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Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: Stone Angels - Within The Witch

Click this album cover art to go to the Stone Angels website
and find out how to obtain "Within the Witch"
Stone Angels - Within The Witch 
(Self released/Satan City Records, Christchurch, New Zealand)

Three days ago (two days before Xmas Day) my old home town of Christchurch was hit by its fourth major earthquake since September 2010. Ironically, around the same time I read another review of ‘Within the Witch’ quoting the Christchurch band's bio (see the bottom of this post), which talked about how Stone Angels had formed during this time (after the first Earthquake) and how inadvertently their existence as a band had become a by-product of it. But to the music... ...All will become clear.

My first impression of ‘Within the Witch’ was playing it while driving home from seeing Stone Angels play live for the first time at Stonerfest 2011 - Northern Lights show. My thoughts after a few minutes were: "This is actually a pretty damn enjoyable listen - especially for a first release". I've since listened to it quite a few more times.

If I had to name the sound that best describes Stone Angels it would be ‘Bleak Post Apocalyptic Sludge’. Reason being is their music is along the lines of the post-Sabbath sludge doom played by bands which I'll leave you to guess the names of, but with a unique difference; the best way to describe this difference, which lies in the songs, sound, intros and interludes, is to try and imagine the setting of the movie ‘The Road’, and then picture the sort of music a group of rogue survivors might make if they stumbled across a cache of drums, guitars, amps and diesel generators in the midst of the destruction. Take the environment that Stone Angels actually exist in and it all starts to make sense.

It's actually hard to pin point exactly where said sound lies in the music, but I think it's partially from the production and musical input of Sinistrous Diabolus’ main man Kris Stanley (live Session guitar for the band and who features on some of the album's tracks), who would be lying if he denied the mighty ‘Disembowelment’ as an influence. However, for the most part it's in the songs themselves. Some compositions including the title track, explore a rock groove while other tracks such as the closer ‘Coffin Cross’ delve into discordant down-tuned black textures; all of which makes for rewarding listening.

While Christchurch is still being hit by thousands of aftershocks, people are grieving for the 182 loved ones lost in the 22 Feb 2011 quake; houses are falling down, streets are full of sink-holes swamped with silt from liquefaction as well as the smell of raw sewage, and probably more major earthquakes are to come. At least a silver lining is that, much like the mass unemployment that influenced so much good music there in the early 90s, Christchurch musicians and artists, including Stone Angels, will be drawing influence from their experiences and producing gems like ‘Within the Witch’ into the foreseeable future................ or until the city returns to the sea from which it once came.

Stone Angels - Band bio
The band is not bound to any tag, fusing elements of doom, rock and metal into a lo-fi melting pot. Formed in Christchurch New Zealand after two devastating earthquakes, Stone Angels writes most of its material off the cuff - without pre-conceptions - in an effort to capture the feeling of the times. In an abstract way, to capture what it is to live through this sort of chaos. This has been the focus until now, however the direction is not limited by anything other than those creating the music.

The debut album Within the Witch was recorded in a concrete shed amongst the ruins of Christchurch, with K.S (Sinistrous Diabolus) handling recording and production duties. The CD was released on 02/12/2011, with tape + digital download coming early 2012.The band has shared the stage with, amongst others, Creeping, Ulcerate, Shallow Grave and Thrall (Australia). Members are also involved in Sinistrous Diabolus and Second Gear Grind, alongside other projects.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: Red Dawn - World Eater

Red Dawn - World Eater (Self Released)
The sound of Red Dawn could best be described as traditional Heavy Metal with tinges of melodic 80s speed/thrash (think Anthrax - Spreading the Disease) but with a modern production.
The four consistently strong tracks on "World Eater" are all reinforced by solid drumming from Steve Francis (Ex-Demoniac and who also beats the skins for Wellington (NZ) band Bulletbelt), as well as Guitar and Bass work from Andrew McGregor, Greg McColl and David Wong.  But the highlight for me are the outstanding "sung" vocals of Thomas Barker  That's right, Red Dawn haven't copped out and made a trad Metal record with stock standard growled Vocals, Thomas actually sings and sings well.  I wouldn't go as far as to compare him with the strength of Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford, but I'd definitely say he's on the same path.
World Eater is a strong first EP.  The only thing that's missing are a few sing-a-long metal anthems.  Add a few of those to the mix and the Red Dawn debut Album will be a classic in the making.

