Green River – “Live At The Tropicana” (2019)

Lots of people hate on Record Store Day. I sort of get it given all the re-releases of stuff that frankly didn’t need a 57th version entry into Discogs. Many see it purely as a money grab. To be fair, record labels and stores aren’t non-profits, and I for one like having some local record stores, so if this gets some extra people through the doors and helps them keep the lights on, great. RSD also has had the positive effect of shaking loose some recordings that otherwise might not have seen the light of day. A case in point is Seattle’s ground-zero-grunge-rockers Green River, the band that spawned Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, and Pearl Jam. For RSD in 2016 we were treated to 1984 Demos and this year a recently unearthed live show from 1984, Live At The Tropicana. I doubt anyone would have bothered with these if it wasn’t for RSD.

greenrivertropicana

Live At The Tropicana was one of my top two or three “wants” for RSD 2019, but unfortunately I struck out locally. This isn’t a surprise since I live in Seattle and, well, it’s Green River. I waited a few weeks for the post-RSD nonsense to die down (copies were selling for $60-65 on eBay on RSD) and scored myself an unopened copy for $30, just a bit more than the retail price. And you know, it’s a damn good record. The sound quality is surprisingly good for what was basically a punk show in 1984. The only downside is that it’s so early that it lacks some of the band’s best material, which hadn’t been written yet. I’m a bit surprised some of the stage banter was left in, like probably two minutes of Mark Arm asking if anyone had any duct tap (though I enjoyed the part where he said their next number was a dance song, so put on your leg warmers), but whatever – it’s still a fun listening experience and a chance to hear a young band coming into its own.

Milena Glowacka – “Radiance” Cassette (2019)

Let’s get something out of the way right up front. I have no idea how to write about Radiance. But I also feel compelled to write something about it, because it’s one of the best new releases I’ve heard in 2019.

There’s an undercurrent of ambient throughout Radiance, a slowly drifting foundation. But on top of that we’re provided a range of different sounds, from the spacey dripping-liquid-mercury of “Try Out On You” to the metronome-like thumping beat that opens “Lusty At The Touch”, seemingly disparate sonic elements that Glowacka somehow combines into a cohesive whole. “You Are Such A Disappointment” could be the soundtrack to every nightmare I’ve ever had, right down to the title itself, the high pitched buzz punctuated by low end mechanical beats creating feelings of both anxiety and existential dread.

Released digitally and on cassette by the Icelandic label FALK, Radiance is available for streaming on Bandcamp HERE. The cassette copy comes with a download, so spend a few extra Euro and get a tape for your Walkman while you’re at it. You’ll be the coolest kid on the block.

Witches Tears – “Cry Of The Banshee EP” CD (2019)

Father Pujardov: The Beast is not dead.

Inspector Mirov: I put four bullets in him.

Father Pujardov: You think evil can be killed with bullets? Satan lives. The Unholy One is… alive!

So much for Pere Ubu’s advice on “Laughing” – when the Devil comes, shooting him with a gun won’t do you any good at all.

Metal albums generally don’t open with samples of movie dialogue. Not even doom metal albums. And not even if the segment comes from something cool as hell like Horror Express (1972). But Witches Tears aren’t your typical doom metal band.

I came to know of this brooding trio through my connection with their bassist Bowen Staines. I first encountered Bowen about 10 years ago when I was trying to track down a DVD copy of his brilliant Iceland Airwaves documentary, Where’s The Snow? and since then we’ve had a strange relationship that is almost entirely online, the only exceptions being when we randomly bump into one another on a rock in the middle of the North Atlantic during Airwaves. I also have some of his original art on my walls – a pair of hand-painted records, one featuring a map of Iceland and the other the portrait of one of his musical heroes, G.G. Allin. (♠) So maybe this is a disclaimer of sorts – I know one of the guys in the band. But I can promise you that if Bowen put out an album of Rosemary Clooney covers or went country, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But I like metal, and I like to support indie artists by buying and listening to their stuff. So there it is.

And since I do happen to know the bassist, I figured hey, let’s interview the band!

How did Witches Tears come to be? What was the vision for the band?

-Dominic Spinzola (drums): Witches Tears is from Scituate, Massachusetts, and was formed sometime around the beginning of 2018. I was on a walk to the lighthouse, when ran into Garreth (guitar, vocals); I’d seen him over the years walking around town listening to his headphones like I used to do, and we decided to start jamming with me on guitar, and him on drums, and then we switched around. I’d already known Bowen (fretless bass) for a couple years, back when I was delivering pizzas. He’d just moved here that same day, and he answered the door wearing a Cradle of Filth shirt, and it’s very rare to see another metalhead in these parts. I don’t think I’ve thought too much into what we “should” or “could” be. We wanted to be Doomy as hell, but we were missing something, so I recommended Bowen as our bassist, and he ended up being the missing link. I guess Uncle Charlie sums it up best… “If you’re going to do something, do it well. And leave something witchy.”

