Beneath the Remains, April 2019: Black Sites, Haze Mage, and Smoulder
Welcome to our new monthly column, where we’ll be highlighting a few select releases that might slip under your radar!
It’s April, which means every stoner rock band is putting out a new album two-thirds of the way through the month. Whether or not you lean green, here are some great under-the-radar releases for you to get high on life to.
Even if Adam Burke’s cover art for Exiles ain’t exactly kosher, Black Sites make for a delicious nosh. Not only do they tap into sounds from across metal’s history, they do it in unexpected ways. Hell, what other band is gonna grab from Mastodon, Voivod, and ’80s KISS? While they’re a heavy prog act at heart, this troupe of Chicago metal lifers covers everything from working-man’s ballads (“Coal City”) to post-punk menace (“Dream Long Dead”). Sometimes the homages are obvious — “Focused Totality/The Psychic Knife” proves they own a copy of Nothingface — but for the most part, they find their own approach to the rumble. Just don’t look up Black Sites videos on YouTube unless you want to get some really sketchy suggestions from their recommendation engine.
I’m not gonna lie and say that Haze Mage sound (or smell) like anything other than you’d think. They called their first full-length Chronicles and they’re releasing it on 4/20, for damn’s sake. Sometimes you just want some grimy stoner metal scraped from the resin buildup at the bottom of a wizard’s bong. Their song titles reference marijuana and Lovecraft and dimestore fantasy pulp garbage and who cares when the riffs come this thick and heavy. Singer kinda sounds like Danzig, the backing band sounds like they’ve played with Matt Pike, it’s all good. This is totally stuff you’d expect to hear pouring from a van with a dragon painted on the side.
I’d be lying if I said at least 50% of my decision to include Smoulder’s debut wasn’t because of the awesome Michael Whelan cover art, but thankfully, the other half is the music. Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring brings to mind epic doom outfits like Gates of Slumber and Khemmis. Whereas those acts just used mythological trappings, though, Smoulder don’t hesitate to go full fantasy on songs with names like “Voyage of the Sunchaser” and “Bastard Steel.” Arthur Rizk (Sumerlands, Power Trip) mixed and mastered this one, and he brings his uncanny ability to make artist sound timeless and modern at the same time. Plus, this five-piece is from Canada, a country that bestows instant trad-metal cred. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover if its cover is by the guy that did the iconic paintings for Michael Moorcock’s Elric series.