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Black Sabbath

Three-fourths of the original satanic foursome reunite for a victory lap following a Grammy and the guitarist’s successful chemo treatment. Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler are reportedly in fine fettle onstage, with sad clown Ozzy Osbourne the weakest link. Whatever. It’s still all about the guitarists’ pummeling proto-prog.

Mon., March 31, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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Unearthly Trance and the Temple of ‘Doom’

Unearthly Trance’s latest T-shirt design sets Rodney Dangerfield’s face against the void. The comic’s mouth is pursed, his goggle eyes burst wide, his message unchanged: no respect. The tee may as well be bundled with the band’s fifth and latest full-length, the appropriately titled V. “This was an in-joke that became real, with [bassist] Jay [Newman] insisting we make it into a T-shirt,” says guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lipynsky, who adds that the design is also, paradoxically, meant to convey respect: “We talk shit, but we’re appreciative of people that have stayed with us through 10 years. Only the music matters. It’s about total artistic tunnel vision.” 

The band began conservatively, with the “doom” genre’s bedrock. The Hadit demo featured grotto howling, a water-torture rhythm section, and a lyrical immersion in the Crowleyan occult world. From note one, Lipynsky stunted Tony Iommi’s approach—rendered it plastic. Black Sabbath and Master of Reality riffs long noted for their economy are reprised, overloaded, and left writhing in space. But the New York trio surpassed even that fathoms-deep sound with their first full-length, Season of Séance, Science of Silence, an outer-reaches exploration that pushed the genre’s compositional limits. Songs stretched to nine minutes plus, their glue less and less evident as bass, drums, and guitar collided in narcotic somnolence.   

And then the scope narrowed. Follow-ups In the Red, The Trident, and Electrocution saw, for the most part, Trance dispensing with large canvas pieces and miniaturizing once-epic elements into five-minute onslaughts. Results were stark. A lingering flirtation with hardcore and thrash remained; already riff-driven, the music increasingly aligned itself with the Melvins’ early works. V, at once celebrating both the band’s sharpening focus and early bombast, marries the two, resulting in their most definitive record yet.  

Yes, the heft of the early stuff is back, but these songs slowly reveal themselves as bare-bones “rock” tunes, and are no less confounding for it. Their tension is matched only by their looseness, their willingness to disintegrate into chaos; Lipynsky’s riffs, and the martial rhythm section that propels them, sound too big to fail. “We’ve returned to focusing on certain ‘time-elastic’ parts of our songs, where things sound like they’re sinking,” the guitarist explains. “We wanted to fully immerse ourselves in the muck. This is our way of saying, ‘There is no running away.’ Gauntlet’s laid down: ‘OK, here’s a doom album,’ even though I use that term loosely.”  

Lipynsky accesses doom from its bluesy backdoor (Willie Dixon/Howlin’ Wolf via Tony Iommi/Jimmy Page) and Southern-rock ghetto (Skynyrd, ZZ Top). But in lieu of Sabbath’s swing, Trance substitute something even more appropriate: swagger. That roar remains, but it’s now powered by a flash of Page’s fuzzed-out slide guitar. V‘s “Into the Chasm” combines the whole package, invoking the unruly sludge of Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, among, of course, others. “When I wrote that, I referred to a section of it as ‘the ZZ Top riff,’ ” Lipynsky explains. “I’m all about this: I’m a huge fan of bluesy music. We exorcised a lot of demons on this record. We have lots of ideas for the future. We’ll only get more creative and focused from here. V is a record we had to get out of our system for exactly the right reasons.” 

“We thought a lot about what the core sound of Unearthly Trance is,” Newman adds. “On V, we wanted to find a balance of all the recordings we have done. We got it.”

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Dead Meadow+Imaad Wasif

Be careful not to spill the bong water on your beanbag when doing that slow-mo hippy-dance, swirly air-guitar thang to D.C. psych-rockers Dead Meadow. Their new album, Three Kings (featuring five new jams and a live concert film), is more spacious and floaty, patiently winding its way through the chakras. Opening is the most excellent Wasif (a part-time touring axman for the triple Yeahs), whose mystical musings straddle Marc Bolan’s Unicorn while wielding Tony Iommi’s “Hand of Doom.”