The songs on “Cry of The Banshee” are quite long, and that gives the band a lot of room to explore. While the undercurrent is Doom, I hear a ton of crazy 1960’s-style Psych in here, too. When coming up with the songs, how much of it is planned out, and how much sort of evolves organically?

-Bowen Staines (fretless): Normally, Garreth writes most of the riffs, and we jam them out, and then Dom and I make suggestions, yes? 

-Dom: Yeah, I’d say 95% is just jamming the songs until it feels right. I think it’s our strong suit, the ability to just go off and create our own vortex, and it’s something we try to hone in on when we play live. Pretty much all of our recordings are improvised, totally written in the moment. I’m glad you picked up on the 60’s element! I’ve always dug Roky and The Elevators and Witchfinder General, and I think Garreth’s playing is reminiscent of the garage-era sound.

-Garreth Colm Byrne (guitar, vocals): Yeah, I’ve always loved the 1960’s counter culture, and I try to soak it all up like a sponge, and the grey water that gets wrung out afterwards becomes my vocals and riffs.

-Bowen: There’s definitely a 60’s element in there, just slowed way down, and much heavier. And by leaving the songs so open-ended, it allows them to evolve more organically. At the beginning, I felt kind of like the odd one out, but not in a bad way, because I grew up listening to a lot of Scandinavian metal, and when I started playing with the guys, they were spending all day in the rehearsal space just watching old Vincent Price horror movies, and talking about loads of bands I’d never heard of before. They had to baptize me, in a way. Scituate, as a town, is what you make of it. There’s practically nothing to do, but it’s so close to Boston that the opportunity’s still there to connect with people and make something happen. We ended up getting signed to a label after our first live show. 

What’s up next for Witches Tears? 

-Garreth: We have our first headlining show coming up on May 26th at The Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain, MA, for the release of our first EP Cry of The Banshee. It’s being organized by our label, Wreckless Wreck Chords, and I think there are at least five or six bands opening before us. It’s basically an all-day event. We’ll have copies of the album available at the show, as well as cassette tapes, t-shirts, and a bunch of other good stuff.

-Bowen: Yep, I think everyone is really looking forward to that, because everything has happened so fast. We’ve been a band for barely over a year, we’re on a label, and we’ve got our first headlining show. And we’re really thankful and humbled by the opportunity to share the stage with so many talented people. I’m also in the process of trying to organize some shows for us in Reykjavík, Iceland for later this year, maybe in the Fall.

-Dom: After the release concert, we have another show on June 16th at the C-Note in Hull, MA. Come out, ye sinners. 

-Garreth: We’re also hoping to get back into the studio again soon to finish up our first full-length album. We have so many songs and ideas that we just need to properly record, and get them out there. We have more than enough material for a whole album ready to go.

What are you listening to and digging right now?

-Dom: Great question. Hmm, for me, right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Steeleye Span, Drunk Horse, Satanic Warmaster, Planxty, and my friend’s project, The Notorious P.A.G.A.N.

-Garreth: I’ve been listening to a lot of Moss, Devil’s Witches, and revisiting some of David Gilmore’s solo work. I also just got Bowen into Leatherlung.

-Bowen: Get ready for an influx of a bunch of foreign shit, haha! I’ve been holed up in my film studio the last six months doing a new music video for the Icelandic band, Sólstafir, so I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been listening to them a lot this last year, haha. The Vintage Caravan just put out an amazing new record, as well. Apart from that, I always have H.I.M. on steady rotation, as well as Motörhead, Turbonegro, Clutch, Mammút, Kontinuum, HAM, Dead Skeletons, and New Hampshire’s famous wildcard poo-baby, GG Allin. That dude grew up like one town away from me, haha. Oh, one last thing, real quick: we would really like to thank Mikke Worm and Tyler Spillane at Wreckless Wreck Chords for all they’ve done to help us, the blogs, radio stations, and media that has covered us, and the great bands and people we’ve shared the stage with – thank you sincerely, and we hope to see you all soon!  

