Problem with Dragons – Starquake (self-released, 10 March 2015)
Brujas del Sol – Starquake (H42 Records, 14 December 2015)
So within the last year, something kind of strange has happened: two different and (as far as I know) completely unrelated bands, both of them from the northeastern United States, have each contacted me to check out their new album (one was in the spring and the other at the end of the year). Both of these happened to be bands I’d heard before and already liked — in fact, for one of them I had already written about their previous album. The unusual part was that both of these new releases happened to be named Starquake.
Now, that’s certainly not impossible — I mean, thousands of bands put out new stuff every year, and they all need to come up with song and album titles, so I’m sure there is a lot of repetition out there. Maybe you remember, back in 2011, there was a ton of hype surrounding an album called Path of Totality, considered by many to have been one of that year’s finest metal releases, and then a few months later a terrible (although significantly more famous) band did a thing called The Path of Totality?
Surely that sort of thing happens a lot, but still I thought this pair of Starquakes was an interesting coincidence. As it turns out, both of them sound really good too, so I’d like to share them with you now.
Easthampton, Massachusetts, trio Problem with Dragons are the creative force behind our first Starquake album, which follows their debut from 2012. These guys employ plenty of fuzz and a stoner/doom aesthetic, while incorporating spacey or science-fictiony themes. The album includes eight songs, most of which fall into the five-to-six-minute range, although an obvious exception is the title track which clocks in around nine. That song starts with (and later revisits) some spacey, atmospheric background stuff (a common thread — to a lesser extent — throughout many of these tracks), but soon it turns heavy and oppressively doomy (also an oft-recurring theme).
Despite the doom-and-gloom sound, it’s apparent the band doesn’t take themselves too seriously; in fact, sometimes it feels more like a fun vibe. Just check out the first song “Wizard Mode” — and I’m not even referring to the slightly goofy lyrics. It just feels like the members of the group would be having a great time recording or performing this, just shouting out the words as a group in a way that feels a lot like older Faith No More (for comparison, see the ending here or basically this entire song). The majority of the album uses a similar technique, actually; most of the vocals here are sung or shouted in unison.
Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to that as well: in “Atomics Pt. II” there is a bit of ethereal wordless “ooooooohing,” and likewise you’ll find some ghostly crooning in the middle of “We Have Us” — ironically, this sounds sort of like a vocal style often used by newer FNM vocalist Mike Patton, especially in his other band Fantômas. And finally, one of the more interesting vocal moments comes near the middle of “Starquake,” a piercing, high-pitched, metallic scream (à la Ian Gillan or Rob Halford).
With the combination of all that vocal stuff happening along with the huge riffs and layers of atmospheric stuff, some of the songs here — especially towards the end, like “Atomics” and “Ground Zero” — just have an enormous, grandiose sound to them. But at the same time the riffs are also quite catchy — for an example, listen to that bassline in closing track “Both Hands” and just see if it doesn’t stick with you for a while!
Brujas del Sol from Columbus, Ohio, were responsible for the second Starquake last year. You may remember them from their Devouter Records debut Moonliner which I wrote about here and which made it into my Top 13 of 2013 list. This new release consists of a single track eleven and a half minutes long, which includes many of the hallmarks of the band’s previous material: a foundation made up of an aggressively driving drum pattern (one that pushes the tempo every bit as insistently as Billy Idol‘s version of “Mony Mony”), with the addition of echoey early-80s-style post-punk guitar tones, and plenty of psychedelic sound effects.
The song incorporates all of these basic elements, sticking with a similar formula over its running length, with enough variations and tangential excursions to maintain the listener’s interest the entire time — by the time it ends it definitely doesn’t feel like you’ve spent as long listening as you actually have. One of the variants on the main theme, one that the band revisits often during the track, sounds almost like they took half of Bowie‘s “Heroes” and half of U2‘s “In God’s Country” and played them both at the same time. As an aside, have you guys seen this video about the construction of “Heroes”? Producer Tony Visconti goes through each instrument in each section of the song, explains the process of recording many of the parts, and demonstrating how they all fit together. Fascinating stuff. I sort of feel like I’m doing the same thing — mentally — as I listen to this song “Starquake”: identifying little bits and pieces of music and marvelling at how they were all assembled to create an interesting and incredible finished product.
You can download Problem with Dragons‘ Starquake right here; Brujas del Sol‘s Starquake is available on 7″ vinyl from H42 Records here, or you can download it right here.
Both releases can be streamed from the Bandcamp players below:
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