The Wolf Council – The Wolf Council
Location: Minnesota, USA
Label: Static Tension Recordings
The genre of stoner metal can be a tricky beast to master, especially for younger bands who have yet to comprehend its hazy and devious ways. And yet, there are bands like The Wolf Council, a group that emerges from the smog of Minneapolis simply glowing with potential.
They waste no time when it comes to pulling the listener into their sonic landscape. The album kicks off with slow and crushingly heavy guitar and drum work that create the feeling of a gathering storm which snaps into an almost hypnotic riff accented by impeccable bass and percussion. This becomes the standard of quality for the rest of the album, not in the sense that the same formula is repeated, but that the listener can expect to be just as engrossed in the songs yet to come.
Undoubtedly the band’s strength lies in the high degree of musicianship across the board. A guitar that is so dirty, low, and intricate it is as if it is blasting through long abandoned trenches; percussion that never seems to run out of ideas and does far more than simply hold the beat; and bass work that switches between bone rattling forward lines and foundry grooves that give the rest of the band a solid base to build upon. Even the vocals, despite lacking range and heavy substance, still have excellent tone, phrasing, and tempo that fits perfectly into the rest of the sound. With all these elements already going for them, The Wolf Council even manage to hit a home run in the development side of things as there is a clear beginning, middle, and end all flowing and growing in the same direction.
As their name would suggest, The Wolf Council seems to be composed entirely of beasts whose level of skill and talent is shocking for such a young act and there’s really not much more that needs to be said. If you like stoner metal, or even have just a passing interest, The Wolf Council is definitely worth checking out.
Goryl – Father of Witches & Father of Evil Witches
Location: Tennessee, USA
Label: Medusa Crush Recordings
One-man drone mystic Goryl is a figure whose music conjures arresting images of occult magic, shaman priests, and arcane voodoo rites. Although it isn’t surprising for an artist based just a stone’s throw away from the American Deep South, musically Goryl draws extensively from the ancient country and blues hymnals that permeate his home state of Tennessee.
Father Of Witches & Father Of Evil Witches is a reissued compilation of two previous Goryl records on a limited tape run consisting of nothing but hard, repetitious drone riffage. Goryl’s brand of raw, fuzzed-out guitar chops draw some obvious similarities with the drone metal holy bible of Earth 2, but is rooted strongly in the extensive tradition of Tennessee country artists, snapping back and forth between rapturous, solemn, and hopeful, feeling more like Hank Williams than Stephen O’Malley. The stoner metal injection also references contemporaries like OM, replete with humming low bass and twangy steel strings, similar to the bluegrass direction Scott Conner of Xasthur took with his recent records.
Father Of Witches… does feel highly underproduced however. There’s no overdubbing, layering, or any other instrumentation aside from Goryl’s moaning guitar riffs. With nothing but a lone guitar droning away on the same repetitive riffs for over an hour, it’s likely this record will set someone into a fit of madness (and maybe that was Goryl’s intention). But at the same time, the simplicity of the record is one of its major strengths. It’s nothing but rock music stripped down to its bare essentials, feeling like pure, rudimentary heavy metal to take some psychedelics and talk to the spirits with. And none of that pretentious La Monte Young shit.
Wells Valley – Matter As Regent
Label: Bleak Recordings
Wells Valley are terrifying. I’m not going to pretend I understand the ‘themes’ or the ‘progressive’’ aspect of their music that passes me by like so many other post-metal bands that indulge in more intellectual muses. I don’t know what a “Wells Valley” is, or what “Matter As Regent” means, or why there are so many mentions of twisted, arcane spiritualism in the lyrics. But their music has a language which communicates it, decodes it. That language is fear.
These Portugese post-metallers draw from the avant-garde, experimental and atonal to instill a sense of morbid transgression into the listener, swinging precariously back and forth between crooked, cuckoo-clock guitar leads and apocalyptic, pounding bass hits, washed in layers of amp feedback and giving each song a supremely sinister edge to it.
While many other post-metal bands tend to falter in giving a sense of personality to their music, Wells Valley excel with their use of creative vocal delivery. The varied performances give the songs a big touch of character. ‘Ghost of You’ rocks a creepy, Porcupine Tree-esque whispered vocal, ‘Star Over A Wheel’ has a psychy, Al Cisernos-style robotic vocal style (I don’t even want to know what the hell kind of vocals are going on around the 2-minute mark of ‘Kingdom of Heaven’), not to mention vocalist Filipe Correria‘s bellowing, torture-victim cries rooting the record in a foreboding and bleak atmosphere.
Some of the song arrangements could benefit from a bit more attention to detail, often feeling like a melting pot of random ideas rather than a calculated sequence of progressions. However, the band manages to give the record more of a unique identity with the hugely-diverse palette of influences, flaunting the grimey, bassy dirge of classic industrial, the primal fury of hardcore, the enchanting rhythm of British post-punk and the oppressive mood of doom metal, all synthesising together to create a grim, sordid aberration of a record.
Crowned in Earth – Metempsychosis
Label: Sonic Mermaid Records
Progessive rock seems like an unfitting label to slap on to bands who cannot seem to get past the Pink Floyd/Genesis era. Maybe call them Floydites? Genesistians? Pink Genesistians? Regardless, Crowned in Earth’s latest effort is the kind of prog rock that is more focused on being stuck in a rut rather than actually going anywhere.
I will admit I have not heard any of the other material by Crowned in Earth or from Kevin Lawery’s (founder/frontman) solo work in Silent Winter, which is apparently an epic doom metal act. So just as I would say that Opeth’s last two albums are not an accurate portrayal of the band’s entire body of work, Metempsychosis may just be a one off, “Let’s spread our wings, man,” kind of album. That being said, whatever flight they took brought them to plains of mediocrity where they built a little settlement on the values of boredom and vastly uninteresting musicianship.
To Crowned in Earth’s credit, many of the songs have some well-done intros that give the illusion that the rest of the song may have some spirit and substance to it, but they all tend to fall flat on their face about a minute in. The most prominent instigator of this issue are the vocals that throughout the entirety of the album do not change in tone, pitch, or anything besides lyrical content which is spread so far apart that you probably won’t give a damn what the singer is wailing about. If taken as an instrumental piece, there are a few moments that create some interest through the soft guitar accompanied by a heavy handed bass, but even those moments are often staunched by jarring ambient interludes that often focus upon the catatonic trot of the drummer.
Metempsychosis as a whole is a performance with far too little diamonds in its rough. While it does have its glimmers of hope, they are quickly extinguished and washed away by a tide of careless laziness. Maybe if you were stoned out of your mind the album would be the trippy prog adventure they were hoping for, but the sober mind will most likely find it trivial and pointless.