Label: An Out Recordings Band: Ragana Origin: United States
What attracted me to Ragana originally was their Lithuanian name. It means as much as a witch, though the concept of a witch is different in Lithuania. The duo behind this name is American and they define their style as ‘witch doom’. Maria and Nicole started out in Washington, but currently reside in Oakland and are very active in following their ideals. Taking inspiration from Wolves in the Throne Room, CatPower and Earth, they started a metal thing. Oh, and Julie Christmas.
Kim Kelly captured the band best in her article on Noisey. The duo is described as being anarcho-feminists and ‘You Take Nothing’ is an emotion laden, furious cry of protest. Though I can appreciate the politics behind the album, I think Kim’s article better expressed that. Let me just take you to the music. I have a ton of respect for the powerful way these ladies present their idea on a record that absolutely shatters everything in its raw directness.
Opener ‘Spare No Man’ has all the grim force of a post-black metal/post-hardcore hybrid. Crushing riffs, that spill out like gritty rubble of toppling buildings. The desperate screams and howls feel like a serrated knife to the heart in their forceful message. The way genres blend together into one powerful outlet, feels to me akin to when I first heard Converge or maybe even a little bit Deafheaven. It feels new, exciting and overwhelming. The sinister, creeping opener of ‘To Leave’ even puts some Brand New in the mix. The song is both fragile and beautiful, but also sad and mournful.
Though Ragana clearly taps into the black metal sound, they’re never really fully there. On ‘Winter’s Light’, we even go to a more dreamy, trickling sound. When the icy guitar kicks in, it’s clear and clean. You’ll find that typical blast beat and static riff combo indeed, but there’s a vulnerability to it, it’s so open and raw at times that you feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The way the vocals are delivered on the foreboding ‘Somewhere’ is tantalizing, it grabs you by the throat.
Ragana delivers an album, that is so powerful in its punkrock simplicity. It’s not trying to sell you concrete ideas but conveys a feeling, a message that otherwise remains misunderstood. You can feel your skin crawl during some tracks, during the odd passages of jagged guitars and submersion in the eerie atmosphere. When the haunting ‘You Take Nothing’, which is the endlessly repeated phrase that makes up the song, fades away… It leaves you with a cut you can’t heal.
Every year Roadburn selects a curator, who gives shape to a part of the program. This has lead to excellent and wild acts, that you might never have seen before and perhaps will never see again (G.I.S.M., just to name one). In this post, I’d like to suggest my pick for a curator and explain why.
Who? You might not be familiar with Hank Williams III, but the name should ring a bell. Hank 3 is the third generation Williams who plays a huge role in country music. His grandfather was the famous Hank Williams, that had a huge impact on country (and there’s an uncanny likeness between Hank I and Hank III), a son of Hank Williams Jr. who I’m less fond of I suppose.
Hank 3, as he’s commonly known by his own accomplishments, has been dabbling in a wide range of music styles. Sure, outlaw country and cowpunk are at the core of his endeavors, but there’s so much more. He collaborated with both the Melvins and Willie Nelson, recorded with Superjoint Ritual and Arson Anthem and dabbled with country metal in his own project Assjack. His solo releases even contain some southern style doom. All of this comes back in his live set, where I’ve seen him do 3 hours of various styles. An artist through and through. So why should he curate Roadburn?
1. Musical Outlaw
Firstly, Hank 3 is a musical outlaw, who seems to see no real boundaries for his art and has chosen to follow his own path. That means he’s the sort of guy, who can decide on some names based on his own judgment. That’s pretty much why curatorships are so cool because someone is really laying down their unique flavor. Hank is a punk rocker at heart, a metalhead by passion and a country musician by blood. Think about it, this guy will surprise you.
Hank 3 is an outlaw in all scenes he is part of, he’s an outsider artist in a way and therefore a bridge builder between scenes, styles, and people. And Roadburn is all about that big ‘ol cocktail of great music, regardless of labels. Music that comes from the underground, which is pretty much where Hank 3 is from. Though he might be a bit busy being pissed off about that Hank Williams biopic still… (to be fair, Tom Hiddleston doesn’t sing a good ol’ Hank Williams).
2. Innovator in his own right
Most curators Roadburn had this far, are people who did something special for music. People that pushed the boundaries of their respective genres, innovators, and people with quite a big portfolio of musical endeavors. Also, these are usually people that don’t follow familiar paths and go their own way when they do something.
Though Outlaw Country has gone in various new directions in recent years and artists like Bob Wayne actually played Roadburn (and much more actually), Hank 3 definitely had been a force that shook up the whole thing and quite possibly the inspirator behind a lot of that new movement. That in itself makes him an important musician. He put the dick back in ‘Dixie’ and the cunt back in ‘country’ as is written on many places. So that matters.
3. Hank is a crate digger
Roadburn is a festival that draws a lot of record loving visitors. This is something that matters, not just for the fans, but also to Walter. Walter buys a lot of records and always manages to conjure something special out of crates, wherever he goes it seems. Anyone doing curatorship at Roadburn should, therefore, be a crate digger. Hank 3 has a bit of a collection himself.