Find out for your self at the band's website:

Review: Heresiarch - Hammer Of Intransigence

Heresiarch - Hammer Of Intransigence CD (Dark Descent)

Following on from their pro-cassette released "Obsecrating the Global Holocaust", reviewed here back in August 11, "Hammer Of Intransigence" is a natural progression and also overall improvement in the Heresiarch sound.  Members of the band themselves have accurately said that this sounds ten times better than the previous recording.  Not only that, but you can't escape a review of this with out making mention of it's epic cover art by Nick Keller
Stand out tracks in my opinion are opener "Carnivor", a reworking of "Man is Carnivore" from the "Obsecrating" demo, and the heavy as all fuck doom closer "Intransigent". Both these compositions stand out to me because of their huge memorable riffs and intros which hook you in to the rest of "Hammer".  I'd like to see Heresiarch utilising more of this in the future to further enhance their sound.
This EP/Mini album is the sound of warlike chaos with definition and clarity at the same time. Lets hear what comes next.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sinistrous Diabolus - Interview

As previously mentioned here, Sinistrous Diabolus are one of New Zealand's undiscovered underground treasures. I have been lucky enough to witness almost all of their 20 year history. This interview is with Kris Stanley and digs into all aspects of what makes Sinistrous Diabolus what it is...

1) A couple of years ago you lost your left thumb in an industrial accident. Could you give us a run down of that i.e. how it happened and what has happened since. How has this affected your playing and more importantly your motivation to create and play music?

It was a work related injury. I work in a bronze foundry and got my hand caught in the machine used to straighten the bronze bar we make-the scene in the machinist where his arm is ripped off was a pretty accurate depiction…that feeling of pressure then realizing there’s no way of getting out. Ha Ha my inner monologue said, ”This isn’t going to be good!”
I had 4 operations to skin graft/muscle graft the big mess back together. My surgeon did an amazing job considering. Function is reduced noticeably but I can still play at probably 50% of my former ability, which is better than not being able to play at all. And it pisses me off enough to want to get as much recorded as I can before I go hack something else off by accident and end up like Stephen hawking programming guitar pro with a mouth stick. I’ve never been terribly accomplished as far as technique goes so its pruned some of the creative deadwood-using the right hand to fret extended chords or trying different tunings to reach the more dissonant intervals. I have had years of listening to useless dropkicks formulating every reason why they can’t do something …I’m not about to join their ranks any time soon. My first gig with Diocletian was 4 months after the accident-you just have to get off your ass and do these things. Supreme hailage to the DCOG for giving me the opportunity.

Enter the Pus Samosa

2) Opus One was released in 1993 and has just had a pro produced cassette re-release (the orignial was pro-duplicated but had a color photocopy cover) How can people get hold of this? Will it see CD or vinyl release? Why do you think that ‘Opus One’ has taken so many years to be recognised as a classic underground release?

It's funny what passed for "pro" back in the day. matrix printer stickers and all.The re-release is a co release between dark descent (USA) and goat gear (NZ), each label carrying 100 copies each. By the time i get round to finishing this, DARK DESCENT will probably have sold out of their copies, they have 20 copies remaining last i heard.(update: dark descent sold out: goat gear less than 10) As for being a classic? Having vocal supporters like yourself certainly helps. Scourge wanted to create something powerful that built on solid influences and carried them one step further-i think this essence is captured in that recording…no Sinistrous Diabolus material will see a CD release! It is a redundant format as far as I'm concerned. After "II" is released id like to do a vinyl with opus one on side a and the redone promo 08 tracks on side b. But that’s way in the future….

Note: This reissue of Opus One is now sold out. However you can download an authorised high quality version here:
Original flyer for Opus One

3) There have been multiple different live line ups for Sinistrous Diabolus, varying from the awesome four piece line up that performed at SATANFEST 2009, to the a solo performance in 2010. Whilst not forgetting the original 3 piece line up from 92/93 and all the Variations up until now. Which line up do you see as being the perfect one and what are we most likely to see heading into the future?

Well my focus is less and less about being a 'band" in the traditional sense, so for now I'm more interested in hired mercenaries with ability and good taste. Geography is a limiting factor in attaining an ideal line-up (I don't deal in absolutes so "perfect" doesn't register)but I'd have to move north if I wanted enlist the personnel and fuck that! I'm content with the way things are for now. Unsurprisingly the advances in technology since the early 90's have made it far easier to enlist session players and demo/record a number of tracks from anybody/anywhere. If I'm happy with the composition of the new material then perhaps I'll look at forming a more solid line-up.

