New Album Review – Wheel of Smoke “Mindless Mass”

WHEEL OF SMOKE

Mindless Mass

Release date: July 09th 2016. Label: Self Released. Format: DD/Vinyl

 

Leuven, Belgium’s Wheel Of Smoke play 70s tinted prog covering metallic space/psych/stoner territory, as well as calmer and more melodic songs. There might be a mix of Opeth, Ozric Tentacles, King Crimson, Agalloch and Pink Floyd as well as some elements of pure underground America flavorings reminiscent of the likes of Lone Star (not the country band) and Roy Buchanon and the like with soulful bluesy progressions. Founded June 7 2005, this marks the third full length release and does not depart much from what has become their own signature approach. The band cites their interest as “Providing our fans and public with a memorable experience at our live shows.” and state that they are influenced by “good music, everyday life, knowledge and ritual, and the anthropology of perception” but extend further that Wheel Of Smoke has NO affiliation or affinity with any religious/political beliefs whatsoever. So nothing too esoteric or any social-commentary based fronts. Not a bad thing by any means, particularly when that is the approach of seasoned musicians such as these four show they are with this latest release.

 

Band Pic

 

‘Degeneration’ is the first off and wastes no time with that 3/4 time sig, slight fill every 7th measure approach into the gravel-laced vocal that we can always expect from Filip (guitar/vox) / Erik (guitar/vox)  / Jouk (drums) / Tristan (bass/vox) and this has an inherent heaviness that grabs you by your shirt with no sign of letting go as the lunar-guitar assault screams higher and higher until the song fades among that bass rumble and you breathe deep. ‘Ruins’ has a quicker pace and shows of those KING CRIMSON razor sharp time shifts with guitar breaks to match showing that they are indeed happy to keep pushing the envelope with the timeless mix of fills and outbursts of tweaked wah-pedal glory flying in and out of each verse until the second the song just stops, no warning. ‘Bad Shepard’ hits next with pure 70’s almost dance-hall twang over the fuzzed out base line bouncing behind the rhythm section, sounding almost happy in progression until, just past two minutes when the tone turns noticeably darker and that trademark growl screams out again. ‘Unnamed’ enters with a soft guitar line, ghostly vocal climbing into the picture behind as the crescendo breaks into a trot then a slow-run, while ‘Synchronicity’ has a ‘jig’ tilt to the progression of the body of this song to the point this could be one of those ‘audience participation’ songs with lines like “We all know what it feels like” before the snap-pop tempo shift back into the next verse. I can almost see it in my mind’s eye when we hear “Hey” before the chorus rains again into your ears. ‘No More TV’ has a softer intro but breaks right into full unrelenting gallop as we hear of the fucked-up dream leading to a scream and then we are told “Let’s go drinking…” and the fuzzed out bass leads to an even faster run through as we run right along through the entire six minutes plus of this crowd-rouser type of song, executed with a surgical precision of solo attacks left and right, perfectly punctuating this track.

‘Feral’ is the last offering on here, and in my opinion, is the strongest composition recorded utilizing all the tools in their collection from a multi-layered vocal mix giving more substance and body as well as even using harmonic bends at the end of the solo-runs giving even more flavor to what has already been a feast for the mind and the bass/drum line could not be tighter or more precise than what is captured in this opus that clocks in at one second short of eight minutes. The shift to the spaced-out runs littered with revered and slight delay galore will make you feel the ground leave the bottom of your shoes in that stoner-rock way.  As you are rising along with the note-scales searing your veins as your pulse quickens to match the tempo for the last half of this final chapter that grows more and more complex and intricate driving madly towards that final three chord burst that ends with a dead-stop. My ears were almost ringing with the silence.

 

Band Logo

 

Amazing production, levels above each previous release and shows they are ready to rise out of the underground. If you are a fan, this is a must have, if you are new to the camp, great introduction and will make you appreciate the ‘precursors’ to this release as you witness the growth of each part of the machine that makes up Wheel Of Smoke. Based on the ‘live’ vibe they profess, I recommend going to see them if you get the chance!! \m/

Words by Ric “Suisyko” Dorr


Album Review – House Of Lightning – “Self Titled”

House Of Lightning – Self Titled

Self Released – Released:  December 1st 2016

 

 

First things first: let’s get Henry Wilson’s impressive resume out of the way, shall we?

