmly. For being much more palatable to most people's ears, this is actually much more fucked up than the original.

Side One closes with Teenagers From Mars, one of my least favourite songs on this collection. He changes up the tone and chords of the song to give it a sense of foreboding that isn't present in the fun original, and I don't think it works too well. Considering it's a schlocky song about, well, teenagers from Mars, this sounds a little too serious with the weird chords progressions he chooses. I don't know, I just don't like it.

Side Two opens with one of my least favourite 'Fits songs, Devil's Whorehouse, so to be honest, no other interpretation is going to convince me of this song's merits. Thankfully the next track is Horror Business, another classic. When I talked about the sense of foreboding he gave Teenagers... and how I didnt think it worked? He does the same thing with this track initially, his whispered vocals filling you with a real sense of Hitchcock-ian dread. The simple guitar breaks out into a bright, melancholic passage about a minute-and-a-half in, his vocals reaching towards the upper registers as he intones "I'm warning you, I'll put a knife right in you!" making it sound quietly menacing.

More Mars madness next, with a jaunty folk-y take on I Turned Into A Martian, where he FINALLY brings the trademark 'whoah-oh-ohhhs' the Misfits were so known for into the mix. This is probably one of the most faithful renditions on the record.

The album closes with Attitude, a song also butchered by Guns N Roses at one point, so his competition ain't too stiff. This is another straight-up cover, albeit in the inimitable style you'll be accustomed to by this point. The album closes as it began, slowly plucked strings, soft vocals and tape hiss. Fucking great stuff.

This is still available over at Black Tent Press, and each copy comes with an awesome spraypainted and hand-screened cover. Go get one and chill out with a deceptively spooky collection of lo-fi folky ditties. If you want to try before you buy, the full album is streaming over on Pajo's site.

Wraiths - The Grey Emperor

Sometimes if I have money burning a hole in my pocket, I'll trawl my local record stores on the hunt for things that catch my eye, which is exactly how I stumbled upon this release.

Creepy illustration printed on thick card, sealed with a wax stamp, of fucking COURSE I was intrigued! I had no idea what the band name was, what was in the package, what it would sound like, all I knew is that it looked more interesting than the endless jewel case CDs lining the racks of Avalanche Records.

It's sat gathering dust on my shelves for months because, to be honest, I'm kind of intimidated by it.
I got it home that same day, opened it up to find no further clues beyond some obscure, arcane words of warning, and a CD. I popped the CD into my player, and the information it read was one single track, running time 57:55.

I had picked up a bunch of Discharge vinyl that same day and decided that even THAT would make for easy listening compared to this! So I put the CD back in the hand-assembled packaging, and put it aside, for another day when I had more time to dedicate to giving it a proper listen.

That day was over a year in coming. It lay forgotten on my dusty shelves until I unearthed it today. Guess it's time to creep myself out for an hour, huh?

That intimidating 57:55 flashes up on my player again, but I won't wimp out this time. Play.

Silence fades in for a minute before an echoing sound approaches. The frequency of the noise increases, while a drone rumbles in the background. It sounds like a ritual drum in ruins. The rumble sounds like a great flame fanned by the wind. The drum pulses on. An electronic scree occasionally creeps in like a radio signal not quite within range.

Nine minutes pass before, faintly, barely audible, another sound strikes up. I can't discern what it is, but it has the slightest hint of melody. Or at least a variation on a note. The drum echo changes and dies, and the rumble looms large. It sounds like the wind is picking up.

Fourteen minutes in another steady pulse begins, this one deeper, like a regular dropping of bombs in the distance. It almost has rhythm. Almost. An abrasive signal noise scrapes in, increasing in volume before disappearing just as fast as it arrived. Despite the archaic wording and imagery used in the packaging of this release, it makes me think of a dystopian landscape, like an empty city with no survivors, remnants of a rescue signal echoing out into nothing. No supernatural elements, just a cold lifeless grey-skied future.

Like the saying goes, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?". The sounds I hear here are the steady pace of continued existence, but no actual life left. Like mechanized systems functioning long after their constructors have ceased to breathe. Nothing hears these sounds, but they are made nonetheless.

Twenty-five minutes. Whatever is happening is happening faster. Something is moving, more sounds join the fray, the wind keeps howling, but the howl sounds... alive. The recording of tortured cries.