I was really disappointed with the solo performance. I think I just bit off way to much to chew that night….although it is something I may revisit in the future.

Kris Playing Satanfest 2009. Photo By Rebecca Tovey
4) Over the last year, Christchurch has been hit by a series of major Earthquakes, which have decimated large areas including the almost total destruction of the central city. How has this affected you? Describe some of the experiences you have had. Do you think that this will have a impact on your music? If so, how?

I was already on the path to becoming an angry old hermit and the earthquakes have just hastened the process. It has had a big impact on my creative process as I mainly stay at home playing guitar or listening to cave reverbed explosions instead of socializing. And of course the destruction has a major aesthetic value…we've had over ten thousand quakes of varying magnitude so its all getting a bit old now but occasionally a strong one will creep up and remind you just how easily one's puny human existence can be smeared across the landscape
Of course now the city centre is in ruins most of the available venues have disappeared as well. No bother to me, one live gig a year is plenty. Audience turnouts have been increasingly more pitiful over the last few years so maybe some absence will be a good thing, bring some of the hunger back. Or starve the dying dog to death!

5) Tell us about the “Total Death Total Doom” online release. How did it come about? Will it see an official release? A while back you also had the “08 Promo” available for download? What was this material? What will become of it?

A gig was organized with the idea that it would be all the doom cult bands - Vassafor had absent personnel so couldn’t perform and malevolence were called in to complete the line up. The only way I could see to have Sinistrous perform and avoid a logistical clusterfuck was to ditch the live lineup and do it myself. I'd had the idea of doing a minimalist type of set for a while so I bought a roland SP404 and got into it. The writing process was super efficient, the ideas flowed really well…however the live rendering was less than what I'd envisioned! So I re-recorded the set once i got home and added a few layers with the idea of distributing to a few people as a promo and a preview of some of the stuff that would be on the next release. I doubt i will bother to release it officially as most of the ideas will be better represented on the current material.
Click the image to download Total Death Total Doom
The 08 promo was an attempt at a fresh start, rather than struggle away with old stuff ….I just hammered out a few ideas. It would probably be still gathering dust if not for Mike C (2nd guitars) who put the word out on it. it will be re-recorded as those versions online are just writing/demo's…necrobastard of doomcult is re-doing drum tracks as his schedule allows. If and when this gets done is low priority.

Click above image to download the 2008 Promo

6) ‘Opus Two’ is going to be completed and released some time in 2011. Why has it taken so long? Can you describe and names some of the songs that will be on it? Are there any songs from the original era that weren't recorded for Opus One that may be resurrected in the future? If so what are they?

My writing methodology is extremely slow….coupled with an obsession for details. I'll demo something, listen it to death, pick it apart and hate it. So it is good to get some feedback from others as in the case of the promo 08 stuff. It seems the older you get the more the mundanities of life invade your creative time. I’m also a huge gear nerd and have wasted shitloads of time using crap/wrong gear that didn’t have the functionality to work for me…as well as learning to audio engineer as I go. We mostly started with shit gear that was traded for slightly better gear and on and on. Took a fuckin long time to get something worthwhile. I’m very happy with my set-up now, the short burst of demo’s came together very effortlessly. If the songs were created in more of a band type setting the output would be greatly increased I'm sure.
The material on "II" is a mix of some old post "opus one" riffs and expanded musical themes from that time, plus some newer pieces influenced from old stuff. We did play a rough hash of some of these riffs at Satanfest '92, I'm currently re-recording this as an "alternative" version to the one that will be included on Sinistrous Diabolus II.

Click above image to listen to said track.
The new recording will be two songs, separated into parts/movements (in name only)-two continuous pieces of music 25 mins long. I'm leaving it to the listener to decide where each starts/finishes…

7) Although not documented, drugs have played a part in the history of both Sinistrous Diabolus and what could be described as other legendary sounding Christchurch underground Metal bands from the early 90s. What impact do you see that they have had on your self, Sinistrous and that scene? What do you think might have happened if those drugs were not a factor?

We were all pretty young back in 91-92 so youthful experimentation grew to habit for some I guess - certainly showed the rotten underbelly of this town which I think is mandatory when playing ugly music and something I’m glad to have seen first hand.. ….I got bored of it all pretty fast. It showed just how lacking in character some were. A bottomless well of self pity and something I’ve grown to loathe. It’s the survival instinct in reverse, destroying yourself to live!  But this is not unique at all, every scene has fuck ups and deviants. As for what may have been-that time has passed so to muse over it is pointless.