Yes, he fronts House Of Lightning with his distinctive guitar and vocal stylings.  He’s drummed in legendary Florida sludge outfits Cavity and Floor, and this isn’t the first band that he’s fronted.  His previous project, Dove, put on one of the most impressive displays of live prowess that I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.  They played on the floor at an arts space in Lowell Massachusetts, and they absolutely killed it, laying down a non-stop barrage of chunky stop-start riffs and aggressive rhythms, mixing the groove of stoner rock, the urgency and immediacy of hardcore, and topping it off with High On Fire’s undisputed desire to punish.  I will always remember that as one of the greatest live experiences of my brief and uneventful life, especially since it just came out of nowhere, these three guys playing in a relatively unknown band setting up and laying it down like their very lives depended on it, and in the process winning over a crowd that previously had very little exposure to them.  That’s how it’s done.  If you don’t have their solitary self titled release, I’d recommend at least checking it out, especially as it will give a bit of context to this review.  There are certain similarities between Dove and House Of Lightning, besides that they share a frontman, though House Of Lightning brings some rather distinctive influences and attitudes to the forefront.

 

Nuclear Image

 

I mentioned Dove’s penchant for hardcore punk, and that’s the obvious jumping off point.  Their songwriting was punctuated by stop-start rhythms, syncopation, and unexpected twists and turns in the song structures.  These are all things that are still incorporated to great effect with House Of Lightning, though there’s more of a focus on melody, particularly with the vocals.  While Dove utilized a lot of shouted and screamed vocals, all of the vocals on House Of Lightning’s second album are cleanly song, with a laid back delivery and lyrics focused on positivity, peace, and unity.  The vocals have a deliberate reggae vibe to them, as evidenced by their choice to end the liner notes of their debut record with “Thanks and praise to Jah.”  That factor combined with the rapid, thrash-inspired riffs lead me to point to The Bad Brains as the strongest and most consistent influence throughout.  Overall, the six songs on this album are even more melodic than on the debut, Lightbringer, though they’re also a bit more same-y.  There’s often not much distinguishing one song from the next, which they can get away with since the album runs just a hair over 36 minutes.  The one noticeable change of pace comes in the form of the fourth song, “Small Hours”; it’s a slower tune with guest vocals provided by Melissa Hope Friedman, who also contributes backing vocals on a couple tracks.

It’s also worth noting that House Of Lightning have added a bassist for this one – on their debut, Wilson used synthesized bass.  Fellow Floridian Eric Hernandez of the band Wrong now holds down the low end.  Drummer Rick Smith is also a new edition, hailing from the band Torche.  It seems like there’s a lot of cross-pollination going on within the Florida scene, as Jonathan Nunez, bassist for Torche, recorded this album, and it sounds terrific.  The guitars are big and beefy, yet they’ve got enough crunch to cut even when they’re chugging along at maximum velocity.  The drums are constantly in your face, and the bass has enough high end bite to accentuate some of the funkier melody lines going on underneath the mayhem.

 

Band Logo

 

I’m going to end this review by pointing out that House Of Lighning have chosen to finance and release this album by their lonesome rather than work with a label.  Self releasing is a bold move from a band whose resume sports such pedigree.  Their previous debut was released on Translation Loss Records, and I’m not sure what prompted their split with that label, or their decision to release this album themselves, when I’m sure another label would have jumped at the opportunity.  It’s a gutsy decision, though one that’s often pragmatic given our state of the music scene and economic makeup in this country.  By releasing a record themselves, artists cut out the label and directly reap the profits of their labors, though a label usually has more resources at their disposal in terms of promotion and distribution.  I bring this up because I personally think it’s important that bands put a lot of thought into their choices to work with like-minded labels when they record an album, or whether to self finance and self release their music.  Many younger bands put all of their cards into the same hat, hoping to get on the label of their dreams and sometimes subsequently taking deals that aren’t particularly in their best interests.  It’s good to see a bunch of veterans like House Of Lightning demonstrating that a truly independent release is still a viable option for any band.

Reviewed By Andy “Rama Llama Ding Dong” Beresky