Sunday, July 12, 2020

Machine Head - Hellalive (2003)

Machine Head's first proper live album came about a decade into their career, more time than some superstars wait for sure, so one can't really hold their feet to the fire for wanting to get a substantial studio backlog behind them before trying to sell such a product. It features a pretty even distribution of material from the four albums they'd put out before it, but that just means almost all of it is going to be really, really bad. You've got your 'crowd pleasers' like "Old", "Ten Ton Hammer", "Take My Scars", and...okay, I'm sorry, I just can't keep a straight face while trying to type this sentence. Let's cut to the chase: Hellalive is a terrible live album, but it's terrible for its content, not AS a live album, if that makes any sense.

Technically, it's passable in most respects. The guitars and vocals are pretty level, and sound at least as good if not better than their studio counterparts on many riffs. They go for a more straightforward sound on stage, you can still make out some of the guitar effects and subtleties of the studio work but it hits much more like a blunt object. Although Robb is trying to represent the range of trite emotions he brings to the studio, he's a little dumbed down on the delivery through this set and that's actually a good thing. Apart from whisking off into some of his clean-cut jock chorus parts, he doesn't sound as laughable as he's done on a few of the albums. Then again, some of the drifty, dreamy melodic mouth breathing he does on tunes like "The Blood, The Sweat, the Tears" sounds a little dopey and it's on a part like that where you can hear more effects on the voices. The bass isn't quite as fat on stage here, so the tunes do lose a little bit of depth, but the drums make up for it with a little more fiery energy beneath them.

It's not a pure proper live set because a few songs are yanked from a second date in Germany and added here or substituted for the UK gig, but a lot of live albums do this and its all for presenting to the fans who want a more seamless listening experience and maybe cutting out a few awkward flaws. As live records go, this one does a fair representation for the band, I cannot imagine a longtime fan of Machine Head in 2003 putting this in the car stereo and feeling let down. They pound on you with a lot of their cheesy groove metal songs and leave enough space to get their emo on too. But I simply cannot reconcile with this shitty music, because I do not enjoy what I'm listening to. Is this a better experience than Supercharger, The Burning Red, or the More Things Change...? Yes. Does it bring hte pain? The siccness? If you're 11, yes. Is it worth checking out when there are literally tens of thousands of better albums and better bands across every niche of the metal spectrum? Hard no.

Verdict: Fail [4/10]

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Machine Head - Supercharger (2001)

There's about a minute in the first proper song here, "Bulldozer", after the pointless and uninteresting "Declaration" intro has ended, where Machine Head breaks into what sounds like it could have been a half-tolerable thrash/hardcore riff section, and I'd love to say that it almost fooled me into thinking I might be in for a sea change from the two miserable full-length albums previous. But I gotta level with ya, I don't fucking trust this band at ALL to write anything of quality, so sure enough, within seconds, that same song unraveled into an unkempt amalgamation of Korn, Rage Against the Machine, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and God Hates Us All era Slayer that reassures me that Supercharger is in no danger of breaking the stink-streak that preceded it.

I could say a couple positive things about the production. The way the guitars and vocals here are produced is a little bit more edgy and cutting than the last album, and Robb is settling into his multiple vocal stylings a little more with each album. Unfortunately, all of those stylings are really lame even by 2001 standards. His rapping has gotten a little more dextrous and sounds like an actual attempt at rap, perhaps, but then it's all about laying on the angst and the nu-metal rage, once again a mid-90s Jonathan Davis with far less personality, or a try-hard Mike Patton, and both the lyrical content and delivery feel shallow. What's worse, he's obviously going for those cliche radio rock chorus tones and patterns that feel like he's trying to get Machine Head recruited for an 'Army of One' ad on TV, like they're trying to peddle themselves as my friendly local neighborhood Godsmack, a band that I must apologize for my neck of the woods (Southern NH/Northern MA) ever producing to plague your ears. But, be real, it's not as if Flynn's goofiness is any better.

