Over the past few years, the Northeast Ohio music scene has seen an explosion of Sludge, Doom and Stoner Rock influenced acts attempting to, and often succeeding to, bring raw, gritty heavy rock back to the forefront. But none have dared further, lower, dirtier, eviler and spacier than Youngstown’s Cvttvnmvvth!
Since the release of their 2013 debut, Tough Snake, Cvttvnmvvth have pummeled ear drums with their unique blend of Doom, Space/Psych, Stoner Metal and Post-Punk, with heavy atmospheres reaching as far in Goth as they do into Black Metal. Now, the power trio of gloom are set to release their next monumental output, a cassette tape titled VVVV.
Over the seven tracks that comprise VVVV, Cvttvnmvvth touch base on all the aforementioned styles, piss all over them, and write their own set of rules. The upbeat “Barf Star” opens the tape, setting the tone with a lo-fi, punk slammer of a track, leading into the heavy licks of “Strangle Game.” Along with a DIY aesthetic, the lo-fi production and heavy reverb, especially on the drums, is almost instantly reminiscent of the hey day of the tape-trading Black Metal scene of early 80s acts like Hellhammer and Bathory.
“Plug Life” is the first track to really slow things down, right down into the dirt! Featuring some Pentagram-esque riffage, the track emphasizes Cvttvnmvvth’s ability to dig deep, while keeping the song grounded and interesting. “Subwolfer” sounds like a long-lost Black Sabbath demo, complete with drummer Kenny Halbert and bassist Eric Tharp holding down a tight, swinging groove over top some deliciously doom-y riffs and almost bluesy vocals courtesy of singer/guitarist Javier. “World Abattoir” continues this vibe before naturally segueing into the spacey, psychedelic doom the concludes VVVV.
“Sex Feast” nods to Candlemass, perhaps if Candlemass had begun in the early 70s, with a very classic doom riff filled with Space Rock flair. Finally, the album concludes on a definite highlight with “Sky Burial.” The epic eight-plus minute track soars high, really high, serving as a well indicator of how Cvttvnmvvth have developed as songwriters.
VVVV has a very genre-bending overall approach, one which says more in seven tracks than most artists do across three albums. Upon listening to VVVV, there’s no doubt that Cvttvnmvvth are both unafraid to take risks, and enjoy pushing the boundaries of which they have set. VVVV is the perfect answer to Tough Snake, the band have not only grown as songwriters, but have set the bar even higher this time around.
Cvttvnmvvth will hold an official release party for VVVV on Feb. 20 at Cedars West End along with Mississippi Gun Club for support.
Experimental drone metal act Sunn O))) have been on a winning streak for quite some time. After releasing two successful and critically-acclaimed collaborative LPs in 2014, Terrestrials with post-rock act Ulver and Soused with singer-songwriter Scott Walker, the duo have come closer to commercial success than ever. Not to mention serving as key figures in the current rising post-metal scene, Sunn O))) are undoubtedly a prominent force in a new era of heavy music.
Sunn O))) began with the duo purely relying on noise, guitar feedback, a wall of amplifiers and HEAVY droning riffs. Their ear-splitting sound fell somewhere in the outer limits of Doom Metal, Dark Ambient and Noise Rock. Over the years, the duo have incorporated more instrumentation such as percussion, synthesizers and the occasional vocal. Their recent collaborations branched out even further, lending their sound as the backdrop.
With their latest release, KANNON, Sunn O))) strip back to the basics of their sound and aesthetic. KANNON is the first non-collaborative release since 2009’s Monoliths and Dimensions, and finds the group returning to their guitar-led ambience. However, the three-track EP boasts little in sound progression. It sounds as though the band took little or nothing from their more recent projects, and stuck to what they do most notably. However, the three tracks on this release utilize noise to a stunning perfection in painting a picture of a world collapsing onto itself.
Sunn O))) circa 2015. Photo courtesy of associatedpress.com.