 

Immediately after Father Pujdardov tells us that yes, indeed, Satan still lives, the weight of the opening track “Cry Of The Banshees” falls on you like one of those two ton weights the Roadrunner used to drop on poor Wile E Coyote, an unstoppable gravity-accelerated mass that squashes you right into and through the ground leaving you nothing but paste. But it’s not pure obliterating density. Byrne’s vocals hit you like Satan’s fingernails on a black metal chalkboard, raspy, pained, deranged. The sonic density harkens back to early Black Sabbath, wisps of psychedelia infusing the low end like some kind of gaseous form of LSD, the entire effect hypnotic and reminding me of the early snake temple scene in Conan the Barbarian when the woman is swaying right before she jumps into the snake pit. It’s like being ground to dust by a musical pestle and mortar.

The instrumental “Strung Through The Floor” is a manic jam session, throbbing and trippy, crashing cymbals replacing the vocals and riding over the top of the music like ball lightning. “Moving Walls” pushes the vocals into the background, giving the whole thing a nightmare-like quality, though the guitar-centric interlude embodies the best aspects of the early 1970s hard rock aesthetic, indulgent without being self-indulgent, intricate without being pompous. The marathon 13-minute “Long Strange Days” is exactly what its name implies, long and strange (the title’s initials are L-S-D; coincidence?). Here the psych element comes to the forefront, the pace slower and more deliberate, each bass note hanging in space waiting for the next to be played. There’s a prog-like quality to the flow. The pace and weight increase almost imperceptibly and eventually you think to yourself, damn, this got heavy again. The album closes with a demo version of the title track, rawer than the later studio version and capturing more of that live feel.

Cry Of The Banshee is described as an EP, probably because it has five songs. But don’t be fooled – these suckers are loooong, only one of them clocking in under 10 minutes and the whole thing lasting 53+. This isn’t punk rock. This is metal. Some of the band’s catalog is available on Bandcamp HERE, and I believe more CDs will be available soon. So give ’em a listen and maybe send ’em a few bucks if you like what you hear.

(♠) Despite Bown’s affinity for Allin you should not be afraid to go see Witches Tears perform live. So far as I know Bowen has never thrown his own poop into the audience. So far as I know.

Mecca Normal – “Brave New Waves Session” (2019)

I recently picked up a copy of Mecca Normal’s Calico Kills The Cat and was impressed, so when I saw that Artoffact was putting out a long-lost live session from 1996 I knew I’d need to check it out.

Right from the first needle drop Jean Smith is simmering with anger and grit, challenging the audience as if to say, “I’m not here to sing sweetly for you. You will LISTEN to what I have to say!” Musically things are very straight-forward, setting the pace and providing the platform for Smith’s lyrics, the drumming a pulse and the guitar capturing the changing mood and flow. The vocal don’t so much follow the beat or any standard cadence, instead flowing organically in an almost stream-of-consciousness way. It’s a risky approach and one that can come across as sloppy or lazy if you’re not careful, but Smith pulls it off perfectly with complete confidence.

The sound quality is tremendous, as you’d expect for something recorded by CBC for broadcast. You can stream it and/or buy a vinyl copy on Bandcamp HERE, so if you’re Jonesing for something you haven’t heard before with an honest riot grrrl vibe, go check it out.

Dynkur – “Tschüssi” (2019)

The opening beats of Dynkur’s new release Tschüssi hit you head-on like the pounding of some kind of industrial press, a massive machine punching out widget after widget after widget in rapid, unending succession. Thump thump thump… even when the more more subtle, dreamier synths appear they are pounded into the background… thump thump thump… at least that is until it’s time to get funky, spacey electronics jumping to the fore and bouncing around like rubber super balls in a small room. Only then does the machine let up, though just for a bit because it comes back again with a vengeance. The beats are prevalent throughout Tschüssi, but on “Arecibo” they take on a different quality, less mechanical and more electric, buzzing with current and just a hint of interference on the back-end giving things a rawer, more powerful feel. It’s definitely the most aggressive track on the album, one that would be at home in a windowless basement, cut off from all natural light for decades… Things close with “Ocean Of Sound”, the first time Dynkur pulls vocal samples into his compositions, which he does to great (and creepy) effect. It’s a tremendous closing gesture, the record achieving maximum intensity as its final final statement.

Dynkur is Icelander Thordur Arnarson and those evil masterminds at FALK (Fuck Art Let’s Kill) are responsible for this gem making it onto vinyl. Tschüssi was released in a super-limited pressing of just 40 copies, so if you want one (and you know you do) you better get on it quick HERE, because at just €12 for 25 minute of bangers these are going to be gone before you know it.