Tuesday, June 14, 2011
review- the warlocks- 'enter at your own skull: unreleased vol. 1'
2011 has so far been a very quiet one for Bobby Hecksher and the Warlocks. The last we heard from them was the shockingly cohesive set of leftovers from previous album sessions (according to Hecksher) that comprised 2009’s excellent ‘The Mirror Explodes’ followed by a thorough, rambling tour comprised of some of the most solid, punishingly gratifying live shows in the history of the band. Their two night stint at the Empty Bottle remains one of the best live experiences of my long and illustrious show-going life. In an informal backstage interview with Anton Newcombe on one of his DeadTV Ustream transmissions following a show in Berlin last year, Hecksher claimed that the band had no plans to record any new material at the moment. Sad, sad news indeed as the Warlocks seem to be on a creative tear that is currently unmatched by any band at their level or above (the only band close that springs to mind is Woods). Each album is unmistakably theirs and yet an independent entity all its own. In the last week Hecksher has launched a grassroots campaign to raise the necessary funds to record a new Warlocks album by unleashing an 18-song collection of almost entirely unreleased demos and rarities via the band’s bandcamp page. In addition he has released three fantastic songs from a scrapped recording session from last year. The price for the whole thing? A mere $8: $5 for the 18-track nearly 90-minute rarities collection and $1 each for the three unreleased tracks.
Some of the material on ‘Enter at Your Own Skull’ has been previously issued, albeit in some fairly random ways over the course of several years—‘Black and White,’ ‘Live Wire’ (two fantastic ‘Phoenix Album’-era sounding gems) and ‘We Don’t Need Money’ were available on the band’s myspace page SNOcap store (remember those?) as early as 2008 or so and were repackaged on a B-sides and rarities collection that was issued on a CDR via the band’s website for $8 a year or two ago along with ‘Heart Thief,’ ‘Jam of the Spiders’ (the crowning jewel of all Warlocks recorded jams) and the ‘Angels in Heaven, Angels in Hell’ demo. The other 12 tracks are comprised of previously unheard demos that offer a great deal of insight into Hecksher’s songwriting process as well as hinting at a wealth of unmined artistic directions that Hecksher could’ve taken over the years. Perhaps most interesting are the ‘Heavy Deavy Skull Lover’ outtakes—the extended version of ‘The Valley of Death’ in particular. At the time that Hecksher signed with TeePee records and began recording 2007’s ‘Heavy Deavy Skull Lover’ there was no one in the band but him, which explains a track like ‘The Valley of Death’—desperate and filled with growling, overdriven guitars anchored only by two hard-panned driving clean guitars mangling two chords with a terrifying ferocity and one of Hecksher’s most raw and emotive vocals. The album versions cuts short abruptly just before the six-minute mark with a squeal of pure feedback—what happens beyond is pretty epic and psychedelic stuff for a track comprised of only a handful of guitars. They undulate and wriggle in ever-evolving patterns that only grow more hypnotic as the minutes pass including two fake-out endings. The ‘Moving Mountains’ demo is similarly revelatory, condensing the song’s epic 10-minute length into its purest essence in under three minutes. The album could’ve spun out into so many different directions, its no wonder Hecksher got to work on the album before even bothering to get a proper band together—this was clearly an album that needed to be made, a commendable rarity in these days of fickle downloading, pretentious posturing, trend-whoring and disposable music.
The demos that followed the ‘Surgery’ period, during which time the band endured a shrinking fan-base and record label problems which ultimately lead to Hecksher intending to quit the music business altogether following the band’s tour with the Sisters of Mercy, are flush with creativity. The trio of ‘X-Ray Death,’ ‘X-Ray Eyes,’ (which evolved to become the ‘Heavy Deavy…’ standout ‘Zombie Like Lovers’) ‘X-Ray Mouth’ and the staggering ‘On/Off Sunlight’ (which is WAY too good to be just a demo) reinforces the breadth of musical possibilities that awaited the band. There’s a thoroughly distinctive and brutal reinterpretation of Spacemen 3’s ‘Amen’ which walks along the edge of almost imploding throughout its entire four minute running time. ‘Drive Faster, Come on Let’s Go’ is difficult to place time-wise in the band’s catalogue as it resembles almost nothing the band has done before—it’s a short, driving, immediate, fuzzy number in line with something the Jesus & Mary Chain would have created in their heyday (think ‘Automatic’ or ‘Honey’s Dead’). Rounding the set out is the closing acoustic track, ‘You’re a Big Star Now’ representing the more mellow side of the band that doesn’t get much attention, overshadowed by their punishing live shows. It’s a great addition to some of their best and more laid-back melancholic moments along with ‘House of Glass,’ ‘The Tangent’ and ‘Heaven Says So’ from the aforementioned CDR of B-sides.
As for the trio of unreleased tracks from 2010 the standout is the three chord minimalism of ‘So Fucked Up on Valentine’s Day’ which synthesizes a lot of the punishingly loud/fuzzed-up qualities of their live show with the more mellow songs. Somehow it manages to be both—it’s both beautiful, forlorn and brutal at the same time. One can only hope it’s indicative of the type of material they’ll be mining with the upcoming album. ‘Million Years’ and ‘The Bridge of Nonsense’ take a great deal of the droning melodic minimalism of ‘The Mirror Explodes’ and marries it with the reverb-drenched textural overload of ‘Heavy Deavy Skull Lover’s more blissed-out moments (think ‘So Paranoid’ or ‘Slip Beneath’). Longtime guitarist JC Rees contributes some truly glorious-sounding lines. It’s difficult to figure out how they are able to wrap the guitars in so many effects and not have the results turn out washed-out and muddy. These tracks pull off a hazy, druggy feel while maintaining a clarity that eludes most bands chasing a similar sound.
A second volume is supposed to follow soon, comprised of live material.
Here’s the link—go to the bandcamp page and buy it all up now! Add a donation onto the price tag—the immediate and long-term results will be worth it!