ALBUM REVIEW: Seamount ‘Nitro Jesus’

Seamount Cover

‘Nitro Jesus’
The Church Within Records, October 2015

Seamount are a bewildering proposition. At various points during this, the band’s fifth studio album, you get melancholic AC/DC (‘Beautiful Sadness’), bouncy 80’s soft rock (‘No One Knows’) and random punk-lite (‘In The End’).

The album kicks off like a mid-80s Black Sabbath, with a dollop of Judas Priest, and it seems immediately clear that Seamount, three years after the oddity of the ‘Earthmother’ album, are returning to their roots – namely: melodic, classic doom rock. ‘Can’t Escape the Pain’ ups the doom dosage, with a little Danzig-style drama for show. And then, proving that guitarist Tim Schmidt has lost none of his ability to concoct powerful riffs, the title track is a right hook of raucous stoner metal.

Things seem to be going in the right direction. And they get better still. Despite the overt sentimentality of its title, the song ‘Scars Of The Emotional Stuntman’ possesses musical subtlety and dexterity, drawing upon The Obsessed to re-establish that typical Seamount sound, if such a thing truly exists.

But just when the doom is beginning to take hold, there is a problem. ‘Hold Up The Sun’ is a hateful, cloying brain-fart of a love song. It’s like watching someone with a mental disorder being mocked on a TV talent show.

Life with Seamount is never dull, and even when you stumble across a song that you think simply doesn’t work, you know that there’s gong to be another twist around the corner. And so it is that the groovy hooks of ‘Bulletproof’ try to get the album back on track, but the damage has been done.

The second half of the album trundles onwards, pretending nothing happened… but it did happen, and in truth there are other sections on ‘Nitro Jesus’ that fall short of excellent, from the plaintive vocals of Phil Swanson to the heart-on-sleeve confessional lyrics to the occasional so-so riff. The good outweighs the dodgy, but it’s hard not to be distracted.


ALBUM REVIEW: Purple Hill Witch

Purple Hill Witch

‘Purple Hill Witch’
The Church Within Records (27 June 2014)

“Have a drink and watch the universe end.” So say Purple Hill Witch on their song ‘Final Procession’ – and it’s a line that sums up the band in a nutshell: gloomy, whimsical and quite possibly very drunk! On this their debut full-length album, the Norwegian trio channel the likes of Lord Vicar and Witchfinder General to create an enjoyable trad doom vibe that flirts with dirty NWOBHM and gets groovy while staying on the decidedly miserable side of stoner.

The song ‘The Landing’ has a particularly strong feel of Lord Vicar (with whom the band has toured), being both epic and awesome. With stirring riffs and rich guitar tones, it floods over you like lava, even launching into a late key change and then a tempo switch to really get the blood pumping and keep you guessing. This is probably the most satisfying track on the album, although ‘Queen Of The Hill’ is also a bouncing monster of effects-drenched guitars, bubbling bass lines and clean, powerful vocals. And ‘Astral Booze’ is a stomping quest for existential answers (or possibly for another glass of ale).

Other parts of this self-titled debut, including the instrumental passages, come across as solid, if unspectacular, Sabbath homage. The inspired and adventurous work of bass player Andreas is a stand-out feature, reminiscent of Mr G Butler himself, while the riffs hark back to some of Iommi’s most miserable musings. The simplistic guitar solos, though, serve only to remind the listener just how impressive Iommi’s own are, and the drums usually add little other than keeping time without complication.

A number of songs on this album lack a distinctive personality and a few of the riffs are a little predictable. That said, while there may not be much variety on offer, the joyful musicianship and expert vocals generally keep things feeling fresh. The aforementioned track ‘Final Procession’ demonstrates quite a low-key and chilled attitude to humankind’s ultimate demise. Its fuzziness is gentle and relentless – like being mauled to death by a baby panda – and the song is enjoyable but not especially memorable. Purple Hill Witch themselves are relentlessly old-fashioned, following a blueprint that was set out 40-plus years ago and adding a few dashes of their own sense of fun and energy.


ALBUM REVIEW: Blackfinger

(The Church Within Records, 30 Jan 2014)



This album has been a long time in the making. After tiring of life on the road with reformed doom legends Trouble, singer Eric Wagner – owner of one of the most distinctive voices in the business – shut himself away to write some new material. That was in 2008. And the result, six years down the line, is an album that will please fans of old-school Trouble, whose mid-1980s masterpieces have been enormously influential, as well as those who appreciate the band’s later, trippier recordings.

Unwilling to embark on some ego-stroking solo project or to record with special guests in the vein of Probot (the all-star Dave Grohl side-project which brought the former Trouble frontman to an even wider audience in 2004), Wagner got together with some local Chicago talent to form a new band. Albeit a band with Wagner very much front and centre, doing things his way.

There are plenty of heavy moments on this self-titled debut, but a fair percentage of the album is given over to gentle acoustic songs, where Wagner’s love for the likes of Pink Floyd and The Beatles shines through. There’s even a homage to The Mamas & The Papas in ‘All The Leaves Are Brown’, the album’s first, storming single. Elsewhere, ‘As Long As I’m With You’ is a catchy and beautiful track, featuring only cello, bass, piano and voice. ‘For One More Day’ is similarly understated, and in this regard the album is reminiscent of ‘Raising Sand’, Robert Plant’s award-winning 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss. Wagner has much in common with Plant, physically and aurally, and both albums confidently apply simplified instrumentation and arrangements to great effect.

For anyone seeking something a bit more muscular, songs such as the grungy ‘Why God’ and ‘My Many Colored Days’ stand out as impressive, original compositions that stay true to the legacy of Trouble. Many of these new recordings could sit quite comfortably on 1992’s  ‘Manic Frustration’ for example. The vocalist has a healthy relationship with his former band (whose recent album ‘The Distortion Field’ with new singer Kyle Thomas received a mixed reception), and is happy to play the old stuff live with Blackfinger – and this respect for the past is evident, if not quite as blatant as with Wagner’s other project The Skull. 

Wagner has said that he did not want this album to be “self-indulgent”, preferring his music to sound like a relaxed jam. ‘Blackfinger’ achieves this with ease and the 11 songs fly by swiftly and enjoyably, some of them weighing in at three minutes or less. They are snippets rather than epics; a fascinating, varied and extremely personal glimpse into Wagner’s state of mind.

Whenever Eric Wagner gets behind the mic, you know good things are going to happen. His unforgettable voice is inevitably prominent in the mix, and it sounds as strong as ever. He openly admits that, at 54, he cannot emit quite the same banshee shriek that he could 30 years ago, but he has learned to adapt. As always, his lyrics are both intriguing and charming, while his vocal performance is that of a master. 

This may not be the heaviest music in the world, but it is quality stuff that digs its hooks in and won’t let go. Alternating between kickass doom riffs and swaying, dreamlike acoustics, ‘Blackfinger’ builds on Wagner’s enormous contribution to music.  It was worth the wait.

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