Thirty-one minutes and the cry sounds like a rusted nail slowly being scraped along the hull of an enormous empty oil tanker. Whatever this has been building to, it's happening. Something sounds angry. The eponymous Grey Emperor sounds like a mean sonofabitch. What sounds like a wheel spinning creaks into the soundscape for seconds. The background is like a post-apocalyptic second wave of nuclear holocaust.

Forty minutes onwards play out with what sounds like the last munitions on the planet being fired across a great gulf, like gigantic fireworks. Inhuman screams and lamentations escape through rusted ruined tracheotomy tubes. The lungs they escape from fill with smoke and... silence. The fire in the wind rumble is all that's left.

57:55 later and my psyche is fucked. I need a lie down. Fucking hell.

Well, that was a suitably pretentious account of something too unsettling to ever truly be enjoyed.
But if you want to put yourself in a mental institution, go out into the dark at 3am with these sounds in your headphones, and walk until you don't know where you are anymore. Your mind will break.

This creepfest is still available from the excellent, and local, At War With False Noise, who have released other great stuff like Ramesses' 'Take The Curse' and the forthcoming Uzala LP.
Get on over to their site and support other Scottish weirdos:

And if ambient/drone/noise is your thing, check out Wraiths and other associated projects at Ordo Pestilentia

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Hellmouth / Embrace The Kill / In Defence / Opposition Rising split 7"

You know what's awesome? When a record you knew nothing about comes through the post because your girl ordered it to your address so she could hear a vinyl-only demo recording of a song unavailable anywhere else, and needs to take over your record player to hear it. Thats how I came to be in possession of this little beauty.

Considering it's 'just' a 7", you get a lot of bang for yer buck, as it features four bands, flyers, a patch, and a lyric sheet. I'm always interested in hearing bands I haven't before, so I'm going to start with the three I'm unfamiliar with: In Defence, Opposition Rising, and Embrace The Kill.

Minneapolis' In Defence are up first with their track 'United Farces', which according to both the lyric sheet and the gang vocals, is about corporate bailouts, a subject most people are pretty angry about these days, perfect lyrical fodder for pissed-off hardcore.
This is hardcore verging more on the crossover side, with a few thrashy sections in the verses, and a few scuzzy solos thrown in. These guys should come over the pond and tour with Liverpool's SSS.

Opposition Rising, from Boston, continue the theme with 'FTW', which gives you a pretty good idea of what their viewpoint is. Fast-paced hardcore backs barked words of misanthropy, the chorus, somewhat obviously, being Fuck The World gang-shouted over and over. The music is tight and muscular, which is a bit of a stupid description, but it's what coems to mind listening to this track. It chugs along for a couple of verses before the pace slows for a breakdown before speeding back up for the final blast of fuck the worlds. Not usually my bag, but this was pretty damn good.

Embrace The Kill open the other side of the record with a fucking BIZARRE flamenco-sounding intro to their track 'Blacklisted'. The flamenco gives way to a bouncy rhythm with some tremolo picked guitar, which goes on for a few bars before another weird stylistic shift occurs. The vocals kick in, sounding like taking-the-piss black metal or something. Well, for one line anyway, before the vocal duties seem to split between two members, call and response style, the other voice having a guttural cookie-monster vibe. The first verse ends (I think, this song is impossible to keep up with), and there's a thrashy divebomb before another punked-up black metal-ish section kicks in. These guys clearly couldn't decide on what kinda band they wanted to be, so decided to do EVERYTHING. It doesn't exactly make for easy listening, but after a couple of spins, I appreciate it.
There's even a little Minutemen-esque jazz bass couple of seconds before the tempo lurches between mid-paced and a powerviolence blast. If you want to hear about a million ends of the punk spectrum, listen to this song. These guys must be fucking exhausted, and exhausting, when they play live.

Hellmouth sound like they couldn't have come from anywhere but the decay of Detroit, and they were the band that this record was purchased for. Their track is a demo version of 'Amen, Assholes', an anti-religious burst of bile with the crust-tastic chorus of 'No Gods, No Masters, Bow down to no bastards'.
I've heard the album version of this track countless times, but this version sounds rawer, looser.
The opening burst of rat-a-tat machine gun drums gives way to a ripper of a verse, ex-Suicide Machines vocalist Jay Navarro using his torn throat to lay into all religions, not just content with being antichristian, his words are equal-opportunity destroyers. No deity is safe.
I might be biased, but this is easily my favourite song on this split, it's short, sharp, and to the point, pulls no punches, and doesn't outstay it's welcome at just over a minute. Fucking great.

If you want a copy, there are still plenty available over at Profane Existence. While you're there, check out the rest of their catalogue too, there's a lot of great bands in there.