The annoying vocals would be one thing, but the vast majority of riffs here are just pathetic, yet again bouncing back and forth between a couple chords that require no imagination whatsoever, just to cling to the grooves that the fat bass tone is laying out, which sound good studio-wise, but are really just as awful once you dissect them. I'd say Supercharger is slightly more technical and dynamic than The Burning Red; you will come across a couple riffs that have a genuine energy flowing to them, and they use a lot more guitar effects like wah-wah sounds all over the place to make this sound like much more of an organized mess, but any attempt at validity is ruined by the shitty commercial radio vocals and the obnoxious pandering that this album constantly gets into. This is 'metal' by numbers, the lowest common denominator kind, trying to cash in on the audiences of emotional rock and angry wallet-chain Lollapaloser mosh. Any time any rhythmic maneuver comes close to engaging my brain, it's almost instantly shat upon by a quick morph into the tedium that I've described above.

It's very clear that Machine Head were trying to follow the Korn trajectory around the turn of the century, with a lot more soft atmospheric parts contrasting against bleaker emotional outbursts, and Robb was also trying to get a decisive, pointed delivery to his chorus parts that David of Disturbed always had ("Only the Names" is a textbook example of all this). But that's the problem, we already had those bands, and this one did absolutely nothing as well as any of them. Not that I'm asking you to listen to them instead, I could probably count the number of metal albums I enjoy on a single hand with a missing thumb, but this is just more also-ran rubbish that time will swallow up, even the fans of Machine Head's earlier output don't seem so enamored with this one, and it doesn't take a degree to understand why.

Verdict: Fail [2.25/10]

Monday, July 6, 2020

Machine Head - Year of the Dragon EP (2000)

Here's another Machine Head EP which was released in a few territories, presumably to sate the demand for more recorded live material and rare 'demos' that I can't imagine anyone actually ever having asked for in there lives. That said, it's possible that even Robb and the band didn't give a shit about this, that it was some sort of record label promotion to keep them on the shelves at the shops, or in radio rotation, or whatever crappy music industry justification for wasting natural resources on dumb material products. But unlike the Take My Scars EP, which had a mediocre Nirvana cover on it, Year of the Dragon has no curiosities whatsoever, just churning out the most generic short-playing fan cash-in possible, with one demo track that might make it a collector's item for collectors of trash.

"The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears" is the 'single' here, and it's presented in both its lame studio rendition, and one of the three live tracks that were recorded in Connecticut in 1999. It's following up after 3-4 other singles from The Burning Red album and one they put out for the Heavy Metal 2000 movie, which honestly baffles me, that any of the material could be considered good enough for air play... I mean, I don't know how anything by New Kids On the Block was ever considered quality, but they wrote better songs than these. At least I'm assuming...I wouldn't know much about that ::as he hides his copy of Hangin' Tough where you'll never find it:: The live songs are among the worst possible, between "The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears" and the awful "Desire to Fire" which is just possibly the most cringeworthy track Machine Head has ever produced in their mostly miserable catalog. "From This Day" isn't much better, it literally sounds like Limp Bizkit with a slightly heavier groove where he tries to do commercial rock vocals for the emerging Nickelback crowd.

The live tunes aren't recorded quite as well as those from the prior EP, but I suppose they are loud and brash and not as badly mixes as some I've encountered. So I'll give it a point for that, since I can't justify any of the musical value whatsoever except maybe the little 'HEY SLAYER GUYZ' riff that comes up late in "From This Day". "New Resistance" is the demo track closing out the EP, and I have no idea if this was something which was later reworked, but it's a horrible track that sounds like it belonged on The Burning Red or whatever Disturbed was writing at the time, there's a little bit of David Draiman in the vocals on that one but then again this wouldn't be the only case of that, the difference is that Disturbed has had the gall on a number of occasions to create memorably annoying songs, whereas Machine Head throughout the 90s just opted for the latter half of that equation.

