There’s not been a great deal that has excited this column thus far in 2014. So with the excuse of the anniversary of the Great Escape (WW2, not Brighton), we’ve been looking back at 2013 and unearthed three great albums (courtesy of Magik Markers, The Black Angels, and ASG) that tunnelled under our observation towers the first time around.
Magik Markers - 'Surrender To The Fantasy'
Magik Markers have been quiet since 2009’s epic 'Balf Quarry', which itself followed the rather outstanding 2007 album, 'Boss'. Both of these are great favourites of the column. We had anticipated a 2014 release for the next MM album but somehow 'Surrender To The Fantasy' slipped out towards the end of last year.
It’s a really excellent album now we’ve caught up with it, and reflects a growing maturity with time passing, sustained by a dialling back of mayhem and a more measured approach to the songs. Elisa Ambrogio’s vocals can still carry power as on 'Bonfire', which has a Wicker Man vibe to it, but they can also be ironically disengaged on tracks such as 'American Sphinx Face' and 'Empire Building'.
Overall, Ambrogio, Pete Nolan, and John Shaw rely a lot less on instrumental pyrotechnics – and Ambrogio is truly capable of incendiary guitar playing – and instead with layered keyboards and percussion they explore textures with songs like the almost melancholy 'Young'. All in all, it’s great to have them back and in such fine form.
The Black Angels - 'Indigo Meadow'
With the notable exception of ‘Sabbath’, we like most of the bands with Black in their name – and there certainly are a lot. The Black Angels are firm favourites with 'Phosphene Dream' - a highlight of 2010. 'Indigo Meadow' slipped under the fence quite early in 2013 but somehow eluded our playlist until nearly a year later. It’s firmly entrenched now with its psyche rock evoking a sound of the sixties and seventies that never really existed.
It is characterised by some tremendous, strong songs like opener and title track 'Indigo Meadow'. Great melodies allied to evocative lyrics make for an engaging listen. 'Holland', for example, where "A slew of gypsy acid cats on their way off to Holland/with their witchy veiny claws, they’re grabbing at your wallet."
Hearing that, I think we all know how the 45 minutes spent listening to this LP are going to pan out. If you want to know how The Doors might have sounded if they had justified all of the 40 plus years of hype heaped on them, then give 'Indigo Meadow' a spin. Fuzzed out bliss with swirling keyboards never sounded so good.
ASG - 'Blood Drive'
Finally, a rather more hard hitting offer from ASG of North Carolina. 'Blood Drive' is their fifth album in a 12 year career. What ASG stands for is open to question but the fact that they hit a truly majestic stride with 'Blood Drive' is not.
They’ve toured with some major names in heavy music, and incidentally some of my favourite bands: Torche, High On Fire, Orange Goblin amongst others. And their previous four albums are all pretty good. So I think we can say they have paid their dues. But on 'Blood Drive', from opener 'Avalanche', via title track 'Blood Drive' and the solid riffery of 'Day’s Work' right through to the somewhat reflective concluding song 'Good Enough To Eat', they literally do not put a foot wrong.
This album, like 'Surrender To The Fantasy', just exudes maturity. Sounding at times like And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and at others like Kyuss, they mix styles without losing coherence – as best illustrated by my personal favourite track 'Castlestorm'.
Find previous Simon Says columns here and submit your demos to altrock(at)fadedglamour.co.uk to be considered in a future column.