Posts Tagged ‘alternative’

Cruel Nature Recordings – 16th October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

While the 90s was awash with obscure bands cranking out gnarly, guitar-driven noise, the last decade or so (alright, I mean two decades, because I’m old and still can’t get my head around the fact that 1990 was 30 years ago and that Nevermind is 30 years old next year) has seen such music emerge only in pockets, with the likes of Leeds’ Blacklisters being prime exponents and one of the few to reach a wider audience – and it’s Blacklisters who probably stand as US noisemongers TRVSS’ closest contemporaries.

TRVSS are very much in the early 90s vein: I’m not just talking Am Rep and Touch and Go, but way further beneath the radar. Listening to the grainy, gritty grind of New Distances, I’m transported back, way back, and while I’m hearing The Jesus Lizard, I’m equally hearing Zoopsia, Headcleaner, Oil Seed Rape. Not familiar? To be clear here: I’m not promoting obscurest elitism here, but trying to give a flavour of just how choc-full of rabid guitar bands the underground scene was at a certain point in time – a time when bands like Terminal Cheesecake and Tar would receive coverage in the national music press, back when there was a national music press. They were exciting times, and that’s not the rose-tinting of a 45-year old reflecting on his youth: things were changing, and fast, and there was something in the air, and in your local record shop, in pub gig venues, and even on the radio

New Distances is a nasty mess of guitars driven by low-slung lurching basslines and drums that thud away in the background, half-buried in the welter of noise. Things are still changing at pace, of course, but mostly venues are closing, and there are no solid channels by which to access new and emerging talent. Where are the equivalents of The Tube, Snub:TV, The Word now? The Old Grey Whistle Test wasn’t even entirely the domain of proggy old farts, and now, we don’t even have Jools fucking Holland. There’s no M on MTV, and 4Music is a misnomer as well, but I digress.

TRVSS would probably never have made TV even back then, but it’s almost certain that John Peel, Melody Maker, and NME would have found a bit of room for some exposure for their raging, demented brand of no-wave / noise mania, and New Distances has no shortage of meat to give it appeal to a niche but substantial audience.

‘Stigma’ encapsulates the album’s rabid grunged-up noise-rock vibe, coming on like both side of the Nirvana / Jesus Lizard split ‘Oh The Guilt’ / ‘Puss’ simultaneously with it jarring guitar riffage and raw-throated vocal roar. ‘The Ventriloquist Always has the Last Laugh’ pitches skewed guitars galore, crash-landing in the space between The Jesus Lizard, Shellac, and the criminally underrated and proportionally obscure Milk.

It’s likely that TRVSS will remain forever obscure, although not on account of lack of appeal or lack of ability: sure, their stuff is dark, driving and ultimately extremely niche but all of this is ok: against the backdrop of blanket mass-media and sameness, such deliberately obscure an anti-mainstream music is essential and invigorating: lap it up while you can.

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7th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Having built themselves a solid fanbase since their formation in 2017, with a series of single and EP releases, supported by some live shows primarily in their regional territory of Kent, Salvation Jayne have been going from strength to strength.

As has been the situation for so many bands, lockdown has put paid to pretty much all activity: gigs simply can’t happen, rehearsal rooms and studios have been closed, and it’s not been feasible for many artists to record at home for various reasons, not least of all not being allowed indoors together.

Despite all of the hot air and rhetoric and the unprecedented use of the word unprecedented, the 1918 so-called Spanish flu pandemic bears remarkable similarities to the present, and it’s like we’ve learned nothing in the last century. However, two major differences are that in 2020, we have the Internet to connect us, to spread misinformation, and to perform live streams and so on, and exchange chunks of audio.

For Salvation Jayne, exchanging chunks of audio wasn’t conducive to the creation of new material, but did facilitate a quite unexpected project, whereby other people could put their spin on cuts from the band’s back catalogue by means of some remixes.

For this project, they’ve enlisted a diverse array of collaborators: John Tufnell (Saint Agnes) – Black Heart; Jericho Tozer (SKIES) – Coney Island, Baby!; Eden Gallup (Violet Vendetta) – Cortez; Sara Leigh Shaw (The Pearl Harts) – Juno; Fuji Hideout – Tongue Tied, Tiiva – Jayne Doe. And at launch, they donated the proceeds of sales from Bandcamp to Refuge.