Verdict: Epic Fail [1/10]

Friday, July 3, 2020

Dauþuz - Grubenfall 1727 EP (2020)

Dauþuz is one of Germany's finest active black metal bands, and most fascinating, if not so much in the musical construction than in the historical and folkloric focus of the lyrics. When I saw the title to this new EP, I thought it sounded familiar, and indeed it's named for a track off their 2016 debut In finstrer teufe which has been lengthened and reworked for this release. In fact, two of the three tracks here are re-recordings, but the nearly 20 minute finale is an epic new track which really serves as the centerpiece, and although I don't mind hearing new takes on previously released material, it is this closing epic which actually gives the EP enough value that it would be worth tracking down if you've enjoyed their other stuff.

"Grubenfall 1727" itself has been given an addition couple minutes of acoustic build with some subtle clean vocals, almost a later Viking-era Bathory feel, and personally I think this improves upon the original...although the transition to the black metal surge is a little abrupt, it works well to give a little balance to a powerful track. Dauþuz creates emotional if traditional melodic black metal with some simple note and chord patterns that prove timeless in their hands, and an excellent interchange of a harsher rasp and then a more suicidal, higher pitched alternative which is just awesome. The guitars are monstrous, captured raw but potent and really throwing me back to an early 90s mental space. "Kerker der Ewigkeit" is the other re-run, and although I think I like the balance of the mix here I feel like it's the least changed, in fact the vocals sounded a little more savage on the original and I might stick with that. "Die letzte Fahrt" is the main attraction, and begins with more clean guitars dusted with some of the crazier suicidal vocals, then surges through a number of mid-paced glorious sections; while there is plenty of repetition there, I never found myself board at the tune's enormous length, because the duo of Aragonyth S. and Syderyth G. is just so good at what it does...

Overall you get a very Blood Fire Death feel here, not nearly as legendary, but for a bunch of tunes about mining in ancient Germany it'll do in a pinch. The production aspires across the three tracks as they know how to apply just the perfect level of atmosphere created through the soaring chorus parts or the guitar tone, and when they cut out for those nastier rasps, percussive breaks and melodies it is pure atavistic power. That said, with some of this material being retread I don't know that I'd attribute it with the same amount of value as their great EP Des Zwerges Fluch, which had more and better tracks on it. In fact, if you're just checking out the band for the first time, you'll want to head straight for that one, or their sophomore full-length Die Grubenmähre, or last year's Monvmentvm. And then if you've enjoyed all that, this is worth checking out for sure. A reliable and immersive black metal band that I'll continue to follow thanks to their vision and consistency.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Machine Head - The Burning Red (1999)

I don't know what could possibly possess a band to spend years listening to and touring on an album like The More Things Change and then come to decision that they need to do this again...but that seems to be the motivation behind Machine Head's third full-length The Burning Red. If there's one difference here it's that the guys are clearly trying to sound a lot more like Korn than they already did, so you can bet the chug-laden hip hop influences are being cranked up to the extent that even Diabolus in Musica might be embarrassed to be found in its company. Full disclosure, as I've said before, I don't actually have a problem with the idea itself of mixing rap music with heavy riffing, it's just so rarely that I've heard it done well. If I do, it'll have my respect. Most of the nu metal bands who flirt with the idea take more of a rhythmic influence from that hybrid, with the bouncy beats, lyrical attitude, bass lines and guitar tricks that are attempting to emulate record scratching or other stylistic translations.

Korn had already worn us out on that with their first 2-3 albums and Machine Head doesn't seem to accomplish much more than that several years later. So if you're truly enamored with Life is Peachy or Roots, get on with your bad self, but I think The Burning Red is notably worse than either of them. Robb does try his hand at rapping in the actual lyrical delivery, as in "Desire to Fire", and that comes off just as goofy as you'd imagine, you can just picture in your mind the hand movements he'd be making as he was bouncing along in the studio. I'm not saying he's the worst at it that I've ever heard, but once it surges into that lame chorus groove which sounds as if it's just been replicated off the last album, it just becomes too unintentionally hilarious. Add to that the monotonous crooning he adds to try and keep it all in the radio realm during the age of Creed and Alice in Chains, and we're in for one dumb fuck of an album. But it doesn't stop there, because that's basically the formula for almost the ENTIRE experience...dull churning nu metal guitars, rapped out pissed off lyrics, funkier or dissonant guitar lines and almost no ability whatsoever to turn in an interesting chorus. I mean come on, even Linkin fucking Park can deliver on the chorus, the best Robb Flynn and the bros here can accomplish is to sound like Limp Bizkit's steroid-addled cousin...or like a Jonathan Davis with far less personality and equally dumb lyrics.