Check out each of the bands' sites too:

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Southern Death Cult / Death Cult

These are some of the only records that survived the great cull of 2005, when I sold pretty much my whole record collection. I was a pretty huge fan of The Cult when I was a teenager, and snapped up just about everything I could find that they'd ever put out, which obviously included these releases featuring future cock-rocking nonsense-babbler Ian Astbury.

As I've gotten older, the appeal of The Cult has pretty much worn off (with the exception of debut album Dreamtime, which still makes my ears perk up), but I still own just about everything they put out until the 90s on vinyl. Hearing the fucking abysmal late-80s 'Sweet Soul Sister' in a metal bar in Germany prompted me to drunkenly babble about Southern Death Cult for a minute, reminding me that I owned these records, but never really gave them a proper listen at the time. Time to rectify that, I reckon.

The name Southern Death Cult is apparently taken from an obscure Native American tribe from the 14th/15th century, which sounds about right for Astbury, seeing as he's always been obsessed with atavistic mysticism and shamanism, even up until his hero-worship-come-true period in the reformed Doors, where he played a karaoke Jim Morrison for a few years. I'm getting off track a bit, but despite how much shit I give him I do still like Astbury. He's just a bit of a ridiculous figure, an easy target for ridicule.

The record opens with Fatman, a slow-starting barn burner of a song which must have sounded fucking great live, with careening, intricate guitars, pounding tribal drums and anti-capitalist, anti-corporate rhetoric lyrics, which always went down a storm with early-80s punks. What sets this post-punk set apart from the lyrically-similar likes of Discharge and other early-80s UK punk is the ear for a real danceable instrumental melody, and soaring sung vocals, as opposed to distortion and barks.
My horrible 'you weren't there, man' comparison would be early Killing Joke, which is obviously absurd, but they have the same tribal, dancey bounce in their sound. I still wouldn't dance to it myself, but this opener is undeniably anthemic in it's own way.

The next track, The Girl, is introduced by a drum circle stomp, closely followed by guitar lines stolen straight from Roland S Howard's skewed catalogue of 'riffs', but played in a much safer, precise fashion. More hoo-hoo-hoo-hoos in lieu of lyrics make up the chorus vocal, but what lyrics he does have actually SAY something worthwhile, a facet missing after the transformation into The Cult. Astbury's voice has rarely sounded better than on this release, real passion as opposed to just wanky vocal acrobatics.

The other side, Moya, is another slow-building exercise in rythm, excellent musically, but lyrically it's fucking excruciating.
'The kids of the coca-cola nation
Are too doped up to realize
That time is running out
Nagasaki's crying out...'
Eh?! But despite cringing every time he squawks the corporation's name, this is still a great track. The bass bounces and drives, the drums rattle like machine guns, the light, chiming guitars take a back seat in the mix, letting the rhythm section march along in anti-corporate protest. The end of the track descends into what Astbury probably thinks is an accurate approximation of some sort of wardance chant. Hmm.

This anthology, released by Beggars Banquet after the Southern Death Cult had disbanded, collects the bands various radio sessions and live recordings onto one record. It's somewhat cobbled together, and it shows. It also features different mixes of a couple of the tracks from the Moya 12" which sound tinnier and more compressed than the versions on that record.
The tracks from the BBC Maida Vale sessions (All Glory, Today, False Faces and Apache) are a little more spacious sounding than the other releases, the vocals are lower in the mix, allowing the rhythmic aspect of the band to shine.
The Crypt, recorded at Manchester Square, opens with a plaintive piano, and the usual frenetic drumming. The piano features intermittently throughout, and is a nice touch to break up a constant drum/bass/guitar assault. Though the effect is somewhat ruined by the whoops and yeehaas in the background. What the fuck were they thinking, some sort of cowboys and Indians idiocy.

The second side is the live stuff, which benefits from being a little looser production-wise, the band rattling along at their usual frantic pace, Astbury's voice becoming a little ragged around the edges in the live setting. Whats weird about these three songs (Crow, Faith, Vivisection) is that despite being live recording, you can't hear the crowd at all, which makes them sound a little... I don't know. It's just weird. Faith in particular sounds way too energetic for a recording that sounds like the band are playing to an empty room. I don't know why I'm criticizing it so much, these are solid as fuck live cuts, the band sounds incredible. They could recreate the complex guitar lines and drum patterns live, thats for sure.

