Brimstone Coven – Brimstone Coven (Metal Blade Records, 05 August 2014)
Castle – Welcome to the Graveyard (Ván Records, 15 July 2016)
Good afternoon, all you fine people visiting the Valley. Things have gotten a little bit hectic around here recently — I’ll never understand what it is that makes people want to go on vacation in the summertime when it’s so gross and hot and humid outside. Given the choice, I’d rather sit in an air-conditioned office all day, and save days off for later when I really don’t feel like going. Not that much writing happens while I’m at work anyhow, I’m plenty busy enough doing my actual job, but I usually at least can spend the day listening to stuff, and jotting down some little notes that I can turn into a full article or review later. But sometimes lately I haven’t had much chance to even think, let alone formulate coherent sentences.
But as always, there’s tons of stuff happening in the music world, new releases to tell you about, older stuff that you may have missed but really deserves your attention, tours kicking off that just might be coming through your city. And this will be a blend of all of those things: one band whose new album comes out next month, and who started a tour (that will last pretty much all summer long!) just last week; another band who released an excellent album two years ago but somehow we never got around to sharing it with you, and who will be joining the first band for a handful of those shows in a few weeks. So keep on reading, you’ll hear some great music, and the full set of dates for each band will be listed down below in the comments …
Not quite three years ago (it was November 2013), we made the trip from VoS Headquarters out to Mr. Smalls Theatre in Millvale, PA, to see the legendary Pentagram (for the second time, I believe). This particular evening, there was a rather high-quality lineup, featuring support from a handful of talented bands based in and around the greater Pittsburgh area (including northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio). One of these was Brimstone Coven, whom I had heard quite a bit about, but at that point, had never seen before.
Well, from the moment the Wheeling-based quartet took the stage, I was immediately impressed by their infectious songcrafting and perfectly-executed harmonies. A ton of bands out there are doing the old-school retro-occult thing these days, but here’s one who is actually making it interesting. I remember, on hearing them that night, thinking that they sounded a lot like an American Witchcraft, or at least it seemed they were drawing from a similar set of influences. As soon as the band’s set had concluded, I rushed over to their merch table to grab a copy of their brand-new CD (which had just been released earlier that month), Brimstone Coven II.
But I have to be honest with you — because after all, if I’m not, then you’re just wasting your time reading this, right? — once I got home and listened to that album I was a bit disappointed, based on the expectations that had been raised by the live performance. Don’t get me wrong, these were clearly still excellent songs, and many of them had already lodged themselves into my brain and felt familiar and comfortable after having heard them at the concert just the night before. But there was just something a bit — off — about the mixing or mastering or something here. Either the drums were too quiet and the cymbals too loud, or the other way around, or… I don’t know, but overall it just felt a bit muddy, especially compared with the exceptional clarity of the renovated church building that is Mr. Smalls. In short, I was happy with the album, but not utterly blown away like I had been at the show.
However, either somebody in Metal Blade‘s A&R department had also seen the band live, or had enough of a discerning ear to be able to identify the massive amount of potential the material held. Because not long afterwards, it was announced that the Brimstone guys had signed a deal with the Californian label; furthermore, later in 2014 Brimstone Coven II would be given a spit-and-polish remaster treatment, and reissued by Metal Blade. For good measure, the band’s first release, a 2012 self-titled album (which, just like the first World War or first eponymous Led Zeppelin album, would retroactively come to be known as Brimstone Coven I), was thrown in with the new packaging as bonus tracks. The finished product was then simply known as Brimstone Coven, which (finally) brings us up to speed with our topic of discussion for today.
This 2014 self-titled release includes a whopping seventeen tracks altogether, the first ten of which comprised 2013’s II, while the remaining seven “bonus” tracks were taken from the 2012 debut I. Throughout both sets of songs you will find consistently stellar songwriting, to the point where (as I had alluded earlier) just a single listen to any one of them will have you feeling as though you’d known that song all your life. As we take a closer look at this collection, I’ll address the latter tracks first, since technically they came earlier chronologically.
The Brimstone Coven I portion of the album is bookended by tracks eleven and seventeen, “Intro” and “Outro,” which are each short instrumental guitar pieces. In between, we find plenty of references to Witchcraft via Sabbath (“We are Forever” with its wailing lead guitar part features vocals somewhere between Magnus Pelander and Ronnie James Dio; the bass-led riff of “Son of the Morning” brings to mind older stuff like “Hand of Doom”), and via Zeppelin (the guitar part and overall arrangement of “The Ancients”). These songs also see the band experimenting with various types of vocal harmonies (which would be expanded upon greatly in the follow-up), as well as incorporating psychedelic-blues-rock grooves (“LoSt in the oDyssey,” which is a little more Cream-sounding, and also features a prominent cowball part), and definite dabbling in the realms of the occult (“Children of the Sun,” which surprisingly is not a Hawkwind cover, nor any of the other bands who have a song by this name, but which also seemingly anticipates II‘s excellent “Behold, the Anunnaki” in its chorus melody).
