Stangala – Klañv (Finisterian Dead End, 24 March 2016)
Blaak Heat – Shifting Mirrors (EU: Svart Records, 15 April 2016 | US/world: Tee Pee Records, 13 May 2016)
Hello out there, readers! Welcome to a new month, with more new music to send your way. Today I’d like to share a pair of recent albums (one of which is still about ten days away from its release in America and the rest of the world, but both have been out in Europe for a few weeks now) which are both filled with uniquely avant-garde variations on psychedelic-doom-rock. Good stuff, I think you’ll enjoy these.
But first I just wanted to share a thought I had, while walking down the hill to the bus stop at way-too-damn-early-o-clock this morning, still half-dazed from another late-night playoff hockey game last night. As a word of warning, this is Game of Thrones-related, so if you aren’t one of the millions currently watching that HBO phenomenon, this won’t interest you, so feel free to skip ahead, just below the next photo will be the music-relevant stuff.
For the rest of you: this isn’t anything earth-shattering or anything (and there won’t be any spoilers — no new information directly related to the latest episode or current season), just something that happened to pop into my head that I wanted to write somewhere before I forgot it. I don’t have a tv show website, so I had to put it here.
Anyway, so many events with potentially huge implications transpired in this week’s episode, it’ll take a while to sort it all out. And some of the storylines, even major ones, might even have fallen between the cracks because there was just so much to pay attention to! One of the main plots right now is the Bolton family’s rather tenuous hold on the North — a huge area of stubbornly traditional folks, many of whom probably retain loyalty to the House of Stark.
A large part of the current Bolton story, over the past couple of seasons, has revolved around the lineage of heirs to family head Lord Roose, who had declared himself Warden of the North, taking over the estate at Winterfell after the slaying of King Robb Stark. Specifically, Roose’s only living son has been the bastard-born Ramsay Snow, until it was discovered that the Warden’s new wife was expecting a baby. Of course this would be cause for concern for Ramsay: even author George R. R. Martin himself has stated that the legitimization of a bastard child happens so rarely, there really aren’t explicit legal precedents for determining how one would fit within the hierarchy of ascendancy — particularly if there should be a younger, natural-born son. Would a naturalized bastard simply be inserted among other offspring based on birth order? Or would all legitimate children come first regardless of age, then the bastard-born, before the line of succession would move on to uncles or more distant relatives? No one really knows, until such a thing would actually take place.
In this case, the questions run even deeper. Even absent the possible threat from a younger (but born in wedlock) half-sibling, and notwithstanding any promises or assurances Roose might make to his son, the fact remains that a bastard can only be legitimized by an official royal decree. The documentation that officially made him Ramsay Bolton, you’ll recall, was signed by the current occupant of the Iron Throne: King Tommon Baratheon by name, but as viewers (and practically everyone in the show as well) are aware, like his siblings, this “king” is only related to the late King Robert Baratheon because their mother had been married to him; since his parentage is exclusively of the Lannister family, Tommon is in actuality just as much a bastard as Ramsay Snow had ever been.
With the Northerners’ allegiance probably torn between the Boltons and Starks, one thing they all share is a mistrust and lack of respect for the Lannisters, particularly one who is falsely wearing a crown, calling himself the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. So my theory is that very soon, Ramsay’s legitimization documentation will be called into question by his fellow countrymen, throwing the leadership of the North into an even more chaotic state than it is already. As they say, “The North Remembers” …
Well, that’s it for now; we’ll returning to our regularly scheduled programming. Anyone who has anything to add to the discussion can hit the comments section below. Or if you think I should just shut the hell up and stick with writing about music, feel free to say so.
First up today, I’m excited to tell you that there’s a brand-new album by Stangala, the Breton psychedelic-doom-with-Celtic-folk-elements band — who you might recall from their 2011 album Boued Tousek Hag Trau Mat All which I had reviewed here. Since the release of their debut album, apparently Stangala have moved to a new record label, Finisterian Dead End, who are based in the same city as the band — Quimper, capital city of Finistère, France. (As this area is at the outermost tip of peninsular Brittany, the name Finistère comes from the Latin Finis Terræ, “end of the earth”; hence the name of the label.)