Witnessing bands so sorely deprived of income using their art for the greater good has been one of the most heartwarming things about lockdown: infinitely more meaningful than clapping for NHS workers in a display of virtue-signalling solidarity, artists making genuine sacrifices for charities spanning foodbanks, support for the homeless and mental health support shows where the real heart is. It’s always the grass roots acts passing up on Royalties, too, not fucking Bono imploring punters to donate, and that’s significant too. This is real charity.

It also matters that the product is of a certain quality, and this really is there: these remixes showcase the breadth of Salvation Jayne’s material, which may be rooted in solid alt-rock with more classic twists, but are well-suited to adaption.

The Saint Agnes Lockdown remix of ‘Black Heart’ explodes in a blast of abrasive noise and steers the song into a kind of early 00’s Pitchshifter industrial noise and distortion space, with pounding percussion and slabs of overdriven guitar backing Chess’ fuzzed-out vocal. With more disco-orientated verses, it shouldn’t work, but it does, and what’s more, it packs some real groove.

The Pearl Hearts’ take on ‘Juno’ is another stomper, disco beats cranked up to industrial strength, and this take also has a much harder edge than the original, and it works surprisingly well, as does ‘Coney Island, Baby!’, when SKIES sub the post-punk feel of the original version with something slower, heavier, more industrial, then sling in some epic strings on top. The result is pretty spectacular.

‘Cortez’ is a standout in the SJ catalogue, and to hear it pumped up, grooved up, and sped up is a major rush, and the same is true of ‘Jayne Doe’, released in May of this year and here given a radical and full-on dance reworking. It may divide the fans but it’s important that the band continue to push their parameters instead of limiting their horizons. Ultimately, this is what the remixes EP is all about: Salvation Jayne may be a rock band with a certain post-punk leanings, but above all they’re a band who don’t want to be pinned to a style, and a band with range, and these remixes showcase both the sound and progressive attitude perfectly.

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28th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Spar Marta’s Facebook page defines them by what they’re not rather than what they are. Specifically, the quintet – consisting of Ieva Aleksandrovičiūtė, Luke Wilson, Conor ‘Corndawg’ Taylor, Sam Liddle, and Dan ‘Danno’ Purvey – are at pains to point out that they are not an acid jazz trio. The fact there are five of them is a significant clue, but, it has to be said, three of them do have beards… and y’know, nothing says jazz like beards, right?

This six-tracker, which features previous singles ‘The Postman’, ‘Frey’, and ‘Let is Go’ (which has absolutely nothing to do with the Disney smash Frozen – thankfully) showcases a mighty guitar-driven sound tempered by a keen sense of melody and a vocal that’s got guts and sass in equal measure. Recent years have seen a real surge in exciting female-fronted hard rock bands, who punch hard and pack some killer tunes.

With Leeds titans Black Moth having called it a day, the arrival of Sky Valley Mistress, and now Spar Marta is more than welcome.

It’s ‘The Postman’ that opens – or, more accurately, rips things open – with a hefty blast of overdrive, a busy, cyclical riff and gritty rhythm guitar. The shift to a ska-influenced riff for the middle eight is unexpected, but equally unexpected is the fact that it not only doesn’t suck, but actually works, and when they lumber back into the full gut-punching riffage, it hits even harder and calls to mind The Pretty Reckless at their best.

As the nagging mid-tempo ‘Let it Go’ demonstrates, they’ve got a real knack for dynamics, a clean, buoyant verse ‘I’ll never let you go’, Ieva Aleksandrovičiūtė sings, and it sounds like as much of a threat as a promise of support, and it’s all driven home with a full-throttle riff-mongous finale that fills the final minute.

What we get from this EP is the work of a multi-faceted band who’ve got an ear for an accessible alt-rock tune in the Paramore vein: ‘Frey’ is very much representative, being a bit more arena / Kerrang! radio friendly and suggests they’ve got the capacity to reach a much wider audience – but it’s when they put the pedal to the metal and rage hard they’re at they’re best by far, and ‘Take Control’ brings the fretwork fury propelled by some hefty drumming.

