Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Stemage – Zero Over Zero

Lots of great stuff to get through before the Christmas break and, being a little behind with on-line reviews, I'm going to attempt to work through the build-up of records and websites needing reviewing in slightly shorter, but then again a tad snappier, entries over the next three weeks.

This one has come in from the Silent Uproar label; it's a concept album based on George Romero's zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead. Now, big confession time: I've actually never seen this film, in fact my horror movie watching probably starts and finishes with Hammer, though of course I'm familiar with its concept – it does mean however that I'm listening to this record as a standalone album rather than juxtaposing it with the source inspiration material.

Step back a moment, then. Stemage is Grant Henry, also responsible for Metriod Metal, originally envisaged as a solo-project with Henry playing all instruments and programmed drums and with the resulting soundtracks being made available for free download but later developing into a proper band affair. Stemage though seems pure to the original Metriod Metal approach in that it notes itself as being "all songs written, performed, and engineered by Grant Henry.

"Most 'guitar albums' are lead albums," contests Henry. "This is a rhythm guitar album – I think. It's a wild rotation of rock genres that have inspired me over the years and it's a love letter to Romero in the end – inspired by Dawn of the Dead. It's definitely a guitar album – muscular, grinding, oppressive and powerful. Throughout many of its twenty instrumental tracks what most strikes me as a comparison as to where to place this record is to want to file it as though it's a lost instrumental Killing Joke album, shorn of Jaz Coleman's apocalyptic declamations and so reliant on Geordie Walker's distinctive guitars to convey that sense of malevolent urgency. Zero Over Zero feels like that, a conflagration of metal and grunge with a spiky attitude. Other tracks, 'Illogical Hell' for example which can be found in acoustic form on the Stemage website, are reflective, are ones that pause for a moment and gather thoughts, but the relentless drive of this record is full-on and highly dynamic stuff.

I imagine it captures its inspirations enormously well – I love the way that the tracks are almost all bullet-point sharp and laid out with titles that are akin to DVD chapter indicators - but no matter that I can't definitively make that connection since the strength and density of the music is totally compelling in any case.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Moon Duo – Horror Tour EP

Halloween and no trick or treaters came to my door ... the fear that lives behind its ordinary-looking facade ... the depths of sheer terror contained within ... or perhaps it's just because it rained cats and dogs last night. Ah. That'd be it. Also this Halloween let me tell you that I failed miserably in my planned trip up to town to see the Hawklords and their (early) Halloween party at the O2 Islington and I failed just as miserably at not eating some of the Halloween cup cakes that Janet had conjured-up for the kids. On the other hand, I did watch Flavia Cacace in that catsuit on the Halloween edition of Strictly Come Dancing – rumours that my eyeballs had to be peeled off the television screen are, well, almost factual – and I did receive, though haven't had a chance to listen to yet, an interesting looking record on the Silent Uproar label, Zero Over Zero by Stemage, which notes itself inspired by George Romero's 1978 masterpiece Dawn of the Dead and which I'll be writing up in due course. And I did get a promotional download of a new EP by one of my current favourite bands, Moon Duo, itself with a Halloween twist and a Halloween release date.

This is four tracks of Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada's fuzz-laden gothic space rock architecture; really simple stuff, all guitar riffs and weird electronics and predominately instrumental and yet really intricate soundscapes as well, so just completely deceptive in its spot-on accessibility that drags you in by the scruff of the next and then plasters its layers over you. Primal, guttural and yet crystalline and beautiful and yet big and bold and panoramic and just everything that you want this sort of stuff to be. It exudes swagger while being pensive and introverted. It's fearsome and heavy yet it weighs itself in gossamer and feels at the same time fragile and febrile.

I believe it's a limited to 1,000 12" release on Souterrain Transmissions - but there's some more detail on their Facebook Page – and if you've not heard them before then this is a damned good place to start. 'Horror Tour' itself is brooding and pensive, reminds me of something that I can't quite put my finger on, perhaps a slowed down 'Dream of Isis' or 'Honky Dory' from Hawkwind's Astounding Sounds era but it's not quite that, but what is, it's a track that's deliberately prowling, taking in its surroundings, feeling its way through the darkness. 'Causing a Rainbow' is bright and articulate, vibrant and life-affirming. 'Sickener' seems oddly-named in its equally bright starting-point but blends itself into the darkness with wrenching sound-effects and loads of the trademark fuzz while 'Circle of Evocation pt. 2' is the play-out respite, a different tone altogether, curious, quiet, sort of grey but aqua-blue and still attention-grabbing for it. You know what, just get this record.