4. A long tradition of surprising names at Roadburn
Roadburn never puts anything on the bill that you expect. The same goes for the curators. Every year people are excited for the novelty, the surprise or whatever the choice of that year does to them. Wouldn’t it be an excellent surprise to get this complete outsider dude to curate then? Every year you get something you didn’t expect in a direction you feel sort of curious about. I think it might be really interesting to see this happen. Hank 3 seems to have been largely accepted by the punk community as much as metal fans, so wouldn’t Roadburn embrace the man too?
But as you know, Roadburn works in mysterious ways and when the curator for 2018 is announced I’ll probably be jumping out of my seat and shouting praise for that choice. That’s how it works, isn’t it?
Time for some new revelations from the underground. I feel forced to not pick mysterious bands that no one has heard of this time, since there simply happen to be some brilliant bands I need to tell you about.
If you happen to have recommendations for me, they’d be most welcome. Leave me a comment!
Earth – Primitive and Deadly
The band from Washington has been a defining and genre-shifting force for ages and thus already captivated my attention in the past. Particularly the album ‘The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull’, from 2008, was amazing to me. Every album the band has produced since their conception in 1989 has been brilliant and different. This one has captivated me so much, that I’ll go into every song for a bit.
Starting with “Torn By The Fox of the Crescent Moon”, the cascading riffs wash down slowly but full of foreboding. The colour of the music indeed feels pale like the moon. Darkness is in the end the main element with which Earth is playing, but there’s a light as well in that darkness, which is tangible in this songs beaming peaks that pierce the clouds. The description of a serpentine approach in music is embraced to the fullest in “There Is a Serpent Coming”, which has some riffs that give the song a movie soundtrack quality. Mark Lanegan with his charcoal black rasp provides the repetitive vocals on this track, that is filled with anticipation and warning. Bleak sound is embraced by warmth in the voice and music, which leads to a magical musical experience.
“From the Zodiacal Light” features the warm and captivating vocals of Rabia Shaheen Qazi from the band Rose Windows. Though musically far distincts, the vocals show similarities with those of The Devil’s Blood. Mystical words over soaring music and droning rhythm. Southern rock flavor is definitely detectable in the weeping guitar sounds of ‘Even Hell Has Its Heroes’. The sound seems to slow down while the chords are reverberating in the air. It’s the sound of the desert, with the sun shining in your eyes and twisting your vision, hallucinating and shrill sounding. The slow beat dragging on in the endless space around you. A similar sound can be heard on ‘Rooks Across The Gates’, featuring once again Mark Lanegan on vocal duties. This landscape is bleaker though and after almost ten minutes it just fades away.
When the debut of this band came out, I was very keen to get my hands on it and review their sounds. I thought it was beautiful, haunting, cool and the sound of a drive through a city in the very early morning or in the deep of the night. Recently I got back into the xx and decided to listen to that other album, which I sadly ignored at the time.
The hazy youthful sound of the debut already demonstrated something unique that probably would not be reproducable. The band was on that fragile moment between youth and adulthood, expressing the sublime angst of that point in an excellent album. That foggy, misty feeling of an early day, fresh and new, was captivated in the sounds on that first record.
That is the downfall of Coexist. Though it takes on the mellow beats, the minimal sound and gentle tones with whispered vocals, it lacks that fresh sound. The crisp break of dawn has been lifted and the monring sun has made the fog evaporate, it feels like a rehashed version of that moment when the fog was on the leaves and the cold was still in the air. When the words are whispered, no clouds appear from the mouth, just sounds. This time the angst is replaced by adulthood, certainty and a carreer. No longer is the magic in the air. It was a moment in time, that has now past. We still have the songs though.
Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
The epic doom of Pallbearer is much appreciated in the world that adores it, so that makes it worth mentioning on itself. I like the epic quality of their sound, which reminds me a bit of Candlemass, even if it’s only a feeling for me as a listener. The clean and strong vocals are a main reason for that opinion I would think.
Oh, the pallbearer is part of the ensemble that carries a coffin. That’s kinda the drag they put in their doom, minor and sadness. It’s really everything you could want from a doom record, including its accessability. This is easy going stuff, nothing harsh, just bleak and heavy as you would want it. If you are even slightly into doom and you love feeling a bit sad with some heavy, slow guitarwork, check this band out for real.
High point is in my opinion the song ‘The Ghost I Used To Be’. Check it out. All crushing riffs, soaring guitars and picturesque vocals and strenght. Power metal meets doom? I don’t know, but this song I love.
Perfect Pussy – Say Yes To Love
What got me tuned in to the band Perfect Pussy was not their music, but their charming singer Meredith Graves. An interview passed around on UPcoming (with a tacky headline in that ‘You won’t believe’.. line they’ve been pumping out like there’s no tomorrow), where she undressed while being interviewed. It was so captivating, that you forget that a beautiful lady is undressing. She spoke about punkrock, identity, looks and the self.
The music reflects that peculiar nature in a way I think. No distortion, just violent, wild passion is what the music expresses. An eclectic mixture of punkrock, noise and lofi rockmusic. The sound is energetic, uncompromising and light. The jangling guitar and the rattling drum form a warm tapestry of ragtag sound, that for some magical reason still sounds like a song.
Songs like ‘Big Stars’ and ‘Dig’ feature the almost proclaiming vocal style of Graves in their best shape. Powerful and relentless blurting out words of defiance. It is a great record and a great band that doesn’t seem to have many problems being out there and against the norm.