KANNON kicks off with ‘Kannon 1,’ a slow burner which does quite a nice job building its riffs into possibly the most unified track on the EP. The track constructs a very heavy ambience, probably heard best through a set of good headphones, leading seamlessly into the EP’s centerpiece, ‘Kannon 2.’ ‘Kannon 2 also does a good job of building its riffs, soaring into a menacing wall of ambience, but just as the track begins to climax, the feedback sustains, leaving the listener wanting more. Perhaps this was the point, but the near-abrupt and somewhat lackluster end leads one to indicate that the track may have been a bit underdeveloped.
By the time the third and final track, ‘Kannon 3,’ hits, Sunn O))) repeat themselves somewhat, with a track that almost sounds redundant and maybe a tad unnecessary. However, the atmosphere of ‘Kannon 3’ is unlike any of the others, not feeling out of place, but perhaps a bit after-the-fact. The darkness lingers over KANNON‘s final cut, offering a bitter sweet conclusion to an EP writhe with despair. It’s almost… soothing.
All in all, KANNON is yet another perfect example of what Sunn O))) do best. It’s a very back-to-basics release, that shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise. The only real hang-ups are that the EP is possibly a bit too short, or that these tracks may have been leftovers from a previous release. Either way, KANNON is still a chilling and fun listen, and probably a good introduction to the band. If one can hang with this release, then older records like Black One and Monoliths and Dimensions are undoubtedly must-listens.
Cvtvnmvvth performing at Cedars in Youngstown, OH. Left to right: Sam Bowlin, Kenny Halbert and Eric Thrap.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
It’s been quite a busy 12 months for Youngstown-based Doom Metal juggernauts, Cvttcnmvvth. Following the release of their debut EP, Toughsnake, in 2013, the band have been hard at work solidifying their lineup and making a splash on the local scene. With explosive performances across the area alongside top-notch acts like Album and Resinaut, as well as a handful of high-profile performances lined up, Cvttvnmvvth have firmly established themselves as the must-see ticket in the area in 2015.
The Raw Alternative recently spoke to the band’s founding members, guitarist Sam (Javier) Bowlin and drummer Kenny Halbert to discuss a number of topics including the band’s creative influences, their thoughts on the local scene, dividing their time between side-project Wild Wings and their upcoming performance opening for Columbus, Ohio Sludge legends Lo-Pan on Jan. 17.
Give us a brief history of the band from it’s formation up to now. Have you been involved with any past projects or worked with anyone previously which led to Cvttvnmvvth? How did the current lineup come together?
Sam: Kenny and I had originally began our musical collaboration when we met in high school, some 20-plus years ago. Ken had rented a practice space out in the middle of a crumbling junkyard on the outskirts of New Springfield, (Ohio) and it was there that we started version 1.0 of Cvttvnmvvth (then spelled Cottonmouth, without all the V’s, those came later). We strived to create unpleasant, virulent music that reflected our grim surroundings. Things eventually fell apart, as things often do, and after high school we went our separate ways for nearly two decades; I headed out east, while Kenny continued his adventures, musical and otherwise, between here and the west coast. I moved back to Youngstown in 2012 and reconnected with my old friend. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves in a new musical collaboration, the band Railings. Things ran their course with that act, and with some downtime on our hands we had the urge to resurrect our first band, a new version where Ken switched from bass to drums, but with all of the original intentions in place: To create something ugly. We recorded our debut, Toughsnake, in mid 2013. We tried a few select heads out on bass before Eric Tharp joined up with us in early 2014.
You made a pretty big splash on the scene last year. What are your plans for 2015?
Sam: We plan on recording material for our follow-up, working title Total Possession (Soundtrack to the Blackest of Masses), but Kenny’s not crazy about parentheses in album titles, so we’ll see how that one flies. Also, we will play cool shows and weird out squares.
Kenny: What do you think about the title? When you set a precedent like that it brings a lot of crazies out of the woodwork…plus, with the clandestine nature of these affairs, it’s hard to know for sure if it’s really the “blackest.” Someone will have to come up with a Scoville Unit-type ranking system, or something.
What’s your take on the current local scene right now? What do you like most about it? How can it improve?
