Barren Heir – Tired Turns (self-released, 03 May 2016)
Stone Machine Electric – Sollicitus es Veritatem (self-released, 17 May 2016)
Hey people! Happy Cuatro de Mayo! I’ve got another pair of albums to share with you today, and I won’t waste any of your time getting to the part where we talk about them. Both are brand new (the first one came out yesterday, the second can be pre-ordered now and will be released in two weeks), both are self-released and self-promoted, and both are absolutely deserving of your attention. Oh, and each of them happens to be just five tracks long, but by serving up songs that average between nine and twelve minutes, both of these bands have quite considerately ensured that you get your money’s worth!
Barren Heir are a post-sludge/doom metal trio from Chicago, Illinois. You’re probably wondering, how many post-metal bands can there possibly be in Chicago, and how could all of them be good? Well I have no answers for you, except that here’s one more, and they are indeed good at what they do. Tired Turns, which hit the streets yesterday, represents the band’s debut recording.
Each song here is a journey — a long and winding, exploratory journey — made up of waves of slow, post-metal guitars shimmering, soaring, and squealing; with a deep and dirty grunge/sludge bass that’s constantly grinding away underneath; and drums that are also always wildly in motion. Interestingly, nothing ever seems like it’s quite in unison — unlike typical heavy metal music where the bass part usually doubles or mirrors the guitar at least some of the time, here they’re working over, under, around each other; sometimes in between gaps or sometimes just ambling about, seemingly independent from each other. But all three parts always fit together perfectly, complementing each other to come together in a highly complex and multi-layered tapestry.
Vocals are somewhat rare throughout this record — it wouldn’t be uncommon for an eight-minute song to include less than a minute’s worth, or perhaps spread into a few brief outbursts with lengthy interludes of musical wandering in between; the song “Again” has none whatsoever — but what there is sounds very much like the mournful howl of a badly wounded animal. In the penultimate “Obey” a larger percentage of the song does include vocals, but again this one still goes off on a lengthy instrumental tangent over the last several minutes — leading into “Sometimes,” of which the first half consists mainly of a slow and otherworldly introductory part that evokes a similar feeling to “No Quarter”; while the vocals do emerge at that point, briefly, they are then replaced by a slow and relentless rhythmic pummeling over the remainder of the song, which features all three instruments synchronized in unison for pretty much the only time throughout the entire album.
Stone Machine Electric are a heavy sludge/blues guitar+drums two-piece from Hurst, TX — just down the road from the DFW Airport and AT&T Stadium where the Cowboys play football. The forthcoming full-length Sollicitus es Veritatem (which can be literally translated as “Nightmares are Reality” or idiomatically as “You are Afraid of the Truth”) will be the latest album from the duo, following a series of EPs, demos, and live recordings — which have been mostly or partially built on improvisation.
Back when I was in high school — eons ago — I had been a member of our drama club’s stage crew. When we would have practice in the evenings, several of us just stuck around after school until it was time to get started, rather than bothering to go home and come back. One of my fondest memories of that time was hanging out in the empty auditorium, usually with some pizza or something, and some of the guys would take turns playing music over the PA speakers. There were quite a few tapes and CDs we went through at that time, but one in particular I remember hearing quite a few times was Countdown to Extinction which had come out not long before this. (I did say it was eons ago!) Anyway, there was just something magical hearing those orchestral sounds that serve as a prelude to “Symphony of Destruction” as they bounced and echoed throughout this giant room, that would sort of give you a chilling sense of anticipation.
A few days ago, the first time I listened to Sollicitus es Veritatem, the series of overlapping tones that slowly build leading into the first song “I Am Fire” reminded me of that feeling: dread, foreboding, an icy chill, just the general sensation that something formidible was on its way. This continues through about the middle of the song, at which the band explodes, punching you right in the chest with a syrupy concoction of Melvins-y grunge/sludge; the vocals that enter shortly afterwards seem to emphasize that particular comparison.
Much of the remainder of the album imbues a sludge foundation with elements of psychedelic heavy Texas-style blues — especially the ZZ Top-on-quaaludes style of “Dreaming”; while the even more psychedelic “PorR” shifts from slow and lackadaisical at one point to heavy and purposeful at another. Witnessing the heavy, downtuned guitar lines that set the pace for these songs, it becomes readily apparent why the band manages to succeed without a bass player; especially in a song like “Demons” where a foundation of backing guitar lines and drums repeat endlessly behind a ridiculously long guitar solo.
Closing things out, “I Am Fire (Slightly Burned)” is an alternate version of the opener, built upon the same crushingly heavy sludge riffs, but this time dotted with way more spacey sounds and out-there psychedelia — essentially looking at the same basic source material but through the highly impaired lens of a multitude of controlled substances.
You can grab a copy of Tired Turns here (listen to it in the Bandcamp player below), and then pre-order Sollicitus es Veritatem here (one song available to preview right now, in the second Bandcamp player).
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