When this formula IS abandoned, it's to go even further into post-grunge woozy commercial 90s heavy rock territory with the 'emotional' parts like the verses in "Silver", which just sound like some drunk guys trying to get their Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Silverchair on. The lyrics once again come off like some distraught middle schooler who really wants you to know all the pain and castigation he's been through BUT HE IS STRONG AND DON'T FUCK WITH long as it sounds personal, has no capacity to engage anyone with genuine intellectual depth, and rhymes, let's pay ball. They read like the lyrics Fred Durst would have come up with if he was doing an audition for Hatebreed or Madball before they jettisoned him from the rehearsal space moments later. You could literally punch Durst in over Flynn on "Exhale the Vile" and not know the difference. Give me any lyrics about Satan, Vikings, motorcycles or B-movie bloodbaths any day over this nonsense! The cover art sucks. The cover SONG sucks..."Message in a Bottle", how original...Excel did a great version of that a whole decade before this lazy and laughable execution. Maybe when you were in Vio-lence and actually had an ounce of talent, you should have paid more attention to the other thrash bands from your State?

Verdict: Epic Fail [2/10]

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Machine Head - Take My Scars EP (1997)

Why does Japan get all the nice things? Alright, the adjective 'nice' is debatable when discussing any of Machine Head's garbage, but the point stands that in decades of musical obsession I've run across loads of albums and singles that are fattened up for sale over there. Granted, they pay a higher price than we do on a lot of these goods, but even for something as lowly as this EP you're getting a lot more content. Really, Take My Scars is more of a single, featuring the titular track off The More Things Change and then a B-side cover, a couple of demo tracks (oh boy!); but the Japanese edition also includes nearly a half hour of live material. Now, I couldn't tell you for the life of me who this would be for...I know the band was and likely remains within the 'Nu Metal Top 10', but was there really a huge market for copious maxi-singles from bands like Korn, Sepultura or Machine Head?

I've made my opinion on "Take My Scars" clear, it's a crappy nu-metal jam that sounds like it was strung together from the first few notes that popped up during a jam session, boring chords that do nothing other than emulate a primal hip hop groove with a little hardcore anger. That track is here in both a studio and live incarnation, and doesn't sound less awkward in either. I think the big draw on this would be the cover of Nirvana's "Negative Creep", which plays it pretty close to the original only adds a little fatter guitar tone. Robb's vocals are lower pitched than Cobain's, but he throws in a lot of wild screaming that almost make me wish he would just do that more often in his own band. In fact when listening to this it sounded a lot like another of the Seattle grunge bands, Tad, who I enjoy, covering Nirvana, and that alone makes it superior to all of Machine Head's original material here. The two demo tracks sound awful, nothing more than rougher cuts of what you hear on the radio and they don't improve anything except having that bridge to a more live atmosphere.

The five live cuts are from the band's limited two-album run at the time, and in terms of recording they do sound alright, provided you're already a fan of sub-mediocre music. It does sound a little messier, more pissed off and the hardcore parts on cuts like "Blood for Blood" sound even more hardcore and heavy in this context, so there is that to say for it. Of course if you aren't tracking down this very version of the EP then you won't hear those at all. Ultimate, Take My Scars isn't a product I'd recommend to anyone, but then again in general I wouldn't recommend any of their stuff, at least not for a big chunk of their career...let's explore further and hear if there are any diamonds in the rough.

