Monday, 2 June 2014

Vinyl Corner : In The Company of Serpents - Of The Flock (Album Review) (2)

Album Type : Full Length
Date Released : 31/10/2013
Label : Unsigned/Self Released

Of The Flock, track listing :

1). Ash Swamp 01:08
2). Craven 05:47
3). Blood from Stone 10:41
4). Of The Flock 06:41
5). Untied / Culling Essence from the Vod 07:56

The Band :
Joseph Weller Myer | Drums
Grant Netzory | Guitars, Vocals

Review : 

Having been guilty of being submissive to the digital era for many years, the last 12 months has seen a shift in my attachment to music.  For the better, I might add.   I have embraced vinyl!! 

In no small part due to a thriving underground ‘doom’ scene, many artists have taken a DIY approach to releasing music, borne from a desire to release music on a format which many of them grew up with. On that basis, purchasing a vinyl is directly giving back to the band or label.

During an impressionable age, vinyl was my first experience of Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa and many others, indeed the same can be said for many music fans my age I’m sure.  Nowadays, music has become a disposable commodity in one sense, a piece of dental floss, you use it once, then you throw it away.  Perhaps, it has always been the case, however the lack of substance to the digital age, means that new generations of music lovers, perhaps never fully embrace music as a physical product and don’t have memorable stories to share.  Who remembers the frustration of carrying portable CD walkman’s around?  Taking care to keep it flat, to ensure it didn’t skip or the fact they were so cumbersome, it wouldn’t fit in your pocket.  The cassette tape who’s sound quality would diminish after multiple playbacks over many years.  Ah, the memories 

Invariably music follows trends in terms of styles, but also in terms of format too and whilst having an ipod with 18,000 songs on it, is good when you’re on the move, music is something that should be ‘experienced’.  There is need to get back to basics and reconnect with it and that is where vinyl excels for me.  Trends are invariably cyclical, but with vinyl sales increasing exponentially, I cannot get enough of it. Which leads me on to today’s vinyl corner and why it is so gratifying for me, to share my thoughts on awesome vinyl with you guys.  In the hope you’ll be convinced to shed the bread for some killer wax. 

Released on 31 October 2013, In The Company of Serpents, delivered ‘Of The Flock,’ their second official release.  A doom/sludge two-piece from Denver, Colorado, they formed in early 2011, when vocalist/guitarist Grant Netzorg met drummer JJ Anselmi at a show their former bands were playing. Following the release of their S/T release in 2012 on cassette (limited to 300), as well as the digital release, Joseph Weller Myer took over on drums.

This leads us to the present.  Being unfamiliar with the band myself, what drew me to the band was the ‘Of The Flock’ Limited edition vinyl.  Never judge a book by its cover, I hear you cry.  Well carry on reading folks!! Pressed on clouded black/white vinyl, with artwork by Mike Lawrence Illustration, the album and sleeve comes housed in a custom black-on-black envelope hand sealed with signet wax.  This thing is just fucking beautiful.  Immediately I was drawn to the record, based upon how it looked aesthetically.  But this isn’t style over substance, far from it in fact.

Speaking with Grant from ITCOS, I got the sense that this package was borne from the band’s love for music, but also their love of the vinyl format.  Indeed he said that they always wanted to put out a cool and unique release that would stand up to the sorts of things that labels such as Southern Lord release.  Hell, I hadn’t even heard the music yet and I was sold. (By the way Grant, you succeeded in spades my friend.) 

Pirate press thought it was so damn cool, they named it their vinyl of the week.  Not bad eh?!

The vinyl is limited to 475 pieces too and that is also the attraction to vinyl, you’re part of an exclusive club, who post pictures, celebrate music and tell their friends, who in turn most likely add it to their ever increasing ‘must purchase’ list.  Harking back to the days of tape trading and the cassette culture, whereby music was recorded, shared and distributed amongst friends around the world, spreading the love of music.  If indeed they liked the music, a diehard fan, would most likely buy it. 

Someone recently said to me, ‘sometimes vinyl is just a nice thing to have’, and therein is the attraction.   Vinyl looks cool, sounds great and it is kinda labour intensive, but in a good way.   You have to invest in it, not just by way of handing over your cash but you have to invest in it physically too.  Get the vinyl, pull out the sleeve, take out the wax, put it on the player, put the needle on it and then wait 20 mins and do it again, whilst looking at the gatefold or lyrics.  It is interactive, aesthetic and positively pornographic at times. Obviously it helps if the music slays too.

