BLACKLAB – In A Bizarre Dream

Blacklab’s debut album ‘Under The Strawberry Moons’ was – and remains – a brilliantly intense listen. By taking classic stoner and doom riffs and layering them with distortion, the noise making duo hit upon a sound that fused elements of Acid King and Boris with the ugly sonic textures of Melvins. By then layering that with extra distortion and adding a semi-detached, distinctly Japanese vocal, the album became bigger than the sum of its parts; a sludgy yet strangely alluring listen that really raised the bar for massive, dark – and sometimes ugly – riffs.

Their follow up, 2020’s ‘Abyss’, flaunted a slightly different guitar tone in places, but didn’t skim on the intensity. In toning down the bass in more than a few places, it actually made Blacklab seem even more uncompromising as they continued to wheel out their massive slabs of distortion. Also by cranking the speed in a couple of places (as with ‘Forked Road’, one of the record’s stand out tracks), it showed the band as being capable of tackling some seriously intense garage punk, which provided a superb counterpart to their doom laden core.

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VINCENT CARR’S SUMIC – Strolling Early Morning

One of the UK prog scene’s true underground talents, Vincent Carr’s complex acoustic work and love for pastoral soundscapes has helped create some interesting recordings over the years. On 2016’s ‘Rekindled’ he injected a very strong British folk rock vibe into some largely instrumental pieces, and on the follow up, ‘New Paeans’, he truly unleashed his inner Mike Oldfield on lengthy arrangements that blended prog, new age sounds and a hefty dose of acoustic complexity. Obviously he was working on a thousandth of Oldfield’s basic 70s budget, but the outcome certainly wasn’t in any way inferior. After that, Vince released a couple of ambient, improvised works that showed off yet another side to his talent. Those were approached with interest by a few of his biggest online champions, but were never designed for mass acceptance.

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EVOLETAH – Run With The Hunted

Led by vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Matt Cahill, Evoletah began life as a guitar driven rock band. Their first two albums were enjoyable to a point, but didn’t really do anything that would make them stand out in a world of other similar bands. In 2013, their ‘We Ache For The Moon’ presented something of a rebirth, with the band exploring jazz, rock and pop in a fusion that sounded almost cinematic. It had almost nothing to connect it to anything that’d come before, but it was superb and found a place as one of the year’s best albums. It was, and remains, a record that showcased a lot of musical talent, a broad musical imagination and a willingness to cut the strings of expectation. By doing what came naturally rather than trying to craft a broadly appealing alt-rock hit, the Australian band created an underground masterpiece.

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DARTO – Fundamental Slime EP

Formed in Seattle in 2010, experimental electronic act Darto have spent years carving themselves a niche in the musical underground. Their music, while always interesting, isn’t always completely accessible; that said, somewhere within its darkness – for those able to invest the time – haunting songs eventually emerge. Don’t expect big hooks, though, since Darto are all about the overall mood. On their 2018 EP ‘Fundamental Slime’ (recorded by the legendary Steve Fisk), the songs take many cues from the darker and artier side of the late 70s – a period after Roxy Music had all but abandoned art for pop sheen and Ultravox were not the worldwide hit makers known to millions, but a Roxy/Eno obsessed synth band.

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