Verdict: Fail [2.25/10]

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Machine Head - The More Things Change... (1997)

Where Burn My Eyes sounded like it might have at least been extracted from some fossilized metal DNA of integrity somewhere along the path of its inception, The More Things Change... is little more than a giant, blubbery surrender to the most vapid and idiotic nu metal trends of the 90s, and revisiting this sophomore was admittedly both hilarious and embarrassing as I tried to scrape the dregs of the barrel and find anything, just ONE thing positive I could actually say about it. This is basically a mix of the first two Korn albums, Sepultura's Roots, and a little of the Biohazard and Sick of It All influence returning from the debut, manifest though the least shitty riffs found here, in tunes like "Stuck a Nerve", if only because bland hardcore riffs are far less obnoxious than the alternative Robb Flynn is providing us.

I suppose the production is fine for what it is, Adam Duce's bass tone standing out here against the churning, boring chords and the occasional higher pitched, primitive droning guitars which are used to add at least some other sort of dimension to the material beyond just the grooves. And these are absolute rubbish nu metal riffs, which took next to no time whatsoever to conceive as they merely bounce back and forth between maybe 2-3 chords max. The band does reach out to create a few added dynamics as in "Down to None" with its dissonant guitars over a slower groove, but even there the results are little more than ennui as they can't ever seem to capitalize on a less throwaway riff with anything explosive or interesting. "Take My Scars" is a prime example of how bad this is with its mindless, lazy chords, and how Flynn tries to inject some mid-ranged doped up Alice in Chains style vocal to create a contrast or chorus to the roiling nothing below. The Rage Against the Machine guitar 'scratches' and angry hip hop vocals are also hilariously lame. The lead guitar, as basic as it is, almost seems out of place for trying to be too ambitious to what this album is all about, the cheapest cashing in on the LCD of metal music.

Now I'm not opposed to really basic riffing structures, grooves or breakdowns if they're written well enough, hell I'm a pretty big fan of Helmet records like Meantime and Betty, which are likely also influences that rubbed off on some this mid-90s Machine Head era. But these guys just lack any trace of personality, it's as if you stripped down the already-basic ideas of nu metal, took away any of the goofy costumes or vocal gimmicks of the more visible bands in that scene, and came up with a generic blueprint on which to teach grade schoolers how to jump da fuc up with their wallet chains flailing around. The cover font, lazy, the cover artwork, pretty typical stuff that looks like half the proto metalcore records I used to have in the early 90s, and the lyrics are about of trite garbage like "So c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, we gotta wake up!" Are you also down with the sickness? As a general rule, the more atmospheric the album gets, where it doesn't rely 100% on the dumb nu metal bounce parts, the material becomes ever more tolerable, as in "Blood of the Zodiac", which is tucked away at the end of the track list with its eerie intro, primal pensiveness and bluesy, sad solos. It's hard to believe this ISN'T the worst album in the band's catalog. Can it get much worse? Hold Robb's beer.

Verdict: Fail [3.75/10]

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Machine Head - Burn My Eyes (1994)

Machine Head is a bad band which becomes even more tragic for me when I look at what some of its members had accomplished years before its creation. That's not to say that Burn My Eyes is in any way the Californians' career nadir, far from it, but when I compare even this earlier effort to the first two Vio-lence albums that Rob Flynn played on it becomes instantly disappointing how much the guy absolutely sold the fuck out to whatever was trendy during the 90s. To be part of such kinetic, vicious, nearly flawless thrash metal like Eternal Nightmare, fully capable of causing the mullets to frenzy about and moshing to naturally erupt without the need for cheap breakdowns, and then later start up a band for which banal tribal tattoo mosh culture was the entire impetus to exist just comes across as depressing. Perhaps he was burned out with the diminishing success of his alma mater, who themselves were decreasing in quality as the changes in popular culture demoralized the second and lower tier thrash acts to try their hands at a more mall-accessible brand of heaviness, but virtually every effort I've heard from this band has felt like a dull slap in the face with a side of stale, bruised beef.