Sam: I see both good and bad in the local scene. There’s a seeming trend of “acoustic” nights, which doesn’t do much for me personally, but it must be popular because you get so much of it around here. I like a bit of a spectacle if I’m going to see a band, I want something loud and different and if it can catch me off my guard then I’m into it. If I wanted to be bored and content I’d sit at home watching Criminal Minds reruns. If I know I’m going to have my mind blown, I’m much more likely to leave the house.
Kenny: It’s reflective of itself. If people start more relevant bands, there will be a scene with more bands that are relevant. If people want to go to art shows they can go support those things, and then there will be a boon there. Organic food stuff trading will be on the rise.
How can fans, and other musicians perhaps, benefit from getting out and diving into the local scene?
Sam: Well, it’s certainly something to do in a city where you don’t always have a ton of options for entertainment that doesn’t involve something illegal or immoral. Sometimes seeing a terrible band can be just a fulfilling as seeing one that rages, depending on your mood. Apathy tends to be the general consensus about town, which pairs well with the blight and despair, and while you might not have the ability to make someone care, at the very least you can try and make them uncomfortable.
Kenny: While watching a band, if you’re thinking, “This band is shit,” start a band. It might sound like a pile of shit, but it will be yours.
What’s your opinion of the current state of the music industry? Do you think it’s easier or more difficult to reach a mass audience? Are tactics like U2 giving away their entire album for free a good thing, or a sign of the end of old business model? How do you distribute your music?
Sam: There might as well not even be a music industry. There’s no money in putting out challenging or innovative music on a grand scale like it may have been in days past. Everything is subject to entropy, and when dinosaurs like U2 attempt such marketing schemes, one realizes the whole business model is dead on the table. Bono can afford to give his work away for free because he’s already made millions from the machine. It’s become a prerequisite that one distributes music in some digital format; there’s no escaping it. But it sure helps to get your work out there to a growing populace who may not own a CD player or tape deck or turntable.
Kenny: The music industry is a pile of shit. And Bono got paid for that. So did Thom Yorke. And don’t get me started on this new $1,000 Neil Young Walkman—what shit. We distribute at shows, online, and through physical distributors.
There seems to be a strong resurgence in the Doom/Stoner/Sludge scene. How does Cvttvnmvvth fit into that? What sets you apart?
Sam: Doom Metal has always seemed to work in odd cycles of obscurity and relevance. It’s a genre I have been a fan of since childhood, whether it was coveting my older brother’s Black Sabbath records, or going out and discovering bands like Saint Vitus and Candlemass as a teenager. For me, the best doom has a deep emotional resonance, which I hope translates in Cvttvnmvvth, whether it be abject desolation or world-weary pessimism. What sets us apart, I think, is approaching the material with a wider palate of ideas and approximations in regards to sounding the way we want, rather than a pastiche of our influences, which is hardly interesting.
Kenny: I don’t necessarily agree. It’s always around. If there was a recent peak, the peak happened a while back when Josh Homme was hanging out with Anthony Bourdain, nationally anyway. Metal itself is always there, but the various sub-genre flavors that are in vogue at the time change. But if any bands are into tube amplification and fuzz and a “give ‘em hell” attitude, we can fit in. No wimps. What sets us aside is that we have never set out to sound like _____________, nor set any rules governing the shaping of our sound. Although it should be noted Javier would probably play every song solo on the organ if left to his own devices. We try to encourage him away from “the Devil’s Showtunes”.
Songs like “Hideous Witness,” although heavy, seem to maintain a strange balance between Goth and psychedelic rock. Elaborate on your sound as much as you can (or are willing to). Why do you think it is important to show diversity and stand out?
Sam: Gothic and psychedelic music are a definite influence on our work, almost as much as punk or metal in the mix. I like thick, lumbering sounds; anything that comes across as suffocating or oppressive pleases me. At the end of the day, standing out or seeming diverse isn’t as important as it is to tweak some sort of emotional reaction out of the listener, even if its discomfort or disgust.
Kenny: The “psychedelic” part must come from Stoner Rock. The “Goth” part comes to Javier late at night after teasing his hair, while drinking iced tea and playing Bananagrams by the glow of a space heater.
What kinds of artists are you listening to currently? Have they or will they influence your sound? Any influences that fans may not expect?