Sun., April 25, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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Earth’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull

The Tigris-Euphrates river valley, rumored site of the Garden of Eden, today smolders among the ruins of war. It’s also the region that spawned the Biblical riddle “Out of the eater came something to eat, out of the strong came something sweet,” i.e., a lion’s skull housing a beehive. And if a crater carved from crippling addiction and blinding guitar distortion (equal parts La Monte Young and Tony Iommi) isn’t an exactly comparable analogy to Iraq, it’s at least a hint as to the direction Earth frontman Dylan Carlson’s career has taken since 2005, when his cabinet-melting lava feedback hardened into desert rock and emerged in cleaner, calmer form, with a Duane Eddy twang engraving and a well-honed instinct for the repetitive cycles of drone metal. The result was Hex: or Printing in the Infernal Method, a sparse landscape evoking the violent West of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

Earth records often carry the echo of previous releases, and The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull is no exception. “Engine of Ruin” could’ve been on Hex if not for the soft undercurrent of piano; now, amid the ruins, Earth have indeed found sweetness. The improvisational tendencies of the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service are the band’s newest weapons, but rather than allowing the result to devolve into chaotic psychedelic garnishment, Carlson distills the electric essences of country and gospel through his Stratocaster, while retaining the minimalist tendencies of drone. An album best experienced in near darkness, Skull‘s slow sense of foreboding eventually allows for cloud breaks of light, like a lotus unfolding among skeleton hordes. There is an unlikely undercurrent of hope—hope for order from chaos, and life from the hollow, burned-out faces of those who’ve seen paradise turned to dust.

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Vaya Con Dio

They came for the resurrection, these women with their black leather pants sucking at their long, flat asses so tightly you could make out the dimples; these men with their hair so wild and feral it looked as if their heads were merely means of transport for rat kings; these bloodshot children, piercing the air with savage wails of “Blaaack Saabbaaaaaath!” This unruly throng had followed the left-hand path to Radio City Music Hall, for it was here that Ronnie James Dio would reunite with his old bandmates Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice under the strange sobriquet Heaven and Hell. (Why not Black Sabbath? Lawyers? Sharon?) The crowd was not disappointed, as Baphomet himself would have brayed in approval at the gothic heaviness on display.

Dio, a Gollum-like homunculus, pranced and preened and soothed and shouted on a stage resembling a crumbling medieval church. GZR spewed forth with roiling low-end sludge. The darkly regal Tony Muthafuckin’ Iommi, silver crucifix dangling from his neck, blasted fearsome riffs from his horned axe, jurgling the nurgles of all those in attendance. Vinny Appice didn’t fuck anything up. Purists be damned—this was metal of such epic, dramatic fury that when your turn comes, you can look Cerberus in the eyes and tell the beast the music heard on this night stood on near equal footing with Sabbath’s Ozzy-era material.

Perhaps the following incident might further convey the evening’s dark power: Precisely at the moment H&H waded into “Children of the Sea,” three younglings seated near me began to shake as if wracked with Saint Vitus’s dance. Their eyes glowed a ghastly red; their mouths swung agape in evil ecstasy. I looked on in disbelief as their faces slowly melted from their skulls, scorched by the hot breath of an Iommi solo. Espying the carnage, Dio lurched to the edge of the stage. The golden-throated gremlin lifted his hand to the sky and extended two wormlike fingers—the sign of the devil. A column of fire shot forth from the drum riser. The children’s heads had transmuted into flaming skulls and were banging back and forth in time to the music. Horrified, I turned my eyes to Dio—and saw a thin smile creeping across his lips.

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Metal Survivors and Doom-Jazz Upstarts Sludge Into the Void

DEP Sessions is an unearthed field recording by a left-handed English guitarist who once punched out an NME editor, invented Add N to X by inserting metal fingers in Lita Ford’s body, and created a variant of dub that substituted single-note guitar/bass unison riffs for minor-key organ-guitar triads. When his former vocalists fled his Von Trier-like manipulations for MTV or D&D Dogville, Iommi went on expanding stylistically while eclipsing the contexts of his predecessors, over under sideways down—”It Falls Through Me” is like if Billy Gibbons were in the Yardbirds. The train keeps a-rollin’ in “Don’t You Tell Me,” where the click-track “cowbell” appears at 2:06. Iommi should be harsher on his rhythm sections—the one he had in the ’70s was fucking incredible. Glenn Hughes (who also just put out another Iommi collaboration, called Fused) “wore chains before Slayer and Venom” and “had a voice deeper than Will from Mortician,” to quote Anal Cunt’s “If You Don’t Like the Village People, You’re Fucking Gay.” “They’re gonna make a movie about the life I led,” Hughes sings on “Fine,” as if Can’t Stop the Music wasn’t enough. Unless I’m thinking of somebody else with the same name, which is the kind of shoddy research that makes people disparage the cognitive capacities of stoner-rock fans.

Being Stavros Albini’s apparent favorite “doom-jazz” band would make Philadelphia’s Stinking Lizavetta the feta cheesesteak to Norman Whitfield’s vanilla fudge, but SL’s SST fairies wear Shrapnel Records boots. However, “I Denounce the Government” and “Sketches of Pain” imply Voivod warming up the rehearsal room with a Dischord jam. Then again what the fuck do I know, I’m waiting for Albini to produce Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Jay’s Journal is the only book I’ve ever finished. That’s where I read about the 11 (23?) inlaid crosses in Tony Iommi’s guitar neck. Unless that was in Guitar Player. “Over the Edge” would fit the movie of the same name’s soundtrack better than Fu Manchu’s, especially if the director had been Italian or something.