Closer ‘Run’ is a real beast of a closer, beginning with a soft, tripped-back intro that hints at something wistful, transitioning through a succession of segments to culminate in a raging, rip-roaring climax, all the while keeping one ear on the melody and filtering some palpable emotions through it all. It’s accomplished work, and while the production is full, it’s not excessively polished, meaning the songs are delivered with bite, and the passion behind them is very much to the fore.

Stream by clicking the image below.

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17th July 2020

James Wells

Given that I’ve barely left the house other than to go to the supermarket and haven’t seen family or friends since March, it’s been a seriously fucking lonely summer, and a lonely fucking spring before this. Crying Swells’ new single may or may not be about this, but the press release suggest is may be, outlining how ‘Crying Swells is the project of East London-based Musician / Producer Daniel Armstrong, born out of lockdown. He also performs and records with UK psych-rock collective Frankie-Teardrop Dead’.

I miss bands and all that stuff, although I suspect bands miss bands even more, and in content, it would stand to reason that Armstrong would launch a new project while unable to record or perform as normal.

‘Lonely Summer’ is a really neat tune that’s a bit indie and a bit post-punk and broods hard, with a multi-tracked vocal and a bursting chorus that’s a blast of guitar that’s grunge and shoegaze exploding in a kaleidoscope of sound. Too full-on to be breezy, it’s nevertheless catchy and soars while it broods.

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14th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Amongst the fermenting foment that is the melting pot of the Leeds alternative scene, J. S. Gordon, or Jack as he’s also known, is one of those people who’s to be found ambulating the underground circuit around the rehearsal space and indie venue CHUNK with noisemongers IRK. His Platitude Queen vehicle represents a less frenetic, splenetic kind of sound: a ‘contemplation on cultural heritage’, it’s pitched as an album which fits ‘the wider traditions of folk music’ while crossing into ‘the world of hauntology’.

In liner notes fitting for a philosophy graduate, Gordon unpacks the idea behind the album:

‘The form of hauntology which besieges this collection of songs is one that lurches from the depths of the past, but also recognises the (lack of) future. The traditional view of hauntology (as per Jacques Derrida) is that the present is haunted by persistent recurrence of concepts and ideas from the past. The discomfort lies in the fact that these concepts, these ghosts, do not properly belong to the past, and the observer who connects with these ghosts is therefore also removed from a common sense view of time. We are therefore forced to remove our expectations of causality and the origins on these concepts, before they “returned” as ghosts.’

In its continual plundering of the past and the immense fiscal value of the nostalgia industry, in which a collective yearning for even the most recent past has scope for commodification, Postmodernism is in some sense built on hauntology, and in its endless recycling of the past, whether through a contemporary filter or a fashionable dash of retro chic, we find ourselves in a present where the future is doomed to remain mired in the past, while at the same time any real sense of history is dismantled by an all-encompassing simultaneity. As such, everything is rootless, as fragmentary echoes of all things past reverberate around us. And so we come to Forebears.

Forebears certainly presents an intriguing aspect on what you may categorise as hauntological folk: often wonky, always sketchy, and curiously evocative, if not necessarily unheimlich in its evocativeness.

The first song, ‘Sambucus’ is sparse and lo-fi, an acoustic piece that rumbles and mumbles like a Silver Jews outtake, wistful melancholy and off-the-cuff. The stomping ‘Dance of the Mummers’ s quite a contrast, a kind of folk-punk Cossack shanty, but as if played by Trumans Water on acoustic guitars. If that description sounds addled and vague, then it’s probably about right in conveying the strange atmosphere of the album. Everything calls to mind something else, something just beyond the ken of recognisance.

‘Hob Headless’ introduces an almost country tint, and ‘Pignut’ comes on like a wonky, vibrant and wholly irreverent collision between Pavement and The Pixies, unplugged. The eight-and-a-half-minute ‘Peg Powler’ is stark and lugubrious, some Leonard Cohenesque acoustic picking growing to some layered splendour and a slow surge of tension. Forebears, then, isn’t short on intriguing moments, or, indeed, quality songs that hang suspended in an indefinable time all of their own.