Sam: I listen to a lot of older metal, stuff like Hellhammer, Bathory, and Beherit, 70’s hard rock, a lot of contemporary black metal; I’m pretty obsessive over certain region and era specific styles and genres of metal, but I fancy quite a bit of the 80’s gothic and post-punk racket as well. I think everything one likes ends up an influence, whether or not the influence is immediately apparent.
Kenny: Mainliner, Rakta, Coneheads, EYEHATEGOD, Greenleaf, Horn Of The Rhino. Absolutely. I love Steely Dan.
You have a pretty high-profile gig with Lo-Pan coming up; are you guys excited to be opening for them? Do you think having them perform in Youngstown is good for the local scene?
Sam: We are very delighted to be opening for Lo-Pan. It’s a great opportunity to expose our work to music fans who may have not had the pleasure to see our live show or hear our music before. I left Ohio in the mid-90’s so I missed the halcyon days of the Nyabinghi when heavier bands made Youngstown a regular stop on their touring circuits, but if the stories are to be believed, there are people who reside in our fair city who enjoy aggressive music but might not be aware that there are still bands who play in that style. We’ll see how the 17th goes. At the very minimum, we’ll have a good time and get to watch those guys devastate.
Kenny: Yes, I hope people come to the show. If not, that can become a bummer, and then what’s the point? A lot of those “glory dayz” memories people have about Nya, Cedar’s, Penguin Pub, etc., were often shows attended by eight people. The numbers in attendance swell as time passes. But that’s all gone now, so why not come out now and make some fantastic memories you can embellish later? And create something new instead of trying to become what things were. And you’ll be able to say you saw us “back in the day” when we were young; like, in our 30’s.
What’s in store for future recordings/releases? How can fans get a hold of your music?
Sam: We plan on doing some recording at some point this year. Ken and I split our time between Cvttvnmvvth and our other band, Wild Wings, so amidst playing out with both bands we’ll eventually get some work done in the Animal Dojo and have something new to offer before the year’s over. Expect more songs about sex and death. We have work by both bands available on our website www.lionscarerecordings.com as well as our Bandcamp page, cvttvnmvvth.bandcamp.com.
Black Sabbath circa 1974. Photo courtesy of vh1.com.
By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)
From the heavier progressive music of the 70’s came what we now we know as Heavy Metal in its most pure form. Traditional Metal, Doom Metal and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal all had their beginnings in England. Grandfathers of all Metal with a specialty in Doom, Black Sabbath, defined the darkness, thickness and heaviness that was with obvious roots in blues and psychedelic rock. Other bands that helped forge heavy metal showcased these elements as well as proficient guitar skills and extended soloing that many of the experimental genres artists before them engaged in.
The first proto-heavy metal bands such as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple attracted arena-sized shows similar to the previously examined prog rockers and arena rockers. However, the grandiosity was more focused within the size and scope of the riffs more so than the technicality of the musicians. As such artists began to rise in popularity and Black Sabbath really began to set the “tone” for darkness with Tony Iommi’s sound and slow heavy sound and Ozzy Osbourne’s lyrics provided a blueprint for overall themes in much of early metal. By the mid 70’s, Judas Priest helped the genre evolve a bit past where the forefathers derived most of the heaviness, the blues. It was more “straight up” like what many would describe as “hard rock” today. Around the same period, Motörhead reintroduced the speed in rock not dissimilar to some of the early punk rock.
However, Iron Maiden continued on to become extremely progressive, and other places in the world picked up on this music especially into the 80’s. As the English movements lead up to what would become the first to call themselves other subgenres in other countries, one remained the same to this day. Doom, which is where Metal came forth after stewing in blues and experimental rock, such as psychedelic and prog, and will remain undead in Tony Iommi.
Doom is the root of Metal just as Blues is the root of Rock. Pagan Altar, Witchfinder General and of course, the previously examined My Dying Bride are great British Doom acts. Of course other countries went on to produce some great doom, in United States, Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Trouble and in Sweden, Candlemass and Count Raven, all acknowledge a reverence for doom and traditional metal the sub-genres that they are known for now (US – Thrash, and Sweden – Black Metal) both of which will be examined as geographical phenomena later in this series.