Tony Iommi plays Ozzfest at the PNC Bank Arts Center July 26 and 27.

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Bombs Away

Wartime should be a golden opportunity for heavy metal reinvigoration. Bad smallpox shots, Don Rumsfeld’s patented press-briefing sneer, Spectre gunship cannon fire cutting down wedding parties—great inspirational backdrop for grinding guitar and moaning throats.

However, it all seems lost on the indifferent underground metal musician, a species almost exclusively devoted to antiseptically reproducing Tony Iommi’s ’74 riff tone sans feel—an accomplishment notable only for the startling number of skid row phone booth-type indies distributing it. Since those making stoner doom are almost universally idiots, consumer choices should be limited to no more than two titles for the next 15 months.

First, Sheavy’s Synchronized features a singer with an Ozzy fetish so strong it has defeated any and all attempts to get the music taken seriously. Bad luck, because “Kill Queens Go Disco” and “Ultraglide” beat anything Osbourne can do at this diminished juncture regardless of how Zakk Wylde tries to prop him up. The album’s better than Never Say Die—maybe on par with Vol. 4. When Ozzy inevitably goes to the wheelchair in assisted living, Sheavy is the band Sharon must call on as ringers to keep the franchise alive.

And Pentagram’s Turn to Stone is a must. Thirty years in the business, almost twice that many records sold—or so it seems. But for Pentagram, persistence of vision works. The collection is mid-’80s Cotton Mather-inspired sludge ‘n’ cack, a style absolutely no mass demographic is or was interested in—shunned even in Britain, where this band of Virginians was mystifyingly sent to market. “Vampire Love” is a catchy trudge-metal classic; “The Ghoul,” Edgar Allan Poe for those prone to tattooing themselves using the nibs off fountain pens. And Bobby Liebling is a Roky Erickson type who mixes blues mumbling, I’m-living-in-a-ram’s-head black metal dogma, and Johnny Cash storytelling in the space of an hour and a half.

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Doomsday in the MP3 Wars

Here at the Teleological Office of Morbidity and Burial (TOMB), we are constantly on the watch for the latest application of technology as it relates to doom and stoner metal. The Net has hardly gone unnoticed in this matter, and it came time to investigate how doom metal bands were using the latest electronic gimmickry to undermine the oppression of the fascist insect recording industry.

At TOMB, it was observed that industrial noise acts had built great electronic monuments online, although mostly monuments to the equivalent of nothing. Even the shunned author of the Melissa virus was a would-be rock star in cyberspace. TOMB analyzed his work; it was dire stuff. The writing of computer viruses does not translate well to art.

However, doom metal on the Net had to be more promising. Living, as it does, at a weird intersection of pot-smoking-as-religion and EC Comics horror, if anything could ride the Net without being consumed by the technology, it was doom. The TOMB plan was to harness the electronic winds to collect a record’s worth of doom metal tunes, burn them onto a CD, and evaluate the results against predictions of worldwide economic catastrophe foretold by the fascist insect recording industry. The project, named E Pluribus Doomen, took about a week to complete—snatching 30 minutes here and there, plumbing the Net for free music, and hauling it back to the computer.

The first thing learned from E Pluribus Doomen was that enjoyment of the project was inversely proportional to the amount of time spent on chickenshit not directly related to listening to doom metal—most of the dotcoms aimed at making a buck off online music don’t understand this need for true convenience (not convenience as defined by IPO-bent computer geeks) in the slightest. And this is one of the dirty little secrets that entertainment journalists don’t tell you as they veer between wet-your-pants gurgle over the latest Net music gimcrack and industry paranoia over the alleged nefarious acts of digital pirates: The commercial Net operations are hedging their bets on the electronic revolution, operating under the assumption that online music might not make them rich, but that hype, advertising, obfuscation, and the selling and accumulation of consumer profiles gathered through the analysis of click-click-clicking patterns before the actual delivery of digital goods—the imposition of chickenshit on the potential consumer—will. This secret really puts the boots to the silly techno-journo-futurist wish that someday, somewhere, all the rock music in the world will be available online in one place via one simple pathway.