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Human Worth – 7th August 2020

Tough times for bands, venues, and all things music in general is proving to be a good time for the compilation, particularly the fundraiser. And while many individuals are struggling to cover bills due to lack of work and reduced income, many gig-goers and pub dwellers are finding they’ve got some spare cash going. It also so happens that there are plenty of albums being released to support the causes their enforced absence means are struggling.

Human Worth, as the name suggests, is more about the people than the spaces, and if mental health and poverty were major issues before all of this shit went down, it’s even more vital they’re supported, and the proceeds from this latest release are going to Harmless, a charity that supports metal health, and to assist in the prevention of self-harm and suicide.

The fact that more than half the acts on this release are ones we’ve covered or are otherwise on the Aural Aggro radar is a strong indicator of the style and hopefully the quality of this release. Like its predecessor, Human Worth Vol II is a showcase of premium-grade noisy stuff from across the spectrum.

AJA crash in with a mix of bewildering noise and eerie ethereality before Klämp bring some brutal lo-fi grunge noise. Snarly vocals half-buried amidst a barrage of muffled drums, gnarly bass and space-rock synths It’s challenging, but equally, it’s exciting in its raw viscerality.

Blóm do riot-grrl punk but at a thousand miles an hour, with a hefty dash of black metal / hardcore in the mix, and the resultant blast of noise that is ‘Meat’ is hefty. Meanwhile, masters of heavily percussion-led free jazz racket, Sly and The Family Drone, really churn the guts with ‘Shrieking Grief’, lifted from the new album Walk it Dry. Even on a 20-track compilation of challenging, headfucking din, they manage to stand out, in the best possible way.

Modern Technology’s ‘Gate Crasher’, taken from their upcoming debut full-length is an exercise in intense and claustrophobic tension-filled angst, a dense, roaring bass and pummelling percussion all but burying the vocals. And it’s the low-slung, gritty bass that dominates the dingy grind of Mummise Guns’ ‘Glitter Balls’, before We Wild Blood’s ‘Eat Your Tail’ brings a sandstorm of wild shoegaze / psychedelia with a darker than dark hue. Bismuth and Vile Creature collaborate to create a low-end assault that sounds like the burning pits of hell and make me seriously consider heading to the bog before I shit myself. Elsewhere, USA Nails’ minimal cover of ’Paranoid’ is a hybrid of Big Black and Suicide, but with a dash of Cabaret Voltaire, and its primitivism is compelling.

So how is this kind of sonic torture appropriate for raising awareness of and funds for mental health charities? How can a barrage of noise be a good thing? Well, some of us find comfort in this kind of racket. It’s all about the immersion, all about the catharsis. You can totally bury yourself in this kind of stuff, and feel the pain and anguish being purged. There’s something cleansing about a howling tempest that envelops you and transports you to another place that’s difficult to communicate. It’s intense, and often quite personal, and some distance beyond words. There’s often a real sense of community around the more fringe scenes, and Human Worth is very much a community of artists pulling together to care for one another and not just like-minded individuals, but anyone.

There is joy in the fact that there’s some seriously heavy shit to be found on this album’s twenty tracks, and none of its especially friendly: Lovely Wife, as you’d probably expect given their previous output, seem keen to push the brown. The snarling demonism of ‘My Cup Overfloweth’ sounds particularly close to dredging through the bowels of hell by raging demons playing improv renditions of Hawkwind songs, and it’s a murky, gut-churning blast.

There isn’t a weak – or gentle – track to be found in this collection, but Ballpeen’s ‘Hate Fantasies’ – here in demo form – Working Men’s Club (not the shit indie one) are standouts in a field of standouts.

Sometimes, there’s a sense of obligation to purchase charity compilations because there’s a decent track or two, and because it’s for a good cause, but Human Worth have again curated an album that’s just that unbelievably good you want to buy ten copies.

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Rock is Hell Records – July 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

At the risk of repetition, there are no two ways about it: these are desperate times. No, not unprecedented. Desperate, dire, and fucked-up. The liner notes to BUG’s latest offering, Nunc finis offer a fair summary:

‘Global warming. Trump. Corona virus. New normal. We are living in interesting times. It is one minute before midnight on the doomsday watch. Nunc finis means end of time, end times or end now. And if you buy the ticket, you gonna take the ride.’