Indeed with Metal in general, Doom and NWOBHM, several sub and sub-sub-genres evolved and will be discussed as phenomena in specific geographical regions. Though England’s Venom brought us the term Black Metal at roughly the end of the NWOBNM movement, we’re going to see how it became a phenomenon in the Scandanavian lands next.
For now, enjoy these essential tracks spanning many Traditional Metal/Doom and NWOBHM and check out the previous Picks of the Week which I played on the radio.
Swedish doom-metallers Ghost B.C. first hit the international scene just a few short years ago. With over-the-top theatrics and horrifying Satanic imagery including mock bishop costumes, the back gave modern shock rock a well-needed kick in the balls. They have single-handedly slayed audiences across the globe, included a top 100 debut in the U.S. with their last album, Infestissumam, and have proven to scare the shit out of parents who have grew up on the likes of Marilyn Manson and Insane Clown Posse. And for their next trick, they cover the likes of pop music icons ABBA!
Yes, on their recently released covers EP, If You Have Ghost, produced by none other than Dave Grohl, the Satanic shock rockers choose to remake some very unlikely numbers from a range of diverse artists. Forget the obvious Slayer or typical dark and brutal heavy metal band. The aforementioned ABBA, along with Depeche Mode, and garage rock pioneer Roky Erickson are just a few of the brilliantly peculiar artists Ghost B.C. have chosen to convert to the dark side.
If You Have Ghost continentally begins with an upbeat rendition of Erickson’s “If You Have Ghost.” The band’s trademark dual lead guitar and soaring vocals are present, yet not much else is very doom-metal about this track. However, it hits on the mark and serves as a very pleasant listen. Next, a cover of ABBA’s “The Marionette.” What do “Dancing Queens” and inverted crucifixes have in common? Not much. But the quirky choice doesn’t necessarily fall completely flat; the falsetto vocals rival the original.
The EP begins to gain some serious steam by the third track, a version of Army of Lovers’ “Crucified.” A touch of darkness is brought to the reimagining of this pop hit, and their natural theatricality proves fitting for the track. Finally, their take on Depeche Mode’s “Waiting For the Night” serves ultimately climatic, taking the somber track to new sonic heights without leaving it’s original vibe in the dust, successfully bridging any gap between DM and doom metal.
Closing the EP is a live cut of a highlight track off Infestissumam, “Secular Haze.” For those who haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing the band live, this little cut hints at what one can expect.
All in all, If You Have Ghost is a well-produced (kudos Mr. Grohl) and interesting listen. Not all will get it, but for those who will, it’s pretty cool. Perhaps a larger collection of covers, leaning closer to a full album’s worth, might help these tracks not feel so sparse. Still, their take on all of the songs is worth a listen. The EP is definitely not the right record to introduce one to the band. Perhaps Infestissumam, or their equally entertaining debut, Opus Eponymus, should be required listens before checking out If You Have Ghost.
Melvins. Left to right, singer/guitarist Buzz “King Buzzo” Osbourne, bassist Dale Crover and drummer Mike Dillard.
By Rick Pollo (Editor-in-Chief)
In the early 1980s, not many could have predicted that Seattle would be Generation X’s Liverpool in terms of a rock and roll renaissance. Sure, groups like the late-60s garage rockers The Sonics and 70s arena champions Heart call the city home, but a collective scene was yet to put Seattle on the rock and roll map.
By 1984, hardcore punk outfit Black Flag released there slowed down, Black Sabbath-inspired album, My War. The same year, bands like Swans and Flipper began to emerge, also introducing a slower and chunkier approach to aggressive angst-ridden punk rock. This sound was clearly ahead of its time, but left a considerable impression on the likes of Seattle outfits Green River, Soundgarden and the Melvins.
Originally formed as a hardcore punk band, the Melvins quickly emerged as one of Seattle’s most influential and ambitious acts by the mid 80s. Their unique blend of punk rock ethos, sludging heavy riffs and experimental tendencies helped spark a musical movement that would come to be known as “grunge.” Lead singer and guitarist Buzz Osbourne once stated that the band’s sound was “Black Sabbath-meets-Captain Beefheart.” Undoubtedly a perfect summation of Seattle’s perhaps most unsung and influential grunge act.