The remainder of the re-release, the Brimstone Coven II tracks (one through ten), are all full-length songs with the exception of the penultimate “Hades Hymn” — a minute and a half of church organ with rain sound effects in the background. Otherwise, there are crazy amounts of harmony, and sing-along-able tunes galore. The upbeat “The Seance” is perhaps the most Witchcraft-sounding of them all, and (naturally) featuring very occult lyrics, while opening track “Cosmic Communion” also starts off quite Witchcrafty, channeling old Black Sabbath — although later in this song the guitar/bass/drum parts get a bit more complex, and there is a cool vocal harmony that lies somewhere between Blue Öyster Cult and the Doobie Brothers. A common theme throughout most of the band’s songs, the drums here have kind of jazzy feel, but in a heavy metal context — similar to the style made famous by Bill Ward.
Elsewhere, a wide variety of styles and influences creep in, giving each song a distinctive and unique feel: “The Grave” is a touch heavier, with bass-driven riffs (think “N.I.B.”), whereas “The Black Door” has vocals that are harmonized but sort of monotonous and synchopated — and lyrically seems a bit new-agey and spiritualistic. “Behold, the Anunnaki” (named for the ancient Sumerian gods of the underworld) features several cool two- and three-part harmonies, very mystical and majestic, with a classic sound reminiscent of Kansas, Yes, or Uriah Heep; the more laid-back “Blood on the Wall” comes across as sort of southern-ified at times (with harmonies that recall CCR); while the very slow and deliberate “Lord & Master” has mellowed-out harmonies that seem almost Alice in Chains-esque.
So overall, that seems like a pretty long and convoluted description, but it feels necessary in order to adequately convey the range of different sounds and feelings that are deftly blended together by this band, producing something that seems instantly recognizable and familiar, yet simultaneously fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, it seems, due to some sort of contractual obligations this album is not available to stream in full, or to download, but you can order a physical copy by visiting the link at the end of this post, or — even better — perhaps you can catch the phenomenal live show at one of their upcoming northeast/midwest shows from late June through late July (details to be found down in the comments section)!
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If Brimstone Coven is a throwback to early 70s hard rock and proto-metal, the upcoming fourth full-length by San Francisco’s Castle definitely represents more of a late-70s-early-80s style of doom-inspired metalwork. Whereas the first album we have discussed here wanders among the realms of Black Sabbath and Paranoid, the eight tracks of Welcome to the Graveyard definitely bring to mind more of a Heaven & Hell vibe. Especially the songs “Traitors Rune” and opening track “Black Widow”; the latter of these (albeit with scratchy, bluesy vocals) definitely recalling the early 80s when metal classics like Screaming for Vengeance were clawing their way into the mainstream.
Set to be released in the middle of July, this album does features some more doom-metal-style vocals (for example, “Hammer and the Cross,” which also is built upon early-80s metal guitars) in addition to the bluesy singing; additionally, “Veil of Death” contains some lovely low/high unison vocals (both female parts, matching the majority of the album) in some spots, while “Flash of the Pentagram” has a much more distinct contrast in the vocals, with the background part being very deep — almost like a bull-frog.
In general, much of this material may seem like a step in an unexpected direction, since based on their previous works the trio has generally been associated with more of a traditional, older doom metal sound. But there have always been hints of later hard rock and metal influences such as Thin Lizzy creeping into their past albums. And to show that they are equally at home with older classic styles, the title track “Welcome to the Graveyard” sounds — ironically, perhaps — a bit like a Graveyard-ish throwback.
The whole album hasn’t been revealed online yet — but if you keep an eye on the Castle or Ván Records Bandcamp pages (both linked below) closer to the release date, you just might get lucky. But there’s also an excellent chance (if you live in the United States or Canada) that the band will be performing somewhere near you over the next several months; a string of dates starting with last Wednesday has seen them creep across the country to the east coast (hitting Tampa, Florida tonight), and after venturing all over the map with the likes of Disenchanter, Brimstone Coven, Blizaro (those last two will overlap with an appearance in Pittsburgh on July 31st!), and Pilgrim, before heading back to the west coast and eventually all across Canada. This massive trek, thousands of miles altogether, will keep the band pretty busy all the way from now through the end of September! Check out the full details in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
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You can preview one track from each song (in addition to the YouTube videos included above) by using each album’s Bandcamp player below. The Metal Blade reissue of Brimstone Coven is available right here, and you can pre-order a copy of Welcome to the Graveyard over here.