Fucked-up times require some fucked-up heavy shit by way of a soundtrack, and BUG bring it in spades here. I for one am immensely grateful: I’ve found myself frequently returning to Calamitas, and Nunc finis brings the same blend of familiar noise rock tropes and uniqueness, with jarring riffs, sludgy low-end and crazed, gruff-throated vocals. Above all, BUG know how to create tension through music, to articulate that tightening of the chest, evoke that clenching of the jaw, the grinding of the teeth.

The opening salvoes leave no doubt that this is a dark album reflecting darkness back in on itself, a tumultuous tempest of disaffection and (internal) conflict. ‘Happy Pills’ kicks off in pretty savage style, a hell-for-leather raging blast of overdriven guitars and angled vocals. You can barely make out a word, but then, the delivery communicates the sentiment, the manic fury. ‘Hell is Empty’ drops down several shades darker toward sludgy doom territory, before ‘Lost Soul’ takes a more conventionally noise-rock turn. It also provides the first softer moments, as chiming guitars effect a more ponderous perspective before exploding into a ragged riff. Exploiting the quiet / loud dynamic, it’s a classic slow-burner that builds to a killer climax.

‘Leftovers’ is a standout by virtue of its sheer brutality, while the seven-minute closer, ‘Hass gegen Rechts’ is positively schizophrenic, switching between a strolling vaudeville waltz and volcanic, earth-shattering blasts of noise, and is everything the album represents distilled into a single gut-wrenching track. It’s intense, alright.

Jolting riffs and stop-start noodles define the structures, to bewildering, dizzying effect: it’s not a regular bludgeoning, but successive left / right hooks, followed by an upper-cut, a headbutt, and a knee in the nuts for good measure. It’s heavy, hard, harrowing, and, ultimately physically and emotionally draining – just as it should be.

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7th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

I suppose I’m fortunate to move in the circles I do. In both the real and virtual world, I’m surrounded by some remarkably talented creatives, working in all fields. Many seem to have found new outlets for their creative leanings under lockdown, in many cases probably for the sake of their sanity.

The emergence of a brand new act, VVolves, proved as welcome as is was unexpected, because the duo’s debut, a blend of shoegaze and cool synth pop, is a belter.

‘Momentum’ is a brilliantly kinetic, driving tune that kicks in solidly after a gentle, spacious intro. I’m a sucker for a song that locks into a groove and feels like it’s surging forwards because of, not despite, the repetition, and ‘Momentum’ absolutely does that: a repetitive chord motif, overlaid with chilly synth stabs and a propulsive drum track which contrasts with the ethereal vocal delivery. In combination, it’s an exhilarating rush.

We need more of this, please.

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Cruel Nature Records – 19th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Much as I love living in York because of The Fulford Arms, and the ease of access to limitless gigs in Leeds (without having to actually live in Leeds), I’m starting to think that Newcastle is the place to be.

Cruel Nature’s roster is reason alone, and this latest offering from full-throttle noisemakers Ballpeen is exemplary. Three years on from their first live show and, the band have established themselves, ‘through releases on premier DIY punk label, Serial Bowl Records’. As the press release recounts, ‘2018’s ‘Loose Knot’ with its wry nod to Black Flag in title and excellent artwork, rapped five across the listener’s brow from the get-go, with its attention-grabbing power and undulating groove, coursing through the 6 tracks, leaving you thirsty – but not miserable – for more’.

In attempting to capture the energy of their live performances, Pachinko is a relentlessly balls-out, up front amalgamation of all things post-hardcore, with a big, bold 90s slant that evokes the spirit of Touch & Go and Amphetamine Reptile, as well as contemporaneous little UK labels like Eve Recordings and Jackass.

At times, it feels like we’re wading through endless indie sameness, and even so much alternative music, spanning metal, hardcore, post-hardcore and whatever else you’ve got simply fails to hit the spot, and I’ve felt listless, uninspired many evenings while reviewing these last few weeks. And then Pachinko slams in with a proper smack to the chops and I’m instantly reinvigorated and reminded of all of the reasons for music. Pachinko is distilled excitement. The album’s eight tracks are packed back-to-back and are all the guitars, spasmodic, jolting, big distortion. The fact it’s a mere twenty-one minutes in duration indicates the density and hell-for-leather pace of the album, which last less time than it takes some bands to tune up, or in the case of Sunn O))), to strike the first chord.