To be fair, Burn My Eyes is at least someone in touch with its thrashing foundations. Flynn and crew were unquestionably listening to bands like Biohazard and Pantera, probably also closely following the path that Brazilians Sepultura were taking, and this debut feels like someone had packed, beaten and kneaded those flavors into a rough thrash taffy by the pier. The focus is clearly on making big dumb grooves to hold the tougher audience elements' attention span, hip hop with chords and chugs, but then the band lacked the NYHC street cred, or the overbearing personality of Phil Anselmo's vocals, or Dimebag's ability to compose such sticky riffs. Burn My Eyes gets some credit for me though in how Machine Head manages to balance off its dynamics and give the meatheadedness some atmosphere. Part of this is accomplished by having such strongly produced drums, they really thunder around here and make even the more primal and predictable riffs stir the blood more than I'd have otherwise expected. Adam Duce's bass-lines sound pretty good throughout the album, thick as a brick. The shouted vocals are also well mixed to tap into the caveman genes, and they do occasionally manage to alternate some other tempos into the 'jump da fuc up' riffs which are probably the money shots the band and Roadrunner were counting on. There's also a little tendency to incorporate some mechanical higher pitched guitar lines in to flesh out the groove, I'm occasionally reminded of Prong circa 1990-1994, although Tommy Victor was far better at writing good music.

I mean if you just got out the gym back in the mid 90s, grabbed a copy of this over at Tower Records and had a little testosterone left to channel, I can imagine that the gut punching duo of the singles "Davidian" and "Old" would have been the best thing ever! Unless of course that you already had been listening to metal music for any length of time before that and realized that the aggression in the medium doesn't always need to be so tailor fit toward its most shallow instincts. Flynn tries to spin a lot of the tough guy sustain on his vocal lines, but he's just never had the bravado of Anselmo, or perhaps it's that he was lacking the Southern accent that put Phil over the top. He actually sounds like he's half-way between THAT Phil, and another Phil, Rind of Sacred Reich. The rappy vocals on songs like "A Thousand Lies" were mirroring Biohazard, but in that case lack some of the goofier beefcake charm of those topless, chiseled Brooklyn brutes; and a few of the cleaner lines seem like they lack confidence, as in "None But My Own" where they sound sort of drugged and dopey. Guitars grooves here like the breakdown in "None but My Own" sound like they're just doing their best to mimic stuff from A Vulgur Display of Power, although I'll cut some slack in that the very structure, mechanistic patterns seem to live up to their namesake.

The lyrics are far from the worst I've read from a lot of the groove metal bands of the 90s, but still just a combination of pretty obvious cliches about personal suffering and strengthening with some topical remnants of the 80s thrash that the band grew out of. The cover artwork is awful; is this weird blurred out guy copulating with the person in front him, or is that supposed to be the same dude head banging hard and being caught in various positions of the act? Whatever the answer, bro, it definitely makes me want to burn out my own eyes, so I can't blame Machine Head for false advertising there.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Bait - Revelation of the Pure (2020)

Bait is another in a succession of European bands to blend together the ideas of post-metal, hardcore and sludge into a forceful, cohesive sound, not really allowing any one of the primary influences to overpower the others. While a number of similar acts seem just upon the precipice of making the hybrid memorable, this band won me over almost immediately with its dark, dynamic sense of rhythm, enormous and effective production values and seamless integration of atmosphere and aggression. Revelation of the Pure is an impressive showcase of rage and melancholy which feels like you've been run right up against a reef of bared emotions and then before you even get the chance to straighten yourself out it starts tossing you around on its stormy surface until you're boneless.

Floods of haunted, mournful chords charge along over this thick, pumping bass tone which often gives off the impressive of an evil, more muscular Fugazi if it were soaked in angrier hardcore. The wall of sound created by the guitar not only anchors you with those heavy low-end chords but also with these ceaseless streams of atmospheric, higher distorted notes which just fleshed out their style so much that I found it hypnotizing. The drummer is a powerhouse, with perfect fills and kicks that keep it all from lapsing into chaos, and pair him up with that bass, some of the more dissonant riffing and the vocalist's energetic mesh of hardcore barks and black metal rasps and this will totally mow you down. I'd almost liken it to the more interesting, unique metalcore bands of old like Coalesce, Botch, or Keelhaul, only viewed through that darker lens where the post-black influences are just as important to how the songs are woven. Tracks like "Lightbringer" and the title cut had right on the edge of my seat, I had to hold myself back from moving, which might have looked really silly all alone in my small office, but this band...just...has it. I admit that I've not always been highly receptive to a lot of this style of material sent to me by labels like Les Acteurs de l'Ombre, but this one just nailed me to the cross and left me hanging there in a dazed, bloody, bruised stupor.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Bog Wizard - From the Mire (2020)