Thankfully not only does ‘Of The Flock’ look badass but it sounding fucking huge too, so let us concentrate on that.  Kicking off with ‘Ash Swamp’, this acts as a segue to the first bludgeoning trauma of ‘Craven’, it is an acoustic intro of sorts, drenched in southern flavour, setting the scene like a haze of sunshine glistening, light rays bending to produce a displaced image of a distant object, a juggernaut of sound which is about to displace your jaw. 

‘Craven’ spews forth with venom, you’re met with blasting drums and galloped riffs, guitars tuned down and drums sounding live and percussive, accentuated by a mix that is very lo fi, as if the quality has been degraded somehow.  It sounds very raw and that is what is immediately striking about the opening refrain. That and the fact I feel the presence of Al Jourgensen in the riffing department, playing thrash but in the tone of Steve Brooks.  Ministry crossed with Floor.  Good Flava, y’all!!

The thrashing pace immediately subsides into a nonchalant, almost laid back groove.  You know the type, Fu Manchu are the masters of it. Swaggering in manner, like some ostentatious display of arrogance. It is the type that just gets your body rocking, the perfect lullaby, albeit this is likely to paralyze.  Bucketloads of fuzz and repititious riffs are the order of the day, hell if I wasn’t mistaken, a Godflesh comparison wouldn’t be an entirely kooky comparison.  What this band display is raw unbridled leaden riffs, the type that slap your face raw.  Indeed they overwhelm or oppress you severely.  In the vocal department Grant is perfect, with a barked flavour to his delivery, brusque and explosive. Almost acerbic, the type to sour any atmosphere.  You’re  Not convinced about the record, yet?!! Continue. 

‘Blood from Stone’ kicks off with a slow arpeggio, then it is onwards with the brutalisation, like your arse has been handed to you on a plate.  ITCOS explode like a firework in the face with massive riffs, so huge the din perforates your eardrums.  This is nasty outlandish shit!!  I mean these jams are positively feral, like an untamed wild dog lusting for flesh.  This is bastardised sludge doom and certainly there is a depravity to the guitars, reminiscent of St. Louis hate mongers Fister, with a side order of fuzz from ‘Dopethrone’ era Electric Wizard.  Hell, throw in the collapsing riffs of Yob and that pretty much encapsulates ITCOS’ sound.  All the while the backbeat of the metronomic skin assault of the drums would make even Ed Gein seem like a pussy.

To my ears ‘Of The Flock’ has an industrialised tone in terms of production, like it was recorded in some seedy dungeon, ‘where prisoners whine and piss their clothes, and the torture never stops’. (Frank Zappa) The record has that tune low, play slow sensibility and yet there are smatterings of  thrash too, just check out the last ¾ of this track and the galloped riffs are straight out of the Hanneman text book.  RIP brother. 

‘Of The Flock’ the track starts clean and very bass heavy on the low strong, the drums sound almost reverbed, dare I say  Endtroducing era DJ Shadow?  Yes goddam it, I will, ‘cause that is exactly how they sound.  Kick ass album! It doesn’t take long before the earth starts to crumble under the enormity of riffs, this time a double tracking of guitars combines and is used brilliantly to produce a weighty mass of distortion and repetitive riff that Tommy Victor is known for. Chorus, Whose Fist is this Anyway?  Enough said.  

If this band was to arm wrestle with the best of them in term of the riffs, these fuckers would go ‘over the top’.  Shit movie, but appropriate reference point nonetheless.  These sons of bitches have it dialled make no mistake.   I speak less of the vocals but that is not to say that they are not good, in fact they sit nicely within the wall of sound and are akin to a raging Scott Kelly, permeating your consciousness, like molten lava corroding all in its path. 

‘Untied/Culling Essence from the Void’, throws us back to where we started with acoustic guitars. An arpeggio which is then turned up to 11 when the abhorence of the baritone kicks in with full effect. ‘Initiate, full force heaviosity.’  Roger that captain!! Again there is double tracking to the guitars, it pervades your senses and the abomination that confronts us, is blissfully bleak and repugnant.  Saving some of the best riffs for the finality of the record.  What ITCOS present with ‘Of The Flock’ is 30 mins of some of the most impure, indecent and coarse noise that these ears have heard for some time and even to the last minute of the track, they still arm their weapons to pulverise.  I am literally addicted to the record and with junk this good, I am literally running out of veins.  My withdrawal ain’t gonna pleasant.  Now stop whining like a bitch and go buy this thing. Support DIY!! 

Words by : Aaron Pickford

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