Death Cult's 'Brothers Grimm' EP follows the breakup of the Southern Death Cult, and besides Astbury features an entirely different lineup, including Theatre of Hate guitarist Billy Duffy, and The Cult's first in a long line of rhythm sections.

Opening with the eponymous title track, this sounds like a halfway point between the short sharp needling guitarwork of SDC and the more grandiose sound The Cult would later embrace. Actually, the little vibrato bends from Duffy's tremolo arm on his big white Gretsch make the whole thing sound almost surf-rocky. I can't believe I still remember so much about this band. This is probably why I failed so miserably academically, my teenage head was filled with all this useless shite.
The drums aren't as imaginative and tribal as they were in SDC, in fact they're downright boring.

Ghost Dance opens with some spooky slow picked notes and chimes and bleeps, before transforming into a rumbling, shuddering beast, with a few more of those surf-rock bends thrown into the pre-chorus. More chanting, wailing nothingwords from Ian.
Halfway through the whole thing breaks down into a pretty standard beat, and an amateur geometry lesson from Ian. This is so fucking weird. It never really regains the momentum of the initial sprint.

Horse Nation would later become one of the first songs released as The Cult, and even a decade after I first heard it, it's still fucking great. The guitars open with an ominous few notes, but when that first riff eventually erupts, they're... this sounds so wanky and hyperbolic, but they're fucking blistering. The drums return the more interesting patterns of the first incarnation of the band. The vocals are soaring. The whole thing has structure, it builds and builds, and there are a few climactic moments of tension and release. I still fucking love this song.

Compared to that, final track Christians just can't compare. By this point, you know what to expect, and you get it. Hard-hitting tomtom beats, winding guitar passages and mystic croonings about some vaguely spiritual something-or-other.

The two 12" singles were released on the now-defunct Situation Two, and have all been out of print for decades now, and I have absolutely no idea where you'd find copies these days. I do know that Beggars Banquet put out the anthology on CD a decade or so back, so that might be your best bet. I acquired all of these back when I had nothing else to do but trawl record stores up and down the UK. Ah, the joys of my (incredibly nerdy with questionable taste in Goth rock) youth.

Monday, 9 January 2012


'This is an improv, minimalist solo project based on feeling and impulse, recorded by Stevie Floyd in 2009'.

That is the only information available on the internet about this release from Dark Castle guitarist/vocalist Stevie Floyd, which lends an appropriate air of mystery to the music. I wanted something to take me away from the draining day I've had, and lying on the floor listening to drone-y minimalist soundscapes was just what I needed.

my copy

The version I got is different from the initial run, in that the design and text have changed, and it's not hand-numbered, but I don't really give a shit about that sort of thing, because despite this pretentious blog, I'm not an elitist record-collector asshole. Well, not TOO much...

original run copy

Anyway, time to turn the volume up, lay my body low, and get into this...

Opening with cleanly picked notes with bright clear tone that instantly fill the darkened room, it's clear this isn't going to be merely 'Dark Castle minus drums'. I try not to compare musicians, but my first thought is that it reminds me of a slightly fuzzier take on Earth's more recent recordings. Slow, mournful, low-sung vocals creep in atop the repeating guitar motifs, a mix of crooned, sung, growled passages, all melding together to produce a really haunting mood.

The guitars break up, with so much delay and reverb, they're more akin to chiming bells than any kind of stringed instrument. They wind, weave, never settling on one passage for long before they veer off into new textures, notes, scales. It's an unsettling effect.

I desperately want to relax, but my attention is demanded, I need to hear where the sounds will go next. The unmarked packaging, devoid of tracklist or running time gives me no clues. The deceptively bright guitar tone and deeply sung vocals heighten the ominous, creeping, crawling nature of the music. By the time the album fades out, I'm officially creeped the fuck out.

This is a soundtrack for haunted wastelands, for forests in the dead of night, for feeling insignificant under the stars.

I got to talk to Stevie about this recording after seeing Dark Castle play in Edinburgh a couple of months back, and mentioned how interested I was in hearing this, and she told me that there may be more Natur recordings in the works, that she'd been playing music with a drummer. I'm not sure how the inclusion of a more percussive sound in the mix would affect the mounting tension I experience listening to this initial recording, but I'm really interested to find out!

You can check out the recording here, if you can get myspace to work, that is...
Buy it direct from Dark Castle's bandcamp page, as well as other great music/artwork Stevie has created
And go talk to Stevie if you get the chance to see her play, one of the coolest people I've ever had the pleasure of annoying at a show.