Pachinko isn’t pretty: it’s direct, and drives straight for the jugular. Following the lurching drive of ‘One Man’s Opinion’, a thorny mess of Killing Joke and early Therapy? with a dash of Milk, ‘Flipper’ brings a downtuned churning riff assault, before ‘Ornate Coleman’ slugs out a messy morass of guitar-driven abrasion.

Blending Trail of Dead and Blacklisters at their most attacking, or to pluck lesser-known but perhaps more accurate reference points, Tar, Guzzard, and Hora Douse all spin into Ballpeen’s sonic blast.

‘Kancho’ goes full-on Bleach era Nirvana with a driving, circular riff and sprays of feedback bursting from the halts in the crushing percussion. It’s heavy in a relentless, churning way. Some songs, like the closer, ‘No Mark’ are straight-ahead hardcore punishers that are Black Flag and all the hardcore releases Southern Lord have released in the last five years rolled together and deep-fried in breadcrumbs that stick in the throat simply to choke you.

No prisoners. No respite. Just full-on fury. The best.

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Cruel Nature Records – 9th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Cruel Nature clearly aren’t going for a major cash-in with this release, a 12-years-after-the-fact album containing the final recordings of a band who, while building a cult national following during their existence between 2002 and 2008, were predominantly a local phenomenon in their stomping grounds around Gateshead. Which means you may be forgiven for not being entirely au fait with Marzuraan and their work, of if you haven’t been o the edge of your seat and dripping with anticipation for this limited-to-75-copes cassette compendium.

For those not up to speed (and I’ll include myself here), the potted history of Marzuraan is that they started out as the duo of Pete Burn (guitar) and Lee Stokoe (Culver) (bass) before evolving into a full band with the introduction of Rob Woodcock (drums) and Stu Ellen (voice). ‘Taking their cue from bands such as Melvins; Black Flag; Harvey Milk; Earth; Godflesh and Loop, they soon cemented themselves as a pivotal band in the North East’s burgeoning Drone-rock / Trudge-core scene. Revered locally with a strong cult following nationally, they released 3 studio albums, appeared on countless compilations and split records influencing bands such as Bong and Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, before disbanding in 2008’. The title, therefore, is on point and self-aware to the max. But t’s never too late, right?

The recordings here – apart from two tracks which featured on an obscure compilation and split 7” back in the day – represent their final cuts, dating back to 2005 and 2006, and they’ve lain neglected in the proverbial vaults ever since.

But if anything, the timing couldn’t be better: what goes around comes around, and heavy music is very much enjoying a renaissance right now, and the north-east scene is also thriving thanks to various acts associated with microlabels represented by Cruel nature and Panurus Recordings.

It’s the seven-minute ‘Morphine Waterfall’ from the Mare Nero compilation that introduces the release, and it’s a dislocated, angular dirge of a tune that plods and trudges disconsolately through barren territory that alludes to early Swans and 90s Touch and Go, along with peer obscuritants like Oil Seed Rape and Zoopsia: it’s grunge distilled and chilled to sub-zero and as it builds toward the end, the guitars become increasingly discordant, while the snarling, rapping vocal becomes increasingly desperate.

It’s Tar and Girls Against Boys that come to mind through the low-end murk of the chunky riff grind of ‘Golden Roman’, and everything is there for a killer tune but the recording, despite having been remastered last year prior to release. It’s as muddy as hell. It doesn’t actually detract, for what I’s worth, and in many ways is integral to the gritty, lo-fi charm.

It very much sets the level: ‘Muckbucket’ and ‘Blowin’ Cool Breeze’ are built around thumping, repetitive riffs, but the guitars are trebly and skew off at divergent angles.

The final track, ‘Moneybox’, which previously featured on a record split with SINK is a doomy trudge that pushes the influence of early Melvins to the fore as it crawls in a sea of howling feedback and a 23bpm percussive trudge that’s paired with a gut-quiveringly downtuned bass. It’s ace. If you can cope with infinite suspense between drum beats and the striking of a single chord, that is.

Ten Years Too Late shows that Marzuraan were both a band of their time, and a band ahead of their time, sounding utterly contemporary now. Maybe it’s time for a reunion…

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