Haunt – Mind Freeze (Released 2020)
I went on a strange journey with this Mind Freeze. The first listen was a baffling ordeal, largely because of the moderately baffling production choices on display. Traditional, mid-heavy guitars are piled on top of occasionally clicky bass, both of which are par for the course when it comes to throwback metal. But the drum sound is the stuff of nightmares – it’s boomy, but it’s not full; loud, but not satisfying. They sound like the drummer isn’t at a traditional kit, but is instead pounding away at a collection of reinforced crates of varying sizes. The vocals are reedy, thin, distant, and have a hint of warble to them, as though they were recorded either underwater, or on one of those old-timey handheld tape recorders that journalists used back in the day. There’s also some quick hits of chunky analog synths, almost all of which are for texture.
But, over repeated listens, the album started to really grow on me. This is a band that cares very deeply about its hooks, and it shows all throughout Mind Freeze. There are nine tracks here, and they’re all stuffed with bridges and choruses that really sing, and that get lodged in your ear in the very best way. I know I probably sounded like I was ragging on the vocalist pretty hard up there, but his voice has a wounded, vulnerable quality that is both rare in metal and helps make these hooks more distinct. The songs are melancholy and legitimately haunting in a way that is rarer than you’d think, given metal’s natural inclination towards the spooky.
It is this commitment to hook that pushes the album towards the front of the trad metal peloton. The riffing is fun and brisk, often hanging out in the proto-speed range, but it’s nothing to write home about, and nothing you haven’t heard before. There’s also melodic twin leads aplenty, which is a fine idea in theory but, in direct contrast to the vocal melodies, not many of these passages stand out. The production also works against the riffs from time to time, as on the title track. More crunch and fatter bass would have gone a long way, particularly in the chorus riff. The bass is the main culprit in these situations, being too thin to provide adequate riff support.
All of that said, Mid Freeze is a damn fine album, and well worth checking out.
Standout Tracks: Hearts on Fire, Mind Freeze, Have No Fear
Forming the Void – Reverie (Released 2020)
I took a quick glance at Forming the Void all the way back in the cursed OMR6 (which is awful; once again, I must ask that you please refrain from clicking that link, which I only included as an exercise in owning my mistakes), and because this was written at a time when I was forcing myself to crank out columns more quickly than I was capable of, I’ve always felt as though I gave the band and their work short shrift. Upon learning that they released a new album called Reverie last year, I immediately decided that it was my duty to check it out and report my findings.
This has put me in a bit of a spot. If the goal of circling back to Forming the Void was to provide some actual, worthwhile insight into the band and their sound, what am I supposed to do now that I know there really isn’t all that much to talk about? I’m sure that sounds like it’s meant as a burn, but it’s not.At the risk of getting too far up on my soapbox/high horse, but sometimes I feel as though we, as a society, have decided that is better to be spectacularly terrible than quietly decent, but the older I get, the more I reject this notion, and suspect its prevalence is making life worse, not better. Competence is a good thing, and so is competent sludge!
Anywho, Reverie is another compilation of competent, crunky sludge riffs, with all-consumingly fat bass to support it. The vocals are clean, but with melodies that lean towards drone-like and spacey. Sometimes, there are quieter, even more jam-like bits. Beyond that, though, I’m not sure what to say, as the band doesn’t do much to distinguish themselves from the rest of their peers. Listening to the album is therefore a pleasant experience, but one that’s inherently difficult to write about. It’s like dinner at a good chain restaurant, in that sense.
Here’s a thought, though: Is it weird to say that an album or track isn’t repetitive enough? After a few listens, I’m starting to think that’s my real issue with Reverie. The intended and attempted vibe is best described as “trance-like”, but at 36 minutes with seven tracks, all of which are somewhere around 5 minutes in length, both album as a whole and the songs taken individually are too short to allow for a proper zone out. Thus, the album feels less like a proper journey through weed riff hyperspace and more of a shuffling field trip to the scraped out resin museum. Again, it’s competent, but I kind of wish the band had leaned in further to drawn out, pummeling freak outs.
Standout Tracks: Sage, Trace the Omen, Electric Hive
Mothership – High Strangeness (Released 2017)
I am somewhat wary, given what I’ve been able to piece together about the first decade or so of heavy metal’s existence, of discussing this album in the context of an ostensible metal review piece. High Strangeness is a throw back to a time when metal bands dared not self identify as such, and the band’s official bio very pointedly avoids using the term. Self identification has become kind of important to the genre since those early days, albeit largely for stupid reasons, establishing a culture of “us against them” that used to appeal to me, but now reeks of rockism, and of all my other terrible, unexamined opinions from a time I’ve largely chosen to forget.
Oh shit, I got all the way off topic. My bad. Point is, there’s a lot of heavy blues boogie going on here, and it’s enough to make me nervous about whether I should or shouldn’t Mothership as an actual metal band at all. And then, I listen to High Strangeness some more, and note that the riffs, while a little bluesier than I’m used to, pack enough sludgy punch to rival plenty of other bands whose metal-ness is not up for debate. Also, Mothership has an entry on Metal Archives, and that’s good enough for me.
This is sludge in a more digestible format; there are eight tracks here and a total running time just north of half an hour. And, as befitting an act that consciously throws back to a hodgepodge of 70’s arena rockers, the tracks themselves are largely straight-up hook delivery machines. There’s definitely a good deal of space-rock weirdness (read: slow, glassy bass lines and lots of wah-wah pedals) peppered throughout, but they serve as a change of pace rather than the main attraction with the exception of a couple of slower tracks. These aren’t my favorite, but at least there are no minutes-long feedback experiments.
The results are a bit hit or miss. This album kicks ass when it’s clicking; Ride the Sun manages to stuff both a groovy main riff and a thrilling rev-up in a four minute package; Crown of Lies does likewise, but stretched out over a couple more minutes. Helter Skelter (which, it should be noted, is not a cover) and Wise Man are more straightforward versions of the same fun time. But there’s also the dull, plodding Midnight Express, which seems to confuse being slow and crunchy with being inherently cool. While slow and crunchy can fit that bill, you need hooks to go with it, and this track has none to be heard. Album closer Speed Dealer follows the same format, but does a lot better for itself. All told, High Strangeness is a good enough time, but no great shakes.
Standout Tracks: Ride the Sun, Crown of Lies, Helter Skelter