Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Black Sheep Wall - No Matter Where It Ends

Last year, the band Batillus rocked my core with its shear heaviness. This year, Black Sheep Wall has done the same. I'm not afraid to say they've even upped the ante. The lurching minimalist riffage and soul ripping vocals virtually pinned me to the ground with their gravitas. Guitarists Scott Turner and Garrett Randall, bassist Brandon Gillichbauer and drummer Jackson Thompson have redefined the term “crushing” with this release.
No Matter Where It Ends opens with two tracks, “Agnostic Demon” and “Liminality,” that literally weigh you down under their heft. The air in the room tin which hey are played actually increases in density. Technically, that statement holds true for the entirety of the album. But it's not all flatten-destroy. On “Black Church”, ever so briefly, the clouds part to reveal sunlight and blue skies before they are soon swallowed again by a darkness ever more malicious. A noisy voicemail “song” serves as a brief respite before the monolith rises again and rolls the sludgy doom machine at an ever slower and torturous pace wherein every riff explodes with a white hot fury, every note is like a Hulk smash the eardrum.
“Cognitive Dissonance” is a track I would usually skip because I'm not much for “noise” (despite my blog's name) but the visual it conjured was compelling. It went like this. You, the “subject” are in an isolation chamber. The sounds are all you know. As the ominous feeling grows, more strange noises filter into your existence. Disorientation and panic become the norm. You world explodes with sound as you are propelled towards and unseen destination. The throbbing “countdown” seems unbearable. Suddenly, you, the “subject” find yourself standing on a sidewalk beside a busy LA street. Someone asks for a lighter. And just as you start to get your bearings in this new and strange environment, the sound once again envelopes you in darkness and you recede from that world. Pretty heavy stuff.
The vocal bellows prevalent on the album may lack some dynamics but this just serves to illustrate the mercilessness of their delivery. They cannot be swayed by petty emotions. Not that there isn't any emotion here. Hate, disgust and contempt are emotions too. If that's what you are looking for, NMWIE is seemingly MADE of those feelings.
I get a machine vibe from the album. I guess in a sense that the things that would stand in the way of a human bent on destruction (weak flesh) have no effect on BSW. Nothing is left in the wake of the crushing, robotic, militarism that is the mighty riffs wrought forth. Overall, the tone matches the sonic resonance of an imploding dwarf star. The star implodes or course because it's cowering in fear of Trae Malone's galaxy shaking vocals. NMWIE is not an album for the faint of heart or the weak willed. It's a battle of endurance. Just how much heavy can you take? The key is to embrace it. Become the might. Let it encompass your being and take you to places few bands can.

No Matter Where It Ends is available internationally from Season of Mist now and is due for a June release in North America.

Basalisk demo EP Review

 The first time I heard this band it was live as local openers for Montreal's Barn Burner. During their set, I could hear the influence of bands such as Iron Maiden, Mastodon and Scale the Summit. A quick glance at their ReverbNation page reveals their influences listed as those three bands. Whether it's a lucky coincidence or they changed it after reading my live tweets that stated as much, I don't know. What I do know is that combination, with some Children of Bodom and Metallica thrown into the mix makes for four tracks that I feel are very good as they are but hint at the promise for even better things to come. This demo material is mostly based on concepts/songs first conceived about 6-7 years ago. Thus they reflect the struggles of later adolescence yet convey a maturity not seen in some people twice their age.
“Undone” is poetic representation of a common problem with those in their late teens and early 20's. You struggle to define yourself but it doesn't really work. So as the depression sets in, drugs become the answer of choice. Of course, in most cases, this only exacerbates the problem. It works for the moment but eventually you will become “Undone”. This hits home with me. In my first year of university, I sank hard trying to be what I thought others wanted and when that didn't work, I turned the drinking from social party guy to literally sitting alone drinking my sorrows away. I came “Undone”. It's in this song I heard the most Mastodon influence. Especially in the powerful chorus. It's fitting for just screaming it out to release whatever it is you have bottled up inside. “Reject. The Flesh. Upheaval. Destroy. Embrace. The Death. Becoming. Undone.”
“Chasing Me” opens with a sweet Iron Maiden style lick before evolving into a deeply personal and somewhat cryptic tome full of struggle and pain. Despite feeling hopeless, the character still retains enough fight to carry on. The duality of pain and anger (those feelings almost always run together) is reflected in vocalist James Wartman's vocal style which balances maturity and malice..
On instrumental “Abaddon” keyboardist Matt Kidson really gets to stretch his fingers out. It's still a guitar driven track but the keys are given more room to find their way to the forefront. The band's prog tendencies are on full display here. This is the track that made me think of Scale the Summit. It's like waves of the heavy, punchy (think Metallica's Justice and Metallica) and the softer, soaring keyboard parts. Drummer Thomas Fleming shows off here as well with timely accents and fills and does more than simply keep the beat. I got over my instru-metal phase a few years ago but I can still be swayed on occasion and this song does the trick. It actually opened me up to try the new Pelican EP that I was going to pass over.
The organ-ic tone of the keys on “Antitheist” really sets the mood for this track which is basically calling out organized religion. An infectious and groovy riff plays with the creepy keys until Wartman boils over with unrestrained venom. The frustration of the previous track's trials take their toll and he lashes out. It's placement at the end of the EP is quite cathartic. It also works well as a show closer.
The EP was recorded – rather hastily – for Band Slam Kingston prior the performance at which I first saw them. At the time of the recording they were without a bassist. Between then and the show they added Greg Sheir on bass and his addition really beefs up the overall sound and completes the band. Basalisk is working on revamped versions of the songs on this demo that include Shier as well as new tracks. The band is surprising themselves with the direction of the new material so I imagine us listeners will be surprised as well. Whether they get heavier (my hope for anyone) or proggier makes no matter. Basalisk, in my opinion, are a band to watch for in the Kingston scene. Hopefully they can get the opportunity to showcase themselves more in the area as well as spread their music beyond the region. Other cities (and you!) deserve to hear this band.