8)Aside from the above, what factors (Social, technological etc) do you think contributed to the unique Underground metal sound that came from Christchurch in the early 90s? 

Being shit poor was probably the biggest factor. But however that was our choice-we were all too busy adding to the detritus of society to go out and work/save for good gear etc. The most flash amp we had between us was probably a peavey bandit….there was a certain rough and somewhat haphazard element as well. Although I think this was just from a lack of ability perhaps, cavemen with distortion pedals.

Sinistrous Diabolus Live at Satanfest 2009. Photo by Rebecca Tovey
9) Jon/Scourge was originally the creative force and leader of Sinistrous Diabolus when it was formed in 91/92(?). What lead to his leaving the band? How does you writing different to his? What parts of Jon’s influence remain in the music? I know there was recently talk of Jon collaborating with Sinistrous again. Is this still likely to happen? Why/why not?

I can only really comment from how i saw it back then as I've not actually spoken to him about it…..i think he was tired of the general pretentiousness of the scene at the time, second wave black metal was starting to gain momentum and every fuckin second meathead was bestowing them selves with "titles"…lord ,count, baron, etc.. This was exacerbated by his involvement with the O.H.L.P (Order of the Left Hand Path) and later O.S.V (Ordo Sinistra Vivendi) (remember key of Alocer/Aabaaner incendium? ha!)
He just said one day he'd had enough and if we wanted to keep it going, to do so. I guess its the case with all creative processes, you have a vision but the transition from theory to practice sometimes goes astray. J and I didn't start jamming again till maybe a year later but a lot of the ideas I had were weak as shit. Which is why there has been such a huge gap in the discography. Opus One was the standard by which all other material had to meet. We discussed collaborating but we came to the agreement that we've probably moved too far apart to make it work. I do still value his critique and try to get his opinion on most material since regaining contact. I sent him some rough demos on some of the new material which was well received-it good to know I’m on the right path.
Click above image to read interview with Jon/Scourge from Subcide Zine #1 from 1993
I still draw from the same influences as back when we started-lord of Putrefaction, Blasphemy, Laibach, hell awaits era Slayer, Bathory, Thergothon, Death in June Non.….

Sinistrous Diabolus was my first decent band so a lot of the ideas and techniques for sound have stuck with me to the present day. For instance we tried putting bass strings on a normal scale guitar and while it sounded rhythmically heavy, there was very little audible melodic content. I’ve since had a 30’’ guitar built that is tuned EADGBEA to try and achieve some of the vision we had then…more like a distorted string quartet –Bass ADGC, Bass vii EADGBEA, Baritone guitar ADGCFA and standard tuning EADGBE. It might seem confused but its an attempt to simplify the writing/recording process as instead of multiple overdubs there is one track per instrument. I’ve found out the hard way that too many overdubs destroy dynamics. Less is more!

10) You’ve recently been the session vocalist for Witchrist and session bassist/vocalist for Diocletian.  What have some of the highlights been? What have you learned from the experience?

The doom over Siam gig was probably the highlight for me, just such a complete reversal of what gigs generally are here in NZ. Drinking all afternoon in scorching jungle heat meant my performance was less than brilliant but it did give birth to the beast named CHANG WILDCHILD
…As far as the other gigs went, I fuckin hated being just the vocalist, I’ll never take that role on again that’s for sure. And now I think about it, nearly all the sole position vocalists I know are odd people. Some amount of personality disorder is advantageous….I enjoyed the recording process more than playing live, my playing has really gotten shit post accident…well guitar at least, bass I find a bit easier. I know I performed better with both bands back in NZ but that was then. Both bands have full time replacements for my session spots so I can concentrate on other things now.
Kris in Witchrist somewhere in Europe in 2010
Biggest lesson I’ve got from both bands is doing the basics right. I have a tendency to go off on tangents trying to squeeze too much into a song and fuckin smother it. A dose of the cult puts things back on track.

11) What is your view for the future of Sinistrous Diabolus? What definite things not already mentioned are on the horizon? Any last words?

The future? At the moment I can't see past completing the current material. Assuming it goes as intended there may be a few shows plus i have some other stuff in line to be recorded.
A huge thanks to the patient long time supporters-V.K, yourself, Rebecca T, the DCOG and the thoroughly cool cunts met through touring –id list them but ill save that for when the record is finished. Doom ‘till Death.

Photo of original Sinistrous Diabolus 1993 line up from inside of "Opus One" casstte