Bastard of the Skies will probably need no introduction to readers here at The Sleeping Shaman – the Blackburn sludge four-piece have been kicking up an almighty racket for some time and their last album, Ichor, Ichor, was very well received by Paul Robertson back in 2010 in his tentacle-oriented review. Well, the filthy blighters are back again and before they treat us to their next album proper they’ve thrown us a vinyl-shaped curve-ball by doing a split release with a largely unknown artist by the name of Catatomic.
There’s a story there; BOTS singer and guitarist Matt Richardson met Catatomic frontman/mastermind Howie D. Voigt on a Matamp forum and the plan to release a split vinyl on Howie’s own Speaks Volumes Records grew from there. Attempting to find much information on Catatomic, Howie or Speaks Volumes Records has been nigh on impossible though – for all I could ascertain this is Catatomic’s first release and the ‘band’ is more or less the work of Howie with a little help from a few friends. Apart from Howie’s arrest sheet for being drunk and incapacitated (which is included on the vinyl artwork) the only other information I can offer about the allusive chap is that he comes from Wisconsin and likes Matamps.
Anway, back to business and this is Bastard of the Skies’ first recording with new drummer Matt Aldred and bassist Claire Horrocks which has promoted (or possibly demoted) former bass-player Rob Beesley to second-guitar duties. In brief, this new line-up is beastly; anyone who has had the pleasure of catching these guys live in the past few years will be able to attest to that. But thankfully the power of their live performances has been captured beautifully in all of its metallic, scraping, chugging glory by Matt at his own Full Stack Studios. “Willalee Bookatee” is the perfect two minute blast to get the BOTS side off to an arse-kicking start but it’s the lumbering, rhythmic “The Knuckles of Saint Bronson” that, appropriately, pummels the listener with its Harvey Milk-jamming-with-Melvins-shaped fists. “Grays Sports Almanac” follows in much the same vein (that is to say that it’s also a huge bruiser of a tune) and will no doubt please Back to the Future enthusiasts and leave the Biffs of the world knocked out with mouths full of horse manure. On “Human Skull” proceedings slow down by at least 20 bpm, bringing us firmly into head-nodding territory. The band pitches stoner simplicity against their penchant for awkward, unexpected metal twists and turns and the result is kind of like listening to Sleep transition into High on Fire – a beautiful, unnerving sound to behold. After such an assured and brilliant four tracks the band then decide to take a bit of a risk with a cover version…
As a massive Neil Young fan I was in two minds at the thought of a metal cover of “Don’t Let it Bring You Down” (I guess it could never be worse than Annie Lennox’s attempt…) but the Bastards pull it off, sounding like Crazy Horse fronted by King Buzzo. They manage to put their own stamp on it whilst staying true to the original, throwing in one or two alternate notes to put a sinister spin on the otherwise cheery middle-eight of the song. The risk clearly pays off and it’s a great way to end their 5-track contribution to the split. Pat yourselves on the backs lady and gentlemen.
Following on from BOTS’ tightly-wound, multi-faceted and disciplined assault, Catatomic come across more like the eccentric Doc Brown (let’s keep the B2TF theme running as long as possible). Firstly, there’s a notable difference in recording techniques – the drums sound dull and the guitars are more airy and free-roaming compared to BOTS’ more claustrophobic sound. In the eleven-minute curio “Void”, Catatomic find their way into an old-school doom groove and Howie sounds like a karaoke combination of Lee Dorian and a hoarse Leonard Cohen (see “Diamonds in the Mine”). Meandering acoustic passages weave their way through the song and it seems that musically and lyrically Howie is still on the same drunken bender that got him arrested. Don’t get me wrong, there is something to be said for the sheer scope of the song and the fact that it doesn’t implode somewhere around the eight-and-a-half minute mark is impressive but as a whole it sounds too much like a series of unrelated ideas stuck together with glue, semen and any other adhesive close at hand. Second offering “I Went to You” fares worse, sadly. The bizarrely confessional acoustic tale of woe sounds like it was largely improvised and contains lines like: “You don’t know what love is until you grow old and shit yourself.” It’s awkward and embarrassing because it kind of feels like we’ve stumbled across a demo that isn’t meant for our ears except it’s been neatly packaged and put on wax so it clearly is.
I don’t buy into judging split EPs by each band’s contribution – splits normally come about because of some friendship, loose connection between people or a mutual respect between the bands. Splits as a whole tend to polarise opinion and this, I’m sure, will be no exception. At the very least both bands have brought a lot of their own unique charm to this curious and mostly brilliant release and, for the most part, this ought to be encouraged. There’s no doubt that Bastard of the Skies will continue to destroy as they have done here when their upcoming album is released – let’s hope Catatomic take the time to work on the structure and cohesion of their songs and ideas for a much stronger outing next time. Great Scott!
Label: Speaks Volumes Records
Bastard Of The Skies: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bastard-of-the-Skies/150192848376922
Scribed by: Tom McKibbin