By the late 80s, the Melvins’ influence among the Seattle scene was blatantly obvious. Groups like Tad, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone and Nirvana all were experimenting with drop tuning and searching for the heaviest and muddiest guitar tones they could find. For a moment, Seattle provided a renaissance in rock and roll, and the paradigm shifted. Over produced balladry was out, and noisy, angry punk and alternative was in. With the success of Nirvana’s Nevermind and several of the Seattle bands finding major label deals and mainstream success, the Melvins were at an epicenter of a movement. However, there break wasn’t easy.
As Seattle bands were getting signed left and right, the Melvins further pursued their musical ambition, shifting deeper into left field and away from what grunge had came to be known as, in the mainstream at least. They went heavier and sludgier, proving to have more in common with doom metal than Lollapalooza. Still, predecessors like Kurt Cobain continued to site their influence and eventually, the mainstream took notice. By 1993, at the height of the grunge scene, the Melvins signed their first major label record deal with Atlantic Records, and recorded their masterpiece, Houdini.
Houdini was unique in several ways. Much to the band’s dismay, it will probably always serve as the go-to starting point for the band. Sure, earlier albums like Bullhead and Lysol are classics in their own right. But Houdini is the first creative peak in an ever-climbing career of innovation.
Originally set to be produced by Kurt Cobain, Houdini is one of the most primal and raw, sophisticated and heavy and underrated alternative releases of the 90’s. Kicking off with droning doom riff of “Hooch,” it is immediately evident that the Melvins were not going for the sounds of Nevermind or Ten, but something more along the lines of the first records from Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath. Signature sludge tracks like “Night Goat,” “Lizzy” and “Honey Bucket” serve as templates for nearly every doom, sludge and stoner rock act that followed, making even Kyuss sound like The Spin Doctors.
Houdini also has it’s share of quark. An unlikely cover of Kiss’ “Goin’ Blind” sounds nothing like the original, yet ultimately caught the eye of Gene Simmons, who often performed the track with the band during the time of its release. Tracks like “Sky Pup,” “Hag Me” and “Copache” are well representations of the band’s experimental side, an aspect of their sound they would also later explore and expand upon.
Commercially, the Melvins were never quite able to top the success of Houdini. Artistically, it was only a launching pad.
As fellow Seattle acts spend the later half of the 90’s and early 00’s dominating rock radio, the Melvins dug deeper into the underground, earning a very loyal following. Despite their lack of commercial exposure, critically acclaimed records like Stoner Witch and Honky resonating hard with their dedicated fan base.
By the late-90’s they were dropped from Atlantic Records but eventually signed to Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings. From there, a golden age of experimentation ensued. In 2003, they collaborated with ambient artist Lustmord for the Pigs of the Roman Empire LP and in 2004-05, they collaborated with Dead Kenndys frontman Jello Biafra and Tool guitarist Adam Jones for the LPs Never Breathe What You Can’t See and Seig Howdy! After a successful period of collaboration, they returned to their roots for the sludgy and trippy Senile Animal in 2007.
This year, the Melvins celebrate two milestones: The 20th anniversary of their landmark Houdini and 30th anniversary together. They chose to celebrate in true Melvins fashion by releasing two artistic achievements within the same year. Earlier this year, they dropped a collection of covers titled Everybody Loves Sausages featuring reworkings of tracks by artists as diverse as Queen, Venom, Throbbing Gristle, The Kinks, David Bowie and Lead Belly. Their latest jaw-dropper, Tres Cabrones, was released in October.
As the Melvins enter their fourth decade, they show no signs of slowing their innovative sound. That innovation has proven very influential, with sound that is impossible to properly categorize. Not only has Kurt Cobain and members of Tool announced their love for the trio, but contemporary players like Mastodon, Crowbar, EYEHATEGOD and The Dillienger Escape Plan have all sworn by the Melvins.
As trends came and went, artists risen and fallen, they continue forward, in a linear but upward direction, blowing minds and provoking thoughts at every peak.