When an album starts off with a sample from the good old Moral Panic era of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, you know it's dialing my number, and yet the hits keep on coming throughout the first Bog Wizard full-length record, an effort that attempts to not only serve as a paean to the trio's fantastical die-rolling inspirations, but also to live up to the band's handle, the title, and the wonderful comic book-like cover artwork. From the Mire sounds like a slow journey through a wilderness sump, slowing down the movement rate of the party considerably and snuffing out your light sources while swarming you with insects, reptiles, and things danker still. It's an exceedingly simple record which goes all in on volume and bong-swill atmosphere, and takes its time to club the listener into submission. But hey, when you're stoned and tied to the tracks, it doesn't matter so much if the train's coming's still going to roll over you.

As with a lot of comparable bands, the key here is just to lull you in with some enormous, Sabbath-school groove and the hazy vocal patterns, but Bog Wizard isn't afraid to interchange their multi tracked hippie death chants with more extreme growls and snarls, and the latter don't really sound bad at all; in fact I wouldn't have scoffed at having more of them, as you'll hear in "Shapeshifter" where they sound ferocious and have an incredible sustain on some of the lines. That said, the cleaner vocals certainly fit in better with monolithic cuts like "City in the Mountain" or their lumbering ode to that unkillable mountain of teeth, claws and flesh known as the "Tarrasque". The guitars are minimalistic, chunky and heavy, a good counter to the more atmospheric effect of the vocals, although I wasn't a huge fan of their production, which was a bit too thick and syrupy on the heavier parts, with the bass getting a bit in the way of the rhythm guitar. It reminded me a little of some of Bongripper's material, in fact the sound overall reminds me of them, only there's a major difference in theme, whereas one is more focused on the drugs and suffering, this trio has the more structured traits of traditional epic doom, and for a DM and player like me, more compelling lyrical themes.

There's also a greater dynamic range across the substantial track-list, from proggier psychedelic escapism like the instrumental "Gnarled Cane", to the use of clean guitars and atmospheric leads throughout that prevent any sort of repetitive ennui from setting in. "The Orange Goblin" is another one which is different, almost a sludgy post-hardcore vibe to the riffs which are a little faster than usual and work well with the nastier vocals. Alas, it didn't turn out to be a cover of that band's eponymous tune on Frequencies from Planet Ten, but I like to think it's some sort of spiritual nod. I found the drums throughout pretty solid, although as with the guitars, the mix isn't quite rounded out yet, the snares in particular were a little thin and felt weak against the guitars, and some of the lower pitched drums also got lost at times. There's a little padding later on in the track list, I liked the idea of the "Fireside" instrumental more than its execution, and the howling ambient short "(And Stay Out)" seemed unnecessary. One other gripe is that they also front loaded one of the least interesting tunes in "Submission in Defiance", it chugs along ala Cathedral but there really isn't a terribly strong riff in there. Cuts like "The Wizard in the Bog", "Tarrasque" or the massive "Swamp Golem" are much more effective and really brought me into the album...

But that's the key, they DID bring me into the album, and while there is certainly some tweaking to be done, further room for growth in production and the layout of the tracks, I enjoyed the blend of crushing riffs, chant-like vocals, growling, marshland molasses pacing and fantasy themes. Fans of Witch Mountain, Dopethrone, Belzebong, Windhand, Acid Witch and Demon Lung might want to get these guys on the radar and track their sinking steps through the muddy slough of doom.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]