EMBR – Idolatry EP

Alabaman riff merchants Embr have been cranking out heavy grooves since 2015, but the release of their ‘1823’ full length on the New Heavy Sounds label really helped to elevate their profile. The album’s selection of intense riffs combined with a clean-ish female vocal presented a brilliant contrast between pure doom and great melodies, suggesting talents that could not only rival the UK’s own Witch Charmer, but possibly even help fill the massive void left by the much missed Black Moth. A filler free forty minutes, ‘1823’ is the kind of metal album that deserves to be heard by everyone.

The close of 2020 brought something of a surprise when, completely out of the blue, Embr shared a covers EP via Bandcamp. ‘Idolatry’ brings together four classic tracks from four classic 90s bands – a couple of which can be heard with new ears once redressed in Embr’s heavier clothes.

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ELEPHANT TREE – Day Of Doom Live

Home to Summoner, Ironweed, Zakk Sabbath and various other great stoner/doom bands, the Magnetic Eye label celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2019. Ten years of bringing the heavy to the masses is, indeed, worth shouting about, and what better way to mark the occasion than showcasing various Magnetic Eye bands at a mammoth gig?

Very much a “family celebration”, the Day of Doom festival featured nine different Magnetic Eye acts on one bill at Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus Bar, a venue barely big enough to contain such enormous riffs. Four of the sets were recorded for posterity, and while all have their moments – especially the Horsehunter set with its extended sludge metal jams and unapologetically live sound – the performance by the UK’s Elephant Tree is the best in terms of all round enjoyment and accessibility.

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For those who’ve previously enjoyed either bands’ works, this split between Ohio based metal/noise rock bands Ghost:hello and Night Goat is much more than a mere collection filler. Although in some ways, the Ghost:hello material doesn’t always live up to the promise of their 2019 full length, between one genuinely great studio track and an unmissable live recording, you really couldn’t call their contribution to the release weak in any way. In fact, despite a couple of flaws, their material is more than capable of going head to head with Night Goat’s much darker aspects. …And as for Night Goat themselves, fans will surely love most of the spacious and unsettling material that lies in wait.

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In September 2020, Zakk Sabbath released their long-awaited ‘Vertigo’ album, on which legendary guitarist Zakk Wylde and friends recreated the Black Sabbath debut as faithfully as possible. Everything was well played, but with the band taking such a traditional stance, there were moments where you’d wonder why you’d ever choose to listen to it over the original recording. There were a couple of tracks of great interest, however, such as ‘Wicked World’ where the band loosened their grip on self-imposed authenticity and added more of their own flair and ‘N.I.B.’ which proved that Zakk Wylde plus and indestructible riff will often result in something great. The album was well received by fans, and despite any misgivings about long-term interest, it was important that the band got a studio recording under their collective belt after working the live circuit for so many years.

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BlackLab’s debut album ‘Under The Strawberry Moon’ was devastatingly heavy. With an under-produced and over-driven sound, the Japanese duo truly raised the bar in terms of fuzzy stoner riffs. The album didn’t reach a wide audience upon its first release, but a restructured and remixed version (released via the UK’s New Heavy Sounds label in 2018) went some way to giving the band an audience outside of their home country and received some really enthusiastic press.

Naturally, their minimalist set up of drums, guitars, vocals and three thousand distortion pedals never really allowed for a broad musical palate, so their sophomore disc ‘Abyss’ offers much more of the same, but if Blacklab appealed to you before, more of the same is exactly what you’d hope for… If anything is a little different, you might even say BlackLab have become even heavier and more intense, as ‘Abyss’ is a genuine skull-crusher.

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