The eight tracks here begin with a new version of the song “Bigoudened An Diaoul” from the previous album; this starts out sounding a bit lighter and faster-paced than before, while still being very psychedelic in nature (and maintaining the band’s signature folk elements, with a klezmer-sounding clarinet [or perhaps it’s a soprano sax?]), but overall it feels more like blues-rock than heavy doom. Several minutes longer than the original, everything sort of breaks down into a later introspective-sounding section that brings in a bluesy sax part; then it all expands, moving into various different tangents — ultimately it does introduce a heavier and doomier element that seems more reminiscent of the earlier version of the song.
This introduces the rest of the album fairly well: the clarinet-or-soprano-sax instrument makes guest appearances quite frequently, bringing in a folksy feeling, as do some of the other elements like the acoustic guitar intro in “Hent Loar” (which then leads into a more monolithic and doomy atmosphere, including some screamed/shrieked vocals), or the electric piano part in “N’eus Ket Dremmwel Hiviz”; elsewhere, things turn in a more jazzy direction, like the walking bassline and organ that introduce “Marv Int Ar Martoloded” (although this too becomes more doom-like later, with a bit of theremin and underwater-sounding vocals) and the mid-section of “An Ankou Hag Ar Vor” (bookended by heavy distorted doom) which features a Mancini-esque tenor sax solo followed in turn by a jazz-guitar and then jazz-piano.
One thing this band has always done well is deal in juxtaposition and contrast; setting the folk- and jazz-inspired parts against the heavier parts (and the incorporation of some of the folk instrumentation alongside the distorted guitars and fuzzed-out bass) demonstrate this, but many of the song structures also work in a way that alternates between different contrasting moods. For example, the title track, with its flurry of cymbal crashes throughout, keeps shifting between faster and slower parts, some heavier and some more dreamlike and wispy. Although “Jan,” which is one song that stays relatively constant throughout, with a mid-tempo driving beat, is also a good highlight of the album, featuring a similar vibe to one of the debut album’s more memorable tracks, “Doom Rock Glazik.”
You can pick up a copy of Klañv right here.
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From a trio of Bretons in France, we move on to a trio of Franco-Americans currently located in Los Angeles, California. Shifting Mirrors is the first album to be released under the name Blaak Heat, although there had been two albums and an EP using the group’s former moniker Blaak Heat Shujaa.
This album’s ten tracks are heavily laden with a middle-eastern vibe, incorporated within the context of trippy and spacey psychedelic jams. About half of these are instrumental, but those with vocals (such as “Sword of Hakim”) often remind me of early Pink Floyd; the haltingly rhythmic style used in “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim” and “Black Hawk” also brings that band to mind.
Musically, as I said, there is a lot of Mediterranean/Middle-eastern stuff going on — in the melodies and harmonies played by the guitars and bass, but also with the frequent incorporation of various percussion and hand-drums (including the steady, slow thudding of a bass drum that drives “Tamazgha”), the oud and kanun zither that appear in “The Approach…” and elsewhere, and the bowed Arabic-sounding fiddle that comprises the brief interlude Taqsim, etc.
Other musical styles also make appearances: “Sword of Hakim” is a bit chuggy and seems pseudo-metallic at times, while the riffs of “Black Hawk” are even more of a heavy metal style; “The Peace Within” brings in a touch of country/western-sounding guitar, and midway through “Ballad of Zeta Brown” the band completely shifts gears into a full-on spaghetti-western style. But the primary influences here are totally clear throughout — just listen to “Mola Mamad Djan,” a relatively faithful interpretation of a traditional Afghan folk song. Elsewhere, even the song titles scream out the exotic locales of their origin: for instance, “Anatolia” (named for a part of Asia Minor in eastern Turkey) and “Tamazgha” (a word used to describe the whole region of northern Africa along the Mediterranean coast.
Shifting Mirrors is available for purchase here.
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