Napster is hardly an alternative. TOMB performed a quick and dirty analysis of the technology and determined Napster had no good doom. Zero real variety. Just a commoner’s view of Black Sabbath. Thirty percent of the pirate MP3s available were “Iron Man,” and almost 50 percent of the entire pile—a couple hundred files—were a subset of “Paranoid.” If this strikes you as an unimaginative (ab)use of technology, you’re right. And it’s an ailment that afflicts most of Napster’s generously named “musical community.” Tech-journo and teenage euphoria aside, it’s not unfair to characterize it as a conduit of mind-numblingly overlapped unauthorized swag served and maintained by “music users” generally possessed of somewhat less wit and taste than K-Tel-type “greatest hits” programmers. If it’s the “end” of the recording industry, so be it. But TOMB doubts it.

However, at least as far as the E Pluribus Doomen experiment was concerned, a fan site—stonerrock.com— remedied all of this. Stonerrock kept the chickenshit to a minimum, acting mostly as a vehicle for the appreciation of doom metal. Plus it had something none of the “pro” dotcoms had: a personality not defined by salesmen.

Its virtual library made a reasonable amount of apparently artist-sanctioned material available for the choosing. With a little help from the smaller independent labels devoted to the subgenre, E Pluribus Doomen was in business. Once enough music had finally been carried back to the TOMB supercomputer—or, actually, when our patience with Net twiddling had expired—it took a mere half hour to arrange and burn Doomen.

(Aside: Remember how, not too long ago, the fascist insect recording industry tried to convince everyone Rio MP3 players were a fearful evil, akin to constipation in the Middle Ages? Well, now most of the new computers in stores come stocked with CD burners and Rio MP3 managing software. The time it takes to burn a new CD that will play in all CD players—including portables which cost about $60—is about the same time it takes to arrange and download slightly less music to a Rio player, which costs $100 more. Parties in the industry wanted the Rio banned! As a public service, TOMB developed an IQ test for determining if you need one: Do you have less sense than it takes to pour piss from a shoe when the instructions are printed on the heel? If your answer is “yes,” you “need” a Rio.)

Anyway, back to E Pluribus Doomen. At TOMB, the view is that most doom metal has the same silly charms associated with the horror short stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Doom is predictable and corny, but comfortable—operating from a script where Tony Iommi is the Great Cthulhu; Palm Desert, California, the Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane; Kyuss, the Elder Gods; and Hawkwind’s Space Ritual and the first four Black Sabbath albums, The Necronomicon.

The highlights of the TOMB anthology included: (1) “Power Time” by Scott Weinrich’s Spirit Caravan. If there was a Heisman Trophy in doom metal, Weinrich would be the first winner, hands down. Weinrich’s the only true triple threat in the genre: He writes, he plays, he sings. Had Tony Iommi recruited him after Ronnie Dio left BS, the world’d be a different place. (2) “Homophobic/Alcoholic” by Mustasch: Every home-rolled anthology needs a redneck/hardcore polka/doom hybrid. (3) Puny Human had the best name. On “Jimbo the Hut,” you can shake your hips to the beat as someone gets tossed in a pit. Danceable doom! (4) Doom is a dish best served cold. Thorr’s Hammer, from Norway, furnished the epic, eight-minute-long “Norge,” which sounds like Joan Jett doing a slick dirge-and-duet combination with the troll under the bridge. After which, he eats her.

Subsequent picks included Orange Goblin, Goatsnake, and Molehill. Near the end of the process, the shroud of woe in the room had become so thick, TOMB thought it best to dispel excess anxiety with something slightly more upbeat: namely, Half Man’s sludge-blues instrumental, “Two Perverted Men in the Swamp,” which had a kind of jaunty quality. Insofar as doom can be jaunty.

Unfortunately, generating the cover art for EPD on the TOMB supercomputer looked like another exercise in chickenshit, so the task was bypassed in favor of a trip to the refrigerator. Then, after a few more listens to E Pluribus Doomen, those involved in the experiment got up from the couch, went to the record store, and paid cash money for CDs by Spirit Caravan and Orange Goblin. Thus fulfilling some of the needs of the fascist insect recording industry.


George Smith edits The Crypt Newsletter ( crypt@sun.soci.niu.edu). E Pluribus Doomen is not sold anywhere. To duplicate: stonerrock.com, mansruin.com, punyhuman.com, one CD-R, one average TOMB-style PC, some tolerance for chickenshit.


Other articles from Take Back the Net (Special Section)

LEFT BEHIND by Ward Harkavy
The Radical Right Got Wired Fast. When Will Progressives Catch Up?

RIGHT THINKING by James Ridgeway
Want to Understand Conservatives? Read Them.

FROM THEIR VAULTS TO YOUR DESKTOP by Russ Kick
Finding Documents the Man Wants to Hide

VIRTUAL MARCHERS, REAL RESULTS by Meg Murphy
Fight Back Online

KEEPING UP WITH THE NAPSTERS by Eric Weisbard
At Pho, a Thousand E-mails a